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Each week, I grill thought-leaders and results-getters to discover specific, actionable insights that boost work performance.

852: Dale Carnegie’s Timeless Wisdom on Building Mental Resilience and Strong Relationships with Joe Hart

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Joe Hart shares powerful wisdom on how to create the life you want based on the timeless principles of Dale Carnegie.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The questions that make your mind unshakeable
  2. The powerful habit that sets you up for daily success
  3. The secret to getting along with even the most difficult people 

About Joe

Joe Hart began his career as a practicing attorney. After taking a Dale Carnegie Course, Joe reassessed his career path and future, ultimately leaving the practice of law to start and sell a company then Joe become the president of Asset Health—all before becoming the President and CEO of Dale Carnegie in 2015.

In 2019, the CEO Forum Group named Joe as one of twelve transformative leaders, giving him the Transformative CEO Leadership Award in the category of the People. He is the host of a top global podcast, “Take Command: A Dale Carnegie Podcast”, and he speaks around the world on topics such as leadership, resilience, and innovation, among other things. Joe and his wife, Katie, have six children, three dogs, and one cat. He is an active marathoner, having run many races, including Boston, New York, Chicago, Berlin, Detroit, and Toronto.

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Joe Hart Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Joe, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Joe Hart
Thank you, Pete. Great to be with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom, talking about your book Take Command: Find Your Inner Strength, Build Enduring Relationships, and Live the Life You Want. But, first, I want to hear, so you have an interesting role in the whole universe of training, learning, and development, my world. You’re the CEO of Dale Carnegie. It’s the world’s oldest training company. What’s that like?

Joe Hart
It’s an incredible company and it’s a company that I came to because it really aligns to just my personal mission, and, frankly, it’s the company that had had a huge impact on me. So, I’ll at least give you maybe 60 seconds of context before I talk about the company. I took a Dale Carnegie course as a young lawyer when I was about 27. And my dad had always talked about Dale Carnegie and How to Win Friends and Influence People, and I’d heard this and I decided to take a class.

And prior to that point, my aspiration in life was to be a lawyer in a large firm, and to make a lot of money, and become a partner, and do that for 40 years. And when I took this course, it really challenged me around my vision and what did I want for my career, and, also, frankly, how I was interacting with people because, as a young lawyer, I wasn’t particularly empathetic. I was prickly with people.

So, the two things that came out of that course were it really unlocked in me a desire to really look at my future, and, I, ultimately, left the practice of law, and went in and started my own business. And it also sparked in me just really a passion for improving my people skills and getting along with people more effectively, and really caring and listening and respecting people in a way that I hadn’t before.

So, the long and short of it is I, ultimately, left. I started a new learning company in 2000. Dale Carnegie became my first client. We did new learning programs to reinforce Dale Carnegie’s principles. We had other clients. Built and sold that company. I was the president of another company for 10 years before I became the CEO of Dale Carnegie in 2015.

This is, in my mind, one of the most amazing companies on the planet. Founded by Dale Carnegie 111 years ago, we’ve got 200 operations in 86 countries, and so much of what we do is we believe in the inner greatness of people. We work with people, individuals, and companies, really to drive self-confidence and interpersonal skills, communication, leadership, stress and worry.

You could Google, say, Warren Buffett and Dale Carnegie, and it’ll talk about just the life-changing impact that our program had on him early in his career. We worked with some of the biggest and most successful companies in the world, and it’s an honor to be able to do that. But it’s really about performance, how do we help people perform at the highest levels, how do we help them interact with each other in more successful and positive ways, how do we help them achieve things that they never would be able to achieve in their careers.

And so much of what your podcast is about is, “How do I get to that next level of my career? How do I interact with people?” And, frankly, this is a course, that when I took it, it turbocharged my entire career. Just, really, I’ve never been the same since.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you for sharing. And it’s funny, I think I read How to Win Friends & Influence People in high school, and I think I also listened to it. So, I have that, whoever that narrator was, that voice in my ear, talk about, “Smile. Use people’s names. It’s the sweetest thing that they’ve heard.” Is this a direct quote that’s in my head, “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise”? I don’t know what approbation meant at the time.

Joe Hart
Good job. You got it. You got it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I think those are good principles, and I think folks who have heard Dale Carnegie, they’re thinking of the book, or they’re thinking, “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of the Dale Carnegie course. I want to take that someday.” Is there anything that you’ve learned about Dale Carnegie or his legacy that most of us don’t know, like fun facts behind the scenes?

Joe Hart
Yeah. So, many people know about Dale Carnegie’s success. He was brilliant. I mean, “How to Win Friends…” has been the bestselling book for 87 consecutive years, so people know him for that. But he started life, he was very poor growing up. He really found his way through public speaking. He realized he’s really very good at it. He’s good at interacting with people, went into sales and became a tremendously successful person.

And then, ultimately, went to New York City and just went in the acting field and realized he wasn’t very good at that. So, that’s when he started a public-speaking class, actually, in the YMCA in 1912. And what he discovered at that time was just people have certain apprehensions about speaking. But the process of getting up and speaking, it’s also about confidence and overcoming fear, and developing human relations skills.

So, people have one idea maybe of Dale Carnegie purely as this successful person. He certainly had lots of bumps along the road and learned a lot and shared that wisdom in How to Win Friends & Influence People and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living and other types of books as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so tell us, your latest book Take Command, what is a particularly surprising, counterintuitive, fascinating discovery you’ve made about some of this stuff during the course of your career and putting together this book in particular?

Joe Hart
Yeah, the single most important thing that I’d say I took away from Dale Carnegie, and it also is the framework for the entire first part of the book, so just the book Take Command is about being intentional. So, take command of your thoughts and your emotions is the whole first part. We deal with worry and stress and anxiety, and all kinds of other things, and, “Why is it that some people are strong and courageous and bold and resilient?”

And this, ultimately, comes down to your question, which is the most important thing I’ve taken away from Dale Carnegie, is the importance of our thoughts. He quotes in How to Stop Worrying and Start Living the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who said, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” And that explains so much because you could have two people in the exact same situation, and one person is thriving and finding opportunity, and at some point, somebody else, in the exact same situation is fearful and, “I can’t do it,” and so forth.

And what does it come down to? It comes down to our thoughts. So, to me, that kind of epiphany, if you will, is the foundation for the critical thing that you and I and all us need to do if we want to live happy fulfilled lives, if we want to be successful in our careers, in our families, in our relationships, and in our visions, that’s the second and third of the book, take command of your relationship, take command of your future, but you have to take command first of yourself. You can’t lead anyone else if you can’t lead yourself. And that starts with our thoughts.

And when people can learn how to frame their thoughts in the right way, and how to condition their minds for success, and how you can, I’d even say, Pete, befriend your emotions, which is one of the things that we talk about in chapter three, to learn how to use your emotions as kind of rocket fuel instead of something that’s just going to drag you down, going in this kind of spiral negativity, particularly all of us are coming out of COVID. That’s a necessary thing for our success.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s really tantalizing in terms of our thoughts have great importance, and two people could be in the same situation and take drastically different paths based on what’s happening between their ears. Could you give us a cool illustrative story, example, case of that?

Joe Hart
Yeah. Well, I’ll give you one of my own and kind of one direction that I was going in, and this kind of opens up the book, and I can give you others. And, by the way, the book has just dozens and dozens of stories of people all over the world who have applied these kinds of principles. But I think about my COVID experience.

And, Pete, I don’t know what your COVID experience was, but there’s a point in mine when I was leading this global company in March of 2020 when I was waking up every night at 3:00 in the morning with just the most negative thoughts and fearful thoughts. It’s like, “Oh, my gosh, our entire business around the world is shutting down.” We were all in-person training at that time, “What are we going to do?”

And that’s the thing. Sometimes it’s not the initial thought. We might have a fact, like I had the fact that, “Oh, our China operation is now shut down, our Asia operation.” But then we extrapolate those facts, and that’s what I was doing, and I was going to the worst possible places. And, frankly, it was that quote that you asked about, that I read in How to Stop Worrying… one night in March of 2020.

I wake up in the middle of the night and I picked up this book, and I’m flipping through it, and I should’ve known these things, Pete. I had studied them for 20 years, but I think in the challenge of that situation, I had forgotten them. And it was kind of like just Dale Carnegie saying to me, he’s like, “Hey, as bad as this situation is, where is the opportunity? What do you need to do? How do you lead?”

And I started to shift my thoughts to not just focus on, “Okay, well, these are horrible facts, but where is the opportunity here?” And in the months that followed, and we’ve got an amazing team, franchise owners, and team members, all over the world working together. We completely flipped the business model of our company. And today, we are stronger, we’re more competitive, we’re more agile, we’re working with more companies. It’s been a really exciting transformation over the past three years.

But I think about kind of two paths for myself at that time, which was you look at something and you can be fearful, or you look at something and you can say, “You know, this is hard but I’m going to find a way through it.” And another thought I had at that time was I remembered when I was a lawyer, and, Pete, when you go through law school, okay, and we’ve got limiting mindsets sometimes.

You go through college, you go through law school, you pass the bar exam. The bar exam was the single scariest experience I’ve had till that point in my life. If you don’t pass the bar exam, it doesn’t matter if you have graduated from law school, it doesn’t matter if you’re at the top of your class, you’re not practicing law unless you pass that exam.

So, you pass the exam, you become a lawyer, and then you say, “Well, could I possibly do anything else other than practice law? Who’s going to want me to do that?” It’s a limiting mindset but I remember talking to someone, and as I made the decision to leave law and to go to this real estate company, and I was afraid. And I talked to a mentor of mine, a guy named Chuck Taunt, a great man, and he said, “It’s not the smooth seas that make a great sailor. It’s the rough seas.”

And so, that got me thinking about just my leadership, and, “You know what, there’s opportunities. How do I look at this? If I leave the practice of law and it doesn’t work out, is that a failure? Well, not if I learned something, and not if I become a better leader.” And I was in my 20s at that time. So, a lot of this, it all comes back, the results that we get start and end so much with our mindset.

And when we can learn to develop our mindsets so that it serves us, and develop our emotional strength so that we are resilient and courageous, then we can do and achieve the things that are really important to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Beautiful. Well, can you share with us, Joe, what are some of the first steps to get that going in terms of having a great mindset that’s of service?

Joe Hart
Yeah, the first thing is even to pay attention to our thoughts. I think it’s so easy in our lives just to be very automatic. Say, you’re sitting at your desk, you’re doing your work, you get an email, and there’s a reaction to it, “I don’t like this. This person, I don’t like the way they said this. This is more work for me, whatever.”

But to time out and to say, “Wait a second. Am I paying attention? How often do I even think about what I think? Am I paying attention to the thoughts that are in my head? Are my assumptions correct? could there be a different way to see this?” So, that first step is to pay attention, to observe it, almost like as a third-party observer, say, “What is the thought I got here? And what’s the basis for that?”

The second part of that is really just saying, “Is this serving me? In what ways could I reframe this?” And you were talking about stories, and there’s a man, his name is Artis Stevens, who is the President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters. And he had a mindset, which was he wanted to play football for the University of Georgia, and he was injured catastrophically, and he couldn’t play football. He’s really down.

And he had equated, he said, “Success in life means success in football. And if I’m not successful in football, I’m not successful in life.” But he realized, and his family and his friends came around him, and said, “No, success in life can come from so many other things.” So, he broadened and reframed his thoughts, and, ultimately, got into the University of Georgia, academically, and has been extraordinarily successful since that time.

But to the second point, so you pay attention to your thoughts, you reframe your thoughts, and that’s great, but then you also need to condition your mind for success. And that means, “What are the things that I’m going to do every single day?” If you and I went into the gym, and we went and we’re doing biceps, and we grab some dumbbells, and we do them a bunch, ten reps, and we put them down and leave, it’s good that we were there, it’s good that we did that, but that’s not going to be sustainable, so we need to build that muscle. And that’s what conditioning our mind for success is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s say we’re paying attention to some thoughts, and let’s just say I zoom into an example. I get an email and I feel angry. Like, so and so, they said something in which they don’t think I’ve got the right stuff, or my show is worth their time, or whatever. So, there’s a stimulus and then we’ve got an emotional response, we trigger some guilt, some fears, some anger, some anxiety, some sadness, some stress. What do we do next?

Joe Hart
Yes. So, it’s a little bit different when we talk about emotions versus thoughts, and we’ve got kind of a process for dealing with emotions but it’s similar. And let me just back up because sometimes people will say, “Hey, I like the good emotions but I don’t want to have those bad emotions, so I don’t want to have anger, regret, guilt, or these kinds of things.”

The reality is that we may have some of those things automatically, so how do those things serve us? So, let’s just pretend that you read an email and you feel threatened and angry. Okay, so you could almost say to yourself, “All right. Well, time out. So, what’s happening here?” because, again, we’re going to focus on what can we control and what can we do, what can we impact.

So, I get an email and I am angry because someone had said something to me. And the question is, “All right, have I misinterpreted what they’ve said? Is that possible? Do I have all the facts? If I do have all the facts, and they have insulted me, what do I want to do with it?” The emotion could actually prompt the action. So, what’s the emotion? What’s the emotion telling me? What do I want to feel? And what do I need to do?

So, in that particular case, I have found that quite often, I had assumed wrongly that someone might have meant something or have been out to get me in a situation, and, really, they weren’t. So, would it make sense to let that emotion be a trigger that says, “You know what, I’m going to go talk to Pete, and I’m going to have a conversation with Pete.” And say, “Pete, I got this email from you, and I want to make sure I didn’t misunderstand it. Can we talk about it? Would that be okay with you? I like to have a good relationship with you.”

But the opposite can also happen, which is you go right down that anger funnel, you go right down the depression funnel. And next thing you know, if you don’t break that, we talk in the book about negative thoughts, if you will, negative emotions being an early warning system. If you feel those things, don’t deny them. Just address them and think about, “What is this telling me? What do I need to do as a result?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then how do we do the conditioning for long-term success?

Joe Hart
Well, part of it is do you have a routine? And we know that whether you have a routine or you don’t have a routine, you probably have a routine. It may be an unintentional routine. If you get up and the first thing you do is you pick up your phone, and you start doing email, or whatever you do, that’s part of the habit of the day.

You can develop routines that set you up for success. One thing that I do, and many people do, is to create a space in the morning. Other people do it in the afternoon or the evening, to reflect. But to have time to think about, “What worked well yesterday? What can I learn from yesterday? What didn’t go well? What do I need to change? What are the main things I need to do today to be successful? Do I give myself time to center, to meditate, to pray?” to whatever it is for people that works for them, but to be intentional about the kind of things that they want to do.

So, having that time to focus and to think is important. And, sometimes, frankly, we don’t get it. We are so engrossed in social media, email, day to day, and all of a sudden, the day has gone by. So, one thing is certainly to have time. The second thing is to flip those thoughts and to do them consistently. Affirmations are something that have been around for a long time. They really do work. So, being able to have some of those.

Those are some ideas, and, again, there are many that we talk about in the book. But what I can tell you is when you are intentional and you focus on these kinds of things, and the life that you want to have, and being in touch with your values, it’s incredible how quickly you can create a mindset, a growth mindset, a mindset that’s looking for possibility, but it’s not going to happen on its own.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you share with us, Joe, some of your favorite affirmations?

Joe Hart
I’ll give you one which is from running. Over the years, I have, well, I’d say it’s become a love relationship with running, but in the beginning, it was super hard. I don’t know, Pete, if you’ve ran or is this something you’ve done before where you’re a runner?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve had some seasons of life where I did a lot of it, and did a half marathon and some triathlons, and I’ve done relatively little lately.

Joe Hart
Yeah, so you and me both. It’s something I need to do more of. But there was a period of time when I started to run, and the voice in my head kept on saying, “Stop. You can’t do this.” It was really hurting and it was painful. But the affirmation that I used was, it was, “Dig deep. You got this. Dig deep. You got this. Dig deep. You got this.” And I did, and I’ve used that as something else that has guided me through other tough times, “Dig deep. You got this.” And there are others as well but that’s one that stands out.

My wife and I have used the term ‘all in’ when I became the CEO of Dale Carnegie, when we relocated our family from Michigan to New York, with six kids. It was a really big deal, and it’s like, “We’re all in. We’re all in.” It’s like, “We’re going to look forward. We’re not going to look back.” So, those are a couple of things that I’ve used.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then we talked about the thoughts and emotions. Now, how do you recommend we take command of relationships?

Joe Hart
Well, the first thing is, and it’s similar to thoughts and emotions, we need to be intentional about relationships. A lot of times, if we’re focused only on ourselves and not necessarily on how we’re connecting with other people, those relationships might not be particularly good.

Dale Carnegie’s principles that come from How to Win Friends & Influence People kind of provide a framework for, “How do we connect with people? Do we appreciate? Do we respect people? Do we listen to people? Or do we feel it’s more important to talk about ourselves all the time? Do we try, honestly, to see things from another person’s point of view?”

So, the first thing is, “What’s to find? How important are relationships in our lives? Is it important to you as a partner, or a spouse, or an employee, or a leader, or a CEO? Do you have strong relationships with people? What happens if you don’t? What happens to your marriage, or friendship, or parenthood, or leadership in a company if you don’t care about the people you’re working with?” So, the first thing is be intentional.

Second thing, though, is then to think about, and we have a chapter on this, it is what I think is Dale Carnegie’s probably most valuable principle to me, at least it has been, which is to try, honestly, to see things from another person’s point of view. It is to be empathetic, to listen, to assume positive intent. So, if we do some of those things, we’re far more likely to be able to develop better relationships.

Dale Carnegie said you can make more friends, and I may be paraphrasing it the wrong way here, but you can make more friends in a month by talking about other people and listening to them than you can by talking about you, about just yourself. So, if you are at an event, and you’re talking to someone, are you interested in them? So, those are all things you can do to build good relationships.

We also have the reality that there’s difficult people in our lives. How do you deal with difficult people? How do you deal with people who are critical? How do you deal with people who are triggering in some way, if you will? So, I can talk about that if you’d like, but I also want to be sensitive about my own advice and not be like talking nonstop.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, yeah, let’s hear about it. So, we’re intentional, we listen, we’re curious, we ask questions, we show interest. And, yeah, let’s hear about it. On the difficult people side of things, what do we do there?

Joe Hart
Yeah, I think part of this is sometimes we look at a person who’s difficult, and we would get ourselves in the mindset that that person is the problem. When, in reality, I could be the problem; A, I could be the difficult person, or, B, “Am I thinking about my responsibility with the person who I perceive to be difficult?”

Sometimes, if I don’t assume positive intent, I perceive someone as being difficult. If someone, like using the example that you and I were talking about earlier, you get an email, and, “Gosh, there’s that Pete again, always sending these emails, always being critical.” So, I perceive you to be difficult, but are you? Do you even realize that I have those thoughts?

So, the first thing is, “What can I do? What’s my responsibility?” And it might be, “I’m going to go talk to Pete. I‘m going to communicate with Pete. And, in the case where Pete is, in fact, difficult, if you will, I might want to communicate boundaries to Pete.” A common example, so let’s just say that your boss says, “Pete, I need you to get this project done right now. You got two days to get it done, and that’s that.”

So, the boss walks away or gets off of Zoom, and you think to yourself, “Gosh, that person again, keeps saying. That person doesn’t care about me. That person doesn’t listen to me. He doesn’t realize I’ve got all these other projects. I’m never going to be able to hit the deadline.” “Yeah, Pete, but did you tell the boss? Did you say, ‘Hey, boss, I’ve got these three other projects I’m working on right now, and I’m not going to be able to hit all three of them. Can you help me prioritize them?’”

Or, can you say, “Boss, I’ve been working on a certain number of hours, and what are your boundaries?” Pete, you might say, “Gosh, I have to spend some time with my family. I need to communicate that.” So, the first thing is set boundaries. And the second this is, communicate those boundaries because if you don’t talk about them, then how will someone even know necessarily that they’re violating your boundaries?

So, those are a couple of things, but I think there’s also a situation where, if you find that someone is violating your values, or is just ignoring your boundaries, that might be a situation where there are some relationships that need to end. And sometimes we need to be away from people who are toxic people. And as difficult as that might be, that could be in a workplace, that could be in a relationship, that could be in a community interaction, but if someone is toxic or violating your values, then you may need to cut that relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we talked a little bit about the thoughts and emotions, the relationships. And now how about the third part, the living of the life you want? What are your top perspectives here?

Joe Hart
Yeah, so it’s kind of neat because you really don’t even get to this third part, I don’t think, unless you have focused on the first two. You got to focus on your own thoughts and emotions, and develop the inner strength. You’ve got to work on relationships, you’ve got this community of people around you, and then you say to yourself, “What’s my vision for myself? What kind of life do I want to lead?”

I think one of the biggest tragedies of life, Pete, is that many times people get to the end of their lives, and certainly we know this through so many of these deathbed surveys where they ask people, “If you’d live your life over, what would you have done differently?” And they say, “Gosh, I regret that I didn’t take chances. I wasn’t bold. I was always afraid. I worried too much about what people thought,” and so forth.

So, part three of this book is about not letting us get to that point. It is about saying, right now, today, we’re going to begin thinking about the values that are important to us, the vision that we want to have for ourselves, whether it’s short term or longer term, what do we perceive our purpose to be as we define it for ourselves. But you go through this process of really getting clear about what it is that you want.

Writing that down or putting it in an electronic journal, or whatever it is, and repeatedly going back to that, and what we find, and there’s lots of stories of people who’ve done that, and have had huge impact, and it’s something that, once we are clear. Let me just give you one story from the book, which I think is a really amazing person.

Daniella Fernandez is someone who is a 19-year-old student at Georgetown University, really became familiar with the crisis facing the ocean. And she went to a conference at the UN and she heard all these people talking about it, and she came to the conclusion that people are not doing enough to protect the ocean.

So, she created what is today the largest sustainable ocean alliance in the world of its kind, and I take it’s in the 130 countries, and they’re taking specific concrete actions to improve the ocean quality. And that’s someone who got really clear about her values, about where she wanted to have impact, but we also have examples just of people who are living their lives and having a positive impact on other people.

I tell the story about my father who was a recovering alcoholic. He went 51 years without a drink. And part of his purpose in life was to help other people find sobriety. In the local AA chapter, he was kind of a local hero, 51 years, that’s a long time for someone who’s been an alcoholic to go without a drink. So, he was committed to helping sponsor people and helping support people. And at his funeral, person after person came up to me, and they said, “What an impact your dad had on me.”

So, this last part is about asking what is really important to you. So, Pete, what’s important to you? What’s important to whoever is reading the book? And then helping guide them through a process to begin to make that happen. Our hope is that people who follow these things, and it’s all rooted in Dale Carnegie’s wisdom, from decades-old wisdom, we’ve proven things today and stories today, that if you do these things, you’re going to live the life you want, you’re going to have great relationships, you’re going to feel more courage, and be able to overcome adversity. So, that’s the third part.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Joe, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Joe Hart
Only that one of the reasons people will often ask, “Why did you write this book?” and I co-wrote it with Michael Crom, who’s Dale Carnegie’s grandson, is I think he and I both feel that we owe a great deal of debt for all that we’ve been given and learned in the wisdom of Dale Carnegie. So, we wrote this book really to give it to other people in the younger audience. So, I hope that it will mean something to people, and it will help really impact people’s lives.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Joe Hart
So, I guess I probably let the cat out of the bag earlier because the quote that I like, that I think about a lot, is the Marcus Aurelius quote about “Our lives are what our thoughts make it.” So, if you push me for a second one, this is one, when you were asking about the difficult people, I think about this quote a lot. It’s from Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it is, “Every person I meet is my superior in some way, in that I learn from him or her.”

So, when I am meeting with someone, and if it’s a difficult conversation, and particularly I think to myself, “What can I learn from this person?” And I remember one time, I was in a cab, I was in Italy, and I was going to the airport, and I’m talking to this taxi driver, and the taxi driver is asking me what I do, and I’m telling him about Dale Carnegie. And he says, “Don’t you ever get tired of talking to people who are, you come across in your travels, and they’re just idiots?”

And I said this quote to him, I said, “You know, I think every person I meet is my superior in some ways. So, when I meet them, I’m trying to figure out what can I learn from them.” And when you think about life that way, that every single person has got something to teach, it kind of shifts how you see other people, and that’s been very valuable for me.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Joe Hart
One thing we quote in the book, the Harvard happiness study. And this is a study that looked at, I don’t know remember how many, hundreds of people, I think, over a lifetime to determine what really makes people happy and unhappy. And the main finding was that relationships and good high-quality relationships, caring relationships, are life-giving, and loneliness kills.

So, I think sometimes it could be easy to be insular, to be thinking about what’s important to me or whatnot. But if I really want happiness, I need to invest in other people and be connected to other people.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Joe Hart
It’s hard to narrow down to a favorite book. I guess it’d be easy for me to say How to Win Friends & Influence People is certainly one of the most influential, if not the most influential book, I’ve ever read. Certainly, the Bible and How to Win Friends & Influence People. Well, I will tell you, I read a great book recently, I’ve been reading a lot of books and listening to a lot of books on Audible.

So, a couple books that I’ve read recently that I’ve enjoyed are The Earned Life by Marshall Goldsmith, which has been really, I think, insightful.

I also read a couple books by Cal Newport, Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, which really got me thinking about my relationship with, say, social media and other kinds of things. And David Goggins’ “Can’t Hurt Me,” which is a story about this just unbelievable Navy Seal, and just what he went through in his life and his career. So, those are a few good ones.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Joe Hart
Well, I guess I don’t know if I can call this a tool. I like paper clips.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Joe Hart
If I find a paper clip in the ground, I typically pick it up. I don’t know, I like paper clips. Little pins, that type of thing. But I guess if it’s a tool-tool, I guess I’d probably say it’s gooseneck pliers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Joe Hart
My morning routine, I guess I’d say, is my favorite habit. Starting the day, every day, if I can, by making a hot green tea, and going and sitting for 30 to 60 minutes, and really preparing for my day, and reflecting on the prior day, and just really kind of setting myself in the right place.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Joe Hart
I get asked often for kind of a piece of advice, and often it’s for young people, “What would you tell yourself?” What would I tell a younger Joe? And maybe the most valuable thing for me is not to worry so much about what people think. As I’ve gotten older, I have cared less. I still care about what people think. I don’t want to say I dismiss it.

But I had this conversation with one of my daughters the other day about if you go to a party, you’re thinking about yourself, you’re thinking about, “How do I look? How do I sound? What am I wearing?” all these different things. And what are other people thinking about? They’re thinking the same thing. They’re worried about themselves. So, we create a lot of energy worrying about what other people think, and the reality is, in most cases, people don’t care. They’re focused on themselves. So, don’t worry so much about what people think, and you got to stay true to yourself and your values.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Joe Hart
So, DaleCarnegie.com is a great place to find lots of Dale Carnegie resources. If people want to take a Dale Carnegie program, they can go to that website. TakeCommand.com has got information about the book and buying the book. It’s available on Audible, in Kindle, and also hard copy. I’m pretty active on Twitter and LinkedIn, it’s @josephkhart, so either of those places, and I’m sharing information and research and studies, and those kinds of things constantly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Joe Hart
Yeah, I would say ask yourself whether you are, in fact, taking command. Are you intentional right now in the important aspects of your life? And if you’re not, I challenge you to be that way. Be intentional. Take command. Make it happen now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you, Joe. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun and command.

Joe Hart
All right. Thank you, Pete. It’s been great talking to you.

851: How to Reclaim Your Confidence with Nicole Kalil

By | Podcasts | One Comment

 

Confidence sherpa Nicole Kalil busts the myth about confidence and validation and shows you how to develop true confidence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What confidence really means
  2. The four questions to ask when you have low confidence
  3. How to build trust within yourself 

About Nicole

Nicole’s passion for eliminating gender expectations and redefining “Woman’s Work” is both what keeps her up at night, and what gets her up in the morning. Well that, and an abundant amount of coffee. 

An in-demand speaker, author of Validation is For Parking, leadership strategist, respected coach, and host of the “This Is Woman’s Work” Podcast, her stalker-like obsession with confidence sets her apart from the constant stream of experts telling us to BE confident. She actually shares HOW you build it, and gives actionable tools you can implement immediately. 

A fugitive of the C-suite at a Fortune 100 company, she has coached hundreds of women in business, which has given her insight as to what – structurally, systemically and socially – is and isn’t serving both women and leaders within an organization. 

Maintaining some semblance of sanity in her different roles of wife, mother, and business owner successfully is an ongoing challenge… in whatever free time she has, she enjoys reading and wine guzzling, is an avid cheese enthusiast, a hotel snob, and a reluctant peloton rider. 

Resources Mentioned

Nicole Kalil Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Nicole, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Nicole Kalil

Thank you so much for having me, Pete. I am thrilled to be here.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m thrilled to be chatting. And I want to understand what’s up with you and blue ink?

Nicole Kalil

That’s so funny. I don’t know why it makes me nauseous. Any time I have to write in blue ink, I get this sinking feeling. I don’t know if I was traumatized by a pen in my past, or what happened, but it just is not my thing. It must be black ink at all times.

Pete Mockaitis

So, that’s when if you write in blue ink, you get nauseous.

Nicole Kalil

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

Now, if you read blue ink on a screen or that someone else has written it, is it fine?

Nicole Kalil

It’s fine. It doesn’t bother me. It’s just when it’s like coming out of the pen that’s in my hand.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting.

Nicole Kalil
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
What if you’re, like, not looking at the paper while you write with the blue ink?

Nicole Kalil

You know, I haven’t tried it that hard to overcome this particular challenge or to test it out. I just know, I mean, I have drawers full of black pens, so it doesn’t happen that often. I haven’t tested out if I closed my eyes, or didn’t look, or if it’s a certain type of blue, or any of that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, fascinating. Well, sometimes I think some documents I think I’ve had to sign them in blue ink. Every once in a while, that comes up.

Nicole Kalil

Yes, it does come up. Typically, like when you go sign lawyers’ documents or things like that, and I just take a deep breath, and work my way through it, and keep my eyes on the prize. I do not like it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, I’m glad we established that, and I will not ask you to write anything in blue ink. But I will ask you lots of questions about confidence, one of our favorite topics here. So, you have the title confidence sherpa. Is that accurate?

Nicole Kalil

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

I love it.

Nicole Kalil

Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis

I could see you in a large coat as I visualize.

Nicole Kalil

Exactly, with the fur. It’s more interesting than founder or the more traditional titles. And I think it’s a little bit more telling, about what I’m passionate about and also how I see my work, climbing the mountain along with you, as opposed to somebody standing at the mountain top telling you what to do or how to do it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Now, when it comes to confidence, I’d love to hear, is there any particularly fascinating, surprising, counterintuitive discovery you’ve made about confidence in your years of working in this space?

Nicole Kalil

Definitely, yes, but I’m going to start with probably the most surprising thing, is I think most of us don’t have enough confidence because we, literally, have no idea of what confidence is. It’s one of those words that’s been thrown around left and right, and leveraged, and utilized in so many different ways that I think it’s, somewhere along the line, lost its meaning.

So, I went back to the etymology, the root of the word confidence to try to really understand what is it that we’re talking about, what does this ever elusive confidence that we’re all trying to buy, produce, seek, create. And, ultimately, the most surprising thing to me about confidence is that it wasn’t what I thought it was.

I thought confidence was a little bit more associated with arrogance, or ego, or courage, or feeling good, or being attractive. Ultimately, confidence is firm and bold trust in self. The root of the word confidence is trust, faith, belief. Any translation to any language, if you look at it where confidence comes from, even if you look at the iterations of the word, like a confidante, it’s a close trusted friend, confidential, a confidence con, or a con artist. It’s all about, the root of it is all about trust.

So, at least for the purposes of my conversations when I talk about confidence, I’m talking about firm and bold trust in self.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I think I could just sit and meditate upon that for a few minutes.

Nicole Kalil

It’s a big one.

Pete Mockaitis
Because that, in and of itself, is juicy, because some academic definitions is like, “Okay, tactically, you’ve distinguished that from other constructs. Great job, professor so-and-so.” But this is weighty.

Nicole Kalil

No, it’s big. It felt really big to me. And even today, I find myself using the word wrong or thinking something is going to bring me confidence that doesn’t because my whole life I’ve been socialized to believe at something else. And as a woman, I think there’s a little bit of a nuance that tells me that my confidence is wrapped up in how I look and how other people perceive me. And that flies completely in the face of this definition of firm and bold trust in self.

Pete Mockaitis

And as I chew on this definition, as I think about trust, it’s almost like, “Well, to what end?” I trust that I’m not going to burn down my office. I am 100% confident that will not happen today.

Nicole Kalil

At least not today.

Pete Mockaitis

I have a Jetboil, I tell my landlord, “I only use it outside.” So, tell us more about that. Trust in self to do what or just for everything?

Nicole Kalil

I would argue just about everything but I think sometimes trust and competence get confused. And, also, one of the other surprising things I learned about what builds confidence is failure builds confidence. Why? Because it’s easy to trust ourselves when things are going according to plan, when we’re winning, when we’re achieving, when we are checking all the boxes.

Trusting ourselves is easy during those moments. It’s when fear and doubt, or when you make mistakes, it’s the trust that’s required to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, get back into action. It’s the “I’m still okay. I trust that I’ll be okay on the other side of this, trust that I will learn, I’ll grow, I’ll come out better, that it served a purpose.”

I think choosing to trust ourselves during the harder times is where this skill, this muscle gets developed at a much deeper sustainable longer-lasting way. So, that was another surprising thing, is that failure actually builds confidence, if you choose it, if you let it, because, again, trust isn’t necessarily “I have all the answers. I know what I’m doing. I have it all figured out.” It’s trusting that “I’ll be okay no matter what, and that I can come out better on the other side.”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, can you tell us an inspiring story of a professional who was able to develop extraordinary confidence?

Nicole Kalil

What I would argue that we’re all doing it all the time, and I think any one of us who have taken big risks, chased any dreams, had difficult conversations, raised their hand for something they wanted, put one foot in front of the other towards what matters, is exercising and building confidence. And I don’t know that any human feels a hundred percent confident a hundred percent of the time. But I would just argue that the skill is required to both get what we want and, also, gets developed in the action that it takes to move toward what we want. It feeds off itself.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, could you maybe give us an example of that playing out?

Nicole Kalil

Yeah. So, I’ll use myself. I don’t know that I’m the most successful person or the best example but it’s the one I know inside and out. I was an executive at a Fortune 100 financial services company, very male-dominated industry. I was the first female in my role in the company’s 160-year history. And I was doing well from the outside looking in, looked the part of the independent successful woman on the rise with my “Who needs a man” attitude.

But the way that it was on the inside did not match at all the way that it looked on the outside. I was living for the validation of others. I was chasing the next promotion, the next achievement, and I had this false equation in my mind that if X happened, and fill in the blank of X with whatever you want. If I fit into a certain size, if I bought the right car, if I lived in the right house, if I got a certain level of income, whatever it was, when X happened, then I would feel confident.

That never worked. I would get the thing, or achieve, or accomplish, and I would feel temporarily satisfied until all the feelings of fear and doubt, and whether or not I could do the job, whether or not somebody saw me a certain way, came rushing back in, and I began to realize that my confidence was tied to everything and everyone outside of me. I had my confidence living out there.

And in doing the work that I talk about in my book, and really focusing on this true definition of confidence, and all the things that build confidence, all the things that were chipping away at it, in doing this work, I uncovered that the role that I was in, at the company that I was at, was, ultimately, not where I wanted to be anymore. There wasn’t anything wrong with it. I could’ve been retired there and been successful and all that, but I wasn’t living my true purpose. I wasn’t doing what I felt I was really put here to do.

And so, with a lot of courage and a lot of confidence, I stepped down from this very big, multiple six-figure role to start my own business, and that took a ton of confidence, and then building that business, and pivoting during COVID, and entering this year without any business goals for the first time in my professional life, and still doing more, chasing more, risking more. I think all of those, hopefully, are demonstrations of confidence in action.

And that’s not to say that I feel confident a hundred percent of the time. I’ve messed up. I made mistakes. I’ve learned. I’ve grown. I’ve been afraid. I have doubts. I have days where I’m not at my absolute best, and yet I still get to choose how to interpret those events. I get to choose to see them in a more productive, more empowered way, and come out better on the other side.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Okay. Well, let’s hear a bit about your book Validation Is For Parking: How Women Can Beat the Confidence Con. What is the confidence con?

Nicole Kalil

So, the confidence con is this idea that our confidence is built externally, it’s built through validation, or compliments, or achievements, or successes. By the way, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with any of those things. I’m just saying that those are not, in fact, what bring you confidence. Your confidence isn’t out there. No one or nothing is walking around with your confidence waiting for you to find it and get them to give it to you.

Your confidence is an inside job, it’s an internal thing and skill that you can develop and grow any time you want, which is contrary to the messages, I think, we receive very often out there. So, I call that false messaging the con, and the book is really focused on the things that actually build confidence, build trust.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, tell us, what are the things that actually build confidence and trust? How do we pull it off?

Nicole Kalil

Okay. So, there are five confidence builders that I identify in the book. I also identified five confidence derailers because there are things that are chipping away at doing damage to our confidence. If we’re not mindful of those things, we can do all of the building work we want, but we end up feeling like we’re on a hamster wheel. We’re doing a lot of work but not moving very much forward.

So, I’ll identify the five confidence builders quickly. Action. Action builds confidence. I can’t find a single expert or research or article on the topic of confidence that doesn’t agree with that. You don’t think or hope or fingers and toes crossed your way into confidence. You get into action towards it. So, action, failure, we talked about that a little bit already.

Giving yourself grace. The way you talk to yourself matters. So, this can be mindset work, this can be speaking to yourself the way you would, somebody else that you love, respect and admire. The fourth confidence builder is choosing confidence, which I know sounds a little obvious, but I think a lot of us think confidence is a feeling that we either have or we don’t, as opposed to a choice we can make anytime that we want.

And then, finally, the fifth confidence builder is building internal trust. It’s the things that we can do to establish, grow, develop, build trust in ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Lovely. So, those are the builders. And then what are the derailers?

Nicole Kalil

So, the five derailers, the first is perfectionism, this idea that we’re supposed to have it all, do it all, be it all, and look good while doing it. Perfectionism is the enemy of confidence because it’s not an achievable goal. Head trash is the second confidence derailer. This is the voice inside of our own minds that says things to us about us that are never kind, and very rarely based in fact or in truth. So, head trash, that internal negative voice.

The third confidence derailer is judgment and comparison, this thing that we do where we compare ourselves to other people, and we either fall short or think we’re better than. Confidence is not comparing yourself to somebody else and feeling superior. Confidence does not even mean compare yourself to anyone at all.

The fourth confidence derailer is overthinking. Thinking is not a problem. We should all be doing it. Overthinking is problematic because overthinking leads to inaction. Inaction creates regret. And then, finally, the fifth confidence derailer is seeking it externally. It’s hoping that the person of your dreams is going to give you confidence, or the weight loss, or the certain level of income, or certain amount of followers on social media. This idea that something external, something outside of us is going to infuse us with confidence.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, that’s a nice lay of the land there in terms of the builders and the derailers. Can you share with us perhaps some of the best practices in terms of bang-for-the-buck, what are the practices we should take on that makes a world of difference in terms of having more confidence?

Nicole Kalil

Absolutely. So, I’m going to walk through an exercise. In my book, I think have ten different exercises that are all designed to help because I’m more of a tactical-oriented person. I don’t want somebody to just tell me to be confident. I want them to give me action steps, tactical steps, so there’s a lot of that in the book, but I’ll give one as an example.

And it’s the process that we can go through inside of our own minds of either overcoming or rethinking about failure. So, if you made a mistake, or you’ve experienced failure, or you’re worried about it, ask yourself, first and foremost, “What are the facts?” So, let’s say, and, Pete, this is actually true, “I feel like I’m having a little bit of an off day. I, hopefully, am not blowing it but I don’t know that this is the best podcast I’ve ever done in the history of ever.”

So, my brain is starting to go into head trash, and I’m screwing up, and, “Oh, my gosh, all these people are hearing me mess up. And what if…? This is a top podcast and Pete is awesome, and he thinks I’m an idiot,” so my brain is going crazy. So, here’s an exercise in action. First, I ask myself, “What are the facts?” The facts are it’s 24 minutes into a recording with Pete on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

The facts are it’s a top 1% podcast. The facts are I got invited to be on the show. The facts are that I’m speaking about confidence. What are the facts and only the facts? This is important because we often interact with our interpretations or our perspectives as if they’re facts. We don’t want to do that. So, step number one is, “What are the facts and only the facts?”

Step number two, “What am I making up about the facts? I’m making up that I’m having an off day. I’m making up that I forgot to mention this. I’m making up that I spent a little bit too much time explaining that. I’m making up that I’m the worst guest you ever had. I’m making up, I’m making up, I’m making up.”

And for a lot of us, what we’re making up is a negative, disempowered, unproductive version or interpretation of the facts. It doesn’t support us. It doesn’t help us in moving toward what we want, what matters, the risks we want to take, the dreams we want to chase. Okay, so that’s step number two, “What am I making up about the facts?”

Step number three, “Is there a different, more empowered, more productive way to see it? Is there a different interpretation of the facts other than the one I made up?” And a little pro tip here. While any of us can do this for ourselves, sometimes it’s helpful to engage a trusted friend, or a colleague, or a coach, or a mentor. It’s sometimes hard to see things clearly from the inside. There’s an expression that says, “You can’t read the label from the inside of the bottle.” And that’s what I think of here.

Sometimes that different, more productive, more empowered version of the facts can come to you from somebody outside, telling you how they see it. Now, it is still your responsibility because nobody gives you confidence to go from there, and you get to decide which interpretation you choose, or which one you believe, but another interpretation of the facts is, “What an honor it is for me to be here. Whether it was perfect or not, I took the risk, I was excited about the opportunity.”

“I am sure that there is at least one person listening who’s going to be impacted in some way. Somebody is going to be thinking about confidence in a new way, in a different way that maybe is more supportive. Somebody might take a risk on the other side of this. I’m going to learn. I’m going to get better as a guest.”

So, which of those two interpretations of the facts is more true, is more factual or more correct? The answer is neither. I’m making up both interpretations, but one of those is more productive, one of those is more empowered, one of those is going to support me in moving towards what matters, is going to support me in doing bigger and better things.

Which leads to step number four, which is, “What action do I take from here?” So, now with us more productive, more empowered, interpretation of the facts, “What action do I take from here?” Maybe the action is sharing this episode on social media in my platforms. Maybe this action is asking if there’s another podcast that I really want to be on that maybe you would make an introduction. Maybe the action is listening to this episode and really thinking about, “What are the learning opportunities? What could I do better? What skill can I develop from here?”

There are so many actions I can take, but action builds confidence, and so the problem with mistakes, or failures, or head trash, or all, is often, it puts us in a spin and we end up physically or mentally in the fetal position doing nothing. And so, this four-step process, hopefully, helps to get outside of our heads and towards what really matters.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Yeah, that’s cool. Thank you. I dig it. And then the facts and only the facts, and then what are you making up, and then what is a different interpretation. That’s cool. I’m curious, are there also some practices that are handy outside the heat of battle but just, as a general thing to do, maybe daily, weekly, quarterly, in terms of, “Huh, this is wise and will keep that confidence boosted over the course of the year”?

Nicole Kalil

Yeah, so the example I just gave and a few others, I would say, are more reactive or more, like, “Hey, I’m struggling. I need something to get me back on track.” I think there are some things that you can do that are more proactive, or even preventative, or that help you from getting into that place. So, there are a few things.

The first I’ll mention is something called “The things I know to be true about me at this point in my life.” I know that’s a ridiculously long title for an exercise but, ultimately, in order to trust yourself, I believe you need to know yourself. This is an exercise in self-awareness and self-appreciation. So, you spend some time thinking about, “What do I know to be true about me at this point in my life? What are my superpowers? What are my unique abilities? What makes me different? What comes more naturally? What do I count on about myself? What do other people count on about me? What might be my unique purpose?”

[24:19]

Any of those questions, you just start laundry-listing them out. I’ve done this exercise more with women than any other gender, but I’ve found that the average number of things people can come up with is six. Six things they know to be true about themselves, which is mind-blasting to me because with all of our life experience, with all of our complex things that make us us, it is just an indication of how little time we are spending building our own self-awareness, getting to know and appreciate, and respect, and admire ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis

And could you give some examples of some of these things?

Nicole Kalil

Yeah, absolutely. So, I’m a good decision-maker. I mean what I say, I say what I mean. I love my family. Full stop. No negotiations. I have a sarcastic personality. So, those are some examples. My list is much longer now but those are some examples of things that are on my list, things that I know and can count on about myself. These aren’t wish lists. This isn’t who I want to be. And nobody is anything one hundred percent of the time.

So, let’s take that I’m a good decision-maker. It doesn’t mean I’ve only ever made 100% good decisions. It just means that that is a skill that I rely on regularly, that other people have admired about me, that often gets leveraged or utilized in my work.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, these things, I’m just thinking, in terms of, like, the filter or the relevancy is, like, I could name dozens of things I know to be true about myself that are somewhat inconsequential, “I like drinking LaCroix.” Like, okay. And so, that’s true, I know that with confidence, Nicole, I could tell you that. I don’t know if that’s getting me anywhere though. Can you help me out with that?

Nicole Kalil

Yeah, sure. I would say, as an initial starting point, put anything that comes to mind with no judgment. This list is between you and you. You don’t have to necessarily go out and share it with anybody. I would, as a starting point, lock yourself in a room, or go outside with a beautiful view and fresh air, or wherever your mental juices get flowing, and just allow yourself to ask the question, “What do I know to be true about me at this point in my life?”

And if “I love LaCroix” ends up on the list, let’s leave it there for now. At least as a starting point, try not to judge, try not to kneecap, try not to find evidence for what comes out. So, I’ll give another example. I’ve had people say “I’m honest to a fault.” Just cross out the “to a fault.” Just “I’m honest.” If somebody takes fault with that, that might be a ‘them’ problem, not a ‘you’ problem. But we have a tendency to say something about ourselves and then kneecap that sentence, or soften, or add disclaimers, “I’m pretty smart.” It’s okay to just be smart. Cross out the pretty.

So, Pete, I don’t know if that answered your question but I would start with putting everything on. And then, at some point in time, you’re going to edit the list and refine it to maybe what matters most. But back to your earlier question, this is something you can read at the start of each day. This is a more personal, more customized mantra, or something that you can tape on your mirror, or something that you read right before you’re about to do something big or take a big risk, so you’re really grounded in who you are and what makes you unique, what makes you special, what are the unique abilities you’re bringing to the table.

And my hope is that it encourages you to trust yourself because you’re grounded in what you can count on, but it also encourages the risks, it’s also a good thing to go, “Oh, I want that. What do I know about me supports me doing that?” So, for example, I launched my own podcast. That was really scary for me, but my ‘things I know to be true’ list encouraged me, it aligned with this thing that I wanted to do, so it made it clear for me that I knew I was going to be able to make it happen.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s just really cool, Nicole. And I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Hal Elrod with The Miracle Morning, talking about six morning habits, about affirmations. And so, he really emphasized making truthful affirmations as opposed to “I am a money magnet, and money flows to me effortlessly.” You’re like, “No, no, it didn’t. I really had to hustle to get that money.”

And so, if you start not so much from a “How could I affirm myself?” but rather “Oh, what do I know to be true?” I’m imagining, as you edit that, you get to a pretty powerful rundown that, as you look at and you say, it’s sort of like an affirmation, but the way we got there was starting with foundations that are true about you as opposed to, like, wishes and desires.

Nicole Kalil

Yeah, I find it harder to trust a wish or a desire. I don’t have much evidence. And, of course, trust implies a little bit of not having all of the evidence. But I want to ground myself in what I trust, what I feel confident about, what I know to be true first. And, I don’t know, I think affirmations and mantras have a wonderful place. The more aspirational ones, or the ones that, as you mentioned, just hasn’t resonated with me personally. I am not suggesting that people shouldn’t do it or that it doesn’t work. I’m just saying it didn’t work for me. So, this is my sort of tweak on it.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. Okay. Well, tell me, Nicole, any other favorite practices that really pack a wallop?

Nicole Kalil

I start with a list of ten things that build internal trust, and it’s not, by any means, limited to ten, and I won’t go through ten today, but when we think about confidence as firm and bold trust in self, and we understand that it’s not going to come to us from the outside, and it’s built from the inside-out, then it begs the question, “How do I do that? How do I build trust with myself?”

And so, first, I would encourage you to think about how you build trust with others, and how others build trust with you. That will give you some insight into what’s most important to you. But there are a few things that I think are fairly universal. For example, keep your commitments. We trust people more who do what they say they’re going to do. We trust people more who follow through on their commitment. We tend to trust people who flake or don’t show up when they’re going to less. This is not a hundred percent true across the board but I’d say pretty general.

So, if you think about that, then, “How do I build trust with myself?” You take those things and you take it internal. Well, first and foremost, keeping the commitments you make to yourself, at least as much as, if not more, than the commitments you make to others. I think so many of us follow through on the commitments to our colleagues, to our bosses, to our children, at a much greater level than the commitments we make to ourselves. And, unfortunately, that’s doing damage and chipping away at our own trust.

We also have the tendency to overcommit, and that can be problematic as it relates to building trust. Now, again, perfectionism is the enemy of confidence, so this isn’t about keeping 100% of your commitments 100% of the time, but it is about doing it more often than not. That’s how we build and grow trust within ourselves.

Some other examples. Standing up for yourself builds self-trust. Speaking your truth. Saying what you mean, meaning what you say. Communicating boundaries can be a big trust builder. Being your own hype person. There are so many examples but it’s really thinking about, “What matters most to me as it relates to trust?” and then turning it inward and thinking about, “How do I do this with and for myself, for my own confidence?”

Pete Mockaitis

Well, now I’m intrigued, Nicole, about any number of situations. We had on the show Carol Kauffman who had a great question, “Who do I want to be now?” in terms of different circumstances, and there’s repeat thoughts connecting. It’s funny. I’m thinking right now, if someone provides you with service that is not quite acceptable, usually, I’m like, “You know, I don’t want to make a big issue of it. It’s not that big a deal. I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”

I got a little bit of people-pleaser in me, “I don’t want to hurt their feelings or put them on the spot. And, really, I’m so blessed in so many ways. Am I really going to make an issue over this carpet isn’t cut quite right or they forgot something with my restaurant order.” And so, usually, I kind of say nothing. But what you described makes me think, “Huh, there may be a whole lot of value in kindly, lovingly, diplomatically, saying, oh, speaking up for myself in those environments.” What are your thoughts here?

Nicole Kalil

I’m right there with you. I’m also a recovering people-pleaser, and I have to check in with myself. If I don’t say anything, how will I feel on the other side of this? Will I feel frustrated? Will I feel disappointed? Will I feel like I let myself or someone else down? Will I be pissed off? And if the answer to any of those questions is yes, then I probably should say something.

But, Pete, you hit the nail on the head. How I say it is a big differentiator and how I feel about myself. So, like you said, maybe it’s not that big of a deal, maybe it’s just, I had this recently with a contractor, “Hey, you’ve done phenomenal work. I could not be more pleased. I would recommend you to people. But can I give you one piece of feedback, one thing that I didn’t particularly enjoy in my relationship, and that would prevent me from referring you in certain situations or to certain types of people? Are you open? Would that feedback be valuable?”

So, I got to speak from what was true for me. I got to share something that was on my mind, and that was really bothering me. But I got to do it in a productive way for both of us and, by the way, I also have had the moments where I’ve gotten so pissed off that I over-rotated and the guys standing up for myself just ended up being a big jerk.

And I had to check in with myself on that I think the judgments and the things that we say, always tell us more about us than the other person. And the only thing I have any control over anyway is how I show up.

Pete Mockaitis

And what’s interesting as I imagine this conversation with contractor, whomever, felt like the worst-case scenario play out like wildly unrealistic, they start screaming at you, like, “Well, Nicole, it is absolutely outrageous that you would expect such a thing given the timeline and the budget, and it’s, frankly, extremely rude of you to throw this minor foible in our faces when we’ve bent over backwards to over deliver and be awesome for you.” Okay, so that’s, like, over-the-top negative reaction to a piece of feedback.

And that, in and of itself, could be a confidence builder in terms of, “Hey, you know what, I just survived the worst-case scenario, and it didn’t damage me,” assuming, hopefully, that you’re not going to then prosecute yourself, like, “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that. That was so bad of me.” Hopefully, you’re not at risk for going down that pathway. But, yeah, tell us about that.

Nicole Kalil

You hit the nail on the head. First of all, the worst case very rarely happens. We always make up the worst case in our minds, and it’s almost never that. And the other thing that you said that’s so important, it’s a confidence builder either way. I get to be proud of myself that I spoke my truth. I am not responsible for how they respond, or how they react, or what they choose to do with it.

He was lovely. He was like, “I so appreciate the feedback.” He could’ve walked out of here, and was like, “She’s full of crap. I’m not taking any of that.” I don’t know. All I know is I was willing to get uncomfortable to share something that was important for me to share. I trusted that my voice mattered. I trusted that my opinion mattered. And I trusted that this feeling that was existing within me was worth putting words on.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. Well, Nicole, tell me, any other key things you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Nicole Kalil

There’s an expression that we hear a lot in professional environments, the “Fake it till you make it.” This is going to sound like semantics because it’s just a different word choice, but I prefer “Choose it until you become it.” Faking it sends the message of inauthenticity, and I think when we separate from our authentic selves, we create tears in our trust.

When we try to show up as someone or something that we’re not or be another person, fake it, I think we actually inadvertently do some damage to our trust and to our confidence. And so, my spin on it is “Choose it until you become it.” Choose to trust yourself moment by moment, day by day, until the feeling catches up. Choose confidence until you become it.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, now, Nicole, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Nicole Kalil

Yes, so I have this in my office that says, “You’ll be too much for some people. Those aren’t your people.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Nicole Kalil

So, I am not an avid researcher. I rely on other researchers to find the information. So, Adam Grant, I’m just a huge fan and I follow all of his stuff, and his book Think Again was really impactful for me.

Pete Mockaitis

I was about to ask for a favorite book. Is that it or is there another?

Nicole Kalil

I could use that but I read 80% of the time for pleasure, and maybe 20% of the time for self-development or work-related things. So, on the personal side, Louise Penny mystery books are favorites.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Nicole Kalil

Airtable, the app. I would literally would be lost without it, so that’s my go-to.

Pete Mockaitis

Nicole, you are an entry in one of our Airtable’s guest CRM.

Nicole Kalil

Oh, I love that.

Pete Mockaitis

It’s just magic.

Nicole Kalil

You are on mine. That’s how I prepped.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite habit?

Nicole Kalil

I’m an avid reader, that’s probably my favorite thing I do. I read 50 or more books every single year, but what is a unique take on it is I read during my working hours because I consider it professional and personal development. It helps me be better at my job.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Nicole Kalil

So, the “Don’t fake it till you make it. Choose it until you become it.” But also, the expression “You can’t learn to park in a parked car.” Just a reminder that action is how we learn and grow and do just about anything.

Pete Mockaitis

And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Nicole Kalil

My website is probably the best place, NicoleKalil.com. It has all the things.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Nicole Kalil

My call to action is to trust yourself, to choose confidence on the road to competence. The reality is you can’t be competent at anything when you’re trying it for the first time, or when you’re doing something new, or when you’re taking on a new challenge. Competence is something that’s gained and earned over time. And so, since you can’t be competent day one, the option is to use confidence because you can do that any time you want. So, confidence on the road to competence.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Nicole, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much fun and confidence.

Nicole Kalil

Thanks, Pete. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

850: How to Reinvent Yourself in Life and Work with Joanne Lipman

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Joanne Lipman says: "Everybody else’s journey looks so nice and neat, and we feel like we’re the only ones who are a mess, but, frankly, we all go through that struggle."

Joanne Lipman reveals her strategies for reinventing how you live, work, and lead.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How struggle makes you better.
  2. Three tricks to make any transition easier.
  3. How to take the most efficient brain breaks.

About Joanne

Joanne Lipman is a pioneering journalist and the author of the No. 1 bestseller THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID: What Men and Women Need to Know About Working Together and NEXT! The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work. She has served as Editor-in-Chief of USA Today, USA Today Network, Conde Nast Portfolio, and The Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Journal, leading those organizations to six Pulitzer Prizes. She is also an on-air CNBC contributor and Yale University journalism lecturer.

Resources Mentioned

Joanne Lipman Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Joanne, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Joanne Lipman
Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the wisdom of your book Next!: The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work but, first, I just got to know, you have had such an impressive career in the heights of senior journalism.

Pete Mockaitis
So, given your perspectives from having worked in journalism for a long time, what can you tell us about humanity, those of us here who make and choose to consume the news? What have you discovered that most of us don’t know?

Joanne Lipman
One of the things that I’ve discovered is that I really, really, really respond and appreciate the audience, the people who are listening. I think that our best insights come from when we’re talking to lots of people, when we’re out and about, when we also listen to people throughout the country. I think that one of the issues that we’ve had with trust in media is the idea that there are…we have media centers on both coasts.

We don’t have as much national media in the middle of the country, and I think it’s really important to have people represented in the newsroom from every community, from different localities, different genders experiences, socioeconomic backgrounds. And that, to me, is what builds trust in the news. And, to me, that’s the most exciting part of being in the newsroom when you’re surrounded by people who come from all different perspectives, and everybody brings something else to the party, which is, I think, helpful for all of us.

Pete Mockaitis
And then what happens when that’s not done, in terms of what’s the vibe or the impact?

Joanne Lipman
Yeah, I think there’s been some legitimate criticism that we’ve had too much sort of parachuting in. So, you’ve got your…because media is, and this is a whole other conversation, but media is under pressure, financial pressure, and there’s been a lot of cuts to journalism jobs. And, as a result, what sometimes ends up happening is there’s a story somewhere where there’s not a big news organization, and one of the big national news organizations, we call it they parachute in. Like, it’s every presidential election, there’s 50 big-time journalists who descend on Iowa and go to a diner.

Diner journalism is not great journalism. What you really want are the people who live there to be the reporters, to tell you to really understand what’s happening on the ground. And I think this is a reason why the media has – and this is all legitimate criticism – missed a lot of the rise of populism, the rise of Trump, certainly, but also just sort of through the last 20 years, the rise of the Tea Party. There’s a lot of really smart, informed people throughout the country whose voices are not heard.

And I think anything we can do to elevate those voices and have a broader perspective about…and an on-the-ground perspective of what’s happening. This is actually one of the great things when I was working with Gannett, which owns over a hundred local newspapers, and it was fantastic to be able to have when there’s an earthquake, a fire, a natural disaster, a shooting, to have local reporters who are on the ground who understood the community, and it really helps to understand the whole country. We’re a very diverse place with lots of perspectives and we need to understand ourselves better.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now can you tell us your book Next! what’s the big idea here?

Joanne Lipman
Sure. So, Next! it’s the power of reinvention in life and work, and I’m so excited about this book because it grew out of what we are all going through right now at this moment, which is we’ve had three years, we’re at the three-year mark, which is crazy, from the start of the pandemic, and the entire world was sort of upended.

No matter what you do or who you are, your life was upended, and it really got so many people rethinking, “What are our priorities? Am I in the right job? Is this the career I want? Is this the life I want? Is this where I want to live?” So many questions, and it occurred to me very early in the pandemic that we’re all going to have to figure out what’s next.

And so, the big idea is I wanted to help people to navigate big changes, navigate change in how we live, how we work, how we lead, and really to help people to move toward finding their real purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so when it comes to doing that, you’ve got a reinvention roadmap. Can you walk us through how that works?

Joanne Lipman
Sure. So, I’ll tell you a little bit about what the reporting was. When I started reporting the book, it was so interesting. I was looking for stories of people, and I did hundreds of interviews, there’s tons of research, scientific research in the book Next! And what I started with was talking with people who had already gone through these major transformations in different ways.

Some had had huge career changes, like one of my favorites. A guy named Chris Donovan who spent years, decades, as a telephone repairman but he secretly would, like, doodle pictures of shoes. And at the age of 50, left the phone company, went back to school, and now is a couture women shoe designer who was named Best of Boston, Boston Magazine, best shoe designer. It’s a beautiful story.

I found all these wonderful stories where people had these amazing transformations, but then what I did was I went back and talked to the academics, the researchers, who study these different kinds of change. And what was so fascinating was I talked to people who had gone through very different kinds of transformations, some were career, some were people who came back from, like, huge failures, some were people who had had trauma in their life, and some were actually people who had these grand aha moments that just changed their life.

So, these all seemed, on the face of it, to be very different kinds of transformation. And then I went and talked to these academics. There’s different academics who study each kind of change that I’ve just gone through, and they all walked me through sort of the steps of transformation, and they all used different words, different language, but they were all describing the same set of steps. And it was such a revelation to understand how this works.

So, they’re basically there’s four steps that pretty much everyone will go through. So, the first step, like, I will tell you the four steps, what we call them are search, struggle, stop, solution, and I will walk you through them. So, the search, almost everyone who I spoke to, no matter what kind of transformation they went through, they actually started before they even knew they started. They started moving in this direction, they started collecting information.

So, if you think about someone who changes careers, that is somebody who maybe has a hobby, or a side hustle, or even just some random interest that just grows and grows. I talked to everybody from James Patterson, the mega-selling novelist, who spent 30 years at an ad agency. He was actually at an ad agency, and he wrote books on the side, some of which got published, many of them kind of did not do well. He was, like, finding his voice, but he was working toward it.

The shoe designer I mentioned was doodling shoes. One of my other favorites was a bank economist. He worked for years, for decades, at JP Morgan, and he had a weekend house. And on the weekend house, it was a farmhouse, and he leased out the land around it to a cattle farmer. And when the cattle farmer died, he just bought the cows, he said, “I just thought all they do is eat grass. It doesn’t really take any work.”

Well, fast forward 20 years later, the guy is a full-time cattle farmer. He used to be a Harvard-educated economist, and now he’s, like, a guy who gets up and shoos the cows from one pasture to another and could not be happier. So, anyway, that’s the search, that people start moving in that direction. The struggle is very often particularly with careers, this is true. You leave one identity behind but you haven’t quite gotten to the other.

There’s a wonderful professor, Herminia Ibarra, who studies career transitions. She calls this the liminal period. It’s where it’s an uncomfortable period where you’re still haven’t quite figured out the future but you’re escaping the past.

The third step, which not everyone goes through but very often they do, which we call the stop. Very, very often, I found that there is a moment, and it’s either you choose it or it chooses you, where you just stop. So, where it’s either you’re banging your head against the wall and you can’t figure out that next step, again, uncomfortable, or, in some cases, for example, the shoe designer who I was mentioning, what prompted him was he got struck by cancer.

He had prostate cancer, and it was one of those moments where he said, “Wait a second. I’ve got to stop and think. Is this the life I want to have? Or, is this the life that I need to follow the path that I think I was put on this earth to do?” and he had that stop. And so many people do. And, by the way, if you talked to creativity researchers, people who study that, this is why we all have those aha moments.

I bet you’ve had this, right, where you wake up in the middle of the night, or you’re in the shower, or you’re going for a run, and suddenly you have that aha moment. It’s because you’re puzzling through something, and you can’t quite figure it out, and then what ends up happening is you have to put it out of your mind, you have to shut off the conscious thinking about it, and that’s what allows all these sorts of random thoughts in the back of your head kind of coalesce in your subconscious and then emerge as this aha moment.

So, there’s your stop. And then that is, again, what takes you finally to the solution. So, these four steps are very common to every kind of transition, and I found that very, very encouraging to understand how that process works.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Yes, very much. And that struggle, it’s interesting that notion of identity. So, our identities are often quite wrapped up in our work careers. Is that a finding you saw again and again?

Joanne Lipman
A thousand percent, yes. Very often, somebody said to me, “You are, like, your title, and when somebody takes that away from you, you lose that title, people are really lost.” There really is an issue with, there’s an Atlantic writer who calls workism, which is it’s almost like a religion where we are so focused on work, and it is so much of our identity, and when that goes away, it’s very hard to come back.

But that struggle is also sort of the pathway. It’s really uncomfortable. What I found almost universally is when you’re going through that struggle, whoever it is that’s going through that struggle, you think you’re the only person in the world who’s dealing with that. You feel like, “I’m a loser, and everybody around me is getting ahead, and they’ve figured it out and I haven’t.” But it is actually a universal feeling.

And it’s also where the really, really important work gets done. It’s not necessarily fun but it’s helpful to know that, first of all, everyone goes through it, and, secondly, it is actually where the most important part gets done. And I think one of the issues that we have in this, with society at large, is we have this sort of fantasy of instant overnight success, overnight transformation, and it starts from childhood with Cinderella, and then it goes to adolescence with Superman and Spiderman, and then it goes to adulthood with American Idol.

And then we hear these amazing stories, like John Legend was a management consultant, and now he’s a superstar. And Mark Zuckerberg was a college kid, and now he’s a tech billionaire. We hear these stories and it just seems so far from our own experience. It just seems like it’s impossible we shouldn’t even try because we’ll never get there.

And it’s really a damaging myth. It’s a complete myth that the important thing is we all need to go through that middle period. It’s really important, great work is being done in that middle period. We all go through it. And so, again, it’s something that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you mentioned John Legend, a management consultant to music, and I remember when I was making my transition, I was in management consulting at Bain. And I remember when I was sort of an odd duck, like people typically didn’t believe that company to go be speaker-author-people. So, I did feel that discomfort, it’s just like, “Oh, so what do you do?” I was like, “Oh, I’m a speaker and an author, and I’m kind of still figuring it out. My market is in topics and audiences, but I was a consultant at Bain.”

So, it’s like, “But I’m not a loser, I promise.” I don’t know, it’s like that insecurity that I had in that moment, it’s like, “I’m still figuring out what the heck that I’m doing here, but before I had a pretty prestigious role, so don’t think less of me.”

Joanne Lipman
Everybody. Everybody has been in your position because so many people, they meet you and they’re like, “Okay, what do you do?” and it leaves you tongue-tied. I’ve experienced that myself. I ran a magazine that closed, and then I was meeting people, and they’re like, “What do you do?” I’m like, “I used to…” What do you say, right? It’s a very awkward situation.

I have a whole chapter, by the way, on what I call necessity entrepreneurs, which is women, people of color, and, increasingly, Baby Boomers, people who are actually being squeezed out of the traditional workforce or the traditional jobs, and very often end up with far more fulfilling careers, actually, as a result. But the women who I talked to, in particular, said, “You feel invisible.”

There’s a fabulous woman I talked to who had a big consulting career, and left to raise her children, and for 12 years, she was out of the workforce, and she said, “These 12 years of feeling invisible, it’s tough. It’s tough.” I do love, by the way, that LinkedIn now allows you to have that career gap as, like, a legitimate part of your resume because I think those are…these career gaps, we’re increasingly in a nonlinear world with careers, which is so much about what Next! is about, is this sort of nonlinear life and how do you navigate the nonlinear life.

And we see it with Boomers, and now we’re seeing it with the younger generation, which they expect to have, 10 or 12 careers in the course of their working life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now you got me intrigued. So, LinkedIn, so gaps, you have the option, you have a start date and end date for things that don’t have to overlap within the programming. Is that what you’re saying?

Joanne Lipman
Yeah, exactly. And it’s made for people who have career gaps or people who maybe dropped out of the workforce, paid workforce, I should say, because they’re still working, but paid workforce, you know, they raised their kids or for other reasons, they take care of older relatives, for whatever reason it is. And I think that’s incredibly important.

I also think that there’s an increasing recognition that during those gaps in paid employment, there’s a lot of learning that’s going on, and there are a lot of people who I’ve talked to who had these wonderful career transitions because of what they learned during these gaps in their careers. The woman who I just referenced, who said she felt invisible for 12 years, she poured her energy and her business skills into community issues.

So, the zoning board, and getting a playground by the school, and getting a stop sign, and joining the PTA. All these kinds of things, civic engagement, and she met a lot of women like herself. Ultimately, what this woman did was she did two things, which is so awesome. She started a nonprofit that she is now the CEO of, that is expanding nationally, called The Acceleration Project. Its volunteers like herself and other moms who had big careers, and they mentor local business owners to help them with things like marketing and finance.

She did that, and then she was elected mayor of Scarsdale, New York, her town, and she now gives speeches all over. And she told me when she gives these speeches, she says, “When I talk about my career path, it sounds like it was so intentional, and that you can tie it up with a bow. But, frankly, when you’re in the middle of it, when you’re in that struggle,” she said, “you have no idea where it’s going.”

And this is sort of that myth that we were talking about. Everybody else’s journey looks so nice and neat, and we feel like we’re the only ones who are a mess, but, frankly, we all go through that struggle.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, we touched on a number of stories as examples here and there. Could you walk us through a story from beginning to end that you find the most clearly illustrative of these stages, “Hey, here’s the search, here’s the struggle, here’s the stop, here’s the solution”?

Joanne Lipman
Yes, okay. So, there’s a fabulous woman who I met, named Marla Ginsburg. So, Marla Ginsburg was a big-time television executive, and she had a great job, and she told me this story about how she got a promotion, she moves to California, gets the big house with the pool, and the nannies for the kids, the whole works, then comes a writers’ strike, and she loses the job.

And so, now she has to think about, “What am I going to do next?” And she says the only thing she can think of is she was always really interested in clothing design, and she’d always hoped to be, in her dream, her dream life was to be a television host. And she said the only problem was she didn’t know how to sew, she didn’t know how to design, and she’d never done television.

So, she, though, was in this struggle phase of, like, “What do I do next?” As she said, she was over 50 in a town that really prizes youth. Her old life, she could see, was fading away but she was in the midst of this struggle, saying, “How do I get to this new life?” And so, she went out, she bought a sewing machine at Sears, she Googled how to use it, and she Googled how to sew.

She Googled everything about design, she starts trying to put together these designs, and then she’s learning, she’s struggling, she’s hoping to get to this next step, and then she gets slammed again, that her son gets ill, he needs treatment. She no longer has insurance, and it’s one of those stop moments. He goes overseas, where her ex-husband is, to get treatment, and she follows.

She’s in a bar department, and this was her stop. She’s struggling, and now this is a dead stop. She is only there to be there for her son. And she said she was all alone, like while he was getting his treatments and such, she’s all by herself and she’s in a new place where she doesn’t know anybody. And she says, “You know, for some reason, during this moment, it was a dead stop, and yet,” she said, “my creativity just flourished.”

And she had all of these ideas about creating new designs and new ways that she could…she thought about the women who could use the designs for, particularly women in her age group, over 50 kinds of women, and she said it was the most creative period of her life. It was an amazing thing. Thankfully, her son recovered. She came back to the United States, she found a manufacturer, and fast forward to today, Marla Ginsburg is one of the biggest stars on Home Shopping Network.

She has a line called MarlaWynne. And PS, she is the face of MarlaWynne, so she, actually, made both of her dreams come true. She’s a clothing designer and she’s, essentially, a talk show host because you can find her on TV talking. And she’s awesome on TV talking about her designs. And it was an amazing thing to see for someone who went through such a struggle and had that stop that was just forced on her that was just horrendous, and yet that was…everything that happened to her was what allowed her to be what she considers the best expression of herself as a clothing designer and being on television.

So, so many stories work out in that manner. It’s been pretty amazing to speak to so many of these people from different walks of life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is a lovely story, and it’s cool to see the pattern and the life cycle there. Could you share with us some mistakes, things not to do when we are thinking about making a switch and reinventing?

Joanne Lipman
Yes. So, one thing is if you read all of the traditional business books, they will tell you, you have to have the goal in mind and work backwards. So, if you read like Think and Grow Rich or any of these books that have been around for many decades, that’s how they lay it out but, in fact, that is a myth also. Almost all of the people that I spoke to, some had a goal in mind, but many of the people that I spoke to kind of had the sort of circuitous paths. They would never imagine that this is where they would end up.

And so, one thing is to really keep an open mind. One of the best examples of that, sports fans will remember Len Elmore, who was on the Knicks and on the Pacers and various other teams, big basketball star in the ‘80s. And Len, after he retired, he actually went on to Harvard Law School, he’s had an illustrious career both as a commentator and also practicing law and management in sports.

And his stop was he turned 65 years old and he just had this just series of terrible things. He was hospitalized, and he had a terrible illness, which he had a heart attack. He was let go from his sports commentating job. So, he’s 65 and, suddenly, he’s done all of these, had this great career, and, suddenly, he’s like, “Wait a second. Who am I? What is my identity? What can I do?”

And he said, “I felt like I had so much more to offer.” And he said, “You know what I did, instead of saying ‘Here’s where I want to go’” he said, “I sat down and I actually wrote down what are all of the skills that I bring to the party. And then I looked to see what are opportunities I never would’ve thought of that my skills matched.”

And guess what? He ended up being, now, and he is currently a Columbia University professor, which is not the career he ever thought he would end up in when he was playing for the Knicks, but all of his skills, the fact that he had this law degree and had practice, and the fact he was interested in social justice with athletes, and his knowledge of sports management, all of it rolled into becoming a professor and a scholar, which is, again, not where he thought his career was taking him.

And we saw that a lot, but there are also things that you can do, which perhaps we want to talk about. Things that you can do to help figure out where it is that you want to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. Let’s hear it.

Joanne Lipman
Yeah. Well, there’s a number but I’ll just mention three. So, the first is there is a concept that is called possible selves. This is a concept in psychology, a couple psychologists actually coined this phrase, and it means you’re imagining who you might be, who you might become. And that is something that a lot of people sort of felt was very helpful.

James Patterson told me that while he was an ad executive, he imagined himself as a bestselling novelist. It was the kind of thing, it seemed like a far-off dream. Marla Ginsburg did the same with thinking about being a clothing designer. But just imagining it isn’t sufficient. You actually want to do something. So, you want to either take some action as in a hobby or something.

But the second thing that I would say, because this ties in with this first idea of possible selves, is talk to what we would call, I’m calling an expert companion. Expert companion is somebody who knows you really, really well, who can reflect back to you what are your strengths that you may not even be aware of. Again, I saw this very frequently with people who, they’re so close to their own strengths that they don’t even see that they have them.

And then the third thing I would say is reach out to your network, particularly weak ties and dormant ties. And I think you’ve talked about this on the show before. Your most helpful career advice very often will come from, not from your direct circle – you kind of all know the same things and the same people – but from somebody who either you lost touch with, or somebody who you know tangentially. There’s been a lot of research that’s been done on this over the past 50 years. And for people who switched careers, the majority will tell you, it came through weak ties or dormant ties, people who you lost touch with.

There was a really cool experiment that was done fairly recently where executives were asked to reach out to try and solve a business problem that they had by reaching out to someone who they hadn’t spoken to in at least five years. And the results were quite remarkable. They were like, first of all, they got better advice than they got from their inner circle but, also, they just found that it was really gratifying to reconnect with these people.

And they also said, “It was also quite efficient because they could kind of pick up where they left off,” so you didn’t have that sort of awkward get-to-know-you kind of thing. They could kind of dive right into it. So, it was really a win-win for everybody.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s very cool. Well, Joanne, tell me. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Joanne Lipman
Yeah, you know what, there’s two things I want to mention, actually, that I came across that I think can be really helpful to people. I know you’ve done some shows about burnout. There’s a lot of burnout in this particular moment, and I think it is with the pandemic, it really did get people to rethink and reprioritize. And one of the things that I found, and I found this to be true in the research as well as with the people I talked to, is listen to your gut.

If your gut is telling you you’re not in the right place, listen. It turns out there’s a lot of research behind gut instinct, and very often your gut instinct is correct. And I would also say give yourself a break. This is also so important. When I talk about that stop phase, sometimes it was somebody who either shows to take a career break or had one forced on them when they were, let’s say, laid off.

And every piece of research will tell you that when you take that break, it is a way for your brain to reset, but also when you’re not so actively thinking and focusing and losing sleep over trying to solve a problem, that is when your brain is at its best. When the thoughts that are swirling around in your head can coalesce into some fabulous new idea.

And, by the way, and I think a lot of listeners probably know this, but you cannot say it enough that it’s so important, even during the course of your day, take a walk, take a break. One of the great pieces of advice I got was what we call the 90-minute rule. And the 90-minute rule is if you’re working on a project, you focus intensely on it with no distractions for 90 minutes. So, you turn off the cellphone and you don’t look at your email, you just focus on whatever you’re doing, this task at hand, for 90 minutes. But then, after 90 minutes, you must take a break.

And it doesn’t matter what you do during your break. You can go for a run, you can eat something, you can do whatever you feel like doing but you have to take that break, and then you can do another 90-minute segment. And you can do about three of these in one day and get far more work done than if you just, like, sit at your desk and stare at your computer for eight hours.

There’s the famous research that was done that Malcolm Gladwell popularized about you need 10,000 hours, but the professor who actually did that research on the 10,000 hours, that was only one piece of what makes you an expert. The other piece of it was exactly what I just talked about, which is that his research was on violinists that needed 10,000 hours to be an expert. But what these violinists did is they practiced for 90 minutes, they took a break, they practiced for another 90 minutes, and they did it no more than three times a day. So, it’s so important to take that break to allow your brain to reset.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, Joanne, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Joanne Lipman
Absolutely. I don’t know who said this but I repeat it almost every day, which is, “If something is bothering you, and it won’t matter five years from today, it doesn’t matter now.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And we heard about a favorite study, so how about a favorite book?

Joanne Lipman
So, favorite book, my favorite book of all time is Anna Karenina. However, I would say there’s a book that I absolutely love that I highly recommend called The Eureka Factor, and it’s by two academics, John Kounios and Mark Beeman, who are the reigning experts on aha moments, why they happen, and how you can have more of them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Joanne Lipman
Yeah, one that I came across while researching the book is a CV of Failure. And I found that people who are highly successful, some of them, there’s an academic who I met along the way, who, she said the best thing she ever did was she sat down and created a resume, not of all her great successes, but of everything she failed at, every research project she didn’t get, or grant she didn’t get, and every rejection she got.

And she said it was really helpful in helping her understand, first of all, all the amazing things she tried, but also it helped her understand where her strengths were, and it actually led her to a different field of research. So, I love the idea of a CV of Failure.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Joanne Lipman
My favorite habit is definitely the 90-minute rule that I referred to earlier. I use it every day.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; you hear people quote it back to you often?

Joanne Lipman
Yes. Yes. I was once asked, “What advice would you give to your younger self?” and I said, “Exhale.” I hear that all the time. All the time. The idea that we get so caught up in our careers, and we worry so much about the future, and just if you exhale.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Joanne Lipman
My website is JoanneLipman.com, and you can find Next!: The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work on Amazon or anywhere where you buy books.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Joanne Lipman
Two things related. First is if you have a hobby or an interest or something that you think possibly you might be interested in, take action, learn about it, talk about it, follow somebody in the field. And second, and so related to this, is be open to the unexpected. You never know where your interests may take you. And for the people who I interviewed for Next! so many of them ended up in places they never dreamed, and they’re so much more fulfilled in their careers because of it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Joanne, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and many quality reinventions.

Joanne Lipman
Thank you, and you as well. This has been a terrific conversation.

849: How to Build Better Teams through Better Inclusion with Sally Helgesen

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Sally Helgesen says: "It’s easier to act our way into new ways of thinking than to think our way into new ways of acting."

Sally Helgesen provides practical ways to foster solidarity and inclusion rather than division.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The merits of true inclusivity.
  2. Why it pays to give the benefit of the doubt.
  3. How to manage your triggers effectively.

About Sally

Sally Helgesen, cited in Forbes as the world’s premier expert on women’s leadership, is an internationally best-selling author, speaker and leadership coach, honored by the Thinkers 50 Hall of Fame. Her most recent book, How Women Rise, co-authored with Marshall Goldsmith, examines the behaviors most likely to get in the way of successful women, and its rights have been sold in 22 languages.

Her previous books include The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership, hailed as the classic in its field and continuously in print since 1990, and The Female Vision: Women’s Real Power at Work, which explores how women’s strategic insights can strengthen their careers. The Web of Inclusion: A New Architecture for Building Great Organizations, was cited in The Wall Street Journal as one of the best books on leadership of all time and is credited with bringing the language of inclusion into business.

Resources Mentioned

Sally Helgesen Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Sally, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Sally Helgesen
Thank you, Pete. It’s wonderful to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your book Rising Together: How We Can Bridge Divides and Create a More Inclusive Workplace. Well, Sally, I’d love to kick it off by hearing about a particularly surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discovery you’ve made along the way when it comes to this inclusion stuff since you’ve been studying it for quite some time.

Sally Helgesen
Yeah, Pete, I’d say the thing that most jumps out at me is that the approach to inclusive culture that’s taken in many organizations, which focuses on unconscious bias, is possibly the least effective focus that we can take. And I know a lot of people have been through unconscious bias trainings, and sometimes they can stir real insights, and sometimes they can make us pretty angry, but whatever the response, they usually don’t lead us with much of a path forward to creating more inclusive relationships, getting along better with people we perceive of as different from ourselves, or creating inclusive teams or cultures in the organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, that’s intriguing. Let’s dig into that. And maybe, first, just to make sure we’re all on the same page with regard to terms. What do we mean by being inclusive, fundamentally?

Sally Helgesen
I think an inclusive culture, whether it’s a team, whether it’s an organization, whether it’s a community, we always know it because it is one in which the largest possible percentage of people feel that they are valued for their potential, not just their contributions, so they really feel seen and feel as if they are part of a ‘we’ not a ‘they.’ So, it’s a real cultural belonging in that sense, and that’s why it’s kind of the acid test. If you have a culture and people talk about the organization, say, or the team as a ‘they,’ you can be pretty sure that they’re not perceiving it as inclusive.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful, or corporate, or ‘they,’ it’s like the other folks.

Sally Helgesen
Yup, exactly. So, there’s no possible way that the person who’s using the word ‘they’ perceives themselves as really seen or valued, and so that’s how we know.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, fundamentally, what are some of the key drivers that get in the way of having a real big ‘we’?

Sally Helgesen
A lot of times people are concerned about, or shy about, or fearful of saying things, for what they might imagine would offend somebody who they perceive as having a different background, different values, people across gender, race, age, ethnicity, etc., so people may feel and sort of do a self-censuring so they don’t really feel like they’re being themselves when they’re talking to people who they perceive as being different. And then the other person picks up on that and recognizes that they’re rather stiff because of this perception of difference. So, that’s one of the things that can get in the way.

On the other hand, another thing that can get in the way is we can have an awareness of what someone else might perceive as problematic. So, a lot of it comes down to both of those situations I’m describing, is trying to read other people’s minds and figure out what they might be thinking. Much better to be really transparent and to just ask questions, “How do you like to be spoken to? How do you like to…? What enables you to bring your best talents to work? What talents do you have that may not be viewed? Is there anything that really upsets you when people say it?”

Those kinds of conversations are really helpful at building relationships across boundaries in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you say something that often is not getting the job done is unconscious bias training. Could you paint a picture for what does unconscious bias training look, sound, feel like in practice so folks can sort of recognize that, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I did one of those a few years ago”? And then why isn’t it getting the job done?

Sally Helgesen
Well, what it looks like in practice often, and, of course, there is some unconscious bias training is more effective than others, but, basically, what it looks like is people being asked, either through a test or through a conversation to understand where they might have biases, prejudices, beliefs about people. It can be anything. It can be gender or race, but it could also be people with tattoos on their necks or whatever it is.

So, something that really tests and helps you identify what your beliefs are is where it’s focused. And that can be fine as far as it goes, but there’s no how there, there’s no, “How do you move forward from that?” As someone I worked with once said, “It’s all aha moment, and no ‘now what?’ We don’t know how to proceed.”

And what I’ve tried to do in Rising Together and in the work I’ve been doing, generally, for decades is focus on the how, what are the practices. People perceive us based on our behaviors not on our biases. Really, whatever happens to be running through our heads at the time, that’s how they’re impacted, that’s how they’re affected.

So, I think a stronger approach is to start by practicing more inclusive behaviors with people. It’s also easier to, as I like to say, to act our way into new ways of thinking as opposed to thinking our way into new ways of acting, because once we try out something, we may learn something about it. And so, then we’ll think, “Okay.”

Well, for example, you might think, “Well, this person seems to be this way.” And then you have a conversation with them, and you realize that your presumption was wrong. But if you were trying first to address what was in your head, what your thoughts were, you wouldn’t have any evidence to begin changing.

So, it’s interesting that we seem to often get it backward. We think we need to change our minds so that we can change our behaviors rather than change our behaviors so that we can change our minds.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is powerful, Sally. And I was just about to ask, if some folks have had the unconscious bias training, and they had the aha moments, but not the ‘now what?’ I was just going to ask, so folks have determined, “Okay, I’ve got some unconscious bias against people with tattoos, or trans people, or Trump voters,” I mean, you name it, you have some unconscious bias about any grouping of folk. What is the ‘now what?’ And maybe it sounds like your answer is maybe don’t even bother to think yourself into new ways of acting. Is that fair? Or are there some useful thought-to-action approaches as well?

Sally Helgesen
No, I think it should be action to thought rather than thought to action. It can really keep us stuck because when we’re thinking, “Well, what about this person? Or, what if they…?” etc. So, I would really recommend in those situations going to action. We’ve all had this experience where you go into a store and it looks like you’re going to have a slightly hostile encounter.

So, you practice being almost aggressively nice to that person. You act as if you never noticed any hostility from them. You act as if they were treating you superbly, “Thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate that,” without being too sucky-up but acting as if you don’t notice that they’re treating you in a slightly disrespectful way.

Often, not always, but often they will kind of…you’ll be cuing them, “Oh, yeah, you know, I am a nice person. This person, okay, they seem to be responding to me in a positive way.” And nine times out of ten, they’ll switch their response to you. I know, I’ve watched this be true throughout my life. Somebody’s water is dripping down from their bathtub in an apartment above mine, and I know it’s because they were having kind of a lost weekend, and I knock on the door, and say, “I can’t believe you would…” and all that kind of stuff. Well, it’s going to escalate.

If I go up there and trying to diffuse the situation by giving them the benefit of the doubt, “I’m sure you didn’t realize this but the water in your bathtub overflowed and it’s doing whatever it is. And I’m sure this isn’t something that you had any awareness of,” then they’ll, “Oh, well, okay. I’m so sorry,” etc. We don’t do this, and part of the issue in the workplace today is people are kind of primed to be on the search often for microaggressions or, “Does that person think…?” or, “What about their response?” and so we’re not accustomed to diffusing those situations. We feel like we have to react to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was going to ask specifically about getting people a benefit of the doubt. I think most folks are, generally, familiar with what that phrase means. But could you expand upon, in practice, what are the thoughts, the assumptions, the practices, that one embodies when they are just habitually giving people the benefit of the doubt as their default way of being?

Sally Helgesen
Well, I’m not advocating passivity because passivity, when we do that…what I’m really talking about is being able to write a script for yourself. Okay, somebody, let’s talk about gender. So, a woman thinks, “Oh, men just can’t listen to women.” She feels unheard in a situation, “Men just can’t listen to women.” If we just kind of passively accept that, or grab a friend and complain, “I can’t believe that guy. Men can’t…” etc. that’s not an approach that’s going to be helpful.

But often, just saying, “You weren’t listening to me. Men can never listen to women,” that’s not a good path forward either. So, we want a way to give that person the benefit of the doubt. So, in our head, we can write a script, “You know, maybe he couldn’t hear what I was saying because there was noise in the room,” or, “Maybe I didn’t phrase this using language that was that familiar to him. I think I’ll give it another shot.”

Then you go to the person and you say, “I noted that you didn’t seem to hear what I said in that meeting, and I figured it might be helpful to you if I were to rephrase it,” and then you do that. Well, usually, they’re not going to say, “No, I didn’t hear what you said because I wasn’t interested,” or “because I have a terrible time hearing women.” Generally, they’re going to say, “Oh, okay, thank you.” Then you have a way to begin a constructive situation. So, it’s neither defensive nor is it passive.

Now, what is so remarkable, and I’ve used this in coaching for quite a while, what is so remarkable about this technique of writing a new script is that it is effective whether or not we believe that person really earned the benefit of the doubt. If we think that they might have intentionally said something to us in a way that bothered us, or if we think this is part of a pattern with them that they never really listen to us in a fruitful or effective way, even if we think that, if we write that script and then act as if we believe it, it will usually serve us better than the stock response or negative script that we’ve been invested in, in the past.

It will usually serve us better and it will also give us a path to potentially building more of a relationship with that person where they could serve in some way as an ally for us, and we could serve as an ally for them. So, it’s very effective even if we don’t necessarily buy it. And knowing that you don’t necessarily buy it is where part of your power lies in doing this because it’s not a Pollyanna, “Oh, they must be a wonderful person even though…” It’s a very realistic testing and probing to see, to discern an alternate path so that you can connect with that person.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s beautiful. Thank you. Well, now I want to hear, in your book Rising Together, you identify eight common triggers that undermine our ability to connect. Could you first define what do you mean by trigger? And then could you give us the quick rundown of each of these eight?

Sally Helgesen
Sure. What I mean by trigger is any situation or stimulus in our environment that stirs an emotional response in us.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, is this a negative emotion response?

Sally Helgesen
It can be a negative or it can be a positive response. It could be positive as well as negative.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, “I’m delighted by this.”

Sally Helgesen
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“You triggered delight in me, Sally.” Okay.

Sally Helgesen
Wonderful, Pete. I’m so glad to hear it. So, they can be negative or they can be positive, but it’s the negative ones, obviously, that are more likely to undermine us in the workplace, so that’s why I’m focusing on triggers that can often stir a negative response. But what’s important to recognize is that they’re environmental. They happen in the environment so we can’t really control what triggers us.

They lie outside our circle of control, if you will. We can only find a more effective way to manage them than we may already be doing. So, I think we waste our time by trying to create an environment in which we are shielded from any potential triggers, and that’s what’s happened to a lot of younger people coming into the workplace because, in their colleges and universities, there’s such an emphasis on trigger warning, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, really?

Sally Helgesen
Guess what? Our environment is always going to give us trigger warnings. What we need is to understand an effective way to address them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Could you then share with us some of these common triggers?

Sally Helgesen
Yeah, a couple of them that really stand out, one is visibility, which we don’t necessarily think of as a trigger but it really can operate, and it can operate in a number of ways. Number one, we can feel triggered by people we feel are very good at being visible, “Oh, he’s such a showboat. He’s always talking about himself. He’s that kind of person. I’m a wonderful person. I’m not like that.”

Or, we can just simply feel triggered by our own lack of visibility, “Oh, nobody ever notices me. I guess I’m just not the kind of person who grabs attention. Oh, well, I know that I’m a good person, and this, that, or the other, couple of my friends like me,” but we’re being triggered by that, by that reaction. Or, we can, if we are really good at it, and I’ve seen this with senior executives I’ve worked with, if we’re really good at it, we can be triggered by people who are not good at positioning themselves to be visible.

We think we can dismiss them, “Oh, well, he’s not a player. He’s not very good at bragging on himself or tooting his own horn. He seems to have some moralistic inhibition against doing it, so I’m not going to waste my time with him.” I heard that a lot from people who are good at it. So, it can trigger us in all kinds of ways.

But, here, you see this is a really good demonstration of how triggers work. What they do is they stir up a kind of automatic or stock response in us, “Well, he’s a showboat. I don’t want to be like him.” And I’ve heard people say this for years, “Yeah, well, if I act out like that jerk down the hall to get noticed in this organization, no, thank you.” Why is he a jerk, because he gets noticed? Maybe learn from him.

So, they stir up a stock response, and then that response keeps us from being able to think of a more positive way to address the situation, “Hmm, okay, I see that I am being triggered by that person’s skill at getting noticed. I wouldn’t necessarily want to use the same techniques, but I think that there is probably something I can learn here. Maybe I’m going to start watching him and thinking about how I might rephrase things he says in a different way, a way that’s more comfortable for me.”

“So, for example, if he’s saying, ‘Well, I had that client eating out of my hand,’ we might think, ‘Okay, that’s helpful.’ Maybe it would be more useful for me to phrase it, ‘Well, that client and I really bonded together.” But it’s helpful to understand and watch what he’s doing in a constructive way so that we’re rewriting that script, “Hey, here’s someone I can learn from.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful in terms of the notion of our automatic response, and it just closes down the whole universe of possibility and opportunity. And I think we do this all the time with so many things.

Sally Helgesen
We do. We do.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you tell us, Sally, what are some ways to catch ourselves in the moment regardless of what the trigger is?

Sally Helgesen
Well, I think, number one, when we recognize ourselves going into telling ourselves a story that’s kind of negative and defensive, or telling ourselves, in particular, a story that’s very self-serving about who we are, “Well, I’m not the kind of person who would ever…” The minute we hear ourselves telling ourselves that kind of story in our heads, we should recognize that, “Ah, okay, I’m probably being triggered.”

“Now what is triggering me here? In this case, it’s the fact that I feel that that person is better at getting noticed than I am. Okay, that’s triggering me. How could I rewrite this or take a different path of action that would be more helpful to me, that would serve me better and might also help me figure out a way to connect better with this person instead of, judgmentally, dismissing them?”

So, defensiveness, judgment, self-serving narratives, these are all keys that we are being triggered. And if we want to address them, we should take heed and then think about how we might more skillfully and usefully respond.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so given those things to be on the look out for, could you share with us another one of the common triggers called ‘that’s not funny’?

Sally Helgesen
‘That’s not funny.’ Exactly. These are triggers that are based around humor. And humor has become, I think, are really challenging thing to deal with in today’s workplace because people have different perceptions in terms of what they think is funny. Also, jokes, especially jokes that would’ve been acceptable and thought of as sort of fresh and interesting a number of years ago, now have a way of giving offense to a lot of people. And that has made humor, to some degree, really challenging in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Sally, could you give us an example of a joke or piece of humor or reference that might’ve been fine and dandy five to ten years ago, and now is, ooh, risky business?

Sally Helgesen
Yeah, any joke that has to do with gender, lots of jokes that were in the workplace – I don’t want to necessarily repeat them right now – that had to do with women who were sort of hot quantities or a presumption that men were always trying to seduce women in one way or another, those kinds of jokes. I came of age; I was in the Mad Men era when I started working. I worked in advertising and it was really like Mad Men, and there were all kinds of stuff that, today, would get somebody fired on the spot that was happening.

So, there are a lot of people who kind of come from that era, or just a bit afterwards, when it was sort of rock and roll time, and anything would go. And there could be jokes about who somebody picked up at the bar last night. Well, that’s fine, that was then, but now that’s going to rile up a lot of people. Anything that pertains specifically to someone’s looks or appearances is really out of bounds. Even very simple things.

Like one example I give in the book, which is a classic sort of golf joke where the husband comes home, and the wife said, “Well, how did it go?” And he said, “Well, it was fine until the sixth hole when Charlie had a heart attack.” And the wife says, “Oh, poor Charlie. What happened?” And he said, “Well, he expired on the sixth hole, so it really was a drag after that because it was all hit the ball, drag Charlie, hit the ball, drag Charlie.”

I heard this joke told probably far too many times at various conferences in Palm Springs, right up through the ‘90s into the end of the last century, as it were. And people would always laugh, depending on if the joke teller, number one, was skilled in telling it, and, number two, if he had a high-enough rank in the organization, everybody would yuck it up. But today it wouldn’t work.

For example, a lot of younger people would think, “How is this relevant? It sounds like the wife is at home waiting for the husband to come back from a golf game. This isn’t a situation I identify with.” Or, people who had had a relative who had a heart attack would be prone to think, “Well, that’s not funny.” That wasn’t how people thought 30, 40, 50 years ago. It just wasn’t.

So, people need to be a little more careful but, very importantly, we cannot ban humor from the workplace. We absolutely can’t do it. It is one of the most important qualities that helps people bond and create relationships, and it makes work more fun, so we can’t get into a very uptight situation where we’re constantly scanning the room to think, “Who could this offend? Who could this offend? Oh, better not do this. Oh, better keep my mouth shut.”

Much better is to create an environment where we look at things that are obviously meant to be offensive, and there are a lot of them, and things that might misfire a little bit, like that ‘hit the ball, drag Charlie’ joke. They might misfire, somebody thinks, “Wow, so and so just had a heart attack. How is that going to play with them?”

And we need to be, I think, a little less hard on people, unless we perceive that they were really trying to be provocative and offensive. It’s also important to try to find the humor in situations rather than dragging in jokes, because jokes rely for their power on their capacity to be provocative and, to some degree, outrageous. They cross boundaries. That’s what they do. That’s where that sort of twist that makes a joke funny comes from.

And so, having an awareness that, “Let’s find the humor in our situation,” in self-deprecating humor, making fun of yourself, not too much, but enough when something goes wrong, when you say something stupid, that is especially effective if you’re in a position with some degree of power.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Sally, we talked about a few behaviors and habits that are great in terms of giving people the benefit of the doubt, and watching yourself and your triggers, and if you’re just riling people off, and constructing self-flattering narratives that are defensive left and right. Are there any other key inclusive behaviors that make a world of difference for folks in organizations?

Sally Helgesen
Oh, certainly. One of the things that I really heard a lot about when I was working on the book was the power of nominating other people for awards. And one of the women I interviewed, she said, “I really learned a lot about creating allies from a much older executive when I was very early in my career. And this executive came up to me, and he said, ‘I am trying to see if I can get a certain number of nominations for some big award in the industry.’ And he said, ‘I’m wondering if you would nominate me.’”

So, she said she was shocked on two fronts. Number one, she said she was shocked because she didn’t know that that’s how it was done, that people who got awards often lobbied for it. She said, “I just thought they got awards.” She said, “I never really thought it through.” She was early in her career at that time.

But she said, “I was also astonished that someone who was at such a senior level would ask someone junior like me.” She said, “Again, that really, really…I didn’t know you could do that.” She said it made her very aware that this is something that you can do that earns you tremendous gratitude from your colleagues. It’s not only agreeing to nominate them but volunteering to nominate them, “You know, you’ve really been in this job, and I saw that…” whatever it is, whatever entity it is “…is taking nominations for people who are outstanding in our sector. I thought that I might nominate you. How would that be?”

Well, this is something that people really, really respond to. And, again, I think it’s important to recognize that this is something that we can do really early in our careers. We can also ask people what would be helpful to them. And, again, we can do this even if we’re very junior in our career. We can recognize that part of our job is always going to be trying to make our bosses, our leaders, the people we work for, part of our job is making them look good, so we can be clear about this.

So, we can say, “I understand that I want you to look good in this initiative. Is there anything I can do that would be especially useful to you in letting the people in the organization know what a terrific job our team is doing, and, therefore, you, as our team leader.” So, asking a question like that can really be eye-opening and it does a couple of things.

“You solicit my ideas for how you could be helpful,” but it also suggests to the person that you say that to, that you really understand how things work in an organization, and that you’re not naïve about it. You understand and accept that part of your job is making them look good. So, that kind of puts you on a different footing than you might’ve been before.

Of course, there are plenty of things senior people can do as well, “What talents do you have that you feel you may not be using? Do you have any skills in this job that you would particularly like to develop? Is there anybody you would like to meet that I might know who could be helpful to you in the future?” Those kinds of questions, we don’t ask those kinds of questions enough wherever we are in our careers.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Sally, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Sally Helgesen
A couple of things I do want to mention is it’s very hard to try to identify when we’re being triggered and then think of a different path of action. And we will always be more successful at it if we are bringing other people along on our journey. This is part of this theme of asking, of saying, “You know, one thing I’m really trying to work on…”

Fairness is a trigger in the book we didn’t talk about, “One thing I’m really trying to work on is coming to a better understanding of what is fair and what isn’t fair in this organization because I realize that I often think something is unfair but it may not be as unfair as I think it is, or I often recognize that something is actually much more unfair than I was thinking it was. Can I bounce my ideas off you once I have a perception about this and kind of get your thoughts on it?”

So, it’s a kind of seat-of-the-pants pure coaching where we engage other people in our own development. In this case, our development as we try to think about what undermines us in terms of building strong relationships really broadly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Sally Helgesen
I think a favorite quote of mine, because it’s one that I use virtually every day, and I referenced it a bit earlier, comes from the really terrific old self-help book by Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And it was, “Always seek to discern what lies within your circle of control, and to align it with your circle of concern.”

In other words, don’t waste your time trying to address whatever concerns you but you can’t control. And, in fact, probably don’t spend too much time being concerned about it if you can’t control it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Sally Helgesen
I would say that the research done by Daniel Kahneman, who basically invented the whole field of behavioral economics, about how people don’t always, or even often do what really serves their own long-term interests, that we’re often a lot more irrational and reactive in terms of how we respond to everything, ranging from how we manage our financial lives, to the decisions we make about where we live or how we interact with our families, that we often make decisions that don’t serve our own interests.

And I think this work was so important because it brought a whole recognition of the fact that humans are not as rational as they imagine themselves to be into the discussion. And, in fact, that’s really influenced a lot of my thinking about how triggers operate. We tend to be triggered by things and respond in ways that do not serve our interests.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Sally Helgesen
I think my favorite book, in fact, I know this because I start most of my days reading it, is Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, which translates as a manual for power. It is a complete listing of deeply counterintuitive insights about the nature of power and how we use it, especially in the RW Wing translation. I find it a fantastic way to begin every day. Real insights into human behavior and how to understand human behavior but also use it in ways that serve what we’re trying to be and contribute in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Sally Helgesen
What I use to be awesome at my job is basically Word documents. I’m a writer and my preferred method for communicating with the world is, and always has been since I was a little child, writing. And I find Word such an improvement upon typewriters, and that sort of stuff we used to use to erase words on typewriters. So, I just absolutely love it and couldn’t live without it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Sally Helgesen
My favorite habit, I think, is my ability to admit vulnerability. When I don’t have a skill, when I’m not good at something, I don’t try to cover it up. And I think that really helps me. I deal with a lot of things all day long, and if I had to spend energy trying to pretend I was good at what I’m not good at, I don’t think I’d have much success.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; you hear them quote it back to you often?

Sally Helgesen
I think it relates to something that I said earlier, that it’s easier to act our way into new ways of thinking than to think our way into new ways of acting. Since my work has been focused upon the ‘hows’ for the last 35, 40 years, that really resonates with me. I think we want to act in thoughtful ways, learn from how we act, and then let that shape what our opinions and our views are.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Sally Helgesen
Well, to my website, SallyHelgesen.com. And I’m active on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Sally Helgesen
Yes, I do. Being awesome at your job requires a little bit of humility, a little bit of willingness to recognize when your stock responses do not serve you, but it doesn’t require self-effacement. We should never equate being humble with being humiliated. We can be humble and acknowledge what we need to learn without beating ourselves up or telling ourselves a negative story about who we are or what we’re trying to do in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Sally, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in rising.

Sally Helgesen
Thank you, Pete. Thank you so much.

848: How to Quickly Grow and Future-Proof Your Career with Jason Feifer

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Jason Feifer says: "If you only focus on what you already know, you will only be qualified to do the thing you’re already doing."

Jason Feifer shares the simple things you can do today to set yourself up for a more successful tomorrow.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mindset that helps you uncover hidden opportunities.
  2. Why real growth happens outside your role.
  3. The biggest career mistake professionals make.

About Jason

Jason Feifer is the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine, a startup advisor, host of the podcasts Build For Tomorrow and Problem Solvers, and has taught his techniques for adapting to change at companies including Pfizer, Microsoft, Chipotle, DraftKings, and Wix. He has worked as an editor at Fast Company, Men’s Health, and Boston magazine, and has written about business and technology for the Washington Post, Slate, Popular Mechanics, and others.

Resources Mentioned

Jason Feifer Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jason, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Jason Feifer
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the wisdom of your book Build for Tomorrow: An Action Plan for Embracing Change, Adapting Fast, and Future-Proofing Your Career. But, first, I think we need to hear a little bit about you’ve been living without a sense of smell even way before COVID made that a more common thing for people. What’s the story here?

Jason Feifer
Yes, I felt like people were stealing my cool, fun fact when everybody started losing their sense of smell. The story is that when I was in college, I was dating a girl who had a very, very good sense of smell and taste. And for the first time in my life, she started asking me questions, like, “What herb is in here? Did you taste the rosemary in that?” or whatever, these questions nobody asked you when you’re in high school.

And I didn’t know what she was talking… I just didn’t know what she was talking about. I had no idea what she was talking about. And we realized maybe something weird is happening. So, we did a taste test, which was that I closed my eyes and she fed me different flavors of ice cream, like chocolate and vanilla and whatever, and they were all exactly the same. I had no sense.

And this was not a new thing, this was just the first time that I’ve realized that I had no perception of this at all. I’d gone through my life, up until that point, not aware that I was not perceiving things the way that everybody else in the world was. And I’ve since gone to a taste and smell clinic and done a lot of research into this and found that just an endless variety of things can impact your sense of smell, everything from nasal polyps to a brain tumor.

In my case, it was probably head trauma as a child. I fell out of a stroller when I was very little. This was what my parents told me as soon as I told them about this.

Pete Mockaitis
But they didn’t tell you before, Jason. They’re holding on that under the vest until…

Jason Feifer
Well, you know, it wasn’t that relevant a piece of information many years later. It was just I fell out of a stroller. I was in traction, apparently, but life moved on so I wasn’t aware of it. But once I told my parents the leading causes of this are…if something has come and gone, you can’t find some other active medical issue.

The leading causes of this are head trauma, chemical exposure, or an upper respiratory infection that just happens to get up into your olfactory nerve. My parents said, “Oh, my God, the head trauma.” And so, now we probably know. And, in the meantime, everything tastes exactly the same to me, which is it tastes like nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. So, I’m curious then, before you realized that this was going on, did you have any differentiation between, “I’m eating steak,” versus ice cream. I mean, there’s texture, but, like, the taste was just about the same to you?

Jason Feifer
Yeah, but I didn’t know that it was supposed to taste any different. You’re wearing glasses right now, and I wear contacts, which means that there was a time in your life where you put on glasses for the first time. Do you remember that time?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jason Feifer
Do you remember your experience of that?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it was fun, it was like, “Oh, wow, it’s like all the font became semi-bold. That’s kind of nice.”

Jason Feifer
Right. I remember the first time I realized two things. One, you can look at carpet and see individual fibers and, two, you can look at trees and see individual leaves. That was more information than I was ever getting before and I didn’t know that the average person got that information. And the same is true with this. I just didn’t know that this information was available to other people.

I thought, when people talked about flavors, they were talking about such insanely subtle differences between things that I probably just didn’t care about them. I didn’t realize that they are fundamentally different. And I still don’t really understand what it means. Like, wine is a funny thing to me. Every wine is exactly the same to me. So, I don’t know what people are talking about when they take a sip of wine, and they list off all these notes. It’s a complete foreign experience.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess wine might also be the same to you as tea or water.

Jason Feifer
More or less. So, wine has alcohol, and you can feel the alcohol. So, there’s something that’s a little different there. And there’s a little quick science lesson, which is that, so let’s say wine, let’s say you take a sip of wine. This happens, functionally, simultaneously, but the first thing that happens is that the wine will hit your tongue. And that is the sensation of actual taste, which is just sweet, salty, sour, bitter. It’s just categorical.

Then odor molecules from the wine go to the back of your throat and up, and they’re read by your olfactory nerves, which is what controls your sense of smell. And that is actually what creates the sensation of flavor. Flavor is you smelling something inside of your mouth, basically. So, I can get sweet, salty, sour, bitter because my tongue works just fine. The problem is olfactory nerves so I can’t get flavor. So, it’s the difference between chocolate is sweet but it is not chocolate, and, therefore, vanilla and chocolate and strawberry ice cream are all exactly the same, they’re just sweet.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Jason, it seems like you have adapted and functioned well despite this challenge. Kudos.

Jason Feifer
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
And, boy, what a metaphor, the idea of putting on glasses for the first time or realizing that your perception is different when it comes to other folks are picking up on flavors. Can you give us, we’ll put you on the spot, a segue for some lessons that are also similar, relevant, comparable, to those found in your book Build for Tomorrow?

Jason Feifer
It was a great setup for a segue, and I’m happy to take the challenge. So, I would say the transition here is that there is a way of learning how to think such that you see doors where other people see walls, in the same way that I saw blobs of green until I see leaves. And this isn’t, fortunately, something that you need to go out to a doctor to see, and it’s also something that everyone has access to, unlike me who cannot fix my sense of smell, because what it really requires is an understanding that we spend too much energy debating whether or not something should happen when it has already happened.

We spend a lot of time and energy trying to hold onto what we were comfortable with, and then trying to push back against inevitable change. And that’s counterproductive because if the change is happening then we have to deal with it. And the thing that I have learned from spending so much time, years and years, with entrepreneurs and innovative leaders is that there is a way to think about this experience.

There is a way to recognize your transferrable value. There’s a way to understand that the things that are in front of us are opportunities that when something changes, it just doesn’t change for us, it changes for everybody, which means that we are actually now in a situation where other people need new things, and we can rise up and serve them, and be the person who solves their problems.

That if we’re working in a job, that we can spend a lot of our energy figuring out how to be good at that next job even if we don’t know what that next job is. That the more that we build into the way that we just run our lives, the reality that a lot of the things that we do are going to change, the more we can start to prepare for it, and, ultimately, open up opportunities in the future.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. And I love that notion of seeing doors where everyone else sees walls. And, boy, we talked about high school, this just brings me back to a high school memory in which I was in an organization that’s called the National Honor Society, and I think I was a junior, and we did very little in this organization, which I saw it was kind of silly. It’s like we’re honored, it’s like okay. But there’s supposed to be, like, service and such.

And I remember the advisor asked, “Who would like to organize the clothing drive?” and then nobody was volunteering. And I heard, “Who would like to be the National Honor Society president next year?” because it’s like, “If we do almost nothing, and then you do the one major thing that we do, then, in an election sense, you would win that.”

And at the time, I was very, I guess, ambitious, and resume-conscious, and thinking about college applications, and looking amazing, all that stuff, so, for me, that represented an opportunity, and I was sort of surprised that nobody was interested in it, and I felt like I needed to. And maybe I was a sophomore. I felt like I should hang back and let the upperclassmen take it but then nobody did after about seven seconds, I was like, “Well, I’m taking it now.” I raised my hand and, sure enough, I became the president.

Jason Feifer
Congratulations.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Yeah, I don’t know how much of a difference it made in my grand scheme of trying to look super impressive on applications or whatever, but I think that goes to show that I’ve had other times where I was at a podcast conference and someone showed me their app, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, your app shows how many people are subscribed to a given podcast within that app?” And he’s like, “Yeah.” “Well, that means I could use these data to extrapolate against known podcasts audience sizes to estimate the size of any podcast, which is massively valuable when you’re assessing opportunities.”

And so, I think that really resonates in terms of when you see a door where other see walls, I have had those moments, like, I see something other people don’t see, and because of that, cool things are opening up. So, lay it on us, Jason, how do we get there?

Jason Feifer
How do we get there? A lot of different ways to get there. Those are good little stories. Let’s start with this. This isn’t something that you just do all of a sudden. This is something that you build towards. These are habits and ways of thinking that help you operate, make decisions, do something now that’s going to pay off tomorrow. I’ll give you a couple ways to think about it.

Number one, we’ll start with this. We should all be doing something in our own work that I like to call work your next job. And work the next job is this. Look, in front of you, Pete, in front of me, in front of everyone who’s listening to this right now, there are two sets of opportunities. You can call them opportunity set A and opportunity set B.

Opportunity set A is everything that is asked of you. So, you have a boss, and that boss needs you to do things, and you show up and you’re evaluated on whether or not you have done those things well. that is opportunity set A, do a good job. Opportunity set B is everything that’s available to you that nobody is asking you to do. And that could be at work, you could join a new team. You could take on a new responsibility.

It could also be things outside of work, like listening to podcasts then you decide to start your own. Whatever the case is, here is my argument to you. Opportunity set B is always more important. Infinitely more important than anything else. And the reason for that isn’t opportunity set A, doing the things that are asked of you, is unimportant. It is important. You have to do it or you will get fired. You need to earn money, but opportunity set B is where growth happens.

If you only focus on what you already know, you will only be qualified to do the thing you’re already doing, but opportunity set B is where growth happens. That is where you start to lay the foundation for payoff that you cannot even imagine, and you don’t need to know what the ROI is on it. You should just be doing things because you find them interesting, informative, because they create new skillsets, new opportunities, because you’re thinking about, “What do I need to learn? And have I learned it yet?”

I’ll give you an example for myself. When I was at Fast Company years ago, I was a senior editor at Fast Company years and years ago, and a senior editor is something of a misnomer. It just means you’re kind of a mid-level editor, and my job was to be on the print magazine. I was a print magazine editor. And then the company brought in the video department, launched a video department. Nobody asked me to be a part of this video department but I volunteered to stand in front of the camera and see if I could be a host, see if I could host some shows.

And I had some kind of raw instinct on it, and the director really helped me hone it, and I got good, and I wondered, “What is the point of this? Why am I doing this? Is someone going to offer me a television show?” No, nobody offered me a television show. But I learned a couple of really valuable things. Number one, I learned to talk the way that I’m talking right now, which is to say to be animated, to kind of fluctuate the way in which I’m louder and then I’m softer, and I’m just trying to keep your interest.

Also, I learned how to be good on camera, how to move, how to think, how not to say uh a million times, and that then translated into a bunch of other skills like standing on stage. And, as a result, years later, when I was interviewing to be editor-in chief of Entrepreneur magazine and I’m talking to the president and CEO of the company, one of the things that they really liked about me was that I could represent the brand well, that they knew that, in hiring me, they had a face of the brand who could go on TV and could go on stage, and that helped me get this role.

And then, once I got this role, I started getting invitations to come speak on stage and make money doing so, and now that’s a really nice business for me. All of that I attribute to standing in front of a camera at Fast Company when nobody asked me to do that, and to just start learning. I was working my next job without having any idea what that next job was. And you, right now, have that opportunity in front of you. There are things available to you, nobody is asking you to do it so you have to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool and beautiful. I guess my first thought in terms of that being challenging is there are a billion potential things you could go do.

Jason Feifer
Sure, there are.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do we figure out which of these things are particularly worthwhile for us?

Jason Feifer
Well, the answer is that you cannot know so you’re going to have to take some bets, and you’re going to treat them as experiments. And this is important because something that we do too often is we think of every new thing that we try or do as a full commitment and, as a result, we don’t do them often enough. I was talking to two people who really informed my understanding of this. One is Katy Milkman who is at Wharton, and then Annie Duke who also has a Wharton connection.

Pete Mockaitis
Two fun guests of How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Jason Feifer
There you go. Well, I shall remind perhaps your listeners of things that they said, but Katy told me, we were talking about change and how to manage change, and I said, “What is the simplest thing that somebody can do?” And she said, “This is going to sound kind of like a pat answer, but the answer is experiment.”

And the reason for that is because most people do not. They think that everything that they do has to be a full-time commitment, and, therefore, they’re afraid to try it in the first place. But if we just go into everything, thinking, “This is an experiment, and I’m going to run it for a couple days, a couple weeks, a couple months, and I’m going to see if it gives me something.”

Well, then, you know what, even if it doesn’t work out, even if it’s not all that compelling to you, it is valuable. And it’s going to be valuable because you’re going to have treated it like an experiment, which means that if it doesn’t work, it’s not failure, it’s data. And that is a much more constructive way to think.

Annie, meanwhile, Annie has this great book called Quit, about why quitting is a great decision-making strategy. And she told me, and this really snapped this into focus for me, she said, “Look, imagine that you had to marry the first person you dated. What would you do? The answer is you would never date. You’d just never do it because you’d be afraid of making that commitment.”

The reason why we’re able to find the person who is right for us, hopefully, is because we are able to quit lots of other people before. We try and then we quit. And Annie said, “You have to just think of that for everything. We date ideas. We date projects. We date jobs. And we’re going to quit the ones that don’t work.”

So, to your question, “How do we figure out which ones to pursue?” I always start with, “What is compelling to me? What excites me? What builds upon, in some ways, the skills that I already have but takes me in a different direction? How do I think vertically, basically, instead of horizontally?” Entrepreneurs, I found, have this really magical way of thinking, which is vertical thinking, which is to say, “The only reason to do something is because it creates the foundation upon which the next thing can be built.”

Whereas, most people, myself included for a lot of my career, really think horizontally, which is to say I do something and then maybe I move along and I do something unrelated, and then I move along and I do something unrelated, and that doesn’t build, that doesn’t give me an ever-growing foundation so that I can level up, so that I can do more, so that I can accumulate people and connections and skills and insights that are, ultimately, all going to power whatever the next thing is that I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. Vertical thinking, yeah. Can you give us some examples of that in practice? So, you shared your instance of communication then getting on camera. Any other examples to make that vertical thinking concept land for folks?

Jason Feifer
Yeah, sure. So, here’s something really simple. For years, my career has been in media. I worked in a number of newspapers and then a number of national magazines, and now I also make podcasts, write books and stuff, and I run a national magazine. And throughout much of that time, I really thought of myself as mostly a servant to the task.

So, when I was at Men’s Health, for example, I would write about this thing, and then I’d move along and I’d write about that thing, and anybody who I met along the way is sand through fingers. You meet people and then you move along. And when I got to Entrepreneur, I started to realize I am meeting all of these people and I’m not taking any care to how they can be part of an ever-growing and useful network because I’m going to be doing things in the future, not now, but in the future where maybe I need these people.

And, like, for example, a book. We’re talking, we’re sort of prompted by that I have this book Build for Tomorrow come out, and I knew, years from now, I will have this book and I will need as many people as possible who like me, and who have audiences, and who I can call upon. And so, if I’m thinking vertically, what does that mean?

That means that I must accumulate, that the reason to do something is because it is going to build a foundation upon which the next thing will be built. Every little interaction that I have can be part of that. I created a spreadsheet; it’s called Good Contacts. Everybody I meet goes in it. Everybody. It’s a Google Sheet, and it has a million tabs in it – investors, media, entrepreneurs. And I’ve been doing this for years and years.

And when I launched my book, the very first thing I did, or months before, was I went into this sheet, and I started going through everybody. Rather, years before, I kept going through that sheet and I would reach out to people and I would check in with them, and I would say, “Hey, I loved that thing you just did.” “Hey, is there anything that I can help you out with?” Why? Because when you gather people, the last thing that people want is to only hear from you when you need something from them, so you got to be warm, you got to treat it like a real relationship.

And this kind of thing is something that I now try to apply to everything that I do, which is basically, “How can I use today for tomorrow? What is it that I have right now, what thing am I building, what thing am I thinking about, what do I have access to, how can I make decisions where I’m putting my energy towards setting myself up for tomorrow even if I don’t exactly know what I need tomorrow? But what I do know is that today is an opportunity to do that, and I want to be mindful of it?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. Well, now, I’m shifting gears a little bit, when you talk about change, you mentioned there’s four phases of change. Can you give us that overview picture and some pro tips on what do we do to change well?

Jason Feifer
Yeah. All right. So, here’s the theory that I came up. I came up with this theory that change happens in four phases: panic, adaptation, new normal, wouldn’t go back. Wouldn’t go back being that moment where we say, “I have something, some new and valuable that I wouldn’t want to go back to a time before I had it.”

And this came out of pre-pandemic. I had come to this conclusion that the most successful people that I met were also the most adaptable, and I wanted to understand what it was that they were doing and how they were thinking. And then the pandemic was a really fascinating experiment because what happened was you got to see everybody go through the same change at the same time and then radically diverge.

And some people moved forward, some people reinvented, others tried to cling as tightly as possible to whatever came before and whatever they felt like they were losing. And I wanted to understand what it was that the people who were moving fast and forward were doing and thinking. And they’re doing a lot of things but I’ll start by sharing this one.

Most of us make a mistake, and the mistake that we make is that we identify too closely with the output of our work or with the role that we occupy so that if someone came up to you at a party and asked what you did, your answer would be one of those two things. It would either be a thing that you make or the role that you occupy. And that’s fine, that makes sense. I would do a version of that, too, but it creates a problem.

And the problem is that those things are easily changeable. And if we anchor ourselves too deeply to the tasks we perform or the role that we occupy, then when those things change, and they will, then we will not just experience a change to our work; we’ll experience a change to our identity. And that’s what creates a total sense of disruption and panic. So, what’s a better thing to do?

Well, look, there’s a lot of talk, Simon Sinek had Start with Why, and then everybody talks about why, and I’ve always found that to be, honestly, a little bit of an abstract concept. And what I came to realize is that I think what we need is a mission statement in which every word that we select is carefully selected because it is not anchored to something that easily changes. What does that mean, abstract?

I used to identify as a newspaper reporter. Then I identified as a magazine editor. I stayed in jobs, newspaper jobs and magazine jobs that I disliked for way too long, becoming way too bitter. And the reason I did it was because I was a newspaper reporter or I was a magazine editor. The very idea of leaving those jobs and, therefore, giving up that identity was too challenging, and, therefore, I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bad situations.

Now, I have a sentence for myself, and that sentence is this, it’s seven words, “I tell stories in my own voice.” I tell stories. Story is a really important word for me. And the reason for it is because it is not anchored to something that is easily changeable. I don’t own Entrepreneur magazine, my boss can call me at any time, he has my phone number, and he can fire me. He could do it right now. And if my identity is “I am a magazine editor,” then I am one phone call away from losing my identity. That’s a terrible place to be.

But if I can think of myself as I tell stories and then in my own voice, that’s me setting the terms for how I want to operate, that’s me at this moment in my career. Well, now, when something changes, I have an understanding of the transferrable value that I have. I understand what I am, and I understand what I’m good at, and I know that it is not dependent upon one way that I used to do it. And when we have that understanding of ourselves, what we’re really doing is liberating ourselves from being stuck in one mode, in one job, in one task.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued by that notion, in your own voice. I’m thinking about Entrepreneur magazine, Fast Company, Men’s Health, each of them – well, you tell me, you’re the insider – has some guidelines, I imagine, associated with their voice, their tone, their style, their flavor. Are you able to tell stories within your own voice at each of these different outlets?

Jason Feifer
Well, I wouldn’t have said I tell stories in my own voice when I was at Men’s Health, and, really not even at Fast Company because I was at a different stage in my career at the time. The mission statement should evolve. When I was at Men’s Health, for example, I was in my late 20s. It was my first national magazine job. I worked at a couple local newspapers and a regional magazine before that.

Pete Mockaitis
And you had a shredded six pack.

Jason Feifer
And I had a shredded six pack, and I only ate vitamins. And I got there and I was, at the time, I was guided by this thing that I’m still, in many ways, guided by, which are these two questions, which is, “What do I need to learn? And have I learned it?” And so, I arrived at Men’s Health knowing what I needed to learn.

I needed to learn how to edit at a national magazine level, and, in particular, Men’s Health was really good at a kind of editing called packaging, which is lots of little bitsy items. It was very hard because you had to convey a lot of information in not a lot of space. And I wanted to get good at that. And a couple of years in, I had done it.

And so, when I asked my questions, “What do I need to learn? And have I learned it?” the answer is, “I knew what I needed to learn and I’ve learned it. It’s time to get the hell out of here.” But I’m not interested in what else someone tell me that I have to. Like, I need to go. And I did. I’ve never once in my career, and this is not career advice, you choose your own path.

But I’ve never once, like, gotten a job offer and then come back to my boss, and be like, “Oh, I got this job offer. Can you give me more money?” No, because when I’m out, I’m out. It’s time to go learn something else. That’s the thing that matters most to me. So, back then, I was writing in the Men’s Health voice, and the Men’s Health voice had a very, very particular style and a particular tone, and my voice was subsumed into that voice. But I also was younger and I didn’t have a stronger voice, and I didn’t have a stronger perspective, and I didn’t have something to tell people myself.

At Fast Company, it was roughly the same thing. I found a voice there but it’s very different from the voice I have now. I wasn’t as confident in it and I was still learning. I took that job because there was something else that I wanted to learn, which in that case was feature editing and feature writing and then eventually also video.

And so, I wasn’t really ready to speak in my own voice until much later in my career. Back then, had I gone through this exercise, and I hadn’t because I still just thought of myself as a magazine editor, I was anchored to my tasks, but back then I would’ve said, “My job is to be a good magazine maker.” The thing that I do is I take magazine jobs and I write really good stories and I edit really good stories. It was very limited because that’s how most people think.

Most people think that the thing that they are is the thing that they do. And it wasn’t until much, much later, after I’d gone through a lot of disruption in my own career, and I was trying to figure out how to feel a sense of ownership over myself, because when you’re just at the mercy of a company that you work for, you don’t have a lot of ownership over you.

But if you can spend some time thinking about what you are separate from that, and what value you have that can be brought to many different places, and people are lucky to have you, you start to feel more of a sense of ownership over yourself. I think that’s really important. And this exercise was a way in which I got there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us, when you talked about the exercises and the reflections and the key questions, any other powerful practices that help serve up these insights?

Jason Feifer
Yeah, I’ll give you another exercise to run yourself through, which is “What do I have? What do I need? What’s available?” I like the word available. Let me tell you what that was. Okay, my first job was at The Gardner News. I don’t even know if it still exists, but at the time it was like 6,000 circulation daily newspaper in North Central Massachusetts. I was a general interest reporter, fresh out of college, $20,000 a year.

And I hated that job. I hated it. And the reason I hated it was because I had these large ambitions and they were not being met, and I couldn’t figure out the pathway to meet them. I was at this tiny little paper, I wanted to do bigger work, and I couldn’t articulate it, and I didn’t have access to it, and I was really frustrated.

And as a result, I was taking the wrong path, because I was blaming the people I was working with for, like, holding me back. They weren’t holding me back. I was holding me back. But eventually I did this thing that I wasn’t doing it so consciously back then. But now that I look back upon what I did and kind of come up with a little framework, I realized that what I did was that I asked myself these three questions, which is, “What do I have? What do I need? And what’s available?”

So, break it down for that experience. What do I have? I have a job, and it’s not a very satisfying job but it is a job doing a thing that I want to do, but what I want is to work in a much higher level. What do I need? Well, the problem, if we’re being realistic, is that I don’t have the experience to prove to anybody at a higher level that they should hire me. I have nothing. I have nothing except for this small credential, which is that I’ve worked at this tiny newspaper, which The New York Times is not going to take seriously if I go apply in The New York Times.

What do I need? What I need is I need more experience and I need to work with editors who I’m going to be able to learn from because right now, I’m at a tiny little newspaper, and my peers are not much more experienced than I am, and I’m not learning from them. So, I need access to talent, and I need to be able to prove myself at a higher level.

What’s available? Well, this is the hard one because you can’t answer it with a fantasy. It’s not “What’s available is, ‘Oh, why don’t I just apply for dream jobs.’” It’s not “What’s available is, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll just kick the can down the road and we’ll try to figure it out in a couple of years.’” No. What’s available right now? Like, literally, if you’re stuck, something is available to you right now. Something. What is it? Find the door where you’re looking at a wall.

And, in my case, in that particular situation, I thought, “Well, okay, nobody’s going to hire me, The New York Times is not hiring me, but there’s another way in.” And the way in, in my industry, this is freelancing, which is to say that a lot of what you read in newspapers and magazines are written by freelancers. They’re independent contractors who generally pitch a single story and an editor had said yes to it, and then they go out and they report to that single story.

I thought, “Why don’t I start doing that?” So, I quit. I quit that first job and I just started cold-pitching. And I was going to them instead of waiting for them to come to me.

And, as a result, after many, many, many, many months of pitching and getting rejected or ignored, I got a piece in The Washington Post, I got a piece in The Boston Globe, and I started to build this freelance career that, ultimately, allowed me to prove to other publications at a much faster clip, that I could work at their level. And that was what ultimately helped me build the career that I have. It’s what jumpstarted things.

And I look back on it now, and I say the reason I was able to do that was because I thought through that transition, because I didn’t stay at that job. What I needed to do was figure out what was available to me, realistically so, and then put myself in a position to go get it.

Pete Mockaitis
Jason, I love that notion associated with it’s kind of like you’re stuck, but then something is available, and it’s the freelancing. And I’m thinking about someone else, actually, she was on the podcast, Kristen Berndt, her dream was to do, like, baggage operations for airports, which is fun, like, that’s her thing, and yet she had no opening there. She just literally started a blog all about this.

Jason Feifer
I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, there’s one approach. You do some writing, either for the publications or on a blog or social media, LinkedIn posts, whatever, a podcast. You create some media such that it’s like, “Oh, look, this person is an expert and can do some stuff that’s good.” What are some other approaches if you feel kind of stuck? Like, what’s available is sort of hard to see from where you’re sitting.

Jason Feifer
And it started by asking, “What do I have and what don’t I have? And what don’t I even know I need?” I don’t know if you remember, but Donald Rumsfeld was the Secretary of Defense during the George W. Bush administration.

And, in the leadup to the Iraq invasion, a reporter asked him something, and he responded in this crazy, like, lyrical weird poetry thing that people made fun of him for, which was that he said, “There are known knowns. There are known unknowns. And there are unknown unknowns.” And people thought that was nonsense and it made for late-night joke fodder, but I was curious about it because I thought, “That’s not something that you just come up with on-the-fly. That has to be from something.”

And it is. It’s from a thing called The Johari Window, which is a self-assessment test, popularized in the 1970s, that then became very popular in military circles. It was actually a pretty useful way to evaluate a situation, “What do we know? What do we know that we don’t know? What don’t we know that we don’t know?”

And I realized that if we do a version of that for ourselves, we’d run ourselves through a little test like that when we’re feeling stuck, as you would ask, we get some interesting stuff. You can ask yourself, “What do I know that other people know?” All right, you’re at a job, you’re stuck, you’re feeling stuck, “What do I know that other people know?” “Well, here are the things you know.”

“What do I know that other people don’t know?” basically what is your competitive advantage. What are you really good at that maybe other people aren’t? “What do other people know that I don’t know?” Well, now, you can start to look around. You can see that people who maybe were your peers had taken radical interesting shifts, and they’re now doing interesting things. You can see that people are in fields that seem really intriguing to you, that you think you would be good at but you just don’t know that much about, and maybe it’s time to ask them.

And now the most terrifying question of all, of course, is, “What don’t I know that other people know? What am I not even thinking about? What am I not even looking at? What am I not even seeing?” And that should drive you to start to talk to people to explore what they have done, what path they took, what risks they took, and what were calculated risks that maybe seem crazy to you but actually seem pretty logical to them.

And what you’re doing, just to go back to Katy Milkman one more time, is you’re bridging what Katy told me, is called the false consensus effect. False consensus effect means that we tend to think that other people think exactly like us, and, therefore, we don’t think to use them as resources. But it turns out that people think pretty differently than us.

And when we ask them what they have done, and how they have done it, they will reveal to us all sorts of insights that we weren’t aware of. And those things can help us start to illuminate some of those unknown unknowns. And that will give you the path forward that you aren’t seeing right now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Well, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jason Feifer
Yeah. I was interviewing Ryan Reynolds for Entrepreneur magazine, and we were talking about the career shifts that he’s made. He’s gone from acting into business, there’s a number of them. And he told me, “To be good at something, you have to be willing to be bad.” And I love that because it’s true, because we often assume that if we’re not good at something at the beginning, it’s because maybe we’re not going to be good at it.

But what Ryan is saying is that the difference maker isn’t whether or not we’re good at something at the beginning, but rather whether or not we’re willing to tolerate being bad long enough to get to good. That’s the thing that weeds people out, it’s that most of us aren’t able to tolerate that discomfort. But the ones who are, are the ones who get there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Jason Feifer
I, as a kid, read Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius, which was a memoir. And the thing that mattered most to me about it was that it was written in a style and played with language in a way that I didn’t know was possible. And the things that I love consuming the most are the things that show me that the boundaries are not where I think they are. And that was, I think, the first time that I consumed something that really showed that to me.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something that helps you be more awesome at your job?

Jason Feifer
This is not going to be an exceptional tool, but I will tell you the thing that I live by, which is the native Reminders app on the MacBook and on my iPhone. They sync so that I can add something on the Reminders app on my phone, and there it is on my computer. And I look at that thing every 10 minutes, and every time somebody tells me something, it goes on there. And as I’m half falling asleep at night, I think, “Oh, crap, I didn’t tell that person that thing,” and it goes on that Reminders app, and I couldn’t leave home without it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Jason Feifer
Yeah. I do a lot of speaking, and so I travel around and I talk to groups. And the thing that people always come up to me after my talk and tell me is their mission statement, the thing that I shared with you earlier. I have a whole exercise for how to get there, and I walk people through it. It’s in the book.

And afterwards they come to me and they tell me their mission statement, or they email me afterwards and they tell me their mission statement. And I think the reason they’re doing that is because it feels like a breakthrough when you’ve done that for yourself, and they just have to share.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jason Feifer
I would point them to a couple places. Number one, my book is called Build for Tomorrow. I’d love for you to check it out. Also, you’re a listener of podcasts, I am a maker of podcasts. I have a podcast; it’s called Help Wanted.

I co-host it with Nicole Lapin, who’s a bestselling finance author. And what we do is we take people’s problems, often they’d call into the show, work problems, career problems, and we talk it through them in real time, or at least we take their questions, and then Nicole and I debate them and come to the right answer. And our goal is to help you build a career in a company you love, and you should check it out. It’s called Help Wanted.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jason Feifer
Yeah, I’m going to tell you another quote, and I want you to spend time with it. And the quote is this, this is something that Malcolm Gladwell told me. We were talking about how he decides what products or what projects, rather, to take on. And he told me that he really pushes against trying to think of himself too narrowly, and to think of his voice and style and the things that he does too narrowly. And the reason, he said, is because self-conceptions are powerfully limiting.

Self-conceptions are powerfully limiting. That’s basically my call to action to you, is to consider what your self-conception is, and how that is limiting you because, the thing is, that if we define ourselves too narrowly, we turn down all the amazing opportunities around us that don’t meet that narrow definition. But what happens if we loosen the grip, that I think is where growth happens.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jason, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun as you build for tomorrow.

Jason Feifer
Hey, thanks for having me.