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430: How to Reach the Unreachable: Lessons Learned from Master Teachers with Jeff Gargas

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Jeff Gargas shares best practices from teaching that every professional can use.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three links between classroom management and organizational management
  2. How to return to caring when you’re not feeling it
  3. How to reach the unreachabl

About Jeff

Jeff Gargas is the COO and co-founder of the Teach Better Team (Creators of www.teachbetter.com, The Grid Method, and Teach Further). He works with educators to increase student engagement and improve student success.

Prior to co-founding Teach Better, Jeff was the owner of ENI Multimedia, an online marketing firm, where he worked with entrepreneurs and small businesses, assisting them with web design, social media, content marketing, and brand awareness.

Prior to all of this, Jeff was an adjunctive professor at Kent State University and spent 10+ years in the music industry. He has spoken at conferences around the country, and has successfully promoted more than 500 events and launched 7 businesses in a variety of industries.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jeff Gargas Interview Transcript

Jeff Gargas  
Truly an honor to be on here and I really appreciate it.

Pete Mockaitis  
Oh yeah, well, I’m excited to dig in. And first, I want to hear you share when signing up for this scheduler, that you can “likely cry,” more so within your wife. What’s the story about it?

Jeff Gargas  
I’m a big sucker for romantic comedies, and I’ve always been a hopeless romantic as I describe it, just the way I am. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I blind my mo, but I’m just a hopeless romantic and my wife’s a tomboy, so I’m more likely to tear up a little bit at a moment. Even if silly, like Adam Sandler romantic comedy, and it shouldn’t be. Too likely, I’ll get there before her for sure. Yeah, like it’s not that uncommon.

Pete Mockaitis  
Oh, that’s funny. That’s funny. I just recently discovered the TV series This Is Us.

Jeff Gargas  
I wanted to get into it. I wanted to get into it because I know what’s going to happen, like my brother and my sister-in-law are watching, my mom is watching, and I’m like, no, I don’t know how to handle that, like, no.

Pete Mockaitis  
It’s like it’s a good thing I waited until I became apparent to watch this show, otherwise… yeah, this is boring but I’m like, “Oh, my god!”

Jeff Gargas  
It’s crazy after you become a parent what other things affect you and you’re like, “Yeah, that shouldn’t. Wow, okay. Wow.” Yeah, it’s crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you’re also a listener and fan of the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Jeff Gargas
I am. Big fan. Legitimate.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to things that publicist say to try to get…

Jeff Gargas  
No, absolutely legitimate fan. No joke. And not because we were doing this, but I was at the gym a couple hours ago, gonna get my workout in. And I was listening to it, with your episode with Michael Hyatt, which was awesome. He’s a big fan of his as well. So yeah, love it, man. Love what you’re doing, totally.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, I love what you’re doing, you are helping the world teach better. So can you orient us a little bit? So you got a few things going on, what’s up with “Teach better,” and the “grid method,” and “Teach for us?”

Jeff Gargas  
So yeah, the Teach Better team is what we are at things over at teachbetter.com, and we basically work, but we do a lot of stuff with like, our general missions is we work with teachers and school districts to implement best practices, implement district-wide initiatives and other bits and pieces of professional development and training for the teachers.

Essentially, all we try to do is just help teachers be better at what they do. Like, teachers are already doing amazing things in the classrooms, we’re not trying to go in and change what they’re doing. We’re just trying to support them in every way, in any way we possibly can to help them do it.

It all got started with something we call the Grid Method, which is a mastery learning framework that my co-founder Chad Ostrowski, he created in his classroom, basically out of necessity, and you’re struggling to reach his very high-needs population of students and got to the point where he considered quitting, and decided that he either need to go get a job somewhere else, or he needed to figure out how to teach better.

And he luckily stayed in and figured that out. He’s a scientist by trade, so we kind of dissected everything and found best practices that seemed to be, the research showed, would answer his struggles, but couldn’t find a way to put them all together. So we created the system.

And that’s sort of what launched us, as he called me asking about doing an ebook, because I was in the online marketing world at the time. And teachers in his district were asking questions, because basically the students were telling them they didn’t know how to teach anymore, which was fun for him in a lot of ways.

It’s a little target on his back, but also a lot of teachers that were like, “Hey, I want to reach these kids, too.” And then our team will tell you my famous words were, “Dude, we’re not just doing an ebook.” I said, “We have to do something different. You’ve got something here.”

And apparently I was right, because now we try it to schools all over the country, and it’s growing. And we do a lot more than just a good method now and teach for— there’s another model that we have that incorporates classrooms working with community members and mock internships and real life, real purpose situations and all their units, and we do a lot of your just regular base, the best practices and stuff.

I’m one of the co-founders, and I work as our chief operating officer. We’re a small business with a small team, so I really operate also as our chief marketing officer, CFO, HR manager, and just about anything else you can think of. We all wear a lot of hats, but really what I try to do is just work to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to first take care of our team. And then a very, very close second is take care of our partner schools and all those teachers that are changing the world. We’re just trying to what we can help them.

Pete Mockaitis  
And in your work, you say that you have seen many commonalities, connections between some of the teaching better classroom management stuff, and then, you know, nonprofit, government, business organizational management stuff. Can you lay out that link for us?

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, I think the biggest link, to keep it really simple, is relationships, relationships, relationships, and then environment and culture. So I come from a background in the restaurant industry, managing restaurants, and a wide variety of those also in the entertainment industry for a little while. And I’ve been, pretty much most of my life, ever since I got my first job and was able to get promoted to a shift-level management — I’ve been in management my entire life and the supervisor role.

And now with our team, it’s a little bit different, but so many commonalities there. And then we started to chat, and I started seeing all these connections between like how we needed to build things and run things in our business and the connections they had to the management in the classroom.

And one of the biggest things we saw is like this need for strong foundational relationships and building the right environment, the right culture. So like whether you’re in a classroom, a restaurant, entertainment company, market, firm, insurance agency, whatever it is, you need to build a culture of trust, of positivity, and to build that synergy.

And you need that environment that promotes growth, that promotes passion, that promotes excitement around what you’re trying to do. And in order to do all that, you’ve got to build the relationships first, whether that’s building relationships with your students to understand where they’re at, what they need, and how to reach them, or if it’s working with that new, that new employee, or a struggling employee, and building that.

And from an employee standpoint, if I’m on a team, understanding that I’m also a massive part of building that culture and building that environment, and how I interact with my colleagues, how I interact with my supervisors, and how do I build those relationships that I can understand, how do I do my job the best I can to make my supervisor’s job easier, because that’s going to make my life easier, and so on, so forth. So in my mind, all that comes in on those relationships is the foundation of everything.

Pete Mockaitis  
Okay, so intriguing. Relationships, relationships, relationships. Can you maybe paint a picture for us? So what does it look like for the world class teachers? I guess we’re gonna say relationships, but what does that look like in practice, in terms of what are they doing? What are the key differentiators that these rock stars who are getting huge student learning attainment gains, test scores, improvements rocking out versus the rest of the teachers who are kinda getting by, you know, doing okay. What are the things that they’re doing differently? How are they working their relationships or classroom behaviors in a different way?

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, man, the relationships are a huge piece of that, because any kind of management system you put in place in your classroom, any kind of new technology, or awesome new innovative type of experience or anything like that, even the lesson plan that you bring in, it’s going to fall apart, if you don’t have the relationships to build on that.

The same thing is, I know the best business plan in the world, but if my team just can’t operate, because there’s no relationship, there’s no culture, there is no environment, it’s not going to work. But I think on top of that, these teachers that we see that are just amazing like that, they just have a refusal to quit, they refuse to quit. We call it the Teach Better Mindset.

It’s this relentless pursuit of better. It’s not perfect, it’s never going to be perfect, it’s just better — better today than you were yesterday, better tomorrow than you were today. That’s what we preach on. And it’s never this, “Hey, we want to change everything you do,” or, “Hey, you got to fix everything,” or, “You’re not good.” It’s, “You can always be better.”

And the champions that we see, these teachers that are doing amazing things, as they always look every day that reflect in their software, and they’re always thinking, “What can I do to be better? How can I reach more kids? It’s never enough until I’m reaching 110% of them.” Right?

So I think the teachers that refuse to accept anything but the best for the students, and who go above and beyond every single day to do whatever it is that they need to do to support those kids. And basically, I mean, if you think about, they’re spending their days just pouring love into other people’s kids.

I mean those are world changers, that they dedicate so much to it. And I think it’s really just that refusal to accept anything, and they’re willing to take risks and put themselves on the line and challenge themselves every single day, every single second of every day to do better and be better for the kids. Those are the ones that are really making those differences.

Pete Mockaitis  
All right, that’s awesome. Maybe could you could share a story in terms of a teacher who’s really just doing that great? So I just sort of get a sense for, build relationships and never quit. What does that look like in practice?

Jeff Gargas  
I can think of a lot of stories, but it’s all slightly general, more general. But like, it’s a teacher that you mentioned that’s already doing pretty well, right? So, you know, I’ll talk about Ray here, she’s on our team, but she’s also a phenomenal teacher, which is why we checked her into working with us.

So Ray, you know, was a good teacher, she was doing well. You know, she did well on her observations, she was reaching most students, they did well, the bell curve looked like it should as the average kid was doing well. And she could have easily skated by and been okay, and just probably had a good career, probably worked her way up to maybe being a principal one day. That was, you know, she was gonna go back and get her license, probably could have, you know, she’s got the personality and charisma to where she could have easily got into an admin position and probably, you know, had a nice career.

But early on, she decided she was not okay with being okay. And she… look, she said, “My kids are engaged, but are they as engaged as they possibly can be? My kids are doing well, but are they doing as well as they absolutely can be. I’m reaching most of my kids, but am I really okay with most of my kids?” And then she wakes up and says, “Man, I hope I hit some of my kids today. Like, that’d be great.”

No, I wake up and I say, “I want to have every single one of my kids grow today.” And I think it was that passion and her and then like, again, that’s where piece of equipment the way she did it. She said, “This isn’t working. I’ve got a lot of great pieces, but I need other pieces.”

Actually developed our Teach Further model. She’s the one who, like that was one of the things that caught our eyes. And she said, “How can I take what I’m doing, these fun activities, and really make sure that I’m not just putting in fluff?” Ray’s biggest thing is “Fluff is not enough.” And by fluff, I mean, it’s really, you know, it’s easier to create a classroom that looks really cool on Instagram, that looks really fun and engaging. But if there’s no purpose underneath it, there’s no connection to what they actually need to learn in the real world application of what they’re learning in your classroom. It’s just fluff. It’s not actually doing much other than just, you know, being fun for Instagram.

And so she said, “How can I do that? How can I make these connections?” And then she started reaching out and calling companies, businesses, saying, “I have this idea. I’m wondering if you’d take this crazy journey with me, and allow my students to operate in a mock internship with your company, and here’s how I’m going to connect it to my math standard, here’s how I’m going to connect it to my ELA standard,” and the way that she started connecting pieces to real world applications, to these seemingly boring math standards and things like that, is phenomenal.

And now, we’ve sent them to build, help teachers all over, connect with major companies and businesses and do some amazing things. But, you know, she’s a great example of that teacher that you were talking about, that rock star teacher that just said, “I could be okay, I can be comfortable, I can get by, but I refuse to do that.”

You flip that, you see it in the corporate world — I saw it when I was managing people in the restaurant industry of kids who came in and out a lot of time. I was in fact in the quick service industry, kids come in a lot of times, the first job, first opportunity, they’ve taken a management position or have a little bit of responsibility.

And you have some that said, “I’ll just do what I need to do, because I’m just here while I’m figuring out what I’m doing my life, because I’m going to college, it’s a part time thing,” and others that looked at and said, “If I’m here, I’m going to be the ‘best here’ I possibly can be. I’m going to learn everything I can, I’m going to pick the brains of the people that are here, and maybe I’ll end up in this place forever and I’ll retire here, or at the very least, I’m going to take it and make sure I get the most out of this experience. So that when I go on to the next part of my journey, my life, I can be the best I can be there.”

I think that’s the same thing when it comes to any industry or in any job you’re in. And it’s this refusal to just settle for being okay. I mean, we spend more than 60% of our lives at our jobs. So if you’re just being okay, that means you’re just being okay, for the majority of your life. I’m not okay with that. But…

Pete Mockaitis  
Okay, so it starts with having a higher standard, a higher bar in terms of, “Okay, we’re going to be the best we possibly can, we refuse to quit.” So once you get that commitment, that fire in play, let’s talk about this relationship stuff. So how does one go about forging great relationships?

Jeff Gargas  
It’s a couple of things. So the biggest thing with me is, I think it’s caring. It’s actually caring, though I have this thing that I talked about a lot, where some people do things because the book tells them to. And by the book, I mean the manual, or the best practice, or the person who says, “This is how you should do your job,” or whatever. And there’s some people that do it because they actually care.

A really simplified answer is in a restaurant, where an elderly couple is at a table, when you go to have a conversation with them. The difference between going there because, well, that’s good customer service, “And our manual says we should focus on customer service,” versus, “I’m going there because just possibly, those are grandparents who haven’t seen their grandson who’s about my age in a long time, and I can give them a little glimpse or reminder of that grandson they haven’t seen for a while. I can have a conversation with them and brighten their day.” Those are very big differences.

In same thing when it comes to building relationships with your employees, with your colleagues, with your with your students. It’s actually caring, and it’s not, “I’m doing this because it’s going to better me and make my life better, even though it will. But it’s focused on how can I help make your day better? How can I actually learn because I actually want to help you?”

And I think in the more and more tactical piece, it’s actually fairly simple. No, we chatter fast, because all the time, we have a thousand conversations about nothing. But truly get to understand that person. Dig down and figure out what they’re actually about, and build that.

You talked about authentic relationships. Authentic relationships isn’t, “Pete likes to be rewarded at work.” It’s, “No, why is Pete like that? What is the actual reason behind that? What what’s going on in Pete’s real life that connects them? Why is recognition at work so valuable to him?”

So that can truly understand what truly drives you. And I think the teachers that truly understand what their students need, and what drives them and each individual student, they’re the ones that reach them, they build those relationships nested and wants to work for them. And I think that’s the biggest piece of that, it’s truly actually caring and then having those conversations to dig down and actually understand those people.

Pete Mockaitis  
Now that’s tricky. When it comes to the “actually caring” part, I’d love to get your take on that: If you if you don’t actually care on a given day, because you’re tired, you’re stressed, you’re overworked, you got so many distractions, whatever your reasons, you know? I’m going to assume you’re not just like an evil, hateful person. But to give a day, you don’t actually care. What do you recommend to get back into that zone?

Jeff Gargas  
So there’s, I guess two parts. One is, my day will be spent figuring out why you don’t care that day, and see if there’s something you can do to fix that. But sometimes, there’re just as a new thing you can do: Would you try to leave it in your car? You can’t, and you just don’t have it in you.

So then, you may still want to practice that, because that’s still important to your and your role, but also to that person. It’s important for them, too, because you still need to understand them. So you still need to dig them. So you may have to practice the fact that, “Today, I got to put on a face and I got to make sure that I’m still digging, I’m still building these relationships, I’m still letting them know that I care.” But you can’t be fake about it.

So if you’re going to come off fake, and they’re going to see through it, that’s going to ruin a lot of the progress you made. So you may have to kind of take a day off, or maybe take not quite as many conversations. It’s not digging up in as deep. But I think the key to that is for now, “Why don’t I care today? How do I fix that?”

It’s one thing to just be down and be like, “Hey, I’m not in the mood for conversations,” that’s understandable. But like, actually not caring? You’re like, “I just don’t care about anybody today.” Like, there’s something else going on there in my mind that needs to be addressed first, and figure out like why am I not feeling this way today.

“And if I’m feeling that way, is it actually going to be harmful if I try to engage with my colleague or with my student or this way, because I’m putting off some negativity?” And so having that self-awareness and reflection on that, I think, is coordinated and figuring out, “Okay, how do I get back onto it tomorrow and I can be authentic again, and get back into doing what I need to do?”

Pete Mockaitis  
And I like the example you brought about with the waiter or waitress in terms of, “Hey, these grandparents may not have seen a really young person in a while. And so this could mean that for them.” So that seems to be a little bit of the formula with regard to “I am putting myself in their shoes and recognizing how the thing I’m doing here can make a world of a difference.”

And for teachers, that’s huge, like, “Hey, what happens here can set the stage for whether learning and growth and development are headed to college or career or interesting fulfillment jobs or, you know, much less pleasant for folks.” So that’s as well as medicine. But I think that some of the other fields I think can require a little bit of thought at times to zero in on who is it that we’re serving, and how is what I’m doing today potentially going to be transformationally amazing for them.

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s important to understand who you’re serving, regardless of what industry you’re in, and what kind of engagement can help whatever it is that they’re coming to you for. And I mean, obviously in the hospitality industry, it’s a lot of that communication and being friendly, because you never know what kind of day they’re having. And if you can put a smile on their face, that might be the first time all day.

Same thing in the classroom. It’s like it takes so long to figure out what are those kids coming to school with? What else do they have? You know, what are the other things that they care about emotionally? And you might be the only person in the world that that’s showing them love for the day. That shows you care for them; that’s massive.

The same can be said for your employee or your boss or your colleague, like everyone’s got something going on, right? And you don’t know if the guy in the cubicle next to you or the girl down the hall and in the other office is struggling with something, that just the simple, quick smile, a “Hello, how are you?” an actually authentic “I care, I actually am asking you. I want to know, how are you doing today? What’s going on?”

That can that can make a world of a difference to somebody. And if you have a culture in your small business, big, large business, whatever, that has that, and everyone’s feeling that way, the opportunity for negativity to seep in is far less, which is better beneficial for everybody.

Pete Mockaitis  
You know, I like what you said about the difference a smile can make. It reminds me one time, just a few months ago, I was in church and there was someone who’s just smiling, like completely and thoroughly. It was like, “Wow, that feels really good.” I realized that she was looking at my baby.

Jeff Gargas  
Oh, there you go. That’ll do it, right?

Pete Mockaitis  
I guess that puts you in a good mood. She’s looking adorable, but I was like, “Wow, you know, it’s pretty rare that you actually get to feel a genuine, authentic, full-on smile. Like, I have enjoyed seen you!” I mean babies get it, but we don’t as much.

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah. And you know, the crazy thing is the smile. It’s crazy what a smile does for you. So there’s an author and amazing educator named Adam Welcome. He wrote a book called Kids Deserve It, which is a massive hit and educational, but then he also wrote a book called Run Like a Pirate. In this amazing book, he just picked up with a short, easy read, but it’s phenomenal.

It’s like his story of 2017, he ran a marathon every single month — because Adam’s just intense. But in the book, he talks about, like, one of his tactics for sort of getting through that mental game of running — and I’m a runner, this is why it’s big for me — but it’s to just smile.

And it’s funny, like when I run now, like if I feel like I’m having a hard time getting rid of a mental hurdle, I will smile. But then what’s funny is then I remember the fact that I’m smiling because I had this book said it, which makes me kind of chuckle, and I smile.

I’m telling you, man, it’s like a whole other level, like it just does something to you. Like it’s crazy. So if you can give someone a smile, maybe they give you a smile back. And now you get your authentic smile to yourself. Like it’s going to warm your soul. And I’m a huge fan of that.

We so often as humans just do anything we can to avoid contact, or avoid eye contact, right? Like we look down, we just don’t do anything. I try really hard. And I don’t do it every day, but I try really hard to just smile at people and say hi to as many people as I can, because again, you don’t know what they’re going through. That’s just such an important thing, in my mind.

Pete Mockaitis  
And to point about having a thousand conversations about nothing, in a way, I like the feeling that sentence creates, because it’s sort of like, you could just chill out. It’s like, I’m not intentionally trying to tease out 14 precise takeaways from this discussion.

But yeah, we’re talking about, “Oh, you like pizza? That’s cool. What are your favorite toppings? Oh, yes, sausage is the best,” you know, whatever. And in so doing, you build up a picture. But that being said, could you share what are some of the conversations about nothing that are often quite telling, and they deliver something?

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, I mean, simple conversations about like, “What did you do this weekend? What are you up to tonight?” and then playing off that at all, like, “Do you do you watch this? Do you watch This Is Us, right? Do you cry during movies? Do you get up? You said you like pizza.” It’s a million different ways.

And you know, with students, a lot of times, it’s, “What did you do this weekend?” And that that opens up another question, noticing something that, maybe they have a graphic T-shirt on, like, “Oh, do you like The Incredible Hulk?” or whatever. Given that, your co-workers can simply just be like, “Maybe they have a shirt on,” you know, depending on the dress code and stuff, but it could be asking them what they do this week, and what are they up to this week, and what do they think about this or that, did they cast a game last night, have they got in that new movie, whatever it might be they have.

You know, just those conversations that just start a conversation about nothing, you give you a chance to just sort of learn a little bit about them, because the way someone tells you about their weekend, or explains what they liked or disliked about a movie, or the team they cheer for, something like that tells you little bits and pieces about that person, you know? You get someone talking.

I’m a Cleveland Browns fan. So you connect with the Cleveland Browns fan, and you connect with another Cleveland Browns fan, that’s a bond that can’t be shook. So those little areas — and a lot of sports teams are like that, like that’s such a connection that you may not know that you have with a colleague or with your boss or whatever — and that simple little connection can change the way you guys communicate forever. Because now there’s that little, like, “Oh, that’s typical Browns, right?” There’s these little inside jokes that automatically form, or you love that show, or, “I’m a huge fan of Friends, the TV show Friends from way back.”

And I had an employee of mind for that for I think five years, he was with us. And he had autism. But he was a credible worker; worked really hard. And he would have moments where he had some struggles, and he got frustrated with what would usually begin, you know, directive, because he’s pretty good at his job. But if we need to direct them, sometimes he took them wrong, he had a lot of stuff in his life that he was dealing with, and people would have to struggle with him.

And when he got into that mode, he was kind of like… you weren’t going to break him. And I would literally just rattle off lines to the episode of Friends, and we would just get going. And it was just this ridiculous, back and forth that no one else understood, because unless they happen to know that one weird episode, but it was just to crack him out of this thing.

And it was a little piece that took me a while to figure out, through just random conversations, where one day… I don’t even remember the actual conversation, but we were talking. I don’t remember the situation with the conversation, we were just talking about… I said something, I came up with a line, that reminded him on an episode, he goes, “Oh, that’s like the time Joey  said blah blah blah,” and we repeated it. And we’re like, “Oh, it’s the connection.” And now I now have my bond with you.

We now have a million inside jokes that we can laugh about. And I now have something that I can pull off to help you get out of a funk if you get into it. And that just, like for me, that made my life managing shifts that he was on so much easier.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, and I’m curious, as you’re having these conversations about nothing, you’re forming some relationships, you’re learning all kinds of little things. I mean, especially in the context of a teacher with a classroom of I don’t know, 15, 20, 25+ students, how do you keep all that straight direct community particular systems, or tracking, or note keeping?

Jeff Gargas  
Well, you know, we’ve seen teachers do a million other things, and some teachers are just amazing at it. Just really, really good at it. There’s a lot of different types of things of, you know, at the beginning of the year, working with… some teachers do picture things with it, the kids get to share their stories along with pictures, and then the teacher sort of has that on the walls around, in a document or something like that, where they have that sort of resource. But you know, they’re spending every single day with those students

So you’re getting to know what they become, just like your colleagues at work. I mean, if you’re with the same 10, 15 people every day at work for 60% of your life, whether you like it or not, they’re in your life as much as a best friend would be, so you’re able to build that. So, I think, you know, big pieces.

It is much easier if you’re truly caring, I’ll go back to that. Because I don’t have any trouble remembering which one of my friends likes this, or likes that, because they’re my friends. I know though that information because I care about them. And I built it in an authentic way, not because I was supposed to because my job said so.

So it’s tough to remember, “Okay, what’s employee A1’s favorite food?” It’s easier to remember what’s Max’s favorite food, because I’ve built a relationship now, versus “I learned it because I’m supposed to because my job will be easier.” And I think it’s the same thing with teachers, teachers who truly care about their students, like they remember, “That’s Johnny, he has the brothers that do this and the mom that struggles with that,” or the, “He lives with his aunt,” or the “He has this,” and “Now, that’s Sarah, and she has these things.” I think it comes with the actual caring that comes in that situation.

So I think teachers are naturally inclined to be really, really good at that, because their hearts’ there in the first place. They’re trying to do something amazing and reach those kids, but I really think it comes down to actually caring about the people that you’re working with, and people you’re serving, and truly wanting to learn about them.

Pete Mockaitis  
You know, it’s funny, you keep coming back to this caring. And we had an interview with Alden Mills, who was a NAVY seal, and his whole thing was caring. He had a framework: CARE — C-A-R-E, each of the letters has multiple subcomponents that start with a C and A and R and E. So it’s kind of fun little connections here.

Well, so let’s talk about, what are your great phrases that you have for your businesses that help teachers to reach the unreachable? So we’ve talked about some principles that are applicable across students. But if you got a particular employee or student who is noteworthily, seemingly unreachable, what do you do?

Jeff Gargas  
It’s gonna feel like I’m coming back again and again, but it’s the way you understand them, like truly understand the person, to figure out who they are, what drives them, and why they’ve been deemed unreachable. So when it comes to employees, it’s figuring out what are their strengths, what are their struggles, and then working with them to play on those strengths, and focus on those strengths while still trying to build those struggle points, and focus really on what drives them.

You know, one of your colleagues, one of your employees might be driven just by financial gain, like they’re driven by money, and that’s okay. But understand what drives them, versus someone who’s driven by admiration and wants to be looked at as an incredible employee or the best colleague around, whatever it might be.

When it comes to the classroom, it’s finding out what’s driving your students. Are they struggling, or they’re quote unquote, “unreachable” because they come from a really rough home? And their entire life, they’ve been told that they’re there dumb and they fail, and they’re stupid, a knock at school, and no one’s given them a shot because they struggle when they were younger? And now they’re in seventh or eighth grade, and it’s just been the cycle of failure where, you know…

Chad talks a lot about the cycle failures. If you think about a student who goes to school in first grade, like every student goes to the first grade as, “I got my backpack on, and my new shoes, I’m ready to go!” right? “I’m gonna be awesome!” And they go on to try really hard and they get an F, “You failed.” “That’s all right; I’m gonna try again next year.”

Second grade, they go and they’re pumped up. “I’m gonna try really hard to do awesome.” “You failed, you get an F.” “Okay. All right, I’m gonna try really hard next year.”

And again, by the time they hit that fifth, sixth grade, they start doing some quick math in their head, and they’re like, “Huh, you know, if I try really, really hard, I get an F. But if I don’t do anything at all, I also get an F. That’s a lot easier.” Boom, stamped with unreachable. And what happens is, unfortunately, they get kind of written off. And so then, you get this little, like, “Oh, watch out for so and so; he’s unreachable. You’re not going to like him. He’s a trouble. He’s gonna…” whatever.

And the difference is when a teacher chooses to say, “Yeah, I don’t accept that. I’m going to figure out what’s really happened. Why are they struggling?” And in Chad, this is actually, like, I love the asset, because actually, you know the story Chad tells a lot about one of his students, Jesse, who was that kid. He was a kid who was on all those lists that teachers don’t have on the top 10. And it actually ended up where Chad had him at the end of the day, and for a couple weeks, Chad never saw him.

So he thought maybe he moved, because transferring was pretty common in those types of community and stuff. But he asked his colleagues, like, “Where’s Jesse? I haven’t seen him today.” “He was just getting kicked out of class before he gets to yours. He’s getting sent down to school suspension.” Then Chad asked if he could go get him, worked out a deal with his principal and stuff, and actually started going to get him, because he had delta relationship with Jesse.

And you know, “Look, this kid’s just been struggling his whole life. He’s never had anyone tell him that it was worth it,” and he was able to. Long story short is that Chad was able to connect with him, because Chad started to understand that if Jesse had some time to work through things a little bit, and had an opportunity to fail a few times and try again and try again without being told, “I’m dumb,” because a lot of times when students get to a certain point — they get that after that D — their mind goes up, “I’m stupid. I’m not good. I don’t do well at school, I’m not good at school.”

And Chad goes, “Well, if I can give us some time to work on that, and if I’m working my class and management class right way, and I have some time to maybe read aloud to Jesse to help work through these things, I bet he can do better.” And he did he started doing really well, obviously still had some issues here and there and stuff, but end up doing real good.

“I actually am good to be in the class.” And it’s an awesome story that Chad tells that I won’t go into because he’s much better.

But I think it’s the same thing. You know, I think about the employee I was just talking about, it’s a similar thing. Like, when he got on those modes, it was just like, “Well, here he goes again. I can’t, he’s just written off, like you can’t get to him.” And this isn’t to say that I’m anything special or anything, but I was able to find a way to connect with him. To get him out of that. He went from being unreachable to reachable now, and boom, he was doing his job well.

And so, I think that goes for whether it’s an employee, whether it’s your colleague, whatever it is, like, everyone’s got something going on, and it all comes back to this: getting to know that person and truly understanding them and figuring out, “Okay, what drives them?” And then also, what takes them to the spot where they’re quote unquote unreachable? And then what can I do to get them out of that?

You don’t need to be a boss to be the person that gets an employee out of a funk. Sometimes, the best person to do that is a colleague, right? And it’s just like, sometimes it takes another student to do it. But, you know, I think it’s really focusing on understanding that person, and what drives them, and what they need at that time.

Pete Mockaitis  
Okay, well, I’d love to get your take when it comes to to teaching, the actual delivery of learning content, what are some of the key principles that make communication engaging versus kind of lame and boring and not so engaging?

Jeff Gargas  
I think this goes the same as caring over some of the things we say that carries over, both in the classroom and in the world, and all other industries, when it comes to training, teaching, and redirecting all the stuff.

The thing is focusing on the why. So, “Why am I teaching you this content? Why do you need to know that?” And it’s the same “why” as like, “Why do we do this or that in this particular way, in this company?” You can choose to just say, “Because I’m boss, and I said so. Because I’m a teacher, and I said you have to do this, and this is how we’ve always done it.” Or, you can go beyond just barking orders and show them why it needs to be done.

So I talked about Ray earlier, and the Teach Further model. And that’s one of the big things; we’re going beyond just the, “Hey, let’s just do this because the state says we have to hit these standards.” But let’s actually focus on “Why do you need to know this?” Like, why do you need to understand math for the real world? Like, why do you have to understand this concept? Why is understanding history important? Why? Why should you learn coding? Like, what are you going to do with your life? And let’s connect this. “Let me show you how this is connected to real world applications.”

One of the awesome things about the Teach Further model is that a piece of that, at the end of every lesson where wherever unit, where teachers are sending home what we call a “Plan for the Future page,” which is to the parents or stakeholders, whether it is the guardians, it says, “This is what we’ve learned, this is the state-standard hit. This is how we did it. Here’s some of the things that your students showed; that means that maybe they’d be interested in a couple of these fields. And by the way, if they weren’t interested in these fields, here’s the type of education they may need to do after high school.”

We’re doing this at sixth grade levels and fifth grade levels or eighth grade levels. way before they even get to high school, because they need to be understanding that early on, so they can apply all the stuff that they’re learning through the rest of the school into real life things.

And it’s the same thing when you’re in the business world and you’re trying to employees and stuff. It’s like, “I can tell you to just do that, because that’s how you’re supposed to do it, because the rulebook says it,” whereas “I can tell you why the rulebook says why have we determined this, the way of doing this thing or that thing is the best, how does that affect everything else that happens?” Because what I’m essentially doing is saying, “Hey, this is why your job’s important, why your role in this company is important, because if you do this, this is what happens. And it ends up doing this for our customers. If you don’t, here’s how it bottlenecks, it falls down and we don’t get there.”

And so that’s the way that I think takes it from… even the person who goes, “Man, my job says I just do these numbers and whatever.” But it’s like, “If you don’t do those numbers, then x, y, z doesn’t happen. And somewhere down the lot, this ends up happening, that we don’t serve our clients.”

There’s an old story, and I can’t remember who told it originally when I heard it, but they’re interviewing a bunch of people in NASA before, like when we’re getting ready to launch to the moon, way back when. And they were talking do a janitor, and they asked, like, “What do you do?” And he said, “I’m working to put a man on the moon.” And he’s understanding that if those halls weren’t clean, if the garbage wasn’t taken care of, if the lounge wasn’t clean, that affects the progress of everyone else, and could potentially interrupt someone who shot to make a breakthrough to figure out how do we get to the moon.

You can break that down. Like every little piece of the organization is so important that if you focus on explaining to your team and everyone and to students the same way, like why is it important that you’re doing what you’re doing the way you’re doing it, we’re learning these things. How does that affect the outcome? How does it positively impact what we’re trying to do? I think that’s how you get there.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, I really dig that, because you unpacked the explanation of why, on a few dimensions, I think it’s great as one is, you know, historically, this is what we’ve discovered, and how we ended up here. And the formulation of it is the way it is for this reason. And then this is what happens if you do it, and this is what happens if you don’t. So that paints a picture, like “Well, shoot. This is pretty important. Like, I matter.”

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, and that’s the key, right? I matter, because who’s going to work hard?” Or someone who just thinks they push papers, or think someone who thinks these papers matter. Like that person who thinks the papers matter. If you’re a manager, listener, supervisor, whatever, one of the other little side effects that this does, and you may not like it, but you should, like, it is that if you’re explaining to people why you do things a certain way, it opens up the door for them to recommend other ways.

And sometimes as managers and owners, whatever, we don’t want to hear it. But it’s really important to close your mouth in that and listen, because they may have something you never thought of, because they’re at the ground level. And that’s crucial. And we see it in classrooms, too, where if you’re explaining to the students why do they need to understand that, they’ll come up with other reasons and be like, “Oh, or because x, y, z?” And you’re like, “I didn’t even think of that call. Like, yeah, I’m gonna throw that in mind next time I talk about it.”

But the same thing in a company is like,

“Hey, this is why we do it.” And they’re like, “Oh, that’s great. Why don’t we do it like this?” And you’re like, “Oh, we probably should; let’s change that.” Like, it’s just powerful in so many different levels.

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s good. That’s real nice. Well, so we hit the Grid Method a couple times in terms of little references. But you know, I just can’t help myself. But I hear Grid Method, I’m already visualizing a grid, and I got to know, what does it consist of? And how might it be applied to folks learning and growing and developing in a grownup work context?

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, so what the Grid Method is, is a framework for utilizing a mastery learning in classrooms. So when I say mastery learning, there’s a lot that can go into that. But in general, it’s a shift from standing in the front of classroom delivering content to all the students all at the same time and expect them to move all at the same time, to shift into mastery learning, which is where students are moving at their own pace, and only moving on as they master the content and master certain pieces of it.

And a lot of organizations already do a similar version of mastery learning, where you’re in a training program, you have to master a certain level of skill or understanding before you can move on to the next. I think the difference is, and the focus is the speed at which.

In education and a lot of businesses, we set a certain time table. We say, “Well, let’s take it two weeks to learn this. And if you don’t learn in two weeks, I guess you’re just not good enough for it.” Or in classrooms, it’s “If you don’t learn these in two weeks, too bad. You fail, we’re moving on,” right? “If you don’t understand two plus two, we’re moving on to two times two, and you’re just never going to get it at all, ever.”

I think the biggest thing is that individuality, because we need to understand that we all, one, learn differently, and two, learn at different speeds. So if you think about— a real great way to break it down is, think about that. You have a couple kids at home, correct?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Jeff Gargas
Okay, so when you were teaching them to walk, maybe you’re doing it right now, you probably did it like most people: you stood him up and then they fell a lot, they called, and they fell, and they started using whatever they can to grab onto your leg or the furniture or whatever. And then eventually, they figured out. Now they run around like crazy, if they’re like my kids.

But what if I told you that the way I do with my kids is, I took my son Jonathan, I said, “All right, man, we’re going to do this. We’re going to practice for two weeks, and then I’m gonna work with you. You’re going to fall and everything like this.” Then in two weeks, I said, “All right, Jonathan, here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m gonna stand there, I’m gonna stand the prescribed 10 feet away from you, and now you need to walk to me.”

And he takes a couple of steps, stumbles, boom, falls. And I said, “Well, sorry, son. You failed in the walking test. I guess we’re going to just not learn how to walk. We’re gonna move on the potty training.” It’s ridiculous, right?

But then when we get into school, and in the business, we say, “Hey, you got two weeks to learn this, or you got a week to learn this. And if you don’t, I guess you’re just not going to get it.” And I always wonder how many potentially amazing employees are we not giving a shot to, because we wrote them off? Because they didn’t get it quick enough?

Same in education, too many students get written off as unreachable, or not smart, not good test takers, not good at math, because we gave them a short amount of time. And we expected them to move at the same speed as everyone else. Well, we all learn differently, how to walk in different speeds — some kids walk a year, some take some three years. I mean, same with talk and same with learning how to ride a bike, learn, and everything like that.

So the framework, and just the mastery learning shift in general is focusing on the individual and actually focus on what they actually need, and when they need it, versus when we think they should have it. And I think that’s the biggest piece we drive that helps drive mastery of the content, whether in a school, business, whatever.

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s good. And so where does the grid come into play?

Jeff Gargas  
So the grid, essentially, so when we work with teachers, one of the first things we do is we help them look at their state standards and what they have to meet, what the state says that they’re supposed to be teaching, and we help them break them down and align them to the essential questions that they need to ask their students, that they need to have their students understand. And then that breaks down into learning opportunities and activity, the actual activities that students are doing in order to master the content, in order to master that.

So then, they take all those learning opportunities, which you can think of like a lesson plan, right? We call them learning opportunities, because a lesson is something you give someone; a learning opportunity is something they have to take. So we purposely use those words, but the grid becomes a learning path for their students to move. It’s the guide, it’s their map, if you will.

And it’s this form, these little squares that have activities in them. And it explains what they need to do, what it needs to get to whatever it is that they’re doing, whether that’s vocabulary words, whether that’s science experiments, whatever it might be, and then what they need to do in order to be checked off for mastery.

So students move through these. And so I go and I do what I need to do in square one, and when I’m ready to be checked, and I feel I’ve mastered that, I check in with the teacher, or there might be a self-assessment or automatic assessment through technology, and I cannot move on to the next square until I’ve mastered that content and I’ve shown my mastery at least an 85% or higher level of mastery. And then I move on.

So the grid, if you can visualize, is just a piece of paper with levels, five different levels of those squares. And as students start from the bottom, they build that foundational level knowledge. As they move up the depth of knowledge that’s required, the level of mastery that’s required grows. So there’s fewer boxes, few activities, because they’re a little more in depth as they move on. And as they move up, and they level up in that grid, they’re getting deeper and deeper into that content and into that concept and into that.

So a grid itself would encompass basically sort of like what you would consider like a unit of study. Some units might require multiple grids, some are just one grid. So it could vary from teacher to teacher how much they want to pack in there.

Pete Mockaitis  
Okay, we talked about, is there something in particular that’s on the x axis and the y axis?

Jeff Gargas  
So yeah, so going up on the side, there’s your levels of depth of knowledge. So your x depends on the lead, those are your learning opportunities, right? Those individual boxes that say “This is what you’re going to do to help practice,” and then show your mastery along the moving upwards is that level. So the knowledge we’re referring to, we built it off of what’s called Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. And there’s levels, and it’s moving up, it’s the level of understanding. So as they move up, those levels are showing the level of understanding they had.

There’s actually four levels and depth in Webb’s; we do five levels, because we put like an independent exploration up top for the students that just excel and blow through it, so that once they master content, they can go have fun with it and learn more about it.

Most standards are written in that 2, 3, sometimes four-range, typically two to three range. So most students are going to end up around that level, but you have students that are moving all at the same or at different paces, based on what they need. And so what this does, then, is allows those students that have just get it and they’re just like — we call them rabbits, that are just really quick — and they just get it, they can move and they can keep learning. They can grow, they don’t have to wait for the student that maybe struggles.

But that student that needs a little more time, that needs a few attempts to try to get it because they just don’t get it, now they have the time to do that. You can spend time with them, either one on one or small groups to assess where they’re at, where they’re struggling, to find other ways to explain it to them. Also, side note, build those relationships really nicely there and stuff, and move on. Because what you’ll find is, most students struggle, because of one or two reasons: either one, they already get it, and they’re bored. And so they just checked out of your class. And a lot of times that leaves the problems.

Do you have, like these extremely gifted students that are really intelligent, but they cause problems? They’re just bored. They’re like, “Why am I learning this? I already know it, I don’t need to do this, this is a waste of my time.” Or you have a student that’s just struggling because, maybe they’ve struggled, they have trouble with reading? So like, just basic, simple vocabulary work is really tough for them. And they’re struggling because they’re getting yanked along, and it’s like, “Oh, you don’t know two plus two? So we’re moving on right now.”

“I’m frustrated because I don’t get it. So now I’m lost forever.” And it’s just been a cycle. So, by folks giving everyone the time they need, you’re hitting that top level, and all the way down to the bottom level of students getting what they need. And they’re allowed to move on when they need to move on, but they can take a little more time, with a little more time. So and then, there’s a lot of pieces that go along with that, on how to manage that and stuff.

And that’s where a lot of our training comes into. It’s like, alright, and how we create a grid. But then also, how does this work in my classroom? Because it can be a little scary to think of 20, 30 students all moving, doing different things at different times. And that’s a big mindset shift for a lot of teachers.

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

Jeff Gargas  
Let’s go.

Pete Mockaitis  
Alright, sure how about a favorite quote? Something you find inspiring?

Jeff Gargas  
It’s “Some people dream of success. Others wake up and work hard at it.” I think that’s true, no matter where you’re at in your life.

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

Jeff Gargas  
So I don’t do a lot of studies up, but there’s one that I have found a while back. I don’t know what, it’s from the University of California, Berkeley. And there’s just a study on happiness, like what is happiness? And the biggest thing that I’ll refer back to every now and then, but really just sort of the summary of it, and the fact that like, happiness isn’t about money or things; it’s about fulfillment. It’s not about what others think, it’s not about Keeping Up With the Joneses, and stuff like that. It’s about what you need, what’s important to you.

And you know, for a long time, I felt like I needed to be like a certain person, at a certain level of success, make a certain amount of money, do certain things, whatever. But all I really needed was to find something that I love doing and that I’m good at, and that I find a purpose. And I think that’s… I just love that about happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jeff Gargas
The Go Giver, Bob Burg. Is one of my all-time favorite, I love it. I have quotes, you’ve had them on that episode — I gotta dig through that episode. Actually, I have massive final prints of the laws, all over my walls. So…

Pete Mockaitis  
And how about a favorite tool? Something that helps you be awesome at your job.

Jeff Gargas  
I live and die in basecamp, we leave that as our project management, use of self reminders, project management. Our team, we’re all virtual. So that’s massive for us. And then I also use an app on my phone called the Five-Minute Journal. That’s really just a like a morning, sort of gratitude and self awareness. And then an evening reflection, it just sets me up for the day and allows me to reflect everyday. Love it.

Pete Mockaitis  
And a favorite habit?

Jeff Gargas  
Favorite habit, I started running about this past August and just getting back into it, focusing on waking up early and getting a workout, and it’s changed everything.

Pete Mockaitis  
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with those that you’re teaching?

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, I think so with them and more with the team and stuff I love, is… I don’t know if you know Gary Vaynerhuck, he says… I won’t say it in the way he says it, but if you live for the weekends, your stuff is broken. That’s massive for me, because I just think we live in such a world where there’s so many opportunities to do so many different things that if you’re doing something you hate, like it’s just not worth it. You gotta get out, find something that you love.

And I say the same thing to teachers all the time. I said “If you’re dreading Monday, you should probably not be a teacher anymore.” And I love when I talked to teachers and they’re like, “I am so pumped to be back from spring break, because I get to see my kids again. I get to make an impact.” And I’m like that, too. I am pumped for Mondays, every Monday, like even when it’s stressful.

And it’s crazy. Like we’re a small business, we’re growing, it’s stressful pretty much every day. But I love it and I just think if you’re just dying on Monday already for it to be Friday night, man, like something’s broken, you gotta fix it.

Pete Mockaitis  
And Jeff, if folks want to learn more and get in touch, where would you point them?

Jeff Gargas  
Twitter, I love big on Twitter. I love Twitter. I’m on there all the time. I’m @JeffGargas. I’m on Instagram, too. @_JeffGargas. Or just reach out to us at TeachBetter.com, and you can literally email me at Jeff@teachbetter.com. I love building connections and chat with people and just figuring out if there’s any way that I can help

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

Jeff Gargas  
I think take some time to get really, really self-aware. Get rid of all the nonsense and like the BS and what other people say. Take time and figure out what you love, what you don’t love, what you’re good at. And once you start with really thinking about it, clearing out all that other junk, everybody else’s voices… forget the expectation that people have for you. That criticism, the negativity, all that stuff.

Just focus on like the real you. Be you. When you do that, you have no reason, like, make it up and try and put on a show. It’s just for you, like, what are you awesome at? What do I love doing? Go do that. Figure out how do I play on my strengths? How do I surround myself with people who are awesome at what I’m not, so that I can be awesome at what I need to be?

And just like, what that means going to work for someone joining the team, development team. “Let’s fill your gaps,” whatever it is, like no one can be as awesome at the things you do as you are. So go find out what that is, do it, and just love your life. It’s just not worth not doing that.

Pete Mockaitis  
Awesome. Well, Jeff, this has been a treat. Good luck and all you’re doing and helping folks teach better.

Jeff Gargas  
I appreciate it, Pete. This has been awesome. Thank you.

429: A Navy SEAL’s Surprising Key to Building Unstoppable Teams: Caring

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Former NAVY SEAL platoon commander and current entrepreneur Alden Mills walks through his CARE framework for teambuilding.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Four key steps to leading with CARE instead of fear
  2. The distinction between caring and comforting
  3. The high stakes associated with caring

About Alden

Alden Mills is a three-time Navy SEAL platoon commander and was the CEO of Perfect Fitness. He is also a longtime entrepreneur, with over 40 patents and over 25 years of experience working on high-performance leadership, sales, and team-building.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Alden Mills Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Alden, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Alden Mills
It’s awesome to be here. Thank you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s awesome to have you. I’m so excited to dig into the goods. Maybe why don’t we start with some action to hook this conversation into some entry. Could you open us up by sharing a daring story from your days in the Navy SEALS?

Alden Mills
Well, when I think about daring stories, I have to tell you, probably the single most daring story I had was actually when I first started SEAL training to begin with because I really wasn’t sure if I could make it through that. I remember this man coming up to us who had his left butt cheek blown off by a rocket propelled grenade in Vietnam.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh man.

Alden Mills
He walked with this limp. He had this deep Southern accent. We had about 122 candidates. I was as nervous as I had ever been because here I am; I’m about to start training, but he’s going to make us do this physical test. The same physical test we had done multiple times.
He gathers us up and he speaks to us and he says, “Class 181, gather around here. I want to let you in on a little secret.” We’re all like, “Oh, secret. We like secrets.” “Y’all interested to know how to make it through Navy SEAL training?” We were like kids to a campfire. We were all bobbing our heads up and down.
He goes, “It ain’t complicated. You just have to decide how much you’re willing to pay. You see, I know for a fact 80% of you aren’t going to be willing to pay the price. You know why? Because you all want to be SEALs on sunny days.” He goes on for a while, but what he’s really talking about was talking about creating this conversation in our head, in our heart.
I remember all of us standing around and it was kind of the first time that somebody had really talked to us about saying, “Hey, are you willing to die for your country. Are you really going to do this or are you just going to be that SEAL on a sunny day?” Within six weeks, we went from 122 down to 18. That was the beginning of a transformation of a whole series of evolutions of SEAL training.
I thought when you just asked me that I’d start with that. There are mission that I’ve been on that are still classified that I won’t talk about, but some of the things that were most exciting to me were those personal challenges like that day when he started bringing us all around together and telling about this conversation he was going to create between our head and our heart and how we had to learn to deal with what it was we were willing to sacrifice to make it through.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Yeah, that’s a powerful perspective that can apply to many circumstances. You’ve put together in your book, Unstoppable Teams , a number of pieces that sort of speak to some parallels between how Navy SEAL teams can really have some real similarities to high-performing civilian teams.
Could you draw that parallel for us or build that bridge, lots of metaphors here, if folks are saying, “You know what? What I do is nothing like what a Navy SEAL team does,” can you set us straight, Alden?

Alden Mills
You know how many times I’ve heard that. People will say, “There’s nothing similar between you and me. You’re a Navy SEAL. You’re a freak of nature.” Okay, maybe there’s a little bit of a freak that you want to go through that kind of training, but the same things that they do for us in SEAL team, they’re just more condensed, are exactly the same rules that apply as a civilian, which, by the way, I’ve had much harder times leading civilians then I’ve ever had leading SEALS.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh intriguing. Could you say more about that, please?

Alden Mills
I can. In part because in SEAL team they have this place called X Division. X Division is a place where they remove the negative attitudes, the quitters. They don’t let any of that get involved with the people that are in the arena.
As a civilian, after I left SEAL team, you’re surrounded by people who are in X Division. You have to make your own X Division. You have to decide who you want to listen to and what voice you want to focus on. You can’t just willy-nilly go out there and fire anybody you want. It takes a long time to remove somebody off of a team. Most of us, we inherit people when we go from one team to the next.
Sometimes the X Divisions that you have to create, both, by the way, I call them – there’s two kinds of teams. There’s the internal ones, inside of you and the external ones, all the different relationships you build. Sometimes those people are close to you that you have to put in your own personal X division, like family or friends who are telling you, “Oh, how do you know you can do that? You can’t do that.”
A lot of people who tell you you can’t do something, it’s because they haven’t done it themselves. It scares them. They don’t want you to go out there and be different. Misery loves company. That became probably my biggest challenge when I transitioned out of SEAL team into being a civilian and leading civilians.
I’ve led civilians in all different capacities, from community organizations to charities to … startups. I think that’s a really important element to share with people is to understand that it’s up to you to decide what are the things you want to focus on from the people that are telling you what you can and can’t do because at the end of the day, it’s up to you to set those limits and that focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s good. The X Division is sort of like x out of considerations, like we’re just not going to let that into the thinking or consideration at all.

Alden Mills
That is correct.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alden Mills
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
Done. Cool. Well, tell us then. You’ve got a lot of good stuff in your book, Unstoppable Teams . Could you share what would you say is sort of the key thesis or big idea or main message here?
Alden Mills
The biggest thesis out of all of this is using the most fundamental human emotion to connect, inspire and empower people to do something that moves them from a point of natural selfishness to selflessness . That human emotion is care. It’s not fear. You don’t want to lead by fear. What you want to lead by is with care, what I call care-based leading .

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You say care is the emotion, so we’re going to unpack that into you’ve got a bit of a framework here. But let’s talk a little bit about the emotion itself and how that does lead folks out of selfishness to selflessness.

Alden Mills
Take a look at some of the most recent research that’s come out. There’s a wonderful piece of research that’s come out through psychologists down in UCLA who I quoted her in my book. What she’s talking about and discovered is all humans have a natural capacity for care reciprocity. Unless you’re a psychopath, okay, the amygdala isn’t firing and we just don’t accept any emotion there. But for the 99.9% of us out there, we respond to care.
In its most basic form, I hold the door for you, you turn around and you turn around and you hold the
door for somebody else. That’s usually pretty instinctually a reciprocal event. The same type of reciprocity occurs as you go further and deeper into caring for somebody. “Hey, how are you doing today, Pete? What happened last night? I heard about your mom. Is she okay?” Going and taking a step and initiating care.
All of the sudden, Pete feels like, “Wow, somebody did something kind of selfless. They weren’t worried about themselves. They were worried about me and my mom. They showed an element of curiosity and care about me,” that may have nothing to do with work, but it does have to do with the whole picture of who Pete is.
You go even further from that and say now I’m a first line, second line leader, manager, whatever you are in your organization and you’re saying, “Hey, I know what you are today, but I also know that you want to be here in a year. I’m going to help you get there.” Again, it’s not directly related to trying to help you get a better return on investment. It’s trying to help somebody go to another level.
When that starts to happen, people will start to say, “Hey, wait a second. These people are actually more interested in me and I’m going to reciprocate by doing even better work. That’s at the highest level what I’m talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. That’s great. Then you sort of go into some depth there when it comes to caring – it’s a bit of an acronym – to connect, achieve, respect and empower. Can you give us a little bit of a detailed taste for what you mean by each of these four verbs?

Alden Mills
Again, so when we talk about these highest levels of how do you get people to reciprocate with care, and, by the way, care is also a function of oxytocin. There’s a blocker to oxytocin called cortisol. These have all been scientifically measured. The first thing that’s got to happen is to create a level of trust, which is what I call connect.
Being a military guy, I’ve created a simple acronym of these flywheel or loop, what I call the care loop of connect, achieve, respect, empower. When it comes to connect, how you connect and what’s the point of connecting. The point of connecting is creating and building trust with somebody. How do you do that? Well, you do that one, through communication.
Communication actually is involved with mental, physical and emotional communication. 55% of communication is broken down into your body language, 38% is through tone, 7% is through the actual words. The next piece of that is your credibility. Do you do what you say you’re going to do? How accountable are you? What level of proficiency do you have at something?
The third part of connect is committing, making that commitment. Are you all in? Are you all in for just some people or are you all in for everybody? When you start doing that on a consistent basis, you start building up a level of trust that then sets in motion the next step because if you’re on any kind of a team, teams are designed to accomplish something. You move to achieve.
When it comes to achieving, the whole point of why you build a team in the first place is to go achieve
something. Achieving really is setting direction for that team. What’s the purpose, where are we going and how are we going to get there?
I break achieving down into a series of what I call the five A’s of achieve. The first one is starting with aspire. Aspiring means when you’re going after something – when I’m talking about teams – and, Pete, a lot of people get teams and groups – they use teams so often that they mistake most things for groups because teams are a much rarer form of what a group is.
A group is really a combination of people coming together that maybe connected or directed to do something, but teams, they move at a higher level and are much more focused on doing something greater than themselves. Usually, the teams are coming together to do something that no single individual could do.
When it comes to inspiring, you need to have a level of trust already built for them to say, “Are you kidding me? How are we going to get to the moon in less than a decade?” Some of these great challenges. Then once you start the aspiring, this is a natural tendency for people. I call it the second A, which is assume. You have to let people go and experience and try and take their own path to getting something done.
A lot of leaders will make the mistake that, “Okay, I’ve inspired them. Now I need to tell them exactly what to do.” What happens there? You just take away the fire in their belly of saying, “Hm, how can I figure out the best way to do this my way.” You remove that creativity from them and you micromanage them.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Alden Mills
That can kill the team dynamic early on. Then from when you get to assuming, you can relax a bit because don’t worry I’m not telling you assume they’re going to get it done and see them in two months. You create assessments. You create assessments for the team. We always had assessments at SEAL team, checking in on how we were doing for the next – how was our progress as a team.
It wasn’t so much – excuse me – it wasn’t so …. the weakest link, as it was how is the team doing together, how are we processing.
Once you pass through assess, the next piece is like, “Oh my gosh, there are times when we’re not progressing.” A leader has to step into assure, to assure them that, “Listen, we’re going to take a couple of steps back before we go forward. Just look at the core ways we’ve learned not to do something.”
Then the final one is having an appreciation, having an appreciation for the whole person, not just for the eight hours or the ten hours in which you see that person . Have you spent the time to appreciate what struggles they have outside of work, things that you may or may not be aware of or things that you can help them with?
But when you start adding those pieces to the puzzle of building out a team, that’s where care starts to
build on the flywheel that takes you to the third component, which is building out an environment of respect. A lot of people today are like, “Well, we’ve got to have respect because it’s just the right thing to do.”
But what’s the real reason to create mutual respect? The real reason is to get people to willingly contribute. That’s what you want respect for, respect for different cultures, respect for diversity of thought. That’s what it’s about is getting these different points of view to give you different ways in which you can slay the obstacle and grab the opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I like that.

Alden Mills
Respect is what I call – go ahead.

Pete Mockaitis
The respect is not just like “You should respect,” be like well, no, it fundamentally is what leads to folks willingly contributing and if you don’t then they won’t and you need it and you’re missing out.

Alden Mills
Yeah, you’re going to be suboptimal. Some of the most enjoyable moments I’ve had in companies is when we brought together what – some people may say, “People around this table look like the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer . Oh, they all look totally different.” I’m like, “That’s perfect. That’s exactly what I want,” because I know that I stand a better chance at getting all kinds of diverse opinions.
What you’re really after is diversity of thought, not diversity of heart. I want everybody’s heart in alignment, but I definitely want to create that diversity of thought. The only way that’s going to occur is on that third piece of the flywheel of the CARE loop with respect and what I call realize, recognize, and require. Realize and respect can come from two places: authority or your actions.
If people think that “Well, just because I’m the senior person here, I get more respect,” that is a very short-minded approach because it’s not going to last very long. Authority and respect in a SEAL team would last for about ten seconds. Maybe in the civilian world it might last for a couple of paychecks, but over time what wins the day are your actions.
That brings you to recognize how do you recognize the actions of others. Do you take the extra time to figure out, “Hey, Sally over here is a math genius. She’s phenomenal at pivot tables.” You may have said, “What’s pivot tables got to do with launching the perfect pushup?”
Well, it solved all of the big issues that were actually our biggest Achilles heel, which had to deal with supply chain management and shipping millions of units. If it weren’t for Sally and her pivot table super powers, we’d be in the hurt locker.
When you can start to recognize how a super power of each individual comes together to build up the team, then you’re starting to create an unstoppable team, where everybody starts realizing “Hey, this
person is really caring about me and what I can bring to the table, therefore, I’m going to start reciprocating and do the same.”
That final R, by the way, is you have to require it. If you find time and time again that somebody is just totally disrespectful and they’re not into it and your efforts have not been sustainable to help them switch, then it’s time for that person to move on because that will just kill the environment for contribution.
That brings you to the final piece of the care loop and it closes it, called empower. Empowering is about building owners. I talk about doing that through educate, enable and engage. By educating people, you’re helping them be better, not just for their job at hand, but also helping them grow in the direction that they are seeking to do for the long term.
Enabling is helping them to succeed. And engaging is the active process of testing their education, challenging them, improving them, and helping the entire team grow.
When that all happens, the loop closes and people go, “Hey, I’m going to share this care loop with the next team that I …,” because teams all disband, people move on. That’s the great thing about if you approach things with a care-based philosophy, I guarantee you, it will come back in spades in the positive realm for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah. That’s handy. Your articulation of it in terms of care as a macro acronym and then all the C’s, and A’s, and R’s, and E’s underneath, so it’s easier to remember there. I suppose that makes good sense to me.
Now could you tell me in what ways do you get resistance from this because I’m hearing this as like, “Yeah, that would make sense. We should do all those things. I am right with you, Alden.” Where do you find people say, “Alden, you’re off base. I disagree here,” sort of where is there some contention?

Alden Mills
Well, let’s see. What’s the first big disagreement I’d get? “Wait, you’re a Navy SEAL talking about caring. Are you kidding me? Navy SEALS only care about killing, right? How can you go around talking about caring?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was going to ask, I wouldn’t put it that far, but if you look at the footage of-

Alden Mills
But that’s how some people would approach it.

Pete Mockaitis
The training. Yeah. The training doesn’t look like it’s caring with all the screaming and the discomfort. But what’s your take on that?

Alden Mills
Well, so the first thing is when people hear care, they hear oh, soft and cuddly. No, that’s not the care I’m talking about. I am talking about the care to be the best version of yourself, the care of you being able to go beyond what you originally thought possible. I’m not talking about caring and keeping you in the comfort zone. I actually want you out of the comfort zone .
The people that are the instructors at SEAL team, they are only there for a short period of time. They’re going to go back to a platoon. I could very well – and it happened to me. Some of those instructors became the people that I ended up leading. They give an unbelievable amount of care to ensuring that there’s a certain quality of individual that they’re looking to work with because their lives could very well rest in the hands of that person that they’re training.
The care that I refer to is the more you care, the more those people will dare. Ironically, to do that, it’s going to require you to dare first. Leaders are going to have to take that first step. How leaders deal with that first step is a critical first path.
I brought up cortisol and oxytocin earlier. Some people will say, “No, no, leadership is just like the movie Patton . You’ve got to get out in front and bark orders at them and do those kind of things.” Maybe there’s some organization that needs that, but I’ve never found that to be the most powerful.
There are times where you have to get up and give somebody an inspiring speech or assure them that we’re on the right path, but the large majority of the time, the work’s happening one-on-one or one in a small group and you’re getting people to stay focused on the objective at hand. The most important way to first do that, why people will even listen to you is because they know that you care about them.
A lot of people will make the mistake of going out and barking an order, saying, “God, you sucked at that. Why did you fail so badly?” The moment that happens, and this has been proven, cortisol gets fired off. Cortisol is a hormone for fight or flight or what I would call freeze, reaction. You are not in a creative space once cortisol is fired off. Cortisol is three times more powerful than oxytocin.
Oxytocin, you can argue, is the care hormone. When that gets fired off, it’s the ability to allow you to be more creative. If someone were to come to you and say, “Gee, we just failed.” “Oh great. How did we fail? Do we know what it was? And can we figure out a better way to do it?” versus “You did what? You failed.” Those two different approaches will send people down completely different paths.
That’s one of the first conversations I’ll get into with people about, “Oh, you’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to set this tough standard.” The tough standard is the goal that you’re going after, but you only ever have to be as tough as a situation dictates .

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. I’m curious, with all of these verbs here, I’d love to get your take on which of them do you think has the biggest impact in terms of, “You know, Pete, this only takes a minute or two to do and yet it has such a lasting impact on folks really stepping up and growing.” What would you say is the key thing or two or three things that have an outsized impact?

Alden Mills
One of the first ones that I do anytime I get into a team is a I try and get one-on-ones with all my direct
reports for sure, but even the people that aren’t my direct reports and understanding, “Hey, what’s your goal? Why are you here? What’s important to you?” If I have more time, like I was on SEAL team, I’d ask people to give me one-, three- and five-year goals.
They’re like, “Well, I don’t know what they are?” I’m like, “Okay, well, give me a personal and professional and physical one or give me a financial one. Tell me what’s motivating you. Why are you getting up in the morning? Why are you coming here?” It totally disarms them because they think I’m going to be talking about “Gee, tell me about our ROI for this quarter. How come you’re not hitting your numbers?” I will take a roundabout approach to doing that.
But if you find and you stay curious about the whole person and not just what their performance is at this moment, it instinctively gives you some other things that you can always come back and connect to that person.
When I interview somebody, as an example, the first thing that I’ll have them do is say, “Hey, tell me your story.” “Mr. Mills, what do you mean by that?” “Give me your story. Where did you come from? What do you like? What did you study in school? What’s your favorite book? What’s your favorite movie? Tell me some things about yourself.” Trying to get multi-dimensional on the person instead of just, “Oh, what’s their output today?” Taking that interest in everybody.
Business would be really easy, Pete, if we didn’t have humans. Team leading and team output and being a leader is being a relationship builder. The better you can become at building relationships with multiple different types of people, the more you will be able to succeed because you will get more differences of opinion and different points of view that can give you different ways to solve problems and make great things happen.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. I really liked how you shared some particular verbiage that you use in terms of key specific questions that you were asking folks and things that you’re saying. Are there any other favorite phrases that you find really come in handy and you use often as you’re doing this caring stuff?

Alden Mills
Well, the first thing and one of my all-time favorite quotations that I use all the time is from good old Teddy Roosevelt. I think it applies as much today as it did back in whenever he said it. I think it was 1912 or so. “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Sometimes it can be really hard to flip the switch from caring about what you need to caring about what’s going on with them. The more you can remember that if you lead with care, they will dare.

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

Alden Mills
Some of my personal favorite things?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Is there anything else you want to say before we shift gears to the fast favorite’s portion?

Alden Mills
I just really want to impress upon people that this care is not to be taken lightly.
This isn’t just, “Okay, I’m only going to care about the people directly in me.” It becomes a mindset of how you handle relationships across the board. As that happens, you’ll find a force multiplying effect that will go into action because everybody else wants to help you succeed because you’re trying to help them succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that. Well, now, you mentioned a favorite quote, could you now share a favorite study, piece of research or experiment you found compelling?

Alden Mills
Well, I’m a huge believer in physical fitness, as you might surmise. There is a book out there called Spark . Spark has to do with essentially the link to physical activity and mental performance. I often find that a lot of people who have a bad attitude, have poor performance, they’re all things within their control. Usually, and this is what I started my first company on, it was the attitude of take control of your body, take control of your life.
Large majority of the time, as an example, depression can be solved – 80% of common depression can be solved with 30 minutes of consistent high aerobic activity.
There are so many different things that are within our control that we seem to forget and we allow outside influences – say, “Oh, it’s the environment,” “Oh, my life is miserable,” but they don’t realize that the few things that they can control of how they think, how they feel and how they act can totally change their direction in life and change the people that are with them.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. All right, I’ve got that book. I also ask about a favorite book. Would that be it or is there another key one you’d recommend?

Alden Mills
I’ve got lots of favorite books. Let’s see, besides Spark , which I ended up going back to all the time, I like Endure . I like Culture Code . I like Boys in the Boat . I’m a former rower. I real also enjoy a great story. By the way, I use story a lot to connect with people. People will find story very powerful as a way to connect, so I love reading about biographies. I’m reading about Leonardo da Vinci right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Alden Mills
I would give my favorite tool, you’re going to laugh about this, as I love my Peloton.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Alden Mills
I use a Peloton to – I follow a couple of different trainers and I so enjoy getting on that for a 30-minute of just flushing my brain and allowing myself to just focus inwardly before going outwardly.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have any other favorite habits?

Alden Mills
I do a mindful walk. I like watching the sunrise. I like going out with no particular agenda, but a 30-minute walk in the morning. Sometimes I refer to it as a prayer walk, but it’s an act of meditation for about 30 minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they quote it back to you?

Alden Mills
Yes. Their limits are up to them.

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

Alden Mills
They can come to my website, link in with me. My website’s called Alden-Mills.com.

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

Alden Mills
Don’t ever stop dreaming. Don’t ever settle for average. Keep pushing yourself out of the comfort zone. It’s so easy for us to stay in the comfort zone, especially as we get older. Stay away from those that want you to enjoy the misery that they’re enjoying and keep dreaming.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Alden, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you all the best with your companies and your writing and the book, Unstoppable Teams . Yeah, keep up the great work.

Alden Mills
Thank you very much for the time, Pete. I hope this helps.

428: No Job Can Give You Meaning and Other Intriguing Insights into Work with Ellen Ruppel Shell

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Writer Ellen Ruppel Shell shares thoughtful perspectives on work and its future in a time of radical change.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why no employer can give you meaning
  2. What people actually want in a job
  3. How and why to engage in job crafting

About Ellen

Ellen Ruppel Shell is a correspondent for The Atlantic, and co-directs the graduate program in Science Journalism at Boston University. She has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Guardian, The Smithsonian, Slate, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, O, Scientific American, andScience.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ellen Ruppel Shell Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis  
Ellen, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Thanks for having me, Pete. I’m really looking forward to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. Well, I’m excited to chat with you for numerous reasons, and one of them is you have such an impressive writing career in terms of, well, all of the cool places to write, you’ve written pretty much. But, so I wanted to hear what was one or two or three of your all-time favorite pieces and why?

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
I’ve always liked writing for the Atlantic, which was my home for some time— which is, for those of you listeners who don’t know what it is, it’s a magazine. It used to come out of Boston, now it comes out of Washington. And my favorite pieces for them usually involved issues of science and technology.

And I recall one in particular I enjoyed writing, which was based in Kosrae, Micronesia, if you can believe that. It’s a remote island, took a very long time, almost two days to get there, going by way of Hawaii and Guam, and then a puddle hopper to the small island. And I was reporting a piece about the fact that the folks on Kosrae, Micronesia show so… such a propensity toward obesity, okay?

That at the entire island— I don’t want to say everyone on the island, but the majority of people on the island are quite overweight. And I went there to write a piece about the biological basis of behavior, and an example I was using was obesity. And so, it was a very interesting place to report and a very interesting piece to write. And I went ahead and did a book on that topic.

So, that was a really fun and interesting story, but I’ve done other interesting pieces. You know, I did the first many years ago… I did the Flight Into the Ozone Hole and went down to put— the name is Chile, the southernmost city on the planet, and reported from there about this historic play to find out what was causing the ozone hole, which was an amazing experience, because the scientists there actually found the smoking gun. So that was a pretty cool project.

I’ve been to Africa to report on malaria there. And I just had such a fortunate, you know… I’ve had many wonderful opportunities to write fascinating things, and people have been very generous in helping me out. So it’s hard to pinpoint what I enjoy doing most.

I have to say, the most challenging thing I’ve ever done is this book that we’re about to talk about, The Job and the Future of Work. That was really challenging.

What I enjoyed, again, about doing it, was being able to talk to people all over the country — and even in various countries around the world — about an issue that, I think presses very hard on most of our minds these days. So that was also a terrific experience.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, I’m excited to dig into it. And so, why don’t we just go right for the gold right away? Tell me — you said this is difficult — what was perhaps the most surprising and fascinating thing you discovered when digging in and doing the work to research this book?

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Well, you know, I’ll tell you why it was difficult. And in fact, I’ll tell you, frankly, that for a long time, I tried to avoid writing this book.

But I decided I really couldn’t avoid it, to answer your question about what was most surprising, I’d say in recording the book. Well, I went to Finland, and there I learned about the wife carrying championships, okay? Which by the way, Finland holds the world championship record. And wife carrying up, I’d say that was the most surprising thing. And I actually— if you can go and look on YouTube and watch this, it’s astonishing. It’s a national sport. That is you run— a tall man runs with small wives on their backs up through obstacle courses, and it’s quite an event. So the most surprising thing was that, I’d say, okay?

But if these are the topics at hand that, you know, work and its future in a time of radical change, as the title indicates, I’d say that one of the most interesting things I discovered was that no employer can gift us with meaningful work, okay? I mean, the idea that an employer or a job can gift us with meaning is a myth, and that making meaning from our work is very much a do-it-yourself proposition.

And that gave me a lot of food for thought, you know? What does that mean? How does one make meaning of one’s work? Why is it that an employer cannot make meaning for us? What are the various factors involved? And how do each of us make meaning in our own way? I mean, how does this work?

All that was, to me, kind of a revelation, and gave me food for thought, both as, you know, someone who works and someone who is a college professor and teaches folks who will be working or are working, but will have the whole working life in front of them. And also, as a parent, you know, what do I tell my kids? So that I’d say was the, you know, one of the more important messages is of the book on a personal level.

Pete Mockaitis  
Mm hmm. Well, that is a juicy thesis statement there. And it really is pregnant with implication when it comes to, you know, taking that responsibility. And there may even be a temptation to say, “No, no, no, no, no. Some jobs certainly are intrinsically meaningful, and mine ain’t one of them.!”

So, I love it. If you can have a little devil’s advocate, if you will, for let’s say… I’m just going to just try to imagine a job that seems to have a bunch of intrinsic meaning, okay? “I am responsible for determining how and where malaria, mosquito prevention nets, get placed, thereby, you know, saving many, many, many lives super cost effectively.” Okay, so I’ve tried to put you on the spot here.

So that’s what strikes me as intrinsically meaningful, like, “Whoa, all right, people will live and die based on my decision, and we’re helping a lot of people survive.” So… but I still would need to make my own meaning there?

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Pete, that’s actually a pretty easy one.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
I must say, remember, I told you I wrote a cover story on malaria for the Atlantic years ago, and I can tell you that putting out those nets does not guarantee that he was going to use them. When I was in Africa, I found that they, in fact, didn’t; they were too hot for many people.

So the question would be that does that mean, if you discovered that people were not using your nets, that you would no longer have meaning in your job?

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s a bummer.

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Yeah, so let’s take a step back. You know, you really stepped on it, in that particular case, but I hear what you’re saying. So you’re saying some jobs are intrinsically meaningful, that means no matter who does them, they’re meaningful. Well, you know, I’ll beg to differ on that. And I gave a very brief example on my book, which was my father, right?

My father was a pediatrician. And one cannot imagine someone thinking that a pediatrician wouldn’t, you know, just find his work or her work just, by its nature, meaningful. I would say my father found his work useful and worth doing, because he did save lives, and he did help kids, and he worked in the inner city, where I grew up.

And, you know, he had a job that, you know, I think all of us would think of is worthwhile. But he didn’t. What he took meaning from most was gardening. And, yeah, he found that he didn’t love people that much, he really liked plants. And his hobby was gardening; he had a rock garden. And that was something that he took great meaning from.

His job, which he did well, and he was deciduous about, was important to him. And it was a piece, you know, it was the way he made his living. But the way he expressed himself, and what he took most meaning from, was his hobby. And I think that’s true for many of us, that, you know, we are told we should make meaning of our work, or our work should be meaningful.

You know, I found evidence that companies from Walmart to Apple were telling— were recruiting people with with a message: “We will give you meaning. We will make meaning for you.” And, you know, I agree that some Walmart greeters do find their work meaningful, but then finding work meaningful because they make it so, okay? Not because these are, by nature, meaningful jobs.

And so, that’s— I think that might seem like a minor distinction, but it’s really not. And I think once we all understand that we each make meaning in our own way, and that our employer cannot gift us with this, that we have to do it in our own way, I think it’s a great relief, because some of us will not find meaning in our jobs.

We’ll want to do our jobs well, we’ll take some satisfaction in our jobs, we’ll make a living through our jobs, but we’ll make meaning in other ways. And that’s a great relief.

I think I mentioned in the book that I wrote a little essay for the Atlantic about work, and I asked readers to respond. And I got a huge, huge response to this, probably more a bigger response I’ve gotten to anything I’ve ever written. And that actually didn’t surprise me so much, because I knew this, you know, as I said before, I knew this was a topic on everyone’s mind.

But what did surprise me was how many of these people were just starting out in the working world. They were recent, typically recent college graduates, and each of these recent college graduates, almost to a person, was quite dissatisfied with their jobs. And the reason they were was because they didn’t find their jobs, quote, “meaningful.”

And so what they were doing, many of them was to work longer hours because they thought it was their failure, that these jobs should be meaningful, and they didn’t understand, you know, why they weren’t making any from them. So they work longer hours. Of course, that contributed to a vicious cycle: they became even more dissatisfied, and they were really frustrated.

So, you know, one solution to this is to look at your job as important and valid and worthwhile, but not the source, the central source of meaning in your life. And I think years ago, most people did regard their jobs in that way. But in recent years, certainly, since the birth of internet culture, we’ve been told that we should feel passionate about our jobs, and we should make meaning from our jobs. And for many of us, that’s very unrealistic.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, I’m intrigued. How does one go about making meaning, either in a job or outside a job? And how do you know— you said for me, it’s unrealistic. How do you know if there’s just no hope for a given job?

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
You know, let’s be careful that there is hope, because it’s very hopeful to be able to go to a job each day or to tackle it— so, for those of us who work at home, to tackle a job each day and take satisfaction out of simply solving, you know, a problem. And again, you know, supporting a family, we are supporting oneself, these are very important things. These are critical things.

So, people you know, they don’t find passion through their work and still find satisfaction through their work, especially if they don’t set themselves up and berate themselves because they don’t feel passionate about their jobs, okay?

But another thing to keep in mind is, I think there’s this misimpression that we all require the same things on the job. In fact, I won’t mention any names, but there’s this idea

that we all seek challenge on the job and novelty on the job. This whole idea of moving fast and breaking things, you know, the Silicon Valley idea, actually, that’s not the way most of us make meaning from our job. Some of us do, but most of us don’t. Most of us, some of us really desire craftsmanship and mastery in our job.

So you know, we go to work each day, and we don’t mind doing the same, pretty much the same thing, as long as we can master it. And the example in the book is, you know, for example, a glazier, someone who actually makes windows and feels very strongly that he does an excellent job of glazing windows, making windows. You know, this is his thing; he doesn’t look for novelty or real challenge. He’s mastered this, and he feels on top of it, and he takes great satisfaction in that mastery.

Okay, so that’s one kind of job up— coders. Sometimes, you know, people who do computer coding, this is what they seek. Sometimes they seek challenge, but sometimes they seek mastery, you know, just being able to nail it every single time they do it.

And others of us seek kinship on the job. You know, we want to we think of our work family, whether it’s remote work family, or literally, you know, family we see at the office or in the workplace every day. Police officers, firemen, typically, people who work in hospital emergency rooms, oftentimes, this is a priority for them. They seek kinship, and it’s very, very important to them. That this is what they look for at a job situation.

So I make the point in the book, that there’s this myth that everybody needs to be challenged. Everybody needs novelty. Everybody’s working for rewards, immediate rewards. This is not true. Some people do, and some people don’t.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, I love it. If, maybe, you can flesh out that menu, if you will, of job, happiness, drivers, if you will. So we got novelty, challenge, mastery, kinship, immediate rewards, and the other ones that seem to really do the trick for certain segments of workers.

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Well, those are the major ones. And, you know, most of us— this is going to not fit well with many of your listeners, but what most of us really want on our jobs is stability. And that sounds strange.

In an era when everybody is doing the gig job, and we get the impression that people are moving from job to job—

in fact, especially millennials, millennials who now constitute the largest segment of the workforce, really, really value stability in a job, perhaps because it becomes scarcer than it once was.

But getting up in the morning and knowing that you have a job is, for most people, the priority. The number one priority. And again, people don’t think that necessarily, but that is the case. So everything else being equal. That’s the one, more than a better salary. More than other things, stability is the number one priority.

Pete Mockaitis  
Interesting. So you said that that is the number one, even if they don’t think it is. How do you reach that determination?

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Again, as I mentioned earlier, I have had a lot of help. I interviewed hundreds people for this book: management scholars, social scientists, psychologists, historians. And this comes thanks to their research, which I cited, of course, and credited in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Okay, well, so then, let’s say that here I am, I want to make some meaning, I accept that I gotta do it myself. So what does that do and look like?

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Well, again, that varies tremendously with the kind of job you have and the kind of person you are, most essentially the kind of person you are. So I mentioned I interviewed a lot of social scientists and management scholars, and among these was a wonderful scholar at Yale University. Her name is Amy Wrzesniewski, and she’s done some amazing work on work and jobs.

And one of her early pieces of work, one of her early studies, was of hospital cleaners. Now that sounds odd— custodians, in a hospital. And interviewing these custodians, she found that some custodians describe their work as just a job, as you would expect. I mean, they cleaned hospital rooms, right? So this sounds like, you know, just a job.

But there was a subset who described their work as a calling, okay? A call, a calling. That’s it, that’s a very high bar, to describe your work as a calling. We generally associated that with the clergy, or things like that. But these folks described it as calling.

So she she wanted to know why, and so she drilled into that. And what she found is in this subgroup of janitors or custodians, they thought of themselves as healers, okay? They worked in a hospital, and they would kind of keep an eye on the patients, they would notify the medical staff if they saw problems. If they could take a break, they would sit by the bedside and console someone who was missing a relative or who was not feeling well.

They really took a role. They saw themselves as healers. And Wrzesniewski explained to me that when the hospital found out about this, the custodians were often told not to do this, because this was not part of their job description.

Pete Mockaitis
And do what, specifically?

Ellen Ruppel Shell
Not to act as healers.
Yeah, stick to your cleaning. Stick to your cleaning. And because there was no impact on the bottom line, in other words, they saw this as kind of a waste of time. And they didn’t want their custodial staff to do that. And so, what Wrzesniewski explained to me was that, what these janitors were doing — their work was crafting, job crafting, what she calls job crafting.

So they took their job, and they carved out a piece of it, that to them, made it meaningful for them, okay? And they focused on that part that made it meaningful for them. And so it made them much more satisfied with their work — much better workers, by the way; they stayed longer, much less turnover.

So that is something that she did, then expanded to look at other workers and other arenas, and found out that one way to make meaning of your work is to find the part of your work that you find the most meaningful, and find a way to focus on that as much as you can, obviously, without costing your employer in the long run, right?

So you take the part where you feel a certain sense of mastery, or feel a certain sense of purpose, and focus on that and orient your job in that way.

So that’s one way to look at it. And I suppose we could talk about almost any job category, and find out how an individual could make the most of the job that they have.

Pete Mockaitis  
Right? Yeah, that does get the wheels turning. And could you share maybe some other actionable prescriptions in terms of if you’re a professional seeking to flourish at work, and enjoy it all the more, and perform all the better? What are some other things you recommend they do?

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Well, okay, so my book is not a self-help book, okay? And I don’t make recommendations to people, you know, the general. I wrote this book as food for thought, and also to look at some myths about work and what we need as a society, what we should prioritize.

So I am low to good advice. There are so many books on self-help books in this arena that would do a much better job than I would. So I really, I don’t want to get into that too much.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, maybe let’s focus in on some myths in terms of, “Okay, you might believe this, and it is false. And that could lead you to make some suboptimal decisions.” So you’re not quite giving a prescriptive “don’t,” but you are highlighting potential errors that can feed the decision-making process. So what are some key myths that need to be busted?

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Oh, my gosh, there’s so many. So on an individual level, early on in the book, I talked about the problem of people having to convey a personal chemistry that aligns with their employers’ expectations.

And I compared Israel, which I have visited, and the United States, and how these two countries differ in their approach to hiring individuals, especially knowledge workers. And again, this is a generalization, and not everyone has had this experience, okay?

But in the United States, there’s a push towards selling yourself as a person, as a total person to employers. You need to be a “cultural fit” with the company, we throw around words like that. And “the chemistry has to be right,” we throw around words like that.

In Israel, your skill set is what they’re looking for. More commonly, they’re looking for, “Can you do the job?” So if you don’t get the job, it means they don’t like your skill set. That’s so personal, right?

In the United States, if you don’t get the job, it means your chemistry was bad, okay?

That you couldn’t sell yourself well enough, that there’s something wrong with you. Psychologically, that’s very damaging, okay?

So I think when people are seeking a job or seeking a promotion, they need to think about this expectation, and find some way to arm themselves against it. Okay, so the the idea of “cultural fit,” and aligning one’s personal chemistry with the interviewer or the employer, is something I really addressed in the book.

And I warned against both for individuals’ sanity, okay? But also because it isn’t good for employers, because too often, employers look for people who look like themselves. And that’s something that — many of your listeners probably know — that you look for someone who’s a lot like you. And in fact, in a study of law firms and investment banks, the most likely reason someone would be hired was because he or she shared the same leisure interests as the person interviewing them.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, the one predictor number one predictor.

Ellen Ruppel Shell
The number one predictor. So if you play squash and the person who interviewed you plays football, that’s not a match. That’s not a match.

Pete Mockaitis  
Yeah. So it’s like, learn their hobbies in advance, and then do it for, like, a weekend. You can talk about it.

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Exactly. But you can see the implicit class-ism in this as well, right? And one of the things they found out is if you played football in college, and they played squash, that’s not good, because that implies, “Oh, you’re a football player; what’s that say about you?” Right? And they’re a squash player. What does that say about them? So that’s a problem because you’re hiring yourself. And that doesn’t lead to diversity or heterogeneity in the workplace. And heterogeneity is a good thing in the workplace. We want a lot of different viewpoints.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s great.

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Yeah. So you know, that’s just something to think about on a personal level, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s juicy. Could you bust out another myth for us? That was fun.

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Like I said, there’s so many myths. So another one that I really tackled in this book — and some of your readers might have seen some of my hotbeds on this, because it really got my goat — is the whole idea of the skills shortage in the United States, as if Americans don’t have the skills to do 21st century jobs, or can’t acquire the skills quickly to do 21st century jobs.

And I looked into this quite closely, and did a ton of research on it, and found out that, in fact, there really is not a skills shortage in the United States.

Certainly, there are times when it’s hard to find a particular employee for a particular position in a particular place, okay? That certainly happens, no question about that. But an overall skills shortage does not exist.

And so, what I warn against is the idea of society. And by that, I mean taxpayers paying for training, jobs training for individuals so they’re just in time ready for a particular employer that is not an effective way to produce workers of the future, okay?

If an employer has a particular skill and can’t find that they need it, and can’t find someone to fill that position, it’s most likely that they can hire someone close enough and train that person fairly quickly. It’s what we used to do not so long ago.

So the idea that we have to seek in our employees from other nations, or we have to train up a workforce in a particular way, I did not find evidence of that. What I did find evidence of is that there are, unfortunately, too many kids in the U.S. We’re not getting basic education, right? So they’re not learning what we call basic analytic skills, that is, being able to solve basic logical problems, make a logical argument, do basic communications, arithmetic, that kind of thing.

There’s no question, there’s a problem. But in terms of advanced skills, and a shortage of advanced skills, that I did not see.

Pete Mockaitis  
Oh, interesting. So it sounds like you found that we have a bit of a shortage of some foundational, fundamental critical skills, but not so much a skills gap on the advanced technical skills like Python, or, in particular, language or technology.

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Right, right. I mean, anyone can learn Python, who has basic training in understanding computer languages and has the basic mathematical background and has had that exposure.

We can train, we can be trained in these things, and we should be, because, as you know, computer languages change fairly quickly. So that’s not a problem. You know, the idea that you demand that someone’s a Python expert versus another kind of individual who’s also worked in the computer industry is a little questionable, right?

Now, obviously, there’s always a shortage of the best and the brightest, right?

The top, top talent. But that’s sort of like saying there’s a shortage of the best NBA basketball players. So, to get that magical basketball player, you may, in fact, have to search the globe; they’re at least at the country.

But that doesn’t mean we need to train up a whole lot more basketball players, right? It just means that the best can call their own shots, and they will be rewarded for what they have to offer. But that does not mean that we need to be training— and taxpayers need to pay for the training of these basketball players, right?

Pete Mockaitis  
Got it. Well, Ellen, tell me anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things.

Pete Mockaitis  
So could you share a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
I love Oscar Wilde, as do many people. And he has this great quote, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Yeah. You heard that one, yeah? I love that one. So if that’s a quote, yes, for quote. So I do try to be myself, and then I encourage everyone else to be. So, what other questions do you have?

Pete Mockaitis  
And how about a favorite book?

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Well, I’m a big fan of Edith Wharton, and I love— I love, love, love Age of Innocence, which is her masterpiece, I think. So it’s kind of an indictment of society at the time for being estranged from its from its culture, right? And, you know, I think we have a lot to learn today from that, you know, being estranged from culture and being focused on on sort of material world can be quite, quite problematic. So, I think Age of Innocence, I would have to say.

Pete Mockaitis  
Thank you, and how about a favorite tool? Something that helps you be awesome at your job.

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Gosh, I’d have to say my bicycle pump. I love riding bikes, and I make very good use of— I ride on really rough roads, and so, I mean, I find myself inflating my bicycle tires quite a bit.

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

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Where would I point them? Well, I do have a website, and I probably should do a better job of maintaining it. It’s EllenShell.com, EllenShell.com. So if they want to, they can do that. I also teach at Boston University, and so naturally, I have one of those EDU emails. So, it’s EShell@bu.edu. So they have anything they want to share, I’m happy to hear it.

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

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs? Don’t forget the power of contemplation, okay? Getting away from the team and thinking quietly on your own. Because that’s often when people accomplish the most. And I think there’s an overemphasis on teamwork. Working on your own, often in a quiet place, can often be the most productive experience.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, Ellen, this has been a real treat. Thanks so much. And good luck with your teaching and your writing and your travels and adventures.

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Thanks. And I think we’ve mentioned the book, right?

Pete Mockaitis  
Absolutely. The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change.

Ellen Ruppel Shell  
Thanks a lot, Pete. It was really fun.

427: Trading Work-Life Balance for Work-Life Blending with Tamara Loehr

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Tamara Loehr shares her perspective on work-live blending.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three steps for getting to the root of guilt
  2. Why you should go on an acquaintance diet
  3. How to optimally divide your time amongst competing prioritie

About Tamara

Tamara Loehr is an Australian native, wife, and mother of two, who started her first business at the age of 19 after graduating college with a Bachelor of Visual Arts. Her ‘sweat equity’ model led her to winning a range of global awards. Loehr has become globally known as a leading wellness entrepreneur, growing her first business from under $1M annual turnover to over $10M in less than two years with no capital investment. She is proud to use her platform to share how people can have ‘blended’ lives without compromises.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Tamara Loehr Otting Interview Transcript

Tamara Loehr
Okay, so it’s Tamara, not Tamara. So Tamara and Loehr, as in stir.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Perfect. Okay, well then I will hit record and then away we’ll go.

Tamara Loehr
Thank you for having me in advance.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Tamara, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Tamara Loehr
Wonderful. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom and so you’ve packaged up at a lot of it in your book called Balance is B.S., but you were mentioning that you are primarily not an author. Where are you coming from when you approach this topic of balance?

Tamara Loehr
Look, it’s been 20 years in the making. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur for 20 years and working globally and growing brands across the world. I have a tribe of around 20,000 entrepreneurs through Young Presidents’ Organization and just all of us trying to figure this out like how do we have the best of both worlds, home, family and self? It’s really bringing collectively my experience and their experiences together to provide a solution to this big problem which is balance.

Pete Mockaitis
In your book, it’s titled Balance is B.S., what do you mean by that?

Tamara Loehr
Well, I think we need to abolish the word balance. We all know that that doesn’t work. The old balancing scale means that if you want to give more to your family, you’ve got to take something from the other side and then put it over. You’re constantly having to take from one side to the other.

This concept and something that I’ve been practicing for over ten years is about blending everything together unapologetically, so not having to choose between them and balance them out, but actually bringing them all together. It’s a really simple way of doing things, an ethical way of doing things, where you don’t have to compromise and you don’t have to choose.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, can you give us some examples of what is blending look like in practice?

Tamara Loehr
Yeah, certainly. For instance, whenever you’re feeling torn, so for me it might be that I want to watch my daughter’s concert at school but at the same time I’ve also got an agenda and a meeting and a deadline at work. How do I blend the two because I’ve promised someone that I’ll give them my time?

It might be that I go to that rehearsal and I say to them, “Look, I’m at my daughter’s rehearsal. It doesn’t start for another half an hour. You have my attention in that time and there will be some background noise.”

Ask for permission and say, “Is it okay if I do it from here because I don’t want to miss this concert? When it starts, I will be jumping off the call.” Asking for permission, not pretending that you’re in a corner of the office when you’re really hiding in the corner of the school hall, but earning it, saying I don’t want to miss this. Then, giving other people permission to do the same.

That’s an example of many ways that I just stand up and say “This is important to me, but so is your time. Would you like to reschedule or can we do it now, but can we work around this commitment that I would like to do as well?” Wherever you feel torn, you have to think about how can we bring these two together?

I feel that my expertise and my 10,000 hours and how long I’ve been in business grants me the right to have that flexibility and to offer it to other people, so we all don’t feel guilty and trying to balance between the two when it doesn’t work.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that specific example. Could you share a few more key ways that you see blending working out well?

Tamara Loehr
Yeah, certainly. I’m not a huge fan of doing the nine to five in the office. I don’t make any of my team do that. Instead we have flexible hours so that we can do the school run. Another example is there is no morning meetings, there’s no breakfast meetings before nine-thirty, so everyone, both parents can drop off the kids to school. For those who don’t have children, they might be interested in going to the gym or pursuing some other hobbies in the morning.

We make sure we give each other the flexibility. I don’t tend to like to be in the office all the time, so I love the water. I live on the beach, so quite often my management team will actually drive up, stay overnight with their families on a Friday night, and we will walk along the beach while the kids are doing something crazy or if they don’t have kids, they’ll bring their dog. We’ll do a lovely two-hour beach walk.

We’ll talk about the crucial things that we’re trying to achieve, what things they’re struggling with, what things they need assistance with, and obviously, revisiting our goals and our BHAGs, but we do it all on the beach while there’s a bit of chaos going on and over a glass of wine at night.

Really the conversation that we’re having isn’t between nine to five, we’ll be talking about obviously feeding the kids at night on a Friday night, but at the same time blending in and out of conversations between work and between family.

I’m absolutely okay with that. You open your home. This whole myth of keeping and personal separate I think needs to be abolished. We bring the things together that we love, which makes for an enjoyable life rather than working all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, understood. I’d also love to get your take, if you do experience some of this guilt, how do we get to the root of that and sort of prevent it and get that in check?

Tamara Loehr
I think if you’re good at what you do, the first thing is that you need to value yourself and then value your time. If you give yourself permission to blend, then the point is, is that you know your value so you don’t need to feel guilty and apologize.

I think the number one issue, especially as a female, is the voices in my head saying “I want to be wife of the year. I want to be mother of the year. I want to be boss of the year. I want to achieve all these things.” That’s just a recipe to burn out as far as I’m concerned because we all know if you try and do everything 150%, you’ll land at mediocre and you’ll end up quite upset. Especially me being perfectionist, you get quite upset at yourself for not giving it your all.

The first step is to say look, my time is valuable and making sure that that isn’t in hours. Me being in the office from seven in the morning till seven at night is not valuing my time. I know that four hours of my time is very valuable, so if that’s what I choose to work that day, that’s up to me and I know I’m still adding value.

The second thing is I don’t listen to the voices in my head. I make sure that when I am feeling guilty about something, I reinstate to myself, “No, you’re an expert. They come to you for this reason. Your time is valuable, so what you’re giving is more than enough,” so stamping out those things in your head that come up and play.

The third thing is saying no to things, not feeling obligated, I do not have acquaintances in my life. I actually regularly go on an acquaintance diet. I unapologetically don’t volunteer at the school talk shop because that’s not best use of my time, but I will help in other ways that excite me.

The things that you say yes to and the things that you say no to, more importantly what you say no to, is really important and having that discipline and protecting your time and valuing your time so that you can give that to things like your family, your children, your partner is really great.

When I drop off the kids to school, the other women will say to me, “Oh, you poor thing. You’ve been in the States-“ because I sell most of my products in the States and I live in Australia – they go, “Wow, you’ve been away for nearly two weeks.” I explain to them well, actually I think I probably get more quality time with my family than perhaps you would think.

That’s because it’s concentrated and I don’t do things like cleaning and acquaintances and all those things. Whilst I might be away for two weeks, it’s concentrated time, where I’m focusing on the business and I’m having a great time because I love coming to America and I love playing business there. Then when I come back, I’ll have a week off and just spend that with the children and really be a mom for a week.

For me, not doing television during the week, not cooking and cleaning, doing all those things, and choosing to give those up in this busy time of my life, so I don’t look back and go, “Oh, I missed my kids growing up.” I don’t ever want to have that future guilt or remorse.

I am very happy to sell an asset that we’ve accumulated in our 20s and 30s, sell something or demand more from work at that time in my life because this is really important to me and having time with my family is important, but not at the compromise of growing my business globally as well. I want both those things.

It’s really about redesigning your life. What we look at is the pie that is your life. That’s one of the exercises in the book. We say, okay, how much chunks of time do we want to dedicate to the things that we don’t like and let’s make it as small as possible. Let’s really look at the rest of the pie and when we feel most content.

For me, 45% of my time or over half my time is spent at work and I unapologetically say that half my pie is work because I love it. A big chunk is my family and I have a tiny little chunk for things like reports and stuff that I have to do at work, the death by meeting, I really only put a small amount of time.

What you’ll find is if you work on your pie of what makes you most content and most happy in life and you’re really honest about it, then whenever you’re feeling torn or burnt out or unhappy, something will be off with that pie.

When I was at work and my business got really huge and I had over 70 staff and there was lots of reporting and compliance on a creative by trade, when I went back to my pie and I went okay, I’m spending more than half my time on work, but it’s not on the things that I enjoy and it’s eating into my family time. No wonder I’m not feeling driven. No wonder I’m not feeling motivated.

Going back to that base pie and going okay, I’m out of kilter, communicating that with the people around me and saying, “Look, guys, this is my pie. I need to get back to this if you want the best from me,” then everybody else who communicated it with them that you’re going to start working towards getting back to your content when you’re content.

I think being self-aware, understanding the percentages of what make you happy and doing a regular check in to see where you’re off kilter and bringing yourself back in, not all at once, but chipping away at getting back to your content pie, that’s really important for you as well as everybody around you because you’re not a great leader and a great mother if you’re out of kilter.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued by a few things here. First, tell me, you say don’t have acquaintances in your life. What specifically do you mean by that?

Tamara Loehr
Quality over quantity is probably what I’m saying here. I don’t say yes to every person who wants to do coffee with me or people that aren’t really the top five qualifier of who I like to be around, which is people that I really enjoy their conversation, we feed off each other, and they have a really close, important part of my life.

You’ll find that a lot of people are doing things outside of their hours that really they can give up if they wanted to. For instance, I will not take meetings with suppliers and things outside of hours. I keep my meetings to a minimum. I certainly don’t catch up with people who want to be friends with me that I don’t necessarily feel a connection with.

I know that might sound ruthless, but I feel that the quality of the people around me is really important and I give them my undivided attention, but it doesn’t mean that I’m going to say yes to every movie date with the girlfriends and all that sort of stuff. I would prefer one-on-one time rather than all these events that everyone seems to make all the time.

I rarely make it to people’s birthday parties. Instead I’ll take them to lunch one-on-one and have a birthday celebration between the two of us because that will be more quality for me. That’s just because that’s not my style in being in a room with 50 other people and doing idle chitchat. You know. You know yourself. You know when you feel like, God, I’m just making conversation for the sake of conversation. That is an acquaintance situation.

Pete Mockaitis
What is the point you made about the top five there?

Tamara Loehr
There’s this saying in business that we use a lot, that you are the net value of 95% of the five people you spend the most time with. I don’t mean net value as in money-wise I mean as in value and all that sort of stuff.

It’s interesting to have a look around and see sometimes who might have snuck into your life involuntarily and then decide to go on the acquaintance dive if it’s something that doesn’t serve you as far as making you a better person, making a better business person, a better mother, all those sorts of things.

A true friend will call you out when you’re going off track, if you’re being a pain in the ass, all those things. They’re the sorts of people I want around me, not the ones that are just going to laugh at my jokes and just nod and agree with everything I say even if – or those who have an opinion, who don’t have a track record, critics without credentials as they call them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood there. When you talk about your pie, how many segments do you have in it or how do you go about constructing it? I guess I imagine you could do a pie in terms of two things, hey, there’s work and then there’s family or fun … work is fun or you could have 50 segments. How do you think about how many chunks you put in your pie and formulating it well?

Tamara Loehr
What’s really cool about the book is each section works you through some exercises to help you define what your pie is. Then the first exercise is actually defining your values. That’s part of that acquaintance dive as well because if your values are respected and aligned to other people, that’s how you might want to choose who you spend most of your time with. The values exercise is first.

The second is talking about your pie. When we talk about your pie, 50 might be a little bit too much. I think that might be a to-do list or a task list or an obligations list. That sounds exhausting. But what we look at is family, business or work, and self. Those are the three things.

Then, of course, we’re grown adults. We have obligations as far as things that we have to do like tax and stuff that just needs to be done, so the stuff that we don’t like to do, but we want to keep to a minimum. I only allocate 5% of my pie to that stuff.

The rest of it is divided up between those three areas and you give as much weight to it as you would like. There’s no judgment around that. It’s what makes you happy and makes you content and fulfilled, so those three chunks.

Then inside those chunks, you look at what makes me happy when I’m at work. What tasks am I doing, what activities am I doing when I’m really buzzed and motivated and excited and almost a little nervous too, like we really want to make sure we’re constantly challenging ourselves. What are those things and how does it look?

For me in the work pie on the creative by trade side, about 80 to 70% of my work section needs to be on creative. I need to be doing that. The other stuff is around mentorship and leadership. I love to spend time mentoring other people and really bringing up the next generation of entrepreneurs. That’s all in my work section.

My family section, for me it’s really not only just with both kids and my husband, but it’s also one-on-one time with the children. We have separate holidays with the kids, for instance. I travel a lot. Every third trip my husband comes with me because we love that 13 hours on the plane where we finally get to finish a sentence without being interrupted and really catch up with one another. My family pie, it’s very specific on how I like to spend my time.

Then self is so vital. What are we doing to serve ourselves? For me, going to the gym is a chore. It’s an exercise, I would actually put that into that 5% that I loathe.

For me, myself, it’s all about clean air and walking in the national park and being near water, yoga, massages, things like that really – and obviously being around my tribe, the people that I love to be around, who challenge me, who inspire me, who I love their conversation. I can’t get enough of it. That’s my self time. Then I design my life around that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to get your take on if we’re dealing with a professional, who maybe has a little bit less leeway in terms of there’s some constraints and boundaries and expectations from third parties as well as maybe some financial constraints in terms of not as much ability to do as much outsourcing of the cooking or cleaning or massage receiving. What do you recommend for folks to just try to get the ball moving in some good directions when they are feeling the pinch of those constraints?

Tamara Loehr
Look, it’s not all about money. Walking on the beach doesn’t cost that much other than perhaps the petrol to get there. It’s really important that they’re not things that cost a lot of money. We will walk you through those exercises in the book around what are these things that I enjoy. But the most important thing is to share it.

What I find is a really good exercise is to do your values exercise and really establish what are your core values because people tend to think that this is what I want out of life, but then they get there and they go actually it’s not about the car and the house. It’s about the journey and it doesn’t align to my values.

For instance, mine is freedom, one of my values. One of my values is impact, which is why we’re having this conversation. Sharing your value with other people, when you do that and give them permission to do the same with you, it’s really great because that becomes the basis of your conversation.

When someone says to you, “Okay, I need you to work nine till six in the office every day, Monday to Friday,” if someone said that to me, rather than me going – having a tantrum and saying, “I don’t want to do it because it doesn’t serve me,” I’ll say to them, “Actually, one of my values is freedom and part of that is flexibility. That doesn’t serve me.

Another one of my values is creativity and being a nine to five window in an office with a limited windows doesn’t serve my creative drive. Those two things obviously get you massive inputs and results from me, so how can we work it so that I’m fulfilled on my values so that I can get the maximum inputs and give you give the maximum return and results?”

It’s really important that they understand who you are and then when you get some things that are being basically slimed on you that you don’t want to say yes to, but you may be obligated to because it’s your boss or the like, then it’s important for you to communicate that with them. I think, again, getting back to your value, knowing how much you’re valued at and your worth is really important to be able to step up and have those conversations.

I’m assuming that your listeners are sophisticated and they’ve done their 10,000 hours and this is really about okay, how do I get off this rat race and this inevitable we’re leading towards a burnout. How do we re-shift and refocus so that everybody wins. It’s important you make it a win-win and you share what your values are with them so that they understand.

Then the other thing that we do in my family, including my kids, who are only seven and nine, they have things like their bucket list and they have the things that they love. It’s important to share that with each other and they have to be things that don’t cost money.

What’s great about that is when I tell my kids, “You know how much mommy hates cleaning,” and perhaps a cleaner – we’ve got somebody coming over and the cleaner is not coming, I’ll say, “Look, the house needs a clean. It looks like a bomb’s hit it. You know mommy doesn’t like cleaning. Why don’t we all get together and help each other and support each other to get it done really quickly and then in return-”

I know what’s on their list, which one of them is going to the national part. They love going for walks in the national park and spotting animals. Then I’ll go, “Then that means we can go for a really nice walk in the part and have a look and see if we can find another snake or another lizard or another koala.”

If you all know each other, what serves you and what makes you happy, it’s about coming together, sharing those things and then helping each other get to the closest version of their pie together. Really, if you love someone at home and if you’re valued at work, people will find a way to accommodate you, but you need to be able to reciprocate.

Pete Mockaitis
I really liked that sentence you had there and I want to hear it again. You said something like – in having the conversation with a manager – “These things enable me to give you the best or deliver the most result-“ how did it go? You framed it nicely in terms of if I get this stuff, then you’re going to be better off was kind of the implication. I loved it.

Tamara Loehr
It’s a win-win.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Tamara Loehr
Yeah, it’s a win-win. This is what serves me and gives you the best of me, so to maximize that and get you the best return and give you the best results, this is how I work best.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that.

Tamara Loehr
That’s really important. Make sure that you’re very clear in yourself, even if you have to go and take five minutes, remind yourself of your worth, remind yourself of the great things. If you have to keep a diary and write that down, I have my values everywhere I go, my one-pager of Tamara, which has got my pie and my four values.

If I’m feeling torn or confronted, I look at that. I remind myself this is how I want to live and I cherish it. I spend a minute and then I go into those crucial conversations knowing my worth and knowing how to make that a win for them. Make sure that they win out of it as well and then you’ll get what you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you share with us, what are the four values for you?

Tamara Loehr
Yeah. I don’t want to influence anyone, but mine is creativity, impact, freedom and travel, believe it or not. I’m addicted to being on planes. Those are my key four. Everyone’s is different. That’s what really cool about the book is we take you through those exercises.

I’ve had a transformational coach. I think everyone always asks me “What’s your secret to success?” It’s definitely not the years at uni and all that sort of stuff. For me the three key things is having a transformational coach. They’re like a life coach, which is NLP trained. They’re very much about yourself and what makes you tick, not just about work. I have a transformational coach.

I have a mentor in business because I find that I learn a lot more from somebody who has been there and done it before.

The third thing is I always surround myself with my tribe, the people that are so much like me and to the point where they’re playing such a big game that it’s infectious. I love being around my tribe obviously because I don’t then feel like an alien. Likeminded people are really important.

Those are my three key things, which I cherish and I spend a lot of time in. I think it’s important for you to go through the exercises of understanding your value.

My transformational coach has come on board with when I write the book and I’ve asked her to take the exercises that she’s done with me and put them down into really simple one- and two-page exercises for you to be able establish what your values are as well so that we use that as the compass for making decisions, not from the influences from around us and what everybody else wants.

It’s bit like a spring clean in your life. If you lived your whole life and raised a couple of kids in a house for 20 years, my goodness, if you want to move house, it’s a big effort. It’s probably about 20 skips full.

How do we declutter? How do we get back to what makes us happy, define our values, define our slice of our pie and then start making decisions again and decluttering our life and getting back to that core because you being happy, you being served is crucial before you can possibly make an impact at work or at home.

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

Tamara Loehr
I think one of my favorites, which is from Warren Rustand, one of lecturers at MIT, he said at the front of the room, “You are not a success in business if you fail at home.” That’s about sacrificing your family in order to do well at work. I love that quote. I think that one’s one of my favorites at the moment. There’s so many good ones, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. How about-?

Tamara Loehr
“Fail quickly” is another good one if you’re an entrepreneur.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Tamara Loehr
I think for me at the moment is the Birthing of Giants. I’m lucky enough to be studying at MIT part time at the entrepreneurs master’s program and that has been really life changing. That’s through Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

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

Tamara Loehr
Definitely a transformational coach, absolutely. Then giving my management team permission to have a coach as well so that they could work thorough the things that they’re needing to work through.

For me, everything that’s in the book are my tools, my go-to tools in life that I also pass on to anyone who works for me so that they can speak the same language and I understand what drives them, I understand their values and I also know their bucket list, so we can all help each other tick off at least three things in our bucket list because it’s about the journey.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Tamara Loehr
Favorite habit. This is going to sound a bit weird, but being a little fish. I am a big believer in not being the smartest person in the room. As soon as I grow into a space, I pull myself out of it and I go join some other space, where I’m totally the little fish. I love that. I absorb – I’m a quick learner. I learn from everyone around me. I’m highly intimidated, but I love that because it makes me grow even quicker and faster and now I have their support. For me, I’m just constantly being a little fish.

I think the second one is do the opposite. When everybody else is doing something in business, I sit down, write down what everybody else is doing and then I go about doing the complete opposite. That’s a version of disruption and innovation for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget from the book or that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they quote it back to you often?

Tamara Loehr
I think the main one that I get is thank you for giving me permission to blend because I don’t want to burn out. This thank you, I want to drop the word balance because for so long everyone keeps saying balance and I cringe because I can’t figure it out. Thank you for giving me permission to get rid of that word and set a new paradigm, which would be fantastic if we can all blend.

My husband’s a stay-at-home daddy and he has so many men in the playground who say to him, “Oh my God, I would have loved that opportunity.” Guess what? Women are great at business. We’re great at running businesses. We’re great at growing businesses. We’re great leaders. Let’s have that conversation.

I’m just giving permission to everybody to have some conversations together and giving them the tools to be able to do it so that it’s not an argument, it’s not a ‘your work is more important than my work.’ It’s not about that. It’s about how do we come together and redesign our life. That’s something that everybody says, “Thank you, I’m working on redesigning my life,” and they’re excited about it. I think the important thing though is we have to support each other.

Having just wrote a book and said, “Right, set and forget. You guys, you’re on your own now that you’ve got the tools.” My amazing coach, Emily, who wrote the exercise has come on voluntarily to support the community afterwards so that we can all come together and share what’s working, what’s not, bits of the exercises that we’re unsure of, that we’re stuck on and help each other so that we can go from trying to balance, which isn’t working, to a blended life and supporting each other in that.

That’s really exciting. Let’s bring this community, get together, let’s have this conversation, let’s support one another so that we can all redesign our lives and have the life that we deserve. When you’re at your best, that’s when you make the best impression and the best impact on people around you, including your children. That, to me, is really important.

Pete Mockaitis
If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Tamara Loehr
Head to any of our social. It’s LoehrBlend, L-O-E-H-R-B-L-E-N-D, websites, Facebook groups, all that sort of stuff. Reach out and I’d love to meet you and have a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Tamara, thanks so much for taking the time and sharing the wisdom. I wish you all the best with the book and your business and your adventures.

Tamara Loehr
Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time and I value your time and your listeners, so thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you.

426: How to Feel Limitless in Your Career with Laura Gassner Otting

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Laura Gassner Otting charts how one can be limitless by freeing yourself from other people’s expectations.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The danger in carrying someone else’s “scorecard” of expectations
  2. What limitlessness looks and feels like
  3. Why to view purpose more broadly

About Laura

Laura speaks with change agents, entrepreneurs, investors, leaders, and donors to get them past the doubt and indecision that consign their great ideas to limbo. She delivers strategic thinking, well-honed wisdom, and catalytic perspective informed by decades of navigating change across the start-up, nonprofit, political, and philanthropic landscapes. She’s had boatloads of cool experience, from being a White House presidential appointee to founding her own organizations.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Laura Gassner Otting Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Laura, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Laura Gassner Otting
Thank you so much. This is such a better podcast than the How to Suck at Your Job podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that one sort of petered out pretty quickly. Well, I’m excited to dig into this stuff. I want to hear a fun fact about you. You mentioned that your first mile that you ran in life occurred when you were age 39. What’s the story here?

Laura Gassner Otting
Yeah. I was that kid in gym class growing up that had 497,623 excuses not to go to PE. I’m old. I’m 48 years old. There was a time in my life when PE was all those stereotypical things that you see like in the 1980’s dramas about the terrible coaches with their whistles and their polyester shorts. I was the one cowering in the corner. I was just never athletic. I went to computer sleep away camp, like for real, in the Poconos.

Pete Mockaitis
I also went to cyber camp.

Laura Gassner Otting
Did you really?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, but the Poconos, that’s awesome. I was just in Central Illinois.

Laura Gassner Otting
Wow. I’ve never met another human being who actually talked to other human beings, who went to computer sleep away camp. This is amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
It was fun. It was fun.

Laura Gassner Otting
We could have a whole podcast just on that. I mean I was the only girl at computer sleep away camp and I still didn’t kiss a boy until I went to college. I was special. I didn’t run a mile. I lived the life of the mind. I was super nerd. I was never heavy. I was never thin. I was just kind of there.

When I was 39 year old, I was walking into my kids’ school one afternoon for some parent-teacher conference or something and I saw the head of the school. I was like, “Ellen, you look amazing.” Ellen was in her mid-60s and she had lost a ton of weight.

I was like, “Either you’ve been really sick or there’s a new man in your life. Frankly, you look way too good to have been really sick, so what’s his name?” She’s like, “Well, actually, there is a new man in my life. His name is Mike, Coach Mike.”

Then Ellen proceeds to drag me to the dirtiest, nastiest, filled with all sorts of dust and dead bugs, gym in a Boys & Girls Club, where I do bootcamp. It takes me six weeks to actually run the mile that you have to run at the end of bootcamp without stopping or barfing.

When I got to the end of the mile, I was like, “I’m going to do this. This is amazing. What if I strung 3.1 of these together and I ran a 5K?” So I signed up for a 5K and 6 weeks later me and Ellen and Coach Mike all ran a 5K. At the end of the 5K, I thought “What if I ran a 10K?” At the end of the 10K I thought “What if I did half marathon? That would be amazing.” At the end of the half marathon, I thought, “I live in Boston. I should do the Boston marathon.”

I came home and I told my husband that I was thinking about doing the Boston marathon. He told me I was insane. But I said “If I can get a bib in the next five minutes, would you support me?” Now you have to run Boston as a qualified runner. You have to be fast. I am not fast, again, see computer sleep-away camp, right?

But what I did was I spent the last 20 years working with nonprofits and I knew a lot of people who had charity bibs, so I posted on Facebook, “Hey, anybody have a nonprofit bib that I can raise money for to run the Boston marathon?” Within three minutes I had five offers. I turned to my husband and I showed him my iPhone screen with the offers and he was like, “Oh God, you’re doing this.” At 39 years old I ran my first mile and by the time I was 41, I had run three marathons.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Well, congratulations. Impressive.

Laura Gassner Otting
Thank you. Well, it’s kind of crazy actually, but what that taught me, it taught me where confidence comes from. Confidence doesn’t come from this idea of dreaming big dreams. It comes from competence. You put one foot in front of the other. You don’t crap your pants and the next thing you know you’ve done something. That something leads you to confidence that you can do something else.

I never thought I’m going to run a marathon, let alone three, I thought I’m going to run and see where that takes me.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. Well, I’m excited. It sounds like you followed some of the advice in your book, Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life. You did some ignoring. Tell me, just maybe to get us going, what’s perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery that you made as you were researching and putting this one together?

Laura Gassner Otting
Well, I would say the most fascinating discovery that I made is that everybody, regardless of how externally happy they seem, feels like something’s missing. I was really surprised at how broad the range was for the book. I knew that it made sense because it made sense to me and I’ve been talking about this advice that’s in the book for the last 20 years.

But I was giving a talk at a conference, a retreat that is specifically for young women of color that work in the education space, Millennials working in the education space. It’s a retreat that’s run by a friend of mine. I’m the only Caucasian person that she’s had come speak at this conference because she knows that I hold the space sacred.

I was giving my usual talk about how do you find your leadership voice and how do you find confidence. Somebody asked me a question. I said, “Let me answer that by telling you a little bit about this book that I’m writing.” I gave the framework for the book.

At the end of it these 60 women in this room, these Millennial women of color, stood up and gave me a standing ovation, the first standing ovation of my life. I was so shocked by that that I was like maybe there’s something to it.

Then I started using this framework in my executive coaching practice, where I was talking to middle-aged white guys and stay-at-home moms and Boomers that are looking for the next encore in their retirement. I started hearing people saying things like, “I feel like you wrote this just for me.”

Then you fast-forward to when I recorded my audio book and the sound technician is this guy who is a personal trainer slash thresh hair-metal guitarist slash sound technician. Afterwards, I walked out of the two days and he turned to me he said, “I feel like the universe brought you into my life at exactly the right moment. I don’t believe in that universe crap, but I really needed to hear this.”

The most surprising thing to me was how universal the idea of feeling like we’re all limited by everybody else’s expectations and everybody else’s idea of success and how much people felt relieved to be unburdened by that.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay, that’s quite a statement there. Let’s hear it again. We all, universally, tend to feel limited by other’s expectations and what?

Laura Gassner Otting
Everybody assigns ideas to us. We’re all walking around with a scorecard in our pocket. Marry the right person, go to the right college, get the right job, buy the right house. Who’s defining what the right whatever is?

We’re all walking with a scorecard of other people’s ideas, other people’s expectations of success. When we do that, we’re so limited by everybody else’s ideas, by their expectations, by their definitions, frankly, by their anxiety, by their concerns, by their worry that we become limited. It’s in these limits that we lose ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, it’s funny. I already feel a little bit liberated just hearing yeah, why do I care at all what some of these people think about this or that?

Laura Gassner Otting
Yeah. Where did you get your scorecard from? For me, when I was in fourth grade a teacher said, “You’re a pretty argumentative young woman. You should be a lawyer.” Of course I told her she was wrong, but I then spent the next 15 years creating an educational path that put me towards being a lawyer.

When I got to law school and said “I actually hate this. I’m in totally the wrong place,” and I wanted to drop out, I felt like I was failing because this definition of what success would be, go to law school, become a lawyer, suddenly wasn’t right for me. I never stopped to think, “Well, is it actually something I care about?”

What’s worse is that we’re asked to pick these paths, we’re asked to pick the direction, the college, the major, the career, the trade, whatever it is that we’re doing, we’re asked to pick these things when we’re 16-, 17-, 18-years old. You know what you don’t have when you’re 16-, 17-, 18-years old? A frontal lobe.

Pete Mockaitis
I was going to say, boy, there’s lots of things. Perspective. A frontal lobe, all right.

Laura Gassner Otting
Right. Yeah, you don’t have perspective. You don’t have wisdom. You don’t have knowledge. You don’t have reference. You don’t have many things. But most importantly, you don’t have a frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is the part of your brain that determines logical decision making. We’re asked to make a decision about who we are and what we want to be when a) we don’t even really know ourselves, and b) we literally don’t have the capacity to make this decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. That’s really thought provoking. Give us some examples here in terms of continual I guess limits or expectations that seem to be extra universal and extra limiting in terms of the biggies.

Laura Gassner Otting
Yeah. There’s the teacher when you’re growing up who says, “You should be this,” or “You should be that.” A teacher has no crystal ball. They have no Ouija board. Maybe they’ve said something as an aside on some random day and we take it as definitional.

Or maybe it’s a parent or a grandparent, who after I dropped out of law school and found myself in Washington DC, the definition of success came to me in the form of a six-foot-two nice medical student named Allen, who my mom thought was going to be the answer to all of my prayers. That was definition of success for her was get married to a nice Jewish doctor.

Now, that wasn’t my definition of success because every time I kissed Allen all I could think of was milk, butter, eggs, cheese, I’ve got to pick up the dry cleaning, got to bring the dog to the groomer. There was no spark. My mother would say, “Oh, well, you just have to concentrate.” That wasn’t my definition of success, but it was put on me by somebody else. Get married, check that box.

Then you fast forward to the boss. You’re sitting in your office in your workplace and you’re thinking about how you’re going to solve a certain problem for a client or to do some project in a way that you think makes sense, but your boss is over there thinking well, you’ve got to get done as fast as possible, as expediently as you can with the biggest profit margin that’s here. It may not feel like it’s real for you.

Throughout my book, I talk about lots of different people who at different points in their career made a major change in order to feel like they were in consonance with who they were. That was a theme that came up over and over and over again, where people were like, “When my boss was saying ‘Just do it. Just make sure it’s good enough. Just do it until the check clears. That’s all you need to do.’ That didn’t sit right with who I am as a person.”

I think this sort of young definition, the sort of external pressure to have the rest of your life in order, and then a boss who might have different ideas of what success means than you do are pretty universal.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so by contrast, could you paint a picture for what does it look, sound, feel like in practice when you are indeed limitless, you have managed to let go of those things?

Laura Gassner Otting
I want you to think about a time when you were firing on all cylinders, you were at your very best, you were making it rain, you were closing a deal, you were just giving a presentation of your life or maybe it was a quiet moment with a loved one or a colleague going through a difficult situation or you were working behind the scenes to kind of put the analysis together for a product launch or a budget or something.

It could be loud. It could be quiet. It could be public. It could be private. But think about a moment like that. You’ve had those moments where you are absolutely 100% everything that you do well is being put towards the problem at hand. Can you think about one of those moments?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Yeah.

Laura Gassner Otting
How did that feel?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s good. I want to get a better word for you though.

Laura Gassner Otting
It’s limitless.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re saying that feeling is the limitless feeling?

Laura Gassner Otting
Yeah, the feeling that the what you do matches who you are so that the very best of who are is being brought towards something that you care about. It’s this frictionless belonging. It’s this momentum. It’s when you feel like you have wind in your sails. It’s when everything is in alignment and in flow and it just feels right. That’s what it feels like to be limitless.

For some people that comes in the form of staying at home and raising their family, even though they have two master’s degrees. For some it comes from getting away from those kids as fast as possible and going back to work on the day that you can. It’s going to look very different for everybody. At every age and at every life stage, we’re all going to define what that success means differently.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Now, you sort of unpack that into a bit of detail in terms of how you get there. I’d first maybe want to talk about when you feel like you’ve got the hooks of limit and expectation from another source in you and you’d rather it not be in you, what do you do to find some freedom?

Laura Gassner Otting
Well, I want to say that it can be difficult because we all have sort of expectations of other people that we have to fulfill. But I think we put a lot of those on ourselves. I think that we think that other people will be deeply disappointed and upset if we change what we’re doing.

I think the first thing that I tell people is in the course of 20 years of interviewing people at the top of their game while I was doing executive search, I never found somebody who didn’t make a left turn or a right turn or a U-turn. Everybody changes what they do at some point. They redefine themselves and they rebuild.

Now, there may be plenty of people not at the top of their game who don’t do that, but everybody that I ever met who was truly a leader was somebody who learned along the way and made adjustments and who saw failure as fulcrum and not finale.

Now, I was speaking a few weeks ago in Austin. I was talking about this idea of failure being a fulcrum and not finale. I turned to my left and there is sitting in the front row an astronaut, Commander Tim Kopra, who had been on not one, not two, but three space walks. In the middle of doing this bit and I was like, “Oh, except for you, sir. For you failure would most definitely be finale, but for the rest of the 400 people in this room, failure is absolutely fulcrum.”

I think the first thing for people to do is to let go of this idea that failure is bad, that failure is going to be something that kills us. If failure literally doesn’t kill you, if there’s still breath left in your body, you can learn from it and do something else.

Once we let go of this desperate need to please everybody else and to live into everybody else’s idea of success, once we decide that it’s okay to fail at living into their expectations, that’s when we start making room for own idea of success. Once we start thinking about what success can mean to us—and I break that out in this framework in the book—once we unpack what success actually means to us, then success can in fact equal happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good. You talk about this concept of consonance and have a few particular drivers of it. Can you define these terms for us?

Laura Gassner Otting
Yeah. What I started to notice throughout my executive search career is that even though I was interviewing people, as I said, who were at the top of their game and who were super successful, they weren’t all really happy. I was struck by this idea that after you filled in all the checkboxes and you’ve done all the right things, why do we still feel empty? Why do we still feel like there’s something that’s missing that we’re just not quite satisfied about?

What I started to notice was that the people who were the most successful and also the happiest, the ones who weren’t suffering from burnout and stress and fatigue, they were the ones who were in consonance. They were the ones who were in alignment and flow so that everything they did made sense.

I started to notice that they had really four things. Each of them had these four things in different amounts, but they had them in the amounts that they needed.

The first is calling. Calling is some gravitational force, something that’s bigger than you. It could be saving the whales and curing cancer and feeding the poor. That’s fine. But it can also be working for a leader who inspires you or a company whose brain is prestigious and interests you.

It can be getting out of debt. It can be buying a Maserati and a beach house. It can be building your own business. It can be staying home with your family. Whatever that calling is, it’s your calling.

I think we get calling wrong often because we tend to give votes to people who shouldn’t have them. We have all these people in our lives and we ask them what they think and what we should do and they reply to us based on the framework of their own thinking, so we’re giving votes to people who shouldn’t even have voices. That’s calling.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Laura Gassner Otting
The second piece is connection. Connection really answers the question “What if you didn’t go to work tomorrow? What if you didn’t get out of bed tomorrow? Would anybody notice? Would it matter? Does your work matter? Why do you, in this box, in this organizational chart, in this company at this moment, why do you matter?” Can you see the work that you’re doing connecting to solving that calling, to getting to that calling that you want to achieve?

The third piece is contribution. While connection is all about the work, contribution is really all about you. We all want our work to mean something, to contribute something to our lives, but what? Does the work contribute to the career trajectory and velocity you’d like to create? Does the work contribute to the lifestyle you’d like to live? Does the work contribute to your ability to manifest your values into the world on a daily basis?

Then lastly, is control. Control really is how much personal agency do you want and need in your life so that the work can connect and that it can contribute to the kind of calling that you want to serve. At every age and every life stage, we’re going to want and need and have the four C’s of calling, connection, contribution, and control in different amounts.

Pete Mockaitis
You mentioned different amounts. I think I want all of them and a lot of them. Are you suggesting that there’s tradeoffs between them or how do you think about that?

Laura Gassner Otting
I think there are sometimes tradeoffs. I think it is possible to want and have lots of all of them. But I think at different ages and at different life stages, we’re willing to sacrifice one for the other.

When I was 21 years old and worth my weight in Ramen soup and idealism, I was volunteering on a presidential campaign. I had all the calling in the world. I was so inspired by this leader. But connection, please, I was goffering coffee, I was making Xerox copies. My work didn’t connect whatsoever, nothing I did really mattered. There were 700 other volunteers ready to walk in the door just like me.

But that was okay because I had so much contribution. I was manifesting my values on a daily basis. While I wasn’t really earning any money – I was, like I said, worth my weight in Ramen soup – I knew that if this guy won, I could have a pretty interesting job. Talk about a career trajectory. That would be amazing.

Then you go to control. Clearly, I had no control whatsoever about how much connection the work had or how much contribution it had, but boy, it didn’t matter to me because calling and contribution were absolutely top of what I needed when I was young and I didn’t have a family or major bills to pay and I could live in squalor and be perfectly fine.

Now as I’m 48 years old, it’s a little bit of a different story. Calling, I really do want to continue to do good things in the world, but my calling right now is really building out this book launch and bringing my message to people.

I feel that deeply, which means that my connection because I’m on several non-profit boards, because I’ve got two teenage kids, because I’ve got a husband with a completely inflexible job and I have friends that live all over the world, I could be doing lots of other things with my time.

If the work that I’m doing, if the podcast that I’m on, if the speaking that I’m doing, if the research I’m doing, the writing I’m doing isn’t helping me get this book off the ground in a way that is supporting my speaking career, then it’s not interesting to me. I really deeply need my work to be connected.

In terms of contribution, I am able to bring tons of how I manifest my values in the work because clearly I talk about them nonstop. I’m getting a piece of that, but in terms of how this is going to create a career trajectory for me, I have no idea. This is a brand new career and it’s super fascinating. I’m weighing those things differently.

Then in terms of control, I’m an entrepreneur deep in my soul, so I absolutely have to have control over the connection and the contribution, but I’m also willing to give up a little bit of it right now because I’m just sort of on this – I’m on this momentum path to get this book launch going. It’s very different for me right now.

If I were 68 years old, it may be a totally different thing because I may say I couldn’t care less whether or not the work I’m doing really matters or it contributes, but I deeply care about changing the world because I was born in 1940s or the 1950s and I’m a kid of social justice and those things I care most about.

I think everybody at different ages and at different life stages will care about these things differently, but I think we get into trouble because we sort of set our scorecard in stone early on and we’re told to think about the value of the job, but we don’t think about the value of the job to us individually and we don’t let that flex and change.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. I’m curious then, when it comes to all the means by which you can discover and develop and bring about some more calling, connection, contribution, and control are there any particular practices that you’ve seen again and again really seem to make a really big impact in terms of bringing about more of the consonance?

Laura Gassner Otting
I put together a quiz at LimitlessAssessment.com. I’ll say that again, LimitlessAssessment.com, where your listeners can actually go and take. It’s about 60 questions or so. It takes about 10 or 15 minutes. It walks the respondent through each of the four C’s of calling, connection, contribution, and control.

At the end of which, it gives them this very pretty little radar chart that – go computer sleep away camp because I’m very proud of myself for learning how to build this. It gives this beautiful radar chart that shows one circle of each of the four C’s how much you have in your life and then another one overlapped, we hope, of each of the four C’s of what you want in your life.

It actually will show you visually where you’re out of consonance and give you some tips about things that you need to do. For everyone it’s going to be a little bit different, but I think the right first moves, first of all, go take the quiz. Absolutely it will tell you exactly what you’re looking for and not just what society wants you to have, but what you actually want to have and how to get there.

But the second thing is to really start pulling the people around you, I call them your ‘framily,’ it’s the sort of combination of your friends and your family, who can be your tribe, who can be the ones who you can talk to about your results of the quiz, about the things that you want, about what you might think are missing, and really sort of help reflect to you and hold you accountable to making sure that you’re doing something every day towards the change that you want to make.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Maybe just to wet the whistle and get an example there. If we want some more control, what are some great things to do that help bring that about?

Laura Gassner Otting
As I mentioned, I’m an entrepreneur. I think that most of the entrepreneurs who I’ve seen who have taken this quiz have found that they are very much in consonance in the control piece because I think they’ve made very specific decisions in their life to make that happen.

I profile a woman by the name of Terry Diab in my book. She is a carpenter by trade. She actually started working for her brother-in-law when she was very young. She would just follow all the other carpenters around on the job site, picking up nails and cleaning paintbrushes and anything that they asked them to do. She loved it. She absolutely loved the work. She went to go work for him.

She was having a great time doing it. The work was done. He would say to her, “If you leave at the end of the day and you don’t feel proud of work, you’ve got to go back and do it again. This is really important.”

Then as his business grew and grew and grew, she found that that ethos, that respect for getting the job done well wasn’t actually shared with all of the site managers that he hired. She found herself increasingly frustrated because she thought that the work could be done better and should be done better and that the clients deserved better, so she started her own thing.

She says that she ate barbecue sauce and mashed potatoes for months in order to be able to afford to continue to put money towards building out her business, but she’s now booked 12 months in advance all the time. Her dance card’s always full.

She absolutely has 100% control over the way that she does her work, the quality that she does it, the way that she can manifest her values through her work and how much money she makes or doesn’t make by how much work she decides to take on.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Cool. Thank you. Well, I’d also love to get your take when folks are saying, “You know, Laura, I love this. I’m right on. I want to get more limitless. I want more consonance. What’s one of the biggest mistakes that people end up making when they are going after this stuff?

Laura Gassner Otting
I would say the number one biggest mistake that people make is that they say, “I want more consonance, I want my work to have meaning,” and then they say, “Well, meaning has to have purpose and purpose has to be purpose like higher purpose, lofty purpose.”

And they assign these ideas to it, which are either “Well, I actually want to make money, so I don’t really want to go do that purpose thing or maybe I’ll do that purpose thing later or I don’t know if that purpose thing is for me.” Again, I spent 20 years helping people find work in purpose, in nonprofit jobs. What I’ll say is that it’s really great to go do that work, but it’s also not necessarily right for everyone.

What I’m trying to say is that the only person who gets to decide what your purpose is, is you.

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

Laura Gassner Otting
Oh, so my favorite quote, I always have to go to Eleanor Roosevelt, which is, “Do the thing you think you cannot do.” I think that we all have multitudes inside of us. I never thought I was an athlete. We started this conversation by talking about my first mile at 39.

Here’s the thing that happens when you run three marathons in three years having never run a mile before is that you tend to get a little beaten up. I went from running a marathon to going to a gym, joining a gym for the first time in my life and meeting a trainer and lifting weight. This trainer happened to be a guy who was training for an Olympic rowing campaign. He kept talking about rowing. I was like, “Oh, that sound interesting. I should check that out.”

Fast forward a few years and now I’m a competitive rower. I row at a local competitive women’s rowing team. Every time we’re on the water, the coach comes over in his little boat and he’s like, “Okay, athletes, here’s what we’re going to do now.” I’m always like, “Athletes. He called me an athlete. That’s hilarious.” But I never knew that that’s who I was.

I think if we continue to do things that we think we cannot do, we’re able to find multitudes within us and we’re able to surprise ourselves at just what we can become.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Laura Gassner Otting
Well, I think the marshmallow test is fascinating. Do you know the marshmallow test?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Laura Gassner Otting
Yeah. I have two teenage boys, so we live the marshmallow test in our house all the time. But this idea that sometimes if you can wait – and sometimes it’s sacrificing the easy win now for the thing that you really want later. You don’t have the one marshmallow that you can have now, if you wait five minutes, you get two.

I think that that’s what I saw so many times in my career in executive search that the people who had tenacity and grit and hunger and speed and weight, these were the things that I looked for in people. I’ll be darned if I didn’t have 100% marshmallow test winners in the people that I placed in these CEO positions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. How about a favorite book?

Laura Gassner Otting
This is kind of weird, but my favorite book – I think the one that was one of the most impactful books for me is this book called Stones from the River by woman by the name of Ursula Hiegi, H-I-E-G-I. It’s a little bit of a weird book.

It’s a fiction book that was set in World War II. It’s about a dwarf named Trudy Montag. Trudy, because she was atypical, was pretty much ignored by everybody and dismissed by everybody, so she would be sort of present for lots of conversations, where people just forgot she was there because they didn’t think of her as a full human being.

Because of it in the story she gets to hear all of these state secrets and she gets to sort of infiltrate the Nazis and she’s able to work with the resistance and help them to topple the Nazis. Again, it’s a fiction book, but just help them topple the Nazis in World War Ii, but I love the idea that we are not just who everybody sees us as and that we have so much inside of us that we can be that people don’t even yet know about and we’re the ones who get to decide our stories.

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

Laura Gassner Otting
Delegating. I am a firm believer that I am not the best person at everything and that there are things where I really do truly kick ass and that if I don’t hire people to do the stuff that I suck at, then I never get to spend the time doing the stuff where I can kick ass.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Laura Gassner Otting
Every night before I go to bed, I look at my schedule for the next day. I cannot sleep well if I don’t when I have to shower the next day. That’s sort of a strange way to put it, but as an entrepreneur, somebody who works from my home, there are days that are yoga pant days and there are days that are stiletto heel days.

If I don’t know exactly when I need to be show pony ready, ready for public consumption, I have a very hard time having gravitational force in my world. Before I go to bed every night, I just scan through my next day and I just figure out when I’m going to shower.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. It’s so funny because some days I don’t make it in the shower. If I had a ritual, there’d probably be more consistency.

Laura Gassner Otting
Yeah, those days where you wake up and you put on your exercise clothes but you never quite exercise because you didn’t put it in your calendar. If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist in the world. I literally have on my calendar the days where I have to pick up my kids from school because I will forget because I don’t pick them up every day. Maybe I just smoked too much weed in college, but I can’t remember anything unless it’s on my calendar.

The calendar is really – I’m not one of those people who lives and dies by my inbox. That doesn’t take over. I don’t feel this need to answer every email I get every minute of the day as soon as I get it, but I need to have a roadmap. For me, the calendar is the thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your audience and you hear it quoted back to you frequently?

Laura Gassner Otting
Yeah, I think one of the things that gets quoted back to me most is a quote that I said about a year ago on stage, where I was kind of railing about this vacation that I was about to take and I posted something on Facebook asking for tips, “Does anybody know anything about,” wherever it was that I was going.

Somebody wrote back, “I’m so glad you’re going on this vacation. You deserve it.” I remember thinking I don’t deserve it. I earned that, baby. I don’t deserve it. I said if I waited around my entire life for all the things I deserved, I would never get what I demanded.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Laura Gassner Otting
That gets quoted back to me a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Laura Gassner Otting
I am all over the socials at HeyLGO. It’s Hey Laura Gassner Otting, so HeyLGO. HeyLGO.com is how you can find me on my website. The book is Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life. It’s on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, anywhere fine books are sold. The quiz is at LimitlessAssessment.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Laura Gassner Otting
I would ask people three questions. Number one, what would it feel like to be limitless in your job? Number two, what do you need to change in order to get there? Number three, what would be the cost if you don’t?

Pete Mockaitis
Laura, this has been a treat. Thanks so much. I wish you lots of luck with the book, Limitless, and all your adventures.

Laura Gassner Otting
Thank you so much. It’s been great fun.