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465: The Cure for Impostor Syndrome: How to Feel Less Like a Fraud and Appreciate Your Successes with Dr. Valerie Young

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Valerie Young says: "We think we're supposed to excel at everything but we're not going to."

Valerie Young sheds light on the impostor syndrome and shows the healthy way out.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Just how prevalent impostor syndrome is
  2. The 5 impostor syndrome archetypes
  3. How to strategically shift your thinking from impostor to non-impostor

About Valerie 

Dr. Valerie Young is an internationally-known expert on impostor syndrome and author of award-winning book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It (Crown Business/Random House), now available in five languages.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Valerie Young Interview Transcript

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

Valerie Young
I’m really excited, Pete. Thanks for asking me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited too. And so, we’re going to talk about impostor syndrome, which is a hot topic for listeners. But I want to start with hearing a little bit about your personal history and I guess origin story for how you and the impostor syndrome topic got to be well-acquainted.

Valerie Young
Well, very, very well-acquainted. I didn’t even know there was a name for these feelings until I was in a doctoral program when I was about 21 years old at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and someone brought in a paper by Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes. Those are the two psychologists who first coined the term the impostor phenomenon, as it is more accurately known in the world of psychology.

And she started reading from this study, and going, “Oh, my gosh, listen to this, everybody. They found that all these intelligent, capable, competent people feel like they’re fooling folks and they’re going to be found out.” I was just nodding my head like a bobblehead doll.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting.

Valerie Young
I was like, “Oh, my God, that’s me. There’s a name for this? Other people feel this way?” So, it’s tremendously liberating just to know that there was a name.

Pete Mockaitis
And then you found a posse of impostors. Tell us about that.

Valerie Young
Well, I did. Now, I’ve gone on to speak to many tens of thousands of graduate students and, yeah, it turns out it’s really epidemic amongst, especially, graduate students for a host of reasons. But, basically, looked around the room, while I was nodding my head like a bobblehead doll, and all the other graduate students were nodding their head.

So, I often tell the story, Pete, that we decide to get together after class for a little impostor support group, and we would talk about being intellectual frauds and how we’re fooling all of our professors, and everything went great for about three weeks. And then I started to get this nagging sense that even though the other students were all saying they were an impostor, like I knew I was the only real impostor. So, clearly, they were phony impostors and I was like a super impostor.

Pete Mockaitis
An impostor amongst impostors.

Valerie Young
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And they were probably thinking the same thing, like, “Ha, ha, ha, this is really kind of a funny joke that we’re saying but I don’t think they mean it.”

Valerie Young
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. So, you mentioned then, I guess, a little bit of the definition for impostor phenomenon or impostor syndrome. Can we hear, I guess, the official or, since you’ve done decades of research on this, your definition for what we call impostor syndrome if you were to give like a quick dictionary sentence or two?

Valerie Young
Sure. Well, I think, as it’s commonly understood, Pete, is this sense, this feeling experienced by countless millions of people around the world, across culturally, across industries, this sense that, “I’m in over my head and I’m going to be found out.” And what really makes impostor syndrome very specific is that there’s concrete clear evidence of one’s accomplishments or capabilities and, yet, people who felt like impostors tend to dismiss them, minimize them, or chalk them up to external factors like luck, timing, computer error, personality, and those kinds of things. But the overwhelming fear then, really, is that you’re going to be found out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the fear, it’s a fear you’re going to be found out as opposed to, I guess, low self-esteem, it’s just like, “I’m not really very smart or good or anything.” But I guess impostor syndrome has that extra dose of there’s an outcome that you’re dreading and think really could happen to you.

Valerie Young
Yeah, there’s definitely an outcome. But I think, additionally, Pete, now there are some studies, let me be clear, some studies on impostor phenomenon have connected, found a connection between self-esteem and impostor feelings. Other studies have not found a connection, which tells me, it’s possible to have healthy self-esteem and still have impostor feelings.

How I look at it is self-esteem, think of it as kind of a global sense we have about ourselves kind of across the board. But impostor feelings are very specific to achievement areas, work, school, business, career. You don’t feel like an impostor when you’re walking the dog or emptying the dishwasher, right? But you do at a job interview, or going to your first pitch when you start your new business, or when you’re being challenged on your work, things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, just to make it clear, you shared a couple of words, thoughts, phrases, internal sub-talk, bits you might have in terms of, “Oh, they’re going to find me out.” But just to make this really real and resonant and connected for people, can we hear some kind of recurring words and phrases internally that impostors say to themselves all the time and so we can maybe recognize ourselves within that?

Valerie Young
Well, I think, clearly, it’s the “I’m going to be found out, that I’m in over my head. I don’t know what I’m doing. Everyone else is smarter than me. If I was really competent, I wouldn’t need any help. If was really competent I’d feel confident.” It’s interesting, like the fact that you even struggle with impostor feelings or confidence, in the mind of the person who feels like an impostor, just kind of proves that they must be an impostor, “Because if I was really competent, I wouldn’t feel this way.”

The sense that, “I should know 150%. This shouldn’t be this hard. If I was really competent, I should be able to kind of hit the ground running and figure this out and master it very quickly.” So, the voices kind of vary depending on how the person is judging or measuring their own competence.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s an interesting notion right there, it’s like it’s sort of related to a catch 22 or is it the opposite? But it’s sort of just like, “If I am feeling unconfident, or if I’m having a hard time, I’m struggling, there’s difficulty, then that means I’m no good.” And so, could you share the truth of the matter? What does it mean when we struggle and are feeling unconfident? If it does not mean that we’re frauds, what does it mean?

Valerie Young
I think it probably means we’re in the middle of a normal learning curve.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there you go.

Valerie Young
You know, where we started something new or unfamiliar. But the problem is that how we view that. The non-impostor, if you will, says, “Well, gee, I’ll figure it out as I go along,” or, “Well, I’ve only been here a week. I can’t possibly know everything there is to know about this job,” right? But the non-impostor walks in and expects themselves to hit the ground running and to pick things up incredibly quickly. So, it’s a difference between how you frame that situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, let’s talk about non-impostors for a moment. And, first, so can you share with us what’s the data suggest in terms of the proportion of people, professionals if you have it, who experience this impostor syndrome?

Valerie Young
You know, Pete, there’s this percentage that’s been thrown around since the 1980s, I believe, late ‘70s, early ‘80s from Gail Matthews, where it kind of originated, is that up to 70% of high-achieving people have experienced these feelings to varying degrees at one time or another, which is pretty high, which means we’re actually in the majority, which of course begs the question, “What’s up with the other 30? Why aren’t we studying them? Why aren’t we writing dissertations about them?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, 70% that is striking. Well, Gail Matthews, I’ve cited a paper of hers about goal setting in dozen of keynote speeches, so I feel like I should give her a high five or a hug.

Valerie Young
Oh, wow, that’s very cool.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’ve never met her in person but I can see the bar chart slide in my mind’s eye, but back to the number at hand. Seventy percent are saying that they experience it and 30% don’t. Can we just get a glimpse of their world for a moment? Like, I don’t know, is that dangerous in its own right if you don’t have any impostor syndrome? Are these the folks who have exaggerated views of their own competence and end up singing terribly on American Idol and feeling very foolish? Or what’s the non-impostor life like?

Valerie Young
You know, it’s interesting you say that because that’s definitely some portion of that 30% have, as you say, the opposite problem, which is irrational self-confidence syndrome, that their sense of their knowledge and abilities far exceeds their actual knowledge and abilities, which was actually a phenomenon that became documented by Professor Dunning at Cornell. It’s now known as the Dunning-Krueger Effect that did find through multiple consistent studies, that found that the people who have the lowest expectations for how they’re going to perform on an exam, for example, performed the best, and the people who were quite certain that they were going to ace it, often performed the worst. So, we often don’t see our own limitations.

But here’s the thing, and that’s why I don’t buy into this notion of we should embrace our impostor syndrome because it keeps us humble, because I think it’s a false choice, Pete. It’s like the choices between, “I’m going to be an arrogant kind of smartest guy in the room person who really isn’t that competent, or an impostor,” I mean, you know, most are going to go, “Oh, I’ll keep the impostor syndrome.” But I think that there’s a whole middle ground of people I describe as kind of non-impostors who are part of that 30% who just have a very different way of viewing the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s intriguing. And so, they might view the world in that they have exaggerated views of themselves. Or, do you think they’re just super healthy with regard to their acknowledging, “Yeah, so I am in the middle of a normal learning curve”? Do you think that’s more the picture there?

Valerie Young
Absolutely. I always tell people that the only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor. Let’s separate out the arrogant people who really are not competent, let’s kind of put them in a different box right now. What I’m talking about is people who don’t feel like impostors in a healthy kind of way. They’re more intelligent, capable, competent, qualified than the rest of us. The only difference between them and us is in the exact same situation that triggers an impostor response in us, they are thinking different thoughts. That’s it. Which I think is incredibly good news because it means all we have to do is learn how to think like non-impostors.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, I was going to get to it later but I can’t resist. All right. How do we do that? What are the key ways we need to adjust our thinking?

Valerie Young
Well, there’s three kind of categories of things that non-impostors think differently about, Pete. First of all, they think differently about competence.

Pete Mockaitis
Competence.

Valerie Young
Competence, yeah.
People who feel like impostors tend to fall into different kind of mindsets about how they measure our competence, right? We hold ourselves to these unrealistically high, unsustainably high standards that no human could consistently hit. So, you might be a perfectionist, for example, in your kind of mental rulebook, 99 out of 100 will be unacceptable. Forgetting to make some minor point in an otherwise flawless presentation, you’ll beat yourself up endlessly.

But the non-impostor, they still can set high standards for themselves, and they have a healthy drive to excel, but they don’t feel shame when they fall short as long as they tried their best. Other people who feel like impostors, their definition of impostor syndrome, and this is five of them, I’m happy to go through them or not.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do them all, yeah.

Valerie Young
But the second one is kind of the knowledge version of the perfectionist, the person I think of as kind of the expert. That doesn’t mean they are an expert. It means that they think they have to know 150% before they speak up, raise their hand, start their business, go after a promotion, and they’re just endlessly searching for that, like waiting to wake up one day and think, “Now, I’m an expert.” So, they never feel like they know enough.

Then there’s the person I describe as the natural genius. Again, it’s not that they’re a genius. It’s that they’ve somehow got it into their head that, “If I was really intelligent, capable, competent, this wouldn’t be this hard.” So, the fact that they struggle to understand something, or master something, in their mind kind of proves they’re an impostor because they’re defining competence as being about ease and speed. They look at other people, and they think, “Oh, that looks so easy.” And then they try it, and it’s hard. But they don’t understand that that other person worked their ass off to get good, or they might be naturally good at something, which we all are.

Then there’s the soloist, as it sounds, who thinks it only counts if they do it all by themselves. So, they’re going to feel shame if they have to ask for help, they don’t give themselves credit if it’s a team effort, and then, of course, the superwoman/superman/super student who expects themselves to excel across multiple roles they play in their life.

So, non-impostors think differently about competence in that they realize that not everything can or needs to be perfect. Sometimes you just have to kind of jump in and figure it out, or like just don’t persevere over the routine tasks. Obviously, if you’re flying a plane or you’re performing surgery, please be a perfectionist. But the mantra I hear from a lot of very successful multimillionaire entrepreneurs is, “Half ass is better than no ass.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Valerie Young
And they don’t mean do a bad job. But they’re not letting perfectionism hold them back. It’s like they know the first version is never going to be as good as the tenth version. So, kind of get it out the door and you can course correct as you go along. So, they’re looking at it very differently.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, so there you have it. We have sort of five archetypes.

Valerie Young
Yeah, kind of competence types really.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so, let’s see. We got the knowledge, we got the natural genius, we got the soloist, we got the super students.

Valerie Young
Superwoman/Superman.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And what’s the fifth one?

Valerie Young
The perfectionist, the expert, the natural genius.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, perfectionist. Okay, got it. Interesting. So, each of these, they have sort of a lie that they’re clinging to and you sort of need to see the light based upon sort of where you fall in. And so, is there any kind of bridge you recommend that we cross in order to pull that off successfully or consistently?

Valerie Young
Yeah, I think it goes back to learning to think like a non-impostor. Like, when you’re having this moment where you’re holding yourself to these unrealistic unsustainable standards, to kind of step back and say, “How would a non-impostor think and feel and act in this same situation?”
And it’s not just competence that they think differently about. People who don’t feel like impostors also look at failure, mistakes, and criticisms differently and they have a different response to fear.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s cover each of these contrasts or distinctions then. So, how do we think like non-impostors in each of those contexts?

Valerie Young
Well, people who feel like impostors, experience shame when they fail, right? Nobody likes to fail and make a mistake, or have an off day, or have to struggle to master something, or have to ask for help. But when these things happen to non-impostors, they don’t experience shame. Impostors feel shame, and that’s a key difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, can we define shame here?

Valerie Young
I cannot give you a psychological version of that, a definition of shame.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess it’s different than, “Aw, shucks, that didn’t work out the way I wanted to.”

Valerie Young
Oh, no, no, it’s personal, by beating yourself up, embarrassment, humiliation.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m stupid. How could I have been so foolish, etc.?”

Valerie Young
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Valerie Young
It’s the difference between non-impostors, they recognize they have setbacks, they have failures, and I just want to be clear with people. It’s not that they’re okay with it. They can be crushingly disappointed. Think about sports, right? Intellectually we all know one team is going to win and one team is going to lose. One team is going to be crying in their towel on the sidelines at the end of the championship. But they don’t go home and hang up their uniform and quit, right? They go watch the game tape, they get more coaching, they get back in there, and they say, “We’ll get them next time.”

So, it’s really how you handle failures and setbacks that matter. And, again, you can be crushingly disappointed if you fail or fall short, but not ashamed. The only time you feel ashamed is if you didn’t try, or maybe you procrastinated to the very last minute, it didn’t really reflect your best effort, yeah, then shame is called for. But, otherwise, there’s no shame.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got it. And how about the next one?

Valerie Young
Well, let me just add one more to that because criticism is something that is really problematic for people with impostor syndrome. It wounds and crushes our soul, right? So, if you’re in a job and your boss tells you four things you did outstanding, right? You’re having your performance review, four things you’re outstanding, one thing you need to work on. What do you obsess over and feel horrible about, right?

It’s the equivalent of wanting to win an Oscar every time you make a film. But people who feel like impostors becomes over-personalized. So, if someone says, “That report was inadequate,” what we hear is, “I’m inadequate.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Valerie Young
And non-impostors not only see constructive feedback and criticism as invaluable, but they seek it out. They might pay coaches ridiculously good money, as I have in the past, to give them really direct honest feedback about how they can perform. Or even if someone says they did an outstanding job, the non-impostor will say, “Thank you so much. What’s one thing I could’ve done even better?”

Pete Mockaitis
There’s some distinction there between your performance and your, I guess, worthiness or goodness as a fundamental human being.

Valerie Young
Oh, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha. Cool.

Valerie Young
And to see yourself as kind of this work in progress, you’re always going to be getting better. And the last thing that non-impostors think differently about is fear. When I’m speaking to a large audience, Pete, I’ll often say, “How many of you would like to feel confident 24/7?” And lots of people raise their hand. And my response is always, “Good luck with that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, you know, it’s so funny. In almost, as you say that, I imagine a life that’s a little bit less exciting in terms of like if I always felt confident, I think I’d get bored. Like, a little bit of, “Oh, boy, can I handle this?” makes things kind of exciting for me.

Valerie Young
Well, yeah, and it’s normal, it’s realistic. Denzel Washington, before he walked on stage to be in a Broadway show in “Fences,” he said, “Well, you’re standing in the wings, if you don’t have that what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here moment, it’s time to hang it up.”

Pete Mockaitis
So, then how do the non-impostors handle a fear? They just sort of, like Denzel Washington say, “Yup, that’s there and it’s all good.”

Valerie Young
Absolutely. Some incredibly successful performers, artists, entertainers, singers, have terrible stage fright, but they don’t lean into the fear. I always recommend people understand that your body doesn’t know the difference between fear and excitement. You have sweaty palms, nervous stomach, dry throat. So, are you’re walking on stage, or into the job interview, or up to the podium, or whatever it might be, you just have to keep telling yourself, “I’m excited, I’m excited,” then you have to keep going regardless of how you feel.

Because what everyone is waiting for, Pete, is to feel more confident. And then it’s like, “Well, when I feel more confident, then I’ll do it.” No, it doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to do the thing, you’re like, “Maybe I can’t perform on Broadway, but I’m going to give it my best shot,” right? Put yourself out there and do it, learn from it, try again, and keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. That’s well-put. So, we’re waiting to feel more confident before we do it but that is just backwards. You’ve got to do it and then you’ll feel more confident.

Valerie Young
Absolutely. Or to really change your thoughts, start thinking like a non-impostor even though you don’t believe the new thought yet. Somebody said to me, I was speaking at a group, and she raised her hand, she said, “Well, this is great, Valerie. But what if you tell yourself all this stuff and you still don’t believe it?” And my response is, “No, trust me, you won’t believe it. You believe the old thoughts, the old impostor rulebook but you have to keep telling yourself.”

But if you just can say to yourself, “Aren’t I entitled to make a mistake once in a while? Aren’t I entitled to have an off day?” That’s the way non-impostors think. You may not 100% believe it that day, but over time you start thinking, “Yeah, I am entitled as the next person to get it wrong, have an off day, not know the answer.”

Pete Mockaitis
And you also have a strategy you recommend when it comes to reframing. Can we hear about this?

Valerie Young
Well, that really is the process of thinking like a non-impostor is to step back and to say, “Okay,” become consciously aware of the conversation going on in your head when you’re having a very normal impostor moment, and then try to reframe it the way you imagine a non-impostor would. I’ll share one of my favorite reframes was Daniel Boone, the wilderness explorer, who said, “I was never lost but I was bewildered once for three days.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good, yeah. And even if you’re successful, like you can frame that like an impostor or a non-impostor. Can you give us an example of that?

Valerie Young
I’m not sure what you’re asking. Say more about that.

Pete Mockaitis
So, Daniel Boone got lost and he reframed that as he was bewildered, which is cool. But sometimes an impostor can even frame a success or a good result or a victory in a non-affirming way about themselves. whereas the non-impostor would do so differently.

Valerie Young
Right. So, the impostor, I think this is what you’re getting at, might say, “Well, it’s only because I had help,” or, “It’s just, yeah, they say they love my presentation, but it’s just because they like me or was a good audience,” right? And those two things might be true, but you’re not including yourself in that equation.

And I think non-impostors make an effort to celebrate successes so that it becomes, whether it’s a conscious desire or not, but it kind of consciously wedge it in your mind and makes that connection between your efforts and outcome, and that you need to reward yourself. If we spent nearly enough time rewarding ourselves in positive ways for the little and big wins, there’ll be less for an impostor about.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, we had BJ Fogg on the show earlier who’s amazing and he was talking about how important it is to celebrate because he’s talking about the context of making habits, saying that emotions build habits, and most people are very bad at celebrating themselves, even if it’s just a little, “Nice job, Valerie,” like internally for three seconds. Most of us struggle with that.

Valerie Young
Absolutely. And I think it’s really important. As you said, even from small things, for folks who are familiar with making a list of things they’re grateful for to just step back at the end of a project and say, “I’m really happy that I did these three things,” or, “I did a good job,” or, “Good for you for trying,” regardless of the outcome. And I think that’s important, too, to not just celebrate the wins. It’s like, “Did you give it your best shot?”

You know, I got my book deal with Random House. I had a great agent, she took me around New York, we had two days of interview schedule with some of the biggest publishing houses in the industry. And I was pretty nervous for the first one. And the irony was not lost on me, Pete, pitching this book, right?

Pete Mockaitis
I have a log here. I can give you the top publishers.

Valerie Young
Right, exactly, looking at the skyline of Manhattan, sitting in these beautiful conference rooms. But I decided, no matter what, this when the iPhone just came out, I was going to get myself an iPhone for just kind of being in the running, right?

When my book came out, I’d already decided I was going to buy this painting. Again, a friend of mine said, “What if you buy this painting and then the book is a flop? It’s going to remind you of that all the time.” I said, “To the contrary, the picture is going to remind me that I gave it my best shot, and after that the outcome is out of my control.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That is good. Oh, we’re having so much fun here. I had lots of stuff I wanted to make sure we covered. So, I’m curious, for the hardcore impostors, whoever are like, “Okay, Valerie is saying some really encouraging things. But, no, I seriously don’t belong in my role.” Like, I guess at times our doubts about our capabilities are accurate.

Valerie Young
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how can we kind of get nuanced and appropriately distinguished? Like, what sort of just an impostory thought we should discard, like, “Oh, that’s silly,” versus what’s like, “Yeah, you’re right. I am kind of outmatched here, and I got to take some steps to get where I need to be”?

Valerie Young
Oh, well, you just said it right there. The reality is you may be in a situation, as we all probably have been at one time, where we’re really out of our element, or thrown into something where we’re really over our head. But, again, it goes back to the difference between saying, “I’m an impostor. They’re going to find out,” versus saying, “What an amazing learning opportunity. Let me marshal whatever resources there are available to me whether it’s time or brain power. Or, how can I grow into this position and recognize that I’m in the middle of a really, you know, I’m in a learning curve?”

Think about it. There are CEOs that go from the CEO of an insurance company to a manufacturing company. They have zero experience in manufacturing but they look at that, and, again, they’re scared by the way. There was a study out of the UK that found 80% of CEOs and 81% of managing directors sometimes feel out of their depth.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s encouraging. Thank you.

Valerie Young
But I think I look at it as a normal response to being in new situations. In a rapidly-changing world, whether technology-wise, or advancements, or just trends where you’re never going to know it all, and you’re never going to do everything perfectly yourself, and you don’t need to. There are other people who can, you know. We think we’re supposed to excel at everything but we’re not going to excel at everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, I was going to ask, so we had that 70% figure that’s been thrown around, and not that we need to slice and dice it 50 different ways as scientists sometimes like to do. But you shared an interesting stat there with 80% of CEOs feel out of their depth at times. Do we see the proportion of folks who feel impostory vary by either gender, industry, seniority, functional area? It sounds like the more senior people felt it even more than the 70%.

Valerie Young
Yeah, I do think the higher up you are, you go, the more susceptible you are. There’s more scrutiny, there’s farther to fall. If you’re in a highly-educated environment, like academia, or in certain scientific fields. Somebody said to me recently, Pete, I was speaking at a university, I think it was Michigan State, and she said, “This is crazy. I shouldn’t feel like an impostor. I have a PhD.” I said, “No, you feel like an impostor because you have a PhD because now people look at you a certain way.”

You’re right. Certain fields, creative fields, writing, acting, music, even producing. Chuck Lorre, producer of Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, other shows, have talked about feeling like a fraud when he walks out on a set. When you’re in a creative field, you’re only as good as your last book, your last performance. You’re being judged by subjective standards, by people whose job title is professional critic. People in medicine, technology, areas that are rapidly advancing and very information-dense, they also tend to be more susceptible.

Pete Mockaitis
And you wrote your book specifically for women. How do you think about gender in this?

Valerie Young
Women, as a group, tend to be, you know, we’re kind of generalizing here, right, they tend to be more susceptible for a host of reasons. But there are plenty of men who feel like impostors. And that’s one reason, honestly, I absolutely hate the title of my book. I hate it. I didn’t want it. I argued against it. Clearly, I lost the battle. And I hate it for a few reasons. It does leave men out, and men almost are always at my talks and when I speak in organizations, so it leaves men out, but also even women who, by any measure, are successful, we don’t often resonate with that term. So, you can have a junior in college in an engineering program, and she really could benefit from the book, but she’s not going to see herself in that title.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Valerie Young
When, what is her name, Sandberg, why am I forgetting her? Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook. Is that her name? Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Valerie Young
When she was asked a question by a reporter once, and the question was something like, “Do you consider yourself successful?” And she hesitated before she answered in the affirmative, but she hesitated, which I really get because success can also separate us from other people. So, I think it’s important to say here that sometimes we might hesitate in the face of achieving greater levels of success, and we think it’s confidence, and it could be, but it can also be other factors. Like, in varying iterations, success can separate us from other people. And if relationships are important to you, then that might kind of hold you back even on a very unconscious level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so let’s talk about sort of the long term here. I think we have a lot of great respect in terms of in the heat of the moment, reframing and thinking about things differently. When it comes to building your career, day after day, month after month, year after year, how do you think about this differently at all?

Valerie Young
Do you mean me or how would someone…?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s say those who experience impostor syndrome who are looking to grow their careers over the long term, do you have any pro tips from all your research here?

Valerie Young
Well, I think in some ways the answer is right in the question, that it’s always a long game, and the more you can see yourself as a work in progress and understand that you don’t need to know it all and have done it all. One thing that I think holds people back from becoming even more successful is we make this assumption that we have to know or already basically done that previous job before.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

Valerie Young
Again, a mind shift. Let me give you an example. There was a guy in my town here in Massachusetts who he was on the town select board for 12 years. He ran for reelection and he lost. Well, for a lot of people who feel like impostors that would just be devastating to lose this election. The next day this guy went out, he submitted the papers in Boston at the state house to run for state rep, which is like a statewide level. He was on the town level. He went to the next level.

And his quote was, “It was the next natural step.” And so, the message there is sometimes shooting higher after a setback is the next natural step. But that’s not going to be intuitive to people who feel like impostors.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And then when it comes even taking on specific challenges or opportunities that you don’t quite think you’re ready for, how do you evaluate those decisions?

Valerie Young
Well, I think it’s important to talk it through with people, but I would say there’s very few instances where I will tell somebody, “No, you really can’t do it.” I would say, “Jump in, trust that you can figure it out as you go along. Figure out who your support network is and how you’re going to learn and grow into this new role and just give it your best shot. But put your hat into the ring and understand that you’re being hired based on your capacity and your potential.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Valerie, I’d love to get, maybe before we shift gears into your favorite things, maybe. Could you share with us a couple quotations or stories from some of your most super-accomplished impostors?
Valerie Young
Oh, yeah. Yeah, there’s a guy at Stanford University, he said, “If I can get a PhD in astrophysics from Caltech, anybody can,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
“Because I’m a moron.”

Valerie Young
Right. Exactly. I had to point out to him that most of us can’t even balance our checkbook, so I don’t think so.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s awesome. More please.

Valerie Young
A famous quote, right? Jodie Foster did an interview on 60 Minutes many, many years ago, which she had gotten the Academy Awards for “The Accused.” Now, when she was at Yale University, she took time out of acting to go to Yale. She felt like an impostor when she got accepted into Yale, and she felt like an impostor when she got the Academy Award. And the quote was something to the effect of, “I kept waiting for them to come, knock on the door and take the Oscar back and say, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to Meryl Streep.’”

Which is fascinating because Meryl Streep, years later, did an interview with Ken Burns, and he asked her, “Do you think you’ll always act?” And her response was, “Well, I always think, ‘Who would want to see me act and what do I know about acting?’” It’s like the most Academy Award nominated actor of all times, right? If that doesn’t make you realize this is irrational, nothing will.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Thank you. Well, any final thoughts about impostor syndrome before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Valerie Young
I will say two seeds I want to plant. One is that when you think about it, Pete, there’s a certain amount of arrogance to the impostor syndrome because what we’re really saying is, “Other people are so stupid, they don’t realize we’re inept.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. It’s like you’re a master conman.

Valerie Young
Right. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re able to pull the wool over everybody’s eyes.

Valerie Young
Right. So, imagine if you would introduce me, Pete, “Valerie Young, internationally-recognized expert,” and I was like, “Oh, brother. Come on, Pete. I mean, have you ever had an expert on your show before? Seriously?”

Pete Mockaitis
One person in Canada recognizes me, that’s all that means.

Valerie Young
Well, no, it’s more about kind of insulting you. Like, “Do you got a house much or what, Pete? You picked me.” It assumes that whether it’s professors, or managers, or people who hired or promoted you, or clients, or customers are so inept that they don’t recognize you’re incompetent, which is very arrogant. The other thing I think people need to realize is that this is not all about them, that everyone loses when bright people play small.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Valerie Young
Somebody out there could be benefiting from your full range of knowledge and skills and potential. But when we hold back, there’s a consequence that go far beyond us.

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

Valerie Young
You know, this is not about impostor syndrome, but this is a quote that I’ve loved for many, many years, and it’s by the actor Will Smith who said, “Being realistic is the most commonly-travelled road to mediocrity.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. There it goes. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Valerie Young
I’m a big fan of Carol Dweck’s work. She wrote a book called “Mindset.” Honestly, I used to read her stuff in the academic literature, she’s in psychology, but people in academia write in such dense convoluted jargony ways that it’s not always easy to see the raw power in the findings. So, I read her stuff for many years.

Now, when she wrote her book “Mindset,” which is much more written in very accessible kind of way, it was like very conforming because she was doing all this quantitative research that confirmed everything I’ve been saying for the last 20 years about how people who don’t think like impostors, and impostors for that matter, how they think differently about competence basically.

So, it was very confirming. If you’re a parent, I think you’ll really enjoy her book. Let me give you one little, if I have a minute.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Valerie Young
One, I think her best exercises is to think about that typical kind of dinnertime conversation with school-age kids, which is, “What did you learn in school today?” to which they say, “Nothing,” which we did too, right, or, “I don’t remember.”

And Dweck said, “Wouldn’t it be more interesting if once a week, a couple times a month, you say, ‘Let’s all go around the table and talk about something that was difficult, challenging, or we failed at, and how we dealt with it. I’ll start.’” Because what you want to teach is resiliency.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Valerie Young
I was going to go back to kind of normalizing self-doubt, reframing and kind of keep going regardless.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they kind of quote it back to you often?

Valerie Young
Gosh, I don’t know. I hope it’s what I shared that the only way to stop feeling like an impostor is stop thinking like an impostor. Remember, nothing else. And if you truly understood you are entitled to make a mistake, be wrong, have an off day, there’ll be nothing to feel like an impostor about.

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

Valerie Young
It’s so easy. Just go to ImpostorSyndrome.com.

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

Valerie Young
Just don’t play small. Look for an opportunity. Well, let me say this. We’re all going to have an opportunity to feel stupid sometime in the next 24-48 hours, so step up, seize the opportunity, and just keep saying to yourself, “Somebody is going to get that cool job, somebody is going to do that cool thing, it might as well be me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Valerie, this has been a lot of fun. Thank you so much. And good luck in all of your adventures.

Valerie Young
Thank you so much, Pete, for having me. Great job.

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

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Laura Gassner Otting says: "Everybody, regardless of how extremely happy they seem, feels like something's missing."

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.

425: Achieving More by Constantly Embarrassing Yourself with Case Kenny

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Case Kenny says: "The most happy, fulfilled, creative, successful people I know are constantly embarrassing themselves."

Case Kenny shares his bro-tastic approaches to building confidence, achievement, and motivation.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How doing embarrassing things increases confidence
  2. How to balance striving with gratitude
  3. Two common motivational mistakes

About Case

Case Kenny is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PRSUIT.com and the host of the iTunes top podcast New Mindset, Who Dis?

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Case Kenny Interview Transcript

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

Case Kenny
Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me. Very excited.

Pete Mockaits
Well, I think we’ve got so much fun stuff to dig into when it comes to motivation and learning and personal development. We’re both total dorks for this. First, I’ll put you on the spot. I want to know you have apparently become fluent in both Arabic and Chinese. Is this correct?

Case Kenny
Fluent is gracious. It’s very nice to say. In college, which was eight, nine years ago at this point, I did major in Chinese and Arabic and then I also studied Hindi and Urdu as well because they’re derived from the foundation of Arabic.

At one point I was quite good at it. I lived in China for a bit, worked at a law firm, considered some government work for Arabic. At one point, totally geeking out on it every single day. I’m not finding myself using too often lately, but the base is there. I can read and write it decently now, but I’ve been meaning to find someone in Chicago to practice with. But it is a true statement.  Fluent is gracious though.

Pete Mockaits
That’s intriguing because I understand these are among the hardest languages to learn in that the characters are not quite looking like A, B, C, D over there. Do you have any pro tips on how you manage to develop a degree of proficiency in these languages?

Case Kenny
Oh man, yeah, they’re very different. Chinese, you need to have a very good memory and you need to have a very good ear. Memory for the characters, certainly because it is symbol based and then ear for the intonations. It’s a tonal language. You can say ‘mother, horse, what’ using the same word. Obviously those are very different meanings. You have to be able to hear that. I would say photographic memory would be super helpful for Chinese.

Arabic, it’s right to left. That is a bit different. But they do have an alphabet, so it makes sense there. The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it completely. That’s not necessarily saying you have to move somewhere, although that certainly helps.

But when I was studying it, it was every single day for three hours over four years. I was only decent at it. Imagine what you could do over ten years if you lived somewhere and you really wanted to do it. But honestly I think some people are just genetically predisposed to being good at languages, but I think anyone with enough practice and immersion can get decent at it.

Pete Mockaits
Let’s talk about learning how to learn. You’ve had a long-standing fascination with personal development as have I. I’d love to hear your story starting from little Case or whatever it’s appropriate to start.

Case Kenny
Sure.

Pete Mockaits
To how it’s pointed you into your current job and podcast and Prsuit. What’s the maybe three-ish minute story arc of how this has pointed you in these directions?

Case Kenny
Yeah, for sure. I think for me, if I’m being honest, my relationship with personal development, my journey to be here, candidly, it’s been a selfish one. It’s always been about me trying to better myself, trying to understand myself, trying to push myself. It was never a fascination with – I’m very interested in how humans adapt and grow.

It’s come to that point now, but initially it was never that way. It was never me sitting down and being like, “I’m very interested in human psychology or Adaptive Behavioral theory,” or anything like that. It was never that way. To be honest, it hasn’t been that longstanding. I’d say over the past five years is where I really came into that. That’s how I built my brand and everything that I do has been around that.

It was inherently personal and a bit selfish in a good way, not in a negative connotation, in that I just kind of looked at my life and what I was doing. I’m 30 now, so we’ll say 25 is really where I started getting into this. I was working Chicago, working at a couple different ad agencies.

I just kind of looked at my career, who I was, what I was doing, my sense of happiness and fulfillment. It seemed very passive to me. It didn’t seem like I was growing towards anything. I didn’t really have an idea of what I was doing. Typical Millennial stuff here. I felt kind of lost. I didn’t know the answers. Things weren’t that clear to me. I think that’s normal.

But on top of that it always just seemed like I wasn’t making decisions for myself. I was doing these things and hoping they would lead me to better places, hoping they would lead me to become more confident and more assured and centered and passionate and creative and all those things.

I just kind of took a step back and realized that vulnerably. I was like I’m not making decisions. I’m very passive right now. I’m not lean forward in my life. It was kind of that realization that just led me to a series of experiences where I did just that, I pushed myself for more experiences.

That’s a vague statement, but it was literally throughout my mid-20s pushing myself to do things that made me really uncomfortable, that made me realize that I can be much more active in my life.

It was kind of through that idea that I started really leaning into my career, which evolved to sales, which is a very lean forward, aggressive, confident kind of activity. And then leaning into my creative skillset, which at this point has become podcasting and writing and entrepreneurship and publishing, digital marketing, and things like that.

They all grew hand-in-hand, where I started to realize that I can make decisions for myself that can better myself both financially influence and then personally. They all just kind of came together and I’ve created this interesting ecosystem for myself, where my passion, my hobby, my career all are built around this idea of pushing myself and being uncomfortable and growing.

Along the way I’ve met a ton of great people, through my company, through my network, through reading and podcasting, things like that that made me realize that I’m very fascinated with this idea of personal development because it’s half science, it’s half theory, it’s half experiences. It’s very personal. I just really find a lot of value in that and that I could sit down and basically describe my experiences and people find value in that.

The more I lean into that, the more I podcast, the more I interview, the more I write, I, in turn, am learning from that. It’s a very meta-type experience for me, where I’m creating content around self-development and that content, in effect, is helping to push me to then create more. It’s just very authentic.

I say it all the time, even on my Instagram, I call myself a dude bro guy with perspective because I am a bit of a bro by any definition. I like going to the club. I like flashy things. Sometimes I’ll say things that people would roll their eyes at. I’m not an expert-

Pete Mockaits
You’ve hit the gym.

Case Kenny
Yeah, I work out.

Pete Mockaits
I can tell from your Instagram photos that you’re visiting the gym.

Case Kenny
Thanks man. Yeah, I try to get the gains. I try to get the protein. I do my thing. I’m not trying to be a life coach. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m not trying to do that. I’ve never even tried to be a thought leader. It’s always been about just being better.

Then I’ve always been a voracious writer. I love writing. I just started narrating my experiences and people seem to really enjoy it simply for the fact that I was vulnerable to say “I don’t know the answer.” Again, I’m a bit of a tool sometimes. Call it. I’m a bro. I’m a dude. I’m a guy. Whatever. But here are my thoughts and they might be helpful to you. That’s how my whole evolution has gone.

But again, it’s all around this idea of personal development that I’ve seen myself really, really adapt even in the past five years around this idea of leaning forward versus leaning back. That’s more than three minutes, but that’s kind of how I got into it. Just kind of looking at myself and wanting more of myself. It’s really opened the doors and kind of the world to me frankly.

Pete Mockaits
Well, that’s interesting. It really does come through. As I read Prsuit, available at Prsuit.com without the first U, P-R-S-U-I-T.com and your podcast, New Mindset, Who Dis? It took me a moment. Oh, like “New phone, who dis?” New Mindset, I get it now.

Case Kenny
You get it?

Pete Mockaits
Who Dis, the speech bubbles helped in the cover art. It does come through in terms of it’s vulnerable, it’s raw, it’s you just using your language. That’s fun.

That is just sort of resonant for folks because some people like the scientific flavor, like, “Hey, this study revealed these things with these numbers” Some people dig the poetic flowery expression, like, “Oh, that was a beautiful sentence and a quote that I’ll post to inspire me.” You’re just telling it like you see it in your authentic bro way. I just got a big canister of protein powder, so I can relate a little bit at times. I appreciate what you’re up to.

Let’s dig in then. This whole notion of leaning forward instead of backward and pushing yourself to do things that make you uncomfortable, well, I think that’s kind of easier said than done. How did you kind of start that momentum in terms of, “Hey, I am going to push myself to do this even though it’s uncomfortable?” Can you give us some specific examples of what made you uncomfortable and what you did?

Case Kenny
Yeah. I would say there’s a couple things in there that have really led me to realize that and that continued to push myself. It was basically the idea of I needed to embarrass myself more because now I would consider myself probably too confident, too much self-esteem. Sometimes it pours out of me in ways that people perceive as negative. But it used to be the direct opposite, where very self-conscious, very timid, didn’t want to speak up, just nervous in that respect.

Two things along the way made me realize that one, no one cares and two, the more you push yourself, the more you realize that.

The first going way back, before my mid-20s was waiting tables at Applebee’s. I think everyone should wait tables at some point in their lives. It teaches you so much about people. It teaches you so much about yourself. It teaches you all these skills. But that certainly made me realize you can pack in two years of human interaction experience in a summer waiting tables or whenever you’re waiting tables.

I know for your audience it might be for a good reason too late to go and wait tables because they’re professionals, but maybe for their kids or whatever. I found so much value in that. It gave me a little bit of a teaser that I kind of tucked away in my pocket and then kind of came back to realize now in my mid-20s, but of the power of that idea of understanding people really don’t care or people really aren’t watching you as much as they do.

I would leave that just there as a context to what I’m talking about here. Then the other one is it was when I turned 26 – 27 is I left my agency job in Chicago because I started having these feelings. If you know digital advertising agencies, it’s a bit of a grind, bit of a sweatshop. You learn a lot, don’t get me wrong. I’m very grateful for the experiences. But you don’t make a lot. It’s very ambiguous in how you can be successful. It’s a grind.

This idea in my head, I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable, not only of being impactful and using my skills in an impactful way, but also I wanted to make money, to be candid. I wanted to make money. I’ll never think there’s anything wrong with that. That’s where I hustled my way into a sales role.

That’s the second thing I think everyone should try to do at some point is some type of sales, whether it’s more blasé business development or a pure sales commission role. That’s where I came into my own because I’ve been in this role for a while.

The old Case, pre-sales verse post-sales, I’ve learned so much about myself. I embarrass myself regularly. I am awkward regularly. I am in rooms that I have no business being in. I’ve been able to make money, which is great, but it’s been those experiences where I’ve completely failed and crashed in a meeting, I’ve entertained so many clients, taking people out to dinners every night of the week. I’ve packed all this life experience into this short amount of time.

All of that is compete lean forward. You’re not going to be successful in that role without leaning forward. You can’t sit back and hope that “Oh, maybe I’ll be passionate about this or maybe it will lead me in the right direction.” I’m not even talking about being successful. I’m just talking about proving to yourself that you can do things.

It definitely started with that sales idea. From there, it’s basically just me in a mindset now of anytime I have the opportunity to do something or think of something and if my reaction to is I don’t want to do it because it makes me uncomfortable, I’ve honestly – people might go, “that’s bullshit” – but I force myself to do it now. I crave that experience because I know how powerful it will be for me.

And now, in retrospect, now  that I have my podcast and it’s doing well, I know I can talk about it as a good experience-driven piece of content, but someone the other day was like, “Hey Case, I want you to dress up as the Easter Bunny for this kid’s Easter celebration.”

Of course, I was like, “Oh my gosh, that sounds horribly embarrassing and something like I do not want to do it,” but then in the back of my head I’m like, “I should probably do that because it is both of those things and I should do that simply for that very fact.”

It’s thoughts like that that have really, really pushed me to do things where I’m likely to embarrass myself, but the result has been I’m so much more confident in myself, like light years. It’s really opened my eyes. That was a lot.

Pete Mockaits
Okay. I was right with you in terms of trying sales, crashing in meetings, you feel uncomfortable, you push yourself to do that, and where was our last 30 seconds here?

Case Kenny
It’s evolved from there. That idea of pushing myself forward in a business setting, where there’s a little bit more structure, has made me realize that I can take that concept of pushing myself to be uncomfortable outside of that. The result is now I really crave that idea of being uncomfortable, being awkward, being embarrassed.

It’s cliché to say, but I want to do it now, whereas before, any opportunity I had to sink into the shadows or sit in the back, I would do it. Now I want the direct opposite of that because I’ve seen how more powerful it has made me as far as just taking ownership of what I want to do. Along the way, it’s developed my confidence. I’m happier because I’m pushing myself in a direction that I’ve created rather than just coasting. But it definitely started with sales. I will give sales that credit.

Pete Mockaits
Yeah, that’s really intriguing how you have kind of rewired your fundamental reaction to stuff. That’s really cool. I’d love to get your take on if folks are just getting started, like, “Yeah, I am so not there. I very much prefer to not embarrass myself and prefer not to feel this discomfort, what would you recommend to be some of the very first steps?

Case Kenny
Yeah, I would ask them why they prefer that. My guess would be, “Well, it’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward. It’s embarrassing.” But my question would be, “Well, you’re basing that on an experience or two, where that happened to you.” I think life is about trial and error and you need a larger sample size. The most happy, fulfilled, creative, successful people I know are constantly embarrassing themselves.

One of my good friends is the CRO of a company in Chicago, billion-dollar company. The dude is bullheaded, so bullheaded he embarrasses himself all the time. You’d say, “Wow, a guy of that stature, a guy who’s a CRO, who’s buttoned-up, who’s very successful, you would think a guy like that never embarrasses himself,” but no, he does it all the time.

It sounds masochistic to be like, “You’ve got to go and embarrass yourself.” It’s not that. It’s just you put yourself in a position where you’re uncomfortable. That’s all it is. I think for people to be like, “Ah, I’m uncomfortable to do that,” I would say, “Okay, that’s a natural feeling.”

Feeling that way doesn’t make you any less in any respect. You just have to realize that you feel that way because you’ve only done it a couple times. The more that you do it, the more you realize it doesn’t matter.

Then the more you realize it doesn’t matter, I think you’ll come to realize that what separates confident, driven, creative people from people who are not that is their threshold for that thing. It’s like how much are they willing to go through, whether that’s awkwardness or discomfort or stress or frustration, it’s the threshold for that I think in any aspect of life that’s going to make you successful.

I think if you can kind of contextualize yourself within that spectrum and I think that’s what’s going to push you. It’s definitely like a mental chess game with yourself. You have to convince yourself, but once you do it to my point, it’s a little bit addicting because it’s like leveling up for me. I’m like accruing awkward points and I can cash them in for confidence. That’s how I see it literally.

It’s not a game certainly because it could be awkward, but I just see so much value, I’ve convinced myself that. I think if you start with that mindset, you’ll gradually find more momentum there.

Pete Mockaits
Well, that’s edifying in terms of viewing that awkward points as a currency and those experiences are right there, able to be turned into having more confidence or upgrade from it. Boy, just chewing on that for a while, it’s pretty fun. The formula then is – you say embarrass yourself. It’s not about streaking across town.

Case Kenny
Yeah, let’s be clear. It’s not falling flat on your face. Yeah.

Pete Mockaits
It’s about entering situations that you feel uncomfortable in, you have no business being there, you’re not yet adequate, competent, qualified to go there, but nonetheless, you’re going there. Because you’re there and you haven’t been there before, it feels kind of awkward, feels kind of uncomfortable and when you say some things, you might feel embarrassed and stupid.

Case Kenny
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaits
But after having done that a few times, you get the upgrade, like, “Oh yeah, I’ve done those sorts of meetings numerous times. It’s no big deal and I feel confident there.”

Case Kenny
Absolutely. Yup.

Pete Mockaits
I’d love to get your take a little bit on some practices when we’re talking about confidence with regard to maybe exercise or posture or meditation. Do any of these play into it for you?

Case Kenny
Yeah, certainly. Absolutely. I talk a lot about confidence. Meditation for me, I guess I have rampant ADD or something. I’ve never found it to work for me.

Really for me everything that I’ve found to be effective has been experience driven to the last five minutes that we’ve been talking about. I think certainly posture, the idea of a power stance, things like that helps.

But people sometimes read my content and listen to my podcast and they get a lot of it. But I’m assuming that people might also be like, “Case, there’s no science behind this,” or like, “Where’s the five steps,” or “Where’s the practices, the daily practices?” I don’t really know what to tell you because everything that I’ve learned to be impactful in my life has been mindset driven, hence the name of the podcast, New Mindset, Who Dis?

I have seen the power of the mind to be so much more impactful than the power of a five-step process or the power of something similar. That’s just the way I’ve always been because it’s always been easier for me to sit and think myself out of action, to sit and try meditation, for example. It’s been easy for me to sit in a corner and adopt a power stance.

But those are passive activities and I realize that if I want to have an active, lean-forward mentality towards life, I have to make my mind want to do those things. I have to basically trick myself or incentivize myself or motivate myself to want to act. That’s what I’ve come to realize about myself. It took 30 years call it, but that’s why everything for me goes back to my mindset.

It’s not about little practices that offer temporary growth or whatever. It’s about a sustained mindset that makes me want to do those things, that makes me want to be uncomfortable to grow because, again, I’ve seen the other side call it. I’ve seen where the grass is greener and I want to continue to go that way. To me it’s always been just about that mindset. Now I have it and it’s more sustained.

To me, I would much rather grow in a sustained way than adopt practices that, for me, just don’t work over time. They might work for someone else and that’s fantastic, but in my dude-bro-guy reality, apparently it’s more about getting my mind right and getting centered in that and then taking that with me every day.

Pete Mockaits
I’d love it if you could maybe articulate some particular new mindsets with regard to hey, old mindset and new mindset, whether that’s with regard to a belief or a vibe associated with each and sort of what are the implications that those new mindsets have brought?

Case Kenny
Yeah, one that I’ve been thinking about lately, I wrote about this somewhat frequently, but I did an episode and I called it Nah, Bigger. It’s actually the background on my phone. It’s Nah, N-A-H, comma Bigger, like the idea of I look at something or I think about something and I motivate myself to be like, “Nah, bigger.” I can think bigger. I can do better. I can do more. I can push myself more.

That’s the mindset, nothing unique in that necessarily. It’s the idea of pushing yourself, and in my case, the idea of pushing myself to be more uncomfortable, to be more successful, to be a better man, to be a better entrepreneur, to be a better content creator, whatever, to push myself. I’ve got all kinds of thoughts on how to motivate yourself to do that. But that’s one mindset that I talk a lot about.

But within that mindset, and I think a lot of people are very aggressive in setting goals for themselves, to want to do more and grow and all that. That’s always been great, but I’ve found that that mindset alone has really detracted from a bit of my happiness because I always want more. It was always the same way.

It’s like, “Oh, I make 50K, I’ll be happy.” Then I made 50K. It’s like, “Well, it’s got to be 100. I’ve got to make 100.” It’s like that. Then you’re always going to want more and you’re not going to be necessarily happy. I did another episode the other day and I called it Yeah, Grateful. Basically, that’s exactly what you think it would be. It’s the idea of being grateful.

Basically with this ‘nah, bigger’ verse ‘yeah, grateful’ mindset, it’s two mindsets that come together in the form of writing a list of things that you want to grow, basically your goals, and then things that you’re grateful for, your gratitude list or gratitude journal, whatever people want to call it. I combine those two and that’s offered a lot of just more centeredness and happiness for me.

The ability to place those two things side by side physically on a list – wish I had it here with me – and to be able to look at those things and it really balances you out.

That’s the mindset that’s been particularly impactful for me is that mindset of balance because it’s so easy, whether professionally or physically or creatively or personally, to get so ahead of yourself on wanting more and bigger and better and not balancing it with that gratitude and the result is you kind of drive yourself crazy.

I’ve always driven myself crazy with that, wanting more, wanting the podcast to be bigger, pursuit to make more money, to get bigger and stronger, all those things. When in reality, if I step back, there’s so many little things to be grateful for.

Life has really taught me that, whether through personal tragedies or just my own observation and introspection. Combine those two provides balance and balance is everything. You can have a million mindsets, but if you don’t balance them, you’re going to be all over the place. To me, that’s the biggest thing I think for personal growth and development is balance.

I talk to a lot of people who, even by their own admission, would be self-help junkies. They love it. They read the books, they listen to the podcast, they post the inspirational quotes, they’re all about it, but they’re not balanced.

A couple issues. Probably they love to consume and not act necessarily. But also they’re filling their mind with all these mindsets that are pushing them for more and more and more and more, better, better, better, growth, growth, growth and they’re not balancing it with the most centering thing you could possibly do, which is being thankful for what you have.

It’s a lot of clichés in there, but I think the idea of placing those two concepts side by side, that’s been the most powerful mindset that I’ve adopted. I preach to it a lot. It’s done a lot for me.

It’s centered me because I’m Mr. Self-Development. I’m supposed to be pushing myself and pushing people, but I think it’s taking a step back and balancing those two that’s going to make your self-development journey enjoyable, because otherwise what’s the point. Longwinded way of saying it’s balance, but I’ve found that to be really, really impactful.

Pete Mockaits
Well, yeah, I really like that notion. Gratitude’s come up several times before. But this is a little bit of a unique angle to put it right there side by side so that does just sort of change the whole energy and feel associated with your striving or your ambition.

Instead of it being in place of “Where I’m at right now is inadequate and I’m stressed about it,” to “Okay, there’s a big thing that’s pulling me forward. I’m excited for it and I’m also grateful for where I’ve come from and the way things are now.” That’s really awesome. I further want to get your take when it comes to the balance equation. In the world of pushing yourself and hustling and going for it versus resting, rejuvenation, self-care, how do you wrestle with those guys?

Case Kenny
Yeah. That’s a great question and my immediate answer would be I don’t know. I don’t have the best answer for you. I would tell anyone that. I would be lying if I was like, “Oh, it’s easy. You’ve got to do this.”

I would say that I’ve learned a lot in that respect because that defines me to a T and it’s tough though. Everything on Instagram makes you feel like you’re falling behind and you need to push yourself. The internet in its entirety does that to you. You’re going to feel like you’re running behind. I think there’s no real way around falling into that outside of realizing that you need to balance it otherwise you’re not going to be happy.

I think the past couple of years I pushed myself so hard that I came to realize it and I came to realize that through experience. It’s gotten to a point where I’ve found a really good balance.

I think a lot of people when they hear the word gratitude they think about things like, “Oh, I’ve got to do gratitude journaling. I’ve got to hop into an hour-long meditation session.” For me, it’s literally just writing one or two things down a day that I’m thankful for. It’s not a big, long process. Even that practice doesn’t really even do anything. It’s literally looking at those two lists side by side and realizing that you’re doing just fine.

That’s always been my idea of progress and success anyway is small, little incremental steps and looking at those rather than the big picture that offers a lot of fulfillment. I think people set these big goals and when they’re not there, they get really frustrated, but you can balance that by looking at the smaller goals and working towards those and marking those off and then respecting gratitude towards that along the way.

I don’t have the best balance. I think for me, I am in a lucky position to my point earlier that really everything I do selfishly helps me. It’s like I see the value in pushing myself from a business perspective, from a career perspective, but I know that it’s also helping me personally to my note about sales as well. They’re all very intertwined. I definitely recognize that it’s a unique scenario.

But I put myself in that position. I’ll pat myself on the back there. But I’m still learning to be honest. Late nights, always wanting more. I’ve got a whiteboard behind me of things that I’m working towards that I haven’t achieved yet. It weighs on my mind, but I also can look in the other room to my list of things that I’m grateful for and that always centers me. It’s a work in progress. I’ll say that.

Pete Mockaits
Well, are there particular sort of boundaries or rejuvenation practices that you undertake to stay in the game?

Case Kenny
Yeah. Here’s the dude bro answer. The gym certainly. I find music combined with activity just to be so extremely motivating and energizing. I can literally flip a switch – if I’m having a bad day and I can put on some good music. I listen to a lot of electronic music. The right song, the right genre can totally turn things around. It’s different for everyone. Not everyone’s going to respond to music that way. But to rejuvenate myself, it’s literally music.

You combine that with the gym or you combine that with walking around Chicago when it’s nice out, that does it completely for me, just to get out of the context where I’m frustrated. I think that’s a lesson that anyone can take. If you’re ever frustrated in the office or from your home office or the gym, if you’re frustrated with your gains or your body, it’s like you’ve got to get out of that context. You’ve got to remove yourself from it.

I think that does a lot for me. I realize that because I always used to shut myself in and kind of mull over the thing that was frustrating me, but removing myself from that has really made me realize one, there’s more, two, there’s things you can be grateful for, and three, there’s just more possibilities outside of what you’re hung up on.

Music is definitely a key ingredient there. People always make fun of me because I love my AirPods and I always have them in and people think I’m on calls and whatnot when I’m really just listening to music or forgot to take them out, but that’s how frequent it is for me because it keeps my energy and it keeps me excited.

There’s something very cathartic with good music. I listen to a lot of electronic, to my point, but trance music, which has a lot of climaxes and drops. It’s a very emotional kind of journey kind of thing. Kind of like classical music I suppose, a lot of builds. That just energizes you. It instills a sense of positivity in me and optimism. I just run with that.

Any time I’m frustrated, I try to remove myself, music, gym, outside, something like that. Not the usual – I don’t find go and hang out with friends that rejuvenating. I have great, amazing friends, but I wouldn’t look to social interaction to be the thing to rejuvenate me. If anything it makes me start to think of things relative to them and start comparing and whatnot. I find it to be going and do something like I just described and then coming back and working from that context.

Pete Mockaits
Understood. Well, I’m also curious when you’re having those times where maybe you just don’t feel like pushing yourself, like the motivation is low on that day, you mentioned music and the gym or activity are some of your go-to’s. Do you have any other things you do that bring the motivation back when it seems to be missing?

Case Kenny
Yeah. Certainly for me, since I am a writer – if someone asked me what I do, I would say I’m a writer, kind of translates into podcasting as well – it’s writing. I think if you’re ever frustrated with something or trying to break it down, it’s like whatever creative field can do that for you. For me, it’s writing.

When I sit down and just start writing about something, if it’s something that bothers me, that allows me to break it down. Sometimes I block myself in my own thoughts because I’m not forcing something tangible out of it, but when I write I have to put something on paper, so it really forces me to be more introspective.

Same with the podcast. When I create content, my episodes are only 20 minutes long, but it’s basically my own therapy session. Those are practices. They’re also my business. But they will allow me to kind of rejuvenate myself, be introspective, get something out of myself, grow, and at the same time basically document the process so that other people can get value out of it at the same time.

Again, these aren’t scientific practices. I’m not drilling down the latest study to help shift the mindset, but I really believe in the power of practices like this that really force you to understand how your mind works, what is blocking you and how you can be more lean-forward relative to it.

For me, it’s been writing. I can sit down and just start writing. I always joke, “I’ve just got a lot of feelings.” I would just start pouring them out. It works really well for me.

I started the podcast and I usually write down the majority of it beforehand in a very detailed outline. I’ve only been doing it for about eight months, but those eight months have been so much growth because I released episode 95 today and 95 episodes of my own experiences, my own funny stories, my own uncomfortable experiences, my own growth stories. Going through those and looking at them, that’s amazing double growth for me.

I’m pretty intentional with that, but, again, I found it a great mix for me personally that combines my skillset with my goal, which is to grow.

Pete Mockaits
Well, I’d love it, we talked about a lot of things that have been good to do, are there any kind of key mistakes or things that you recommend not doing as you’re pursing the cultivation of motivation and learning and growth?

Case Kenny
Yeah, of course. A couple things, I’m trying to avoid clichés here but it’s tough to avoid clichés in the self-help space because everyone said something at some point. It’s all about your own personal perspective on it.

But I think things to avoid are comparisons certainly. The idea of highlight reels verse behind the scenes. We tend to frustrate ourselves very much so when we compare ourselves, but we’re comparing our behind the scenes, our grind, our challenges with something that we see on social media, which is someone’s highlight reel.

We get really down on ourselves because we think we’re falling behind, we think we’re not extraordinary, we’re not doing good things, we’re slow, whatever, when in reality is if you’re going to compare, you should be comparing your behind the scenes with someone else’s behind the scenes. That’s easier said than done. It’s not that easy when people publish good things about themselves, not the struggles.

But I think people should come to realize that, especially in the day and age of Instagram and Facebook. Everything you see that people are putting out are going to be their either highly-filtered, highly-adjusted stories or it’s going to be the best moments of their life. People aren’t necessarily going to share the in betweens or the left of the spectrum.

I think unless you realize that, you’re going to feel like you’re falling behind and then it’s just kind of a vicious cycle. I definitely would say that’s a big one certainly.

Another one for me and it’s at the risk of sounding too full of myself, but it’s always been this idea of when I was younger and I would walk into a room of people, whether it was business or personal, I would always walk in with the hope that the group of people would like me. “Oh man, I hope they like me. I hope they see value in me.”

Now it’s really switched to that of, “I wonder if I will like them.” Not in like a pretentious way, “Oh they need to impress me,” or anything. It’s just a mindset shift where you’re not validating yourself through how other people react to you or how other people perceive you.

Certainly it’s important in your profession and in general that people have a good impression of you I suppose, but the mindset of hoping that your self-worth is going to be validated by their impression of you, that goes back to what I was saying earlier. That’s very passive. I’ve really adjusted my mindset against that.

I would say those two pop out at me, the idea of comparison and then the idea of a desire to be validated by other folks. I think those are easily addressed but the need to be lean forward, but then from there you’ve got to put more practices in place to push yourself. But I think those two things would certainly be things to avoid to answer your question.

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

Case Kenny
No, no, I think that’s it. I think for me, my growth, the things that I talk about it’s like you’re never set in stone on anything in particular. There’s no shame in pivoting and changing direction and anything like that. There’s nothing wrong with that.

If you’re doing one thing today – people see a negative connotation, flip-flopping or saying one thing one day and doing another or going left and then going right. I don’t see anything wrong with that. To me that means that you’re growing and you’re trying different things. I think that’s really powerful. I would never see any shame in changing your mind, in changing your perspective, in changing your political party. I don’t know.

I don’t see any shame with that because it means that you’re willing to experience a new perspective, a new routine, a new habit and that is how you get to know yourself, not through considering them and thinking about them. It’s through experiencing them. I would just add that. I found that to be really, really valuable in my life.

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

Case Kenny
Yeah, I figured you’d ask that. I’m going to quote Winnie-the-Pooh. I posted this on my Instagram the other day. But it’s the three-line quote where Pooh goes, “What day is it?” Then Piglet says, “It’s today.” Then Pooh goes, “My favorite day.” I just like that. People who know me, know I’m very optimistic. I just really love life to an extent. I just see so much upside to every day. That captures it. Today is my favorite day because it is today and I woke up today, so I love that quote.

Pete Mockaits
Well, you mentioned a couple times you don’t rely on studies, but I ask everybody. Do you have a favorite study, or experiment or bit of research?

Case Kenny
Oh boy. Can I say no? Off the top of my head, I don’t think I have one.

Pete Mockaits
All right. How about a favorite book?

Case Kenny
Favorite book. Ton of great self-help books. I know folks listening aren’t necessarily entrepreneurs, but The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is one of my favorite books for business. It’s basically this idea of starting a business you should test and test and test and then pivot and test and pivot, start small, start fast, be impatient and then you build businesses that way.

You don’t build businesses by working on it for a year and theorizing and then testing. You’ve got to test, test, test to understand what will do well.

To my point just a minute ago, I think that’s life. That’s what life’s all about. Test, test, test, see what works for you, and then build on that and you shouldn’t be afraid to pivot. I like that book because I am an entrepreneur, I am a business person, but I’m also really into self-development, so those worlds collide very nicely there. It’s a great book.

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

Case Kenny
LinkedIn certainly because my job, influence, creation is all about connections and that helps me network certainly.

Pete Mockaits
And a favorite habit?

Case Kenny
Favorite habit would be what I just described, updating the Nah, Bigger and Yeah, Grateful list. I do that if not every day, every other day. I would say weekly.

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

Case Kenny
Instagram is usually the best way to get ahold of me. It’s Case.Kenny on Instagram. Of course the podcast, New Mindset, Who Dis? or Prsuit, P-R-S-U-I-T. I’m the guy behind it all, so it’s pretty easy to find me.

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

Case Kenny
Yeah, I think to be awesome at your job you have to be happy as a person. I am, again, the self-development guy. I think that truly goes back to gratitude.

I’ve been in sales for a long time and it’s easy to be like, “I’m not making enough money. I’m not closing enough,” or yada, yada, yada. When in reality you take a step back and you did that Nah, Bigger verse Yeah, Grateful practice even in your profession, I think you’d realize that your growth is there, your progress is there, there’s a lot to be thankful for and to lean on that will make you happy.

When you’re happy, you preform and when you perform, you excel, and so on and so forth. I think gratitude would definitely fit into that context as well.

Pete Mockaits
Awesome. Well, Case, this has been a treat. Thanks so much. I wish you tons of luck with Prsuit and New Mindset, Who Dis, and all your adventures.

Case Kenny
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate it, man. This was great.

413: How to Exude Credibility with Rob Jolles

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Rob Jolles says: "The best way to make an audience uncomfortable is for you to be uncomfortable."

Rob Jolles provides practical wisdom on how to come across as more believable.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The number one reason why people don’t believe you
  2. How method acting can lead you into peak presenting performance
  3. Why you should embrace your own dysfunctions

About Rob

Rob Jolles is a sought-after speaker who teaches, entertains, and inspires audiences worldwide. His live programs around the world have enabled him to amass a client list of Fortune 500 companies including Toyota, Disney, GE, a dozen universities, and over 50 financial institutions. He is the best-selling author of six books, including his latest release, Why People Don’t Believe You…Building Credibility from the Inside Out.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Rob Jolles Lederman Interview Transcript

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

Rob Jolles
Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to dig in. I think you’ve got so much good stuff to share. Maybe you’ll be able to share it, if necessary, in a rapid format because you are a licensed auctioneer! How does one get licensed to be an auctioneer and tell us a tale or two of your auctioneering adventures?

Rob Jolles
Okay. Well, when you have a big mouth and you run it around for 30 years giving seminars, everybody assumes, “Hey, this guy can do anything on a stage.” But I want to tell you, in the State of Virginia, where I initially got licensed, it’s harder than it looks. It was 80 hours of certified instruction.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow.

Rob Jolles
To be allowed to take the three-and-a-half-hour exam. I had to study cattle and cars and horses and antiques. But really all I wanted, unfortunately there isn’t a license like this, all I wanted to do was be able to work charities. I felt like it was a good way of giving back, maybe using my skills for something really valuable.

That’s about nine and a half years ago. I took my courses. I got certified. I’ve been probably averaging an auction a month, maybe an auction every other month, but 95% for charities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s awesome. Then I guess if you’re doing it for charities, then you’re doing it for free. I’m wondering with all that education, what would an auctioneer be paid if he or she were doing a gig for a bankruptcy? Hey, we’ve got an auction. I’m the auctioneer. I’m well-trained and licensed and educated. What would that return in a gig?

Rob Jolles
Actually, it’s usually a percentage of profit there. For charity auctioneers, we’re not quite as fortunate. It’s a fraction of what I normally get paid. Actually, what I typically do with a charity is, I sort of get paid a little and then I never walk out the door with it. I just simply hand it back so that I can deduct from my taxes.
I want to stay true to the intent, which is there are certain things that we do in life that really have to pay the bills and keep the electric running and there are other times in life where we do things that are really just to help others.

When I speak at universities and things like that and they have a little honorarium, what’s the sense of me really taking that? I’m going to do something nice, let’s go all the way. That’s for charity. Now sometimes I’ll do a shopping center or I’ve done some universities. I’ll take a little something, but it’s a fraction of what I normally get.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Have you ever auctioned off anything crazy or strange or just noteworthy?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I’ll tell you the best thing I ever auctioned off. Believe it or not – and this is for anybody that’s ever thinking of putting an auction together, this is what you’re looking for. It’s not a yard sale.

When Letterman was still doing his show, we got two tickets to Letterman. Well, they’re free, but we got backstage passes and you can’t always do that. Then Marriot threw in a couple nights and we got two train tickets. When we packaged that altogether and particularly with that unique ability to get back stage, something you can’t really get on your own, sort of like Saturday Night Live tickets, that item went for a little over 30,000 dollars. It was fairly simple.

That and we also got one time I auctioned off tickets to the Academy Awards. Again, something you can’t normally get on your own. You’re not going to find it on Craigslist. Other than the limo, I think that was in the 30 – 35,000 dollar range. Those are the kind of things that really actually will excite an audience.

Pete Mockaitis
That is very clever. If there are any fundraisers in the house, there’s the trick. You get something you can’t get under normal circumstances. Then you package it together into a cool experience and there it is, the secret to a successful fundraising auction. Didn’t even know we were going to learn that today. Thank you.

But what I was planning on learning a bit about was some of the wisdom in your book, Why People Don’t Believe You. Great title. Tell us, what’s the big idea? Why don’t people believe you?

Rob Jolles
When you say big idea and I’m ready for you now because I actually thought, “What is the big idea? I better know that. It is my book.” I think the big idea is, there’s two of them. First of all, I’m pleased you like the title. It wasn’t my title, but most of us who write books, we’ll get everything but our title in there. The publisher typically knows more about titles than we do.

But the big idea in my original title was it’s not the words; it’s the tune. A lot of times, and I’m guilty of this spending 30 years of my career, of my life, running around the country teaching people what to say, what to say, what to say. We don’t really stop and say wait a minute. Let’s forget the words. How are we saying it? I’d say in a sense that’s part of the bigger picture of the book.
But to really drill down on your question, I think the biggest reason why people don’t believe us, as strange as this may sound, is we don’t believe us. Things in the book, I know they sound simple, but so are asking questions and listening, but who does that? It’s such a fundamental communication piece. The easiest way to be believed is to actually tell the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Rob Jolles
When you stop and think about that, do you have the best podcast out there? Well, from what I hear, it sure is, but you have to believe that. If it isn’t, you have to do everything you can to make it a great podcast, to put your heart and soul into it. If you go to bed at night and you truly believe that, you don’t have to worry about sounding authentic. Now you believe it and the tune will follow.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. Now, you’re getting me thinking here because we were talking just beforehand when I was stalking you and deciding whether or not to invite you. You passed. Nice job. You made reference to the greatest life insurance salesperson ever; Ben Feldman is his name, if anybody wants to take a look. I’m always intrigued by the greatest in the world.

I sort of listened to an interview with Ben Feldman. He doesn’t sound super engaging in the interview, but boy, does he believe in life insurance being just a powerful force for goodness for humanity. It’s clear that he believes that with a deep abiding passion, which is striking because I hadn’t thought of life insurance in that way before, but there you have that. The best in the world had that at a really high level.

Rob Jolles
Let’s put a cherry on that sundae because yup, he completely dominated the insurance industry for decades and I mean dominated from the sprawling metropolis of East Liverpool, Ohio. But how about this that we add to that story, the fact is he was the greatest that ever lived by the numbers. He spoke with a lisp. He was actually a fairly quiet guy.

He didn’t have any of the attributes that we naturally associate with the greatest salesperson, that Glengarry Glen Ross kind of Alex Baldwin character. He was the complete opposite. I guess when you hear that, whoever’s listening just remember that he was true to his own unique style. You can’t imitate this guy. The best imitation you do is of yourself. Not only did he believe in his product, he was true to his style. He didn’t emulate anyone but himself. That’s what made him really successful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, you’re telling the truth, you’re believing it deep down. If you’re not yet believing it, you’re doing all you can to get there with believing it in terms of improving the actual kind of facts of the situation. Then when it comes to the tune, how do we sing a tune that’s more appealing?

Rob Jolles
That’s interesting you say sing because as I was working through the manuscript I was actually at one point trying to create a musical score in a sense of the tune, but my musical score had places where we would pause, had places where we would change our pitch, had places where we would change our pace. Actually all found in music if you think about it.

Unfortunately, although I’ll work on pitch and pace and pause with people, the problem is every question you just asked me right now, I can’t go, “Okay, hang on one second. Let me figure out where my pitch goes up and let me figure out where I’m going to slow this down and where I’m going to speed it up.”

We do focus on pitch, pace, and pause, which to me are critical pieces. But the key is to get that authentic voice to do it without having to sort of stop and micromanage where those pieces are. I don’t know if when you’re talking to me, for instance, you’re gesturing with your hands, but imagine if we stopped and I said, “Point here. Put your hand up over there.” We want that to kind of become as natural as we can.

I think one of the secret sauces, if you will, of the book is actually thinking more like a method actor. What if we took ourselves and actually placed ourselves in the moment. I don’t mean just in the moment. I mean even the point we were just talking about, truly believing.

Well, maybe we’re getting beat up a little bit out there right now. Maybe our product is – it’s just been tough for us but weren’t there times in our life where everything we touched sort of worked out well, where we knew the next time we picked up the phone or knocked on a door, it was going to go well. The other six did.

Why can’t we as a method actor take ourselves to that moment? Are you telling me that when we knock on the door this time, we’re going to be less effective with that in our mind? That’s where that pitch, pace, and pause sometimes can come more naturally.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. You’re saying let’s not put our focus on “Okay, at this point in my second sentence, I’m going to drop my pitch low,” and sort of plan that out in great detail, but rather to get in the zone associated with when you were rocking, rolling, and believing and nailing it and high performing, so just sort of method acting into that spot and these things will sort of naturally follow well.

Could you maybe bring this all together in an example or a case study of someone whose credibility wasn’t so hot and then they did some things and they saw it really get hot again?

Rob Jolles
Sure. Actually, this whole book really began with me in a bad mood in a bad evening being asked to speak to a group called the Career Network Ministry, a group that just helps people in career transition. I don’t necessarily like to speak free a whole lot, but I bumbled my way in and figured I’ll talk to a dozen people and get this over with. There 250 to 300 people in the room. I’ve been volunteering for six years ever since. It was such a moving experience.

But one of the things I noticed in that room – and that was my petri dish, that’s where this started – was I noticed words. We were working on resumes – words. We were working on elevator pitches – words. We were working on LinkedIn sites – words. We were working on the words and nobody was focusing on the tune.

To answer your question, I actually stated about five and a half years ago I put together my first group of a dozen people. To get in this program, two days, you had to be unemployed a minimum of two years. Half my room was unemployed for over five years. That’s chronic unemployment.

We put on a two-day program. I bumbled and fumbled my way through it, but we were hitting on something because 10 of the 12 people were hired within three months. That’s when I realized, okay, we’ve got something.

But I’m telling you, going back on some of the questions you asked, I wasn’t working on the words in there. I took that elevator pitch – there’s some value in those – but I put it in the corner and we worked on their character. We worked on who they were, what they were, taking them through those moments of success and man, the hands and the words, and the pitch, and the pace, it followed.

But there’s an answer to your question. It was 10 for 12 coming out of the gate. That’s when I knew, I think we maybe even have a book here, but I’ve got to keep digging into this.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. Do tell, what are some of the most impactful transformational exercises or practices that make that come alive?

Rob Jolles
Wow, that’s a good question. One of them we were talking about is whenever I ask them anything, I really try and trim people down to what I call a communication shot clock. Look, there’s a shot clock in basketball. It keeps the game moving. There’s a shot clock in football, actually. It keeps the game moving. There may very well be a shot clock in baseball, they’re going to try it in preseason, to keep the game moving.

We are in a society now where books are getting smaller and people just don’t have that bandwidth to stay with us. Even our videos are four to six minutes in length. One of the things as an example was, stop talking to them, getting them up to speak, getting them into character, and working on their shot clock, meaning, trimming those questions down and saying, “Rather than giving me your three best points. Give me your best point. If I want more, I’ll ask for it.”

It was an example of really trying to get them a little bit quicker, a little bit lighter on their feet. As an example, that was one technique that we used.

Pete Mockaitis
Then you said with the shot clock, is there an optimal do you recommend time that you would put on the shot clock in terms of number of seconds that you would speak before being quiet?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I actually have a number and I’m going to give it to you, but please understand I’m answering your question, so it’s sort of like when I teach people to sell and I’m saying you’ve got to ask second and third level questions. The hand will go up and say, “Exactly how many?” It’s like, “Well, that’s going to really depend on the personality of the client, etcetera.”

But I really actually like 45 seconds. I think it’s a great number. If I go a minute and ten, that’s okay. If we go shorter, that’s okay too. A lot of the times if I’m dealing with a more social environment, more social client, I’ve kind of got the green light to go a little bit longer. If I’m dealing with a more dominant client, I’m probably going to trim back. There’s other variables.

But I love the conversation we’re having because I get frustrated when people are bobbing and weaving, saying, “But …” I think 45 seconds is a good target, but read your audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yes. That is a helpful benchmark because I think it’s possible that you can under speak as well. I’m just thinking about this. I said, “Hey, tell us about you becoming a licensed auctioneer.” It’s like, “I had 80 hours of instruction and then passed a three-hour exam.” It’s like, “Okay, well, Rob, this is really interesting.”

Rob Jolles
… on the show. You’re really talented.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that makes good sense in terms of it’s a very rough ballpark zone, but if you’re five seconds, it’s like, “Okay, do you hate me? What’s going on here?” It’s hard to form a connection. If you’re too long, it’s like, “Okay, I already sort of got the message I was after way earlier and ready to move on to something else.” I appreciate that. That’s one principle is the communication shot clock. What are some of the other practices or exercises that are really transformational here?

Rob Jolles
Well, I’m going to give you a couple more, but I want to give you a big picture here because if you study my career, I’m actually going at a different angle right now. I got my hardcore training with Xerox. You didn’t tie your shoe without a process of some sort at Xerox. But when you have a process, you have a way of measuring what you’re doing. When you can measure it, you can fix it. Boy, am I a repeatable, predictable process person.

Yet, the topic that we’re in, I’ve sort of had to look at the mirror and go it’s not all process-oriented. I sort of reframed it in my mind and I said it’s more about percentages, meaning. It’s sort of like when we eat, okay? “I’m a healthy person.” “Good. Well, what do you do?” “Well, I no longer put sugar in my coffee, just Stevia.” “That’s it?” “Yeah, that’s it.”

Well, okay. If you really do that all the time and you’re a big coffee drinker, I guess that’s about a one percent – two percent play. I don’t know if you’re healthier yet, but I guess it beats the alternative. But you look at healthy people’s example and they’re doing 15 – 20 things, exercise, this, that. Together, they create a formidable percentage.

What we’re talking about right now is really percentage plays. A communication shot clock gives us a couple of percentage plays. Truly believing in yourselves gives us percentage points. Taking ourselves mentally to a place where we’re successful gives up percentage points. I’m going to give you percentage points as opposed to process. Like I said, I’m almost arguing with me right now because I’m so bred into process, but we’re into a topic that is more percentage than process.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say percentage, you’re sort of using this as a label of a different means of thinking about approaches such that a process seems to apply if you do A, B, C, D, E, F, you’ll arrive at this end result, whereas percentage says, “Of the result you’re after, one thing can account for 5% of getting to the result and another thing can account for 10% of the thing.” Thusly, you’re kind of suggesting that an A, B, C, D, E process ain’t going to get you 100% of the way to where you want to be.

Rob Jolles
Exactly. Let me give you a percentage move as an example. Thank you because that’s exactly what I’m saying, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

Rob Jolles
A percentage move for me, a lot of people, for instance, when they’re struggling to be believed and they’re, “Okay, I’m going to believe in myself, this and that, but this company, they’re looking at four other people. One of them, I don’t know, they may have a better relationship.” Well, they might. They might not.

I love really actually focusing the brain on playing the course and not the opponent. I’m going to get percentage pieces out of this because by that I mean if you watch actually a good golfer it’s shocking. They never look at the scoreboard. For three days, they don’t look at the scoreboard. They don’t care.

They’ll look in the final two holes, three holes because they may have to change their strategy, but how in the world do you play a competitive event without looking around at your opponent? The answer is well, what value does looking at the opponent really have? If you sink a 40-foot putt, good for you. Me focusing on that not only doesn’t change a thing, it removes the focus from my putt. It removes the focus from what I’m doing.

I think, as an example, we spend too much time worrying about things we can’t control. Honestly, if I thought worrying about it would move the dial one percentage point, I would be the most competitive worrier you ever met, but it actually takes away. It doesn’t add. Things like playing, the course, not the opponent, things like accepting your limp.

You started the conversation about Ben Feldman. Again, look him up folks. Like I said, appearance-wise, he wasn’t necessarily that natural salesperson look or sound, but in a sense he had his own limp. We all walk with a limp. Do you know how many people are held back from their own ability to convince others because of their limp?

I lost my hair, I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I had to accept it. It’s one of my limps. But what I found is, the moment it stopped being important to me, it was never really important to anybody else. It was me that was focused and obsessed. If we take that example and look at people that just have certain issues, maybe they don’t have that natural punch in their voice, it’s okay. Don’t be somebody you’re not. Just move it from a two to a four, that’s all I’m asking.

But if we accept our limp, if we play that course.
We don’t have to misuse our imagination. That lovely quote I actually have by my coffee bar, “Worry is the misuse of your imagination.” It’s a wonderful quote. If we start removing those pieces, each thing I’m talking about is getting us a percent here and three percent here and two percent there. I can give you five more, but I think you’re getting the drift of it.

Pete Mockaitis
I am, I think, getting the drift of it. I imagine you’ve given me the biggest percentages already upfront. Is that fair to say?

Rob Jolles
It depends on the mood that I’m in. It actually depends on the person because when you’re communicating, for instance, if you just pay attention to your transitions – so many people will micromanage the body of whatever they’re communicating about, particularly presenters. If they actually micromanage the transitions and stuck their landing in the end and spent 90% of their time on the opening, they would increase their credibility.

Again, because it’s percentage plays, each percentage move will fit a different customer a different way, but yeah, I’m not wasting your time. I’m giving you ones that I think really resonate and I see get a big bang for the buck for most of the people that I’m working with.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh great. Now, I just want to make sure I got the transitions point clear. You’re just saying if you’re doing a presentation or a speech, you want to give some extra attention to how you’re transitioning from one section to another instead of fumbling or being awkward during those moments?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I did chuck that one in from left field, didn’t I? Absolutely. I train a lot of speakers. The irony is usually that the core of most presentations have oftentimes, particularly for corporate America, but oftentimes they’ve gone through a legal read. We can’t really change them all that much.

What makes a great communicator and an average communicator? It’s not the body of the message. It’s them coming out of the gate with an interesting story and idea, really addressing what’s in it for the client. Thinking out the beginning.

But to get right at what you just asked, the transitions, yeah, we probably have three or four major points. If I really think those out – I’m not a guy who believes in scripts – but if I actually write them out, maybe back them down to a Word outline, if I spend my time working on how I’m going from Point A to Point B and sewing that body together, as I said, coming out of the gate strong and sticking my landing, closing strongly, yeah, I’ll probably give one of the best presentations I’ve ever given. But it has very little to do with memorizing the body. That’s not where success lies.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting because the big chunks one, they may be unmovable because of legal review, two, you probably remember them just because one thing leads to another. “This is the story about how I formed an accountability group in college.” Hey, that’s one chunk and I know it. We’ll go and make it happen. But what I don’t know so much is how I’m going to move from maybe that piece to how friendship is important.

Rob Jolles
By the way, that’s the way most people do it. They’ll go … “Friendship is important,” but when they transition with, “We all have these different pieces I just mentioned, but there’s one piece that we don’t pay attention to and that’s friendship. You see, friendship is important,” something along that line so that it’s effortless. When people walk away they go, “Boy, that was really good.”

Now look, we could spend our time talking about presentations. I’m going to involve that audience. The more they talk, the more they typically like and trust that presenter. I’m going to do other things, but it’s the transitions even when we communicate and are not giving presentations.

What if we’re just in front of somebody giving a proposal, what if we’re having a conversation and we want to get the three major points, it’s that smooth transition as opposed to that bumpity, bump, bump, bump. It sounds like Pete wanted to talk about this one. That’s the one I want to avoid. That doesn’t sound authentic. We circle back to our topic, which is why people don’t believe you because it’s not sounding authentic.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. I get a real kick out of when the transition is too, “So, can I have your money?” and it’s done poorly. It’s like, “Oh, you poor guy. Well, I’m already on board with your vision, so it’s fine, but-“ Okay, awesome. Let’s dig into a little bit of this now. Believing in yourself, that sounds classic and helpful and essential, but in practice, if your belief in self is moderate, like “Yeah, I can do a decent job most of the time I guess,” how does one elevate that?

Rob Jolles
Yeah. Did you ever see there was a commercial done years ago by FedEx? It’s actually on YouTube. You can find it online. It was called The Stolen Idea.

It deals with a boss who’s asking for ideas. One guys says, “Well, we could probably save money by putting all our shipping in one area and using FedEx.” You could hear a pin drop. Five seconds later the boss says, “I’ve got it. We can put everything in one area. We can use FedEx to do it all. That’ll save us on shipping.” Everybody goes, “That’s brilliant.”

The guy says, “You just said the same thing I said only you did this,” and he’s moving his hands horizontally. The boss says, “Nope, I did this,” and he moves his hand vertically because that was his gesture. I actually look at that commercial and I think that’s our jumping off point. Yes, I know what FedEx was after and shame on that boss for stealing that idea. But we need to teach people how to do this. This matters. That moving of the hands, that really matters.

To me, it’s a matter of kind of oftentimes finding your real voice. Not finding some voice you saw on television or who you heard on a podcast, but finding your real voice.

I don’t know last time you’ve been on a plane, but when you’re on a plane and the flight attendant starts speaking, you think “It’s funny, he or she was just here. We had a nice conversation. But now I’m hearing this really weird singsong ….” That’s not a real voice.

Why is it that a lot of times when we’re presenting or when we’re under pressure, we start going after this I guess the voice we thought we were supposed to have? Nobody wants that. People just want to believe. They want that to be authentic.

I always look at people and I think, if we were two people having a beer or having a cup of coffee, would you still talk and walk and behave this way or would you just drop all that and have a conversation? It’s really about finding that real voice. Honestly, you don’t have to look that far.

I’ll whisper this to presenters right before they go on stage when they’re a little bit tight. The last words I’ll typically tell somebody is, “If you were walking into your living room, what would you feel and how would you take that stage? That’s your living room. Now go enjoy yourself.” Forget all that other nonsense. In the living room, it’s pretty easy. Well, that’s all the audience wants. Whether it’s 50 people, 500 people or 1 person, they’re in your living room. Go have a conversation. We don’t need anything but authenticity.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny when you say the living room, my first thought is, “Well, I’m taking off these dress shoes and putting on my slippers.”

Rob Jolles
Well, I knew a presenter who was actually very successful. Now this was in the ‘90s. But he was a finance person and a finance specialist, which already you think, “Well, okay. Here’s comes that big old suit.” But he would take his shoes off when he went on that stage.

It was kind of his shtick. It was like George Burns smoking a cigar or something. This was his shtick. He was the guy who would take his shoes off. But it worked for him. It wasn’t shtick. I got a chance to speak to him a couple times and he just wanted to get to a place where he was as comfortable as he could be because then he could take that communication and make them as comfortable as they can be.

Last thing about that, but it’s really important to understand that an audience really they want to enjoy themselves. They want you to be successful. The best way to make an audience uncomfortable is for you to be uncomfortable.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s very true.

Rob Jolles
Then they feel badly for you and then they have a problem. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. It hurts to watch somebody who’s bombing. They know they’re bombing. They’re nervous about bombing. It’s like, “Oh man.” It’s just fun to watch someone having fun. It’s like, “I’m not super into the content of what you’re saying, but it’s kind of enjoyable to watch you be into it. Yeah, take it away.”

Rob Jolles
Yeah, that’s the funny thing. If you think about some of the great – Johnny Carson or Jay Leno or Jimmy Fallon, what are some of the most enjoyable parts of the monologue or the conversation? When something bombs. They don’t put their head in their hand and they go, “Oh no. What happened here?” What they do is they just work with it.

The audience loves it because you didn’t make the audience feel sorry for you. You said to them in a sense, “I’m glad this happened. Let’s just work with it.” When you can take that with you and realize that what’s the worst happen, really just making them feel badly, so don’t. Away we go. It’s a lot easier up there than you think.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. I think I made some references to maybe college audiences and they’re just like, “We have no idea what this.” I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m getting old.” They all just sort of – you can just sort of laugh about that. It’s like, “Yup, okay.” Then away we go. As opposed to “Oh, that’s so stupid. I shouldn’t have made that allusion. Look up the dates next time, Pete. Oh! Bad, bad, bad.”

Rob Jolles
You know something, Pete? You hit on something else that I think is actually really important.  When we’re not in front of people, and remember we’re talking about building credibility, believing in yourself, and then taking that to others.

Do you know – and my wife helped me with this one – do you know how innocently that inner voice starts chirping at you of “If you had half a brain, you would have remembered to bring this with you on the road.” “Hey stupid, don’t forget that.” Do you know that that’s a lot more dangerous than we give it credit? It doesn’t have to be in front of anyone. It can just be with ourselves. But you keep beating yourself up like that, you’re going to start believing it.

I really some years ago decided it’s not okay to make fun of me and to start moaning and whining and complaining about certain things. People forget things. I’m two and a half million miles in the air, believe me I’ve forgot things in my bag. But I’ve decided – and it really works and I think it works for others – to be a lot kinder yourself.

Stop chirping and beating yourself up about things. Just like we would talk about in front of an audience, be nice to yourself when there isn’t an audience in front of you too.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to hit that point real quick. If you are in that mental habit, how does one kick it?

Rob Jolles
Yeah. Well, the first thing we have to do is we have to go from unconsciously incompetent, which is “Hey, that’s okay,” or “I don’t even notice it,” to really starting to become aware of it. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the four levels of conscious behavior, but we start with unconscious incompetency, which is sometimes we don’t know that we don’t know. That’s a dangerous place to be.

Well, that’s why you and I are having this conversation because now maybe we’ll be on the lookout for it. As a matter of fact, just talking about it, I can assure you, there are many people who are listening right now will go, “I do that, but I don’t mean anything by it.” I’m telling you it’s a cancer. It grows. You don’t realize it. Let’s move you to conscious incompetency, which means I want you to be aware when you do it.

Then let’s move to conscious competency. I want you to be a little robotic and every time it accidently happens, I want you to stop and correct it. I know that’s a little bit stiff and weird. Until we become unconsciously competent, when we do it and we don’t have to think about it anymore. But it’s natural to be on that scale. The first thing is we have to remind ourselves it’s not okay. It is not okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. Well, so now-

Rob Jolles
I said it’s not okay. Sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
That is not okay. I am now acknowledging what you said and moving to something new.

Rob Jolles
Okay. I’ve got to climb in through the window there. I was out there yelling at people. Okay, I’m back in. Let’s keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s talk about that process by which you take yourself back to a place in which you were successful and thusly you method act your way into having a high performance moment. In practice, what are the steps to make that happen?

Rob Jolles
Well, the first thing – I’m going to leave the corporation out. There’s a Fortune 500 company I’ve been working with on this. One of the things we did was, again, think method acting. What we did was we began to on a piece of paper create a character.

One of my favorite actors is Daniel Day-Lewis. I’m not sure he’s ever going to be in another movie again, but when he was – I don’t know if you saw Lincoln, but if you did, it was probably a little slower than you imagined. I knew it was going to be slow because I actually read a bunch of books on Lincoln and Lincoln wasn’t the most exciting person in the world. But on set, you had to call Daniel Day-Lewis either Mr. President or Mr. Lincoln. He doesn’t mess around.

When we’re talking, to answer your question, we’re talking about getting into character, sometimes we have to sit and actually think about that character. I did some acting earlier in my life. I remember the first play I was in I was Bennie Van Buren in Damn Yankees. I was supposed to play a 70-year-old. But I had a great director, who, by the way, I spoke to when I wrote this book and we talked about this.

I remember him saying, “What kind of car does Bennie drive? What kind of cereal does he eat? Tell me about his house. What’s his office look like?” What he was doing – at first I thought he was a lunatic. I don’t know. It’s just a character I’m playing. But he didn’t want me to learn the script. At some point I knew that character so well, I walked around, I was 70 years old in my mind.

What I do sometimes is actually get people on a piece of paper to begin to actually write out their character a little bit, not necessarily what kind of cereal do they eat, but tell me about your character. Perform some tasks in front of me like your character. Forget everything else. We clear the mind. We work on establishing a character.

Actually, for some people it will be three characters. It’s a more dominant character, it’s a more social character, and it’s a more analytical character. If you’re wondering why in the world I do that, it’s because I work with a lot of salespeople. We have to kind of mirror the character we see in front of us.

Maybe I’m very social, what if I’m talking to somebody who’s really dominant? Well, I’ll just play the role of a dominant person. Not so fast. You better understand – before you put that white glove on, you better understand that character, so we actually write it out and think about it. I actually give them simple questions, like a questionnaire. They begin to role play and really get in touch with that character. Then they can tap into it when they need it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, interesting. You’re mapping out upfront. You’re doing some role play there. We also had Todd Herman talk about his book, The Alter-Ego Effect. He recommended sometime putting on a blazer or glasses or something that sort of en-clothed cognition, sort of stepping into that all the more. That’s handy.

Then I’m also wondering is there some visualization or some key memories that you’re bringing up and how do you go about doing that part?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, that’s where we go into that piece about, for me at least, and remember, I frequently work with people who are selling. Look, what I’m trying to have them visualize are moments of dominance, moments of success.

It’s weird. I’m 26 years in business as a professional speaker and yet, just like everyone else, sometimes you’re as good as your last presentation, you’re as good as your last quarter and all of the sudden a speaker’s bureau threw three clients at me. I spoke to them on the phone. None of them wanted to hire me. What do you think I sound like on the fourth call?

What I’m trying to do is get to moments where when we do get three in a row, when we do knock it out of the park and somebody says, “Okay, now I have another client I want you to talk to.” That’s what I mean in terms of that visualization of “Okay, maybe I’m not there right now, but I can think back on when I was. What was I feeling like?” I sort of take myself to that moment.

Pete, it kind of comes back to that percentage play. I’m not guaranteeing you that we’re going to be successful right now, but I guarantee you this, having that mindset and being able to pull that memory down is going to pick up some percentage plays and that’s what I’m looking for. Again, it’s mental, but it’s there.

No one’s had a life of complete loss. It’s everybody. We win some; we lose some. We win some; we lose some. It’s when we lose some, a bunch in a row that all of the sudden the shoulders start to droop and we kind of start picking up the phone going in my mind, “I know this guy isn’t going to buy from me, but here we go.” That’s not going to work for anybody.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thinking right back to the hot streak, the winning moments. That’s good. That’s good.

Rob Jolles
Well, it’s the winning moments. I keep pushing everything into sales, but in presentations a lot of times, particularly when somebody is new or somebody – I’ll also whisper in their ear, track record because maybe people who are listening right now have got 10 or 20 years under their belt, but maybe this quarter hasn’t been so good. Or maybe they haven’t given a presentation in a while or they’re being put in an awkward position.

What’s your track record like? Most people go, “Usually I’m pretty good at that.” Okay, again I’m looking for a couple percentage moves. To get the experience, how about we focus on what usually happens. Pete, when you have a podcast, what usually happens? When I’m a guest on a podcast, it usually goes real well. Not all the time, but usually goes real well.

I’m better off kind of focusing on my track record. That’s to me another kind of really great visualization. It’s simple and it’s easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Well, tell me, is there anything that you recommend that we really don’t do? We’ve talked about the negative self-talk, not doing that. We talked about not stepping into who you think that you are supposed to be, but rather just using your own natural authentic voice. Any other top don’ts you want to make sure we highlight?

Rob Jolles
That’s a great question. I’m actually thinking of how I would address that. Yeah, I would say that I think we should stop being so fearful of dysfunction. We brought it up a little bit when maybe things don’t go well in front of an audience, but I think, again, whether it’s while we’re alone or whether we’re in groups, I like to tell people that I’m coaching or working with, let’s embrace that dysfunction a little bit.

Kind of going back to that limp a little bit, let’s remember that there’s only two types of people that don’t walk with a limp, that don’t have some level of dysfunction. They’re either not telling you the truth or they would have no ability to have compassion for another individual. Most of them really aren’t necessarily people I’d want to have as a client. I can tell you that much.

It’s funny, I wrote a piece one time where I said “knowledge is overrated.” Believe me, all the analytical practically followed me to the parking lot going, “Now what did you mean by that?” They were not happy.

I didn’t say it’s not important. I just said it’s overrated meaning as simple as it sounds, but I’m a guy that takes and has people record themselves, if we just work harder at asking questions and listening, if we just go a little easier on ourselves, if we embrace that dysfunction rather than run from it and understand, “That’s okay. That’s my limp. I’m not going to have trouble with it.” All those little pieces get us plays.

Just last real quick point, but I’m in a neighborhood where we’ve got a lot of dog walkers, including our Lilly, who we take for a walk. There’s not one but two dogs that are missing legs, a leg each. I got to tell you, it touches my heart because I look at them and I think I wish we were more like that because I promise, Pete, that dog doesn’t give a hootenanny that he’s missing a leg.

And neither does any other dog that’s walking by it. They’re sniffing. They’re curious where they might have been on that tree over there, but they don’t care. It’s not an issue. I wish we could learn lessons like that and remember that whatever it is and everybody’s got one, if it’s not a worry for you, it’s not a worry for the other dogs in the park. I promise you.

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

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I would say as strange as this conversation may have sound because we’re talking about some kind of wacky – once I said role and character, what is all that. I want to remind people they probably do this more often than they think.

An example I’ll give you is if you have children that you parent, don’t tell me that you don’t actually drop into role, meaning particularly for the younger ones, when they brought back a homework assignment that wasn’t quite right or something, we kind of look at our spouse and go, “Okay, I’ll go in there.” We play the role of disappointed. I’m actually not as disappointed. I love you so much. But for tonight Rob Jolles will be playing the role of disappointed.

I think we do that more naturally than we think. Where we explore this finding a character and getting into role, please remember there are times where we all play roles; you’re just not thinking about it as much. I want you to think about it. Then I want you to stop thinking about it again. But that would be the last thought I give you on that one.

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

Rob Jolles
I gave you one, which is “Worry is the misuse of your imagination.” Okay, now I’ll give you another one “We weren’t put on this earth to make a living. We were put on this earth to make a difference.”

It’s always meant something to me, particularly for a guy who – when I tell you I’ve got two and a half million miles in the air, Pete, part of you should smile and part of you should look concerned, meaning “Well, does this guy have a family? Does this guy have children? Does he get to a birthday party?”

I’m really blessed. I have a wonderful wife, Ronnie, who helped me realize that I was a little out of balance earlier in my career, and I’d never heard of that quote, nor did I take it to heart. But I really believe in balance. I’m no longer a 1K and that’s just fine by me. I think that we focus on that, things will go a lot better for us.

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

Rob Jolles
I’ll tell you a bit or research or a study. It kind of falls into an author I happen to like. He’s with my publisher, Berrett-Koehler. Name is Noah Blumenthal. But he studied – he wrote a book called Be the Hero, but he studied how easy it is for us to have negative opinions of others, particularly of others that have done us wrong, maybe a previous boss or a neighbor or somebody just that – the person at CVS, I don’t know, where it really rubbed us the wrong way.

He really got me thinking, and it’s really helped, that we really don’t know many of the people that we form opinions about. We really don’t know them that well. We create a scenario that’s usually very negative. Now that scenario might be right, but we actually don’t know whether it’s right or not.

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

Rob Jolles
I keep a journal. I’ve kept it for 22 years.
But what I found was by methodically being observant, which is a journal will do, because I will only write twice in my journal, on the way out and on the way back of a trip. I am almost OCDish. When we get to 10,000 feet, I’m putting a date and a location on that journal entry.

But it’s a tool that actually, particularly for the way back, that allows me to kind of figure out to stop, pause and in process say, “Okay, what do you think was working there and what do you think wasn’t working there?”

Like I said, I’ve been doing this 31 years, putting a mic around my neck and talking to audiences and yet, I want you to know Pete that I still want to get better and that means I still want to figure out “Okay, what did we do well? What can we improve?”

Very importantly, I always balance that feedback because I’ve said it too many times already, but this isn’t a beat-up session. A lot of times we undervalue taking time to figure out what we’re doing well, so we don’t do it by accident. But that’s been a tool. I probably have well over 3,000 pages of journal entries.

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

Rob Jolles
If you want to get at the most fundamental way to communicate, we have to ask questions and listen. That doesn’t just mean what you and I are doing right now or if we’re going one-on-one with a client or a prospect, even in front of an audience.

If you want to know what the amateurs and even the pros do wrong, if I put down the 20 biggest mistakes they make, 19 of them don’t equal number one, which is too much information and that means constricting the ability for that audience to communicate with you, even if it’s rhetorical questions.

But those little touches, those little “Turn to your left, look at that partner, and say three things here. Try two things there,” that ability to build a conversation as opposed to a lecture are very valuable. I would like to think that I’ve said it enough, that who knows, maybe people would associate that with me. I’d be proud if they did.

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

Rob Jolles
That’s an easy one. I would just take them to J-O-L-L-E-S.com that’s where you’ll find – I write something called a BLArticle. I am in my tenth year of BLArticles. That’s a blog-article. I just try – and by legal definition it’s 500 to 700 words. I just try and practice what we’re preaching, you and I, which is let’s not over communicate, but let’s provide value and drip out information. But anyway that’s where all sorts of information on me is.

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

Rob Jolles
Okay. Pete, you’re really coming at me. I like this. My final challenge would be I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you think is out there holding you back; get out of your own way. Pete, you and I have hit it over and over and over again. Just be kinder to yourself, accept whatever limp you have, and I can assure you, you’ve got one. That’s okay. Don’t let it be a big issue. It won’t be with anybody else.

Go in there, again, the easiest way to find that authentic you is just get up there, wherever it is, tell the truth. If the truth is a struggle right now, double back and figure out – I’ve got to rebrand, I’ve got to do something, but I’ve got to find a way of telling the truth. If you solve that, then you’ve got it made. The rest is easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Rob, this has been a blast. Thanks so much for bringing it. I wish you lots of luck with your speaking and all you’re up to.

Rob Jolles
Oh, I appreciate it. Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation.

412: Access Superpowers by Embracing Alter Egos with Todd Herman

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Todd Herman says: "We're tapping into really the great superpower that human beings have... our creative imagination."

Todd Herman shares how the concept of alter egos helps you become ideal you that a given situation calls for.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you should revisit your childhood superheroes and alter egos
  2. Enclothed cognition and Halloween lessons for being awesome at our jobs
  3. How to improve your visualization through all your senses

About Todd

Todd Herman is an award-winning author, performance advisor to athletes, leaders and public figures, and is a recipient of the Inc. 500 fastest growing company award. He’s been featured on the Today Show, Sky Business News, Inc Magazine and CBC National News. And lives in New York City with his young family.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Todd Herman Lederman Interview Transcript

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

Todd Herman
Pistol Pete, it’s a pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m already getting an alter ego.

Todd Herman
Well, Pete, I’m a farm kid, who has a family that nobody ever calls each other by their first name. Everyone has a nickname. So why not kick it off that way?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying it. I want to hear a little bit more about some of your youth, in particular you won the world’s largest Twister competition at age 16. Tell us all about this.

Todd Herman
Well, I think that’s the thing that should highlight everyone’s resume, right? That’s the one you want at the very top.

Yeah, when I was in high school I played high school football, captain of the team. Then I was on student council as well. I grew up in a family that was involved in politics, so we hosted – my small city in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, we hosted this big student counsel conference for North America, in fact. Well, western United States and Canada.

During one of the events – Medicine Hat, one of its claim to fames is we have the world’s largest teepee. We are rich in Native American history there. They decided that they would host a huge Twister competition during this student counsel thing. I just showed up to this. I didn’t what it was really all about. In the end I won it all in process of elimination.

They had, I don’t know, 1,800 mats or no. It wasn’t even that many. It was maybe 1,500 mats. Then it all whittled down until we finally had a champion and I was it.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, 1,500 mats. Is that four people or how many to a mat?

Todd Herman
There were six.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s pretty full.

Todd Herman
Yes. Yeah, six or seven people to a mat, something like that. Anyways, then they were like “The Guinness Book of World Records is here and you’ve now just broke the record.” I’m like “Fantastic. This is great.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. You’re a Twister champion. We need to know what did you do differently. What was the secret to your victory in terms of how did you pull this off where others fell short?

Todd Herman
I’m a highly competitive individual. Actually, when I think back to that, probably not knowing that it was some big competition, I thought we were just out there playing, so I was just engaged in the process. If I had thought that this was going to be like rounds of elimination, I probably would have maybe got a little bit too caught up in winning, but it was definitely focusing on the process.

I was already athletic. I was flexible so that helped. I think strategic thinking. You’ve got to be able to think ahead a few spots. You can’t put your hand on one area that’s going to cause you to have to twist in some sort of odd way to get your other hand in a circle that’s way off on the other side. Yeah, probably a combination of a bunch of those things.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So you were just engaged in the moment instead of fixated on the winning and that served you better?

Todd Herman
Yeah, yeah. 100%.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s a lesson right there.

Todd Herman
Yeah, and it served me well for 22 years now working with different pro-Olympic athletes, entrepreneurs, achievers, professionals on helping them to perform at their peak because as soon as you become outcome oriented, you’ve now pulled yourself out of the moment and the chances of you making mistakes go way up.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah. I also was curious about you’ve won the Global Leadership and Skill Development of the Year award twice. First of all, who issues that?

Todd Herman
There’s an awards company called the Stevie’s. They’re the biggest awards company in the business space. They give out tons of awards in a lot of different categories.

I’ve had my performance system put together in its current form for about 15 years. Then the last few years we’ve won the Global Leadership award twice. Then we won for the Global Leadership Training Team of the Year as well with it. Yeah, the Stevie’s is a great place to find really, really amazing people and companies and stuff doing good things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Well, I’d love to hear what are some of the keys to your victory there. I have a feeling one of them might be related to your book, but we want to hear the others too.

Todd Herman
Sure. Keys to victory, I don’t know because they have a judging panel that doesn’t really let you know that much. But we are pretty good at giving our case studies of our clients, highlighting them and then we do a discipline job of putting our stuff through a lot of rigor. We have third-party testing companies that come in and validate the result that we get with people.

There’s a company called the ROI Institute and they come in to companies all the time, typically large companies. We’re probably one of the smaller businesses that they’d be working with, but because a lot of my history is in corporate leadership development, I just took a look at the space that I was operating in, I’m like, well, this is an open hole where a lot of these kind of people that are making promises don’t actually have much validation, so let’s bring this in as a point of differentiation.

Yeah, so things like that. Judges, they like to see things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

You have my respect because I’m of like mind. if you don’t have an ROI, it’s hard to justify spending real time and money on the program even if it is a good time.

Todd Herman
Well, part of our mission for our company as well is to elevate the critical thinking skills of humanity. That doesn’t sound super sexy to people, elevate the critical thinking skills, but when you think of the problems and most of the issues that people find themselves caught up in, it’s because they’re typically operating and responding to circumstances or issues emotionally.

You take a look at the current state of the world. Maybe some of the leaders that are out there that are leading it, they are not great purveyors of the idea of critical thinking. I want to model that in the way that we do our business.

I think that just even for the listeners, I think that we’re in a day and age now where there should be a lot more being demanded of the people who are there to help you get from Point A to Point B. This idea of anecdotal, “Hey, I did it and you can too,” is, in my opinion, of a bygone era because there is no systemization in that.

That’s one of my biggest issues with the personal development, self-help and leadership world is that there’s just a lot of false prophets standing on top of great marketing that if I can be a part of a movement that takes a big swinging chisel and axe to that, then I’m happy to knock that down because I don’t like to put myself out there as a personal brand or as someone who stands on top of – no, I’ve got a very specific skillset.

I’m very, very good at what it is that I do, but I stay in my lane, whereas a lot of people like to over promise that they can solve all of your issues. I can’t do that. I think it hurts more people and it leads them down and wastes time on a path that is truly not going to get them to where they need to go or want to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Todd, we are kindred spirits. I am inspired by your vision. Keep doing what you’re doing and maybe we should cofound a company together. Loving it.

Todd Herman
In the future. In the future.

Pete Mockaitis
Loving it. All right, well, let’s talk about your book here, The Alter Ego Effect. I got such a kick out of checking this one out because I resonate on so many levels, but I’m going to give you the floor here. What’s the big idea behind The Alter Ego Effect?

Todd Herman
Well, the big idea is that we all have used alter egos and we stepped into them when we were kids when we would play with superheroes or be our favorite hockey player or basketball player when we were kids or when we were pretending to be firemen or cowboys or astronauts. We played with this idea. We actually played with the idea of alter egos as children.

What we’re doing when we’re doing that is we’re tapping into really the great superpower that human beings have, which is our creative imagination. We’re the only ones on the planet that can create heavens from hell, hells from heaven, that we create narrative and amazing story in our minds.

Sometimes that narrative and story hurts more than it helps for many reasons. Trauma is one thing. Imposter syndrome is an insidious little force that the enemy likes to use to pull us into the, what I call in the book, the trapped self.

Really, the big idea for people is that this is actually something that allows you to pull the most really authentic version of who you are and what you can do out onto whatever chosen field of play you’re using it to activate on. It’s not strange. It’s not weird. It’s not being fake. It’s not inauthentic. In fact, phenomenal leaders both in sport, business, public figures have used it to accomplish amazing things and get out of their own way.

When you think about some of the biggest challenges, complaints that people have when they say, “Why aren’t you able to do the things that you want to do or you’re not getting the results that you want to get,” a large chunk of them are mental. It’s mental blocks. It’s resistance.

Alter ego, it’s what I’m known for within pro sports, Olympic sport is building alter egos for athletes. Then that expanded out into working with a lot more entrepreneurs and executives and people in professional environments to do the same thing to help them navigate that kind of internal resistance and move away from it. It’s an extremely elegant, graceful and perseverant way of battling what can be resistance that stops many people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really fun. I totally jive with what you’re saying with regard to as a kid I totally pretended to be a superhero. I still have a Superman costume made to my measurements. Fun fact.

Todd Herman
That’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
I wear it on Halloween. I wish I had more opportunities to wear it in normal times, but they just don’t appear. There aren’t superhero themed parties, at least in my world. Maybe I should get some more Comic-Con type friends.

Todd Herman
Pete, you need to dial that. That’s the one great benefit of living in New York City, every type of party is at our fingertips here.

You just brought up something really interesting. I think it’s important for the listeners too to talk about this concept is you brought up Halloween. When you think about Halloween, Halloween is my favorite night of the year.

I don’t know where people believe on the whole Myers Brigg thing. I think it’s a good sentiment. It’s not something that’s going to solve all your problems, but when I took the Myers Briggs, when the person came back in from doing the analysis, she’s like, “Well, I think we might need to revisit this test because you just broke the extroversion side of things. You’re about as far to that scale as you could possibly get.”

For me, Halloween was always like everyone else is finally invited to my party that I live every single day of the year. I’ve got zero qualms about approaching people and talking to people. My mind frame around that is I just fundamentally feel that everyone likes to have a new good friend. No one is out there saying, “I don’t need any good friends.”

That’s why I have zero resistance to talking to anybody. I don’t put anyone up on pedestals. I don’t look down on anybody. I think everyone has a fascinating story to tell. All of those mindsets allow me to just operate in relationships very easily.

Then what happens on Halloween, people put on costumes and the moment that they do, they start stepping outside of their quote/unquote normal personality and they start to don the maybe behavior of whoever it is that they are wearing.

Now, this is an important part because this is actually something I talk about in the book. Halloween is a good example of a psychological phenomenon called enclothed cognition, which we were going to talk about at some point in time during our interview, but this is just kind of a good segue into it.

Enclothed cognition is this phenomenon that happens when human beings, we add meaning and story to the things that we wear and others wear. When we see someone with a police uniform on, we start to automatically assume some things about that person. Depending on whatever your personal experience is of that uniform. Some people it could be very negative. Sometimes it just adds an overall, overarching idea. Policemen, okay, it’s they’re disciplined or they’re stern or whatever it might be. We do that.

However, what I like to do is because I’m someone who is – one of my issues, again, with that self-help personal development stuff is that people put out a lot of ideas that sound like they’re going to work. They sound nice as well. They’re very palatable. It’s almost like I look at a lot of books that are out there and I’m like, it’s cotton candy, it’s popsicles, it’s rainbows. It looks nice, but it ain’t satisfying. It doesn’t do the job.

I’m a practitioner. I work with people one-on-one and have for over 20 years, over 16,000 hours now. When you’re working with someone one-on-one, Pete, and I give you a strategy to go and implement, what happens? You come right back around next week and you tell me what? Todd, that didn’t work.

How I know the people that have got the chops and don’t have the chops, if you have never worked with people one-on-one on this, you don’t have the chops. You don’t have the chops because you have not been put under the white hot light of performance. You haven’t been put under the white hot light of getting people results.

I am working with existing phenomena that naturally occur inside the brain. This is just one of them. I just want to find a way to leverage it. Alter ego helps to leverage this idea of enclothed cognition because what we do then – a study was done at the Kellogg School of Management. What they did was they brought a bunch of students into a room. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those word puzzles where you’ve got the word of a color, but then it’s colored differently than the word.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh right.

Todd Herman
Right, so it says green, but it’s yellow. Then it’s the word red, but it’s done in orange. What you need to do is actually say the word, which is quite difficult because the brain processes color faster than it does the word. They time you to see how quickly you can go through this grid of different words. They bring in these students and they get them to do it. They’re testing their attention, their accuracy, their detail and how quickly they can get it done and the mistakes that they make.

Then those students finish and they move them out of the room and they bring in a new group of students. This time they hand them a white coat to put on. They tell them it’s a painter’s coat. They put on the painters coat and they do the exact same test. They leave and then they bring in another group of people. They hand them the exact same white coat, except this time they tell them that it’s a lab coat or a doctor’s coat. Then they do the test.

Well, the difference in results between the painter’s coat people and the people who were just in their plain clothes was nothing. But the difference between the people who had the lab coat and the doctor’s coat and everyone else was they did it in less than half the time, they showed higher degrees of focus and concentration and they made less than half the mistakes.

Well, why is it? Because when they put on the white lab coat or doctor’s coat, they enclothed themselves in the cognitive skill set of someone that is careful, methodical, detailed because that’s what we ascribe to those types of people.

Why didn’t it work for the people that had the painter’s coat on? Because when you put on a painter’s coat, you’re enclothing yourself in the meaning, the cognitive meaning, of someone who’s creative, who might be more expressive. That doesn’t help you with that specific task.

Then they flip the task and this time they give everybody a task of a creative task, a painting actually. Now the people with the lab coat/doctor’s coat did the exact same as the plainclothes people, but the people with the painter’s coat on, they’re more expressive. They finish the project and get higher marks than the other people.

This is a naturally occurring phenomenon. When I’m trying to help people make change happen, the silliest to do is to do what has been bandied about in the self-help personal world for the longest time as the number one way that we should defeat resistance and win, which is just do it. Willpower. Willpower they think is just this massively powerful force that human beings can use to win at life.

Here’s what I can tell you. On the field of play, of performance, willpower is like a mouse staring down at a herd of rumbling elephants coming towards it. It’s the conscious versus the unconscious. The conscious is that rumbling herd of elephants and that conscious thinking of willpower and toughing it out. All that is so much smaller in comparison.

But what is our superpower that we have to defeat resistance that’s bigger than that other force of rumbling elephants? Well, it’s our creative imagination. That’s what’s there. That psychological phenomenon of enclothed cognition is about tapping into that a little bit by using an alter ego.

It’s like the backdoor to performance we can actually gracefully move around that rumbling herd, let it go do its thing. We’re going to suspend our disbelief about what we think we can and cannot do for the moment and we are going to step in and use the power of someone or something else to actually activate the qualities that we want to go show up on that field for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so fascinating and so many things to chase after. I’m resonating from my own experience in terms of boy just pick the task. There’s sort of an outfit that goes with it and I’m raring to go, whether that’s “Hey, we’re going to go for a long run.”

I guess I’m thinking about doing jobs around the house with tools. It’s like I want to put on my John Deere hat and some dirty jeans and play some country music while I’m at. It’s like I’m a central Illinois, Midwestern boy who’s not afraid of some hard work and that’s just what’s going to happen here. Maybe buy a Ford truck while I’m at it. That kind of picture is what I adopt. I think it helps. It at least makes it more fun.

Todd Herman
At the end of the day, Pete, if it did nothing else but make it more fun, then who cares, right? When we think about life and if the listener is being really honest about what life is like for the most part – there’s a lot of mundane stuff that we all have to do. Then there’s a lot of challenging things that when you’re an ambitious person or you’re striving or you’re trying to achieve things, there’s just natural obstacles that you come up against.

If there’s nothing else that people took away from this idea, which is, by the way, 100% proven out. Every single human being that is listening to this has 100% used this. Why? Because it’s a naturally occurring part of the human psyche. You just can’t escape it. We all have played with ideas in our head.

That wasn’t you being weird, strange, multiple personality disorder. Nothing. That’s literally built into our way to navigate the challenging parts of your life with more grace. But if you did nothing else and all of the sudden life was a little bit more playful, what a huge win. What a huge win that would give someone to be that way.

Whatever, if all the sudden you became Farmer Pete for that 90 minutes that you’re outside cutting the grass and you’ve got the straw in your mouth and you’ve got the John Deere hat on, by the way, that’s not a stereotype, looking down at people because, at the end of the day, I am a huge farm and ranch kid. I grew up on a 10,000 plus acre farm and ranch. I’ve got more affinity towards that world than I do of any other world.

But who cares if you go and you play that character. You’re not being weird and you’re not being un-Pete-like. You’re being the most Pete-like person you can be in that moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. Yeah. In Danville, Illinois there’s plenty of that. We’ve got some hard data from that Kellogg study. We’ve got some notions that it’s sort of intrinsic to the human psychological experience.

Could you maybe orient us to a pretty cool case study or transformation that illustrates this in practice, like we’ve got someone who’s performing not as well as they want to, they adopted an alter ego in this sort of a way and this sort of an alter ego, and then they kind of lived it out and experienced an enhanced result?

Todd Herman
Yeah. I’ll go to probably the most fascinating one as an example of one that always catches people off guard. It leads off the book actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh Bo Jackson.

Todd Herman
It’s with Bo Jackson. Bo Jackson for people who don’t know is one of the greatest athletes to ever walk the planet. He’s the only athlete in the history of major sports to be an All Star in two of them the same year. That’s Major League Baseball and the National Football League.

I was down in Georgia doing a talk. I was waiting in the green room ready to go out and into the green room walks Bo Jackson, this phenomenal physical specimen. In my head I’m like, “Oh my God, that’s the guy that I played on Nintendo when I was a kid.” He walked over to me right away. He said, “Hi, I’m Bo Jackson.” I said, “Yeah, I know who you are. You won me a lot of games on Tecmo Bowl when I was a kid.” He laughed.

He said, “You’re not the first one to say that. Are you speaking today?” I said, “Yeah, I’m going on stage next.” He said, “Oh, what are you going to be talking about?”

I said, “Well, I’m going to talk to them about mental game, but specifically I’m going to talk to the coaches and the players about using alter egos to help really unlock their performance and show up on the field and actually find the zone and flow state with it because you’re now getting out of your own way and you’re activating this imagination, which helps you perform.”

He just looked at me and he kind of got this weird look on his face like someone had just solved a mystery of life to him. He cocked his head to the side and he was like, “Bo Jackson never played a down of football his entire life.” I was like, “Interesting. Tell me more.”

He was like, “Yeah, when I was a youngster – people who know my backstory, I was a really angry kid. I would get myself into a lot of trouble. While it sounds like being angry would help you on the football field to dominate people, it would actually get me into bad penalties. I was a little bit uncoachable.

One night I was watching a movie and I saw this character come on the screen who was cold, calculating, methodical, unemotional, all of the things that I kind of wanted to be when I was out there. I thought to myself, ‘Wait a second. Why don’t I go out as that person instead of me?’”

It was Jason from Friday the XIII. His alter ego was actually Jason, which sounds crazy to some people because why would you want to activate, if you’re already angry, someone who’s a serial killer, but this is the power of this stuff is that it’s what your great takeaway was based on what maybe your issue might be or what you’re looking for.

He was looking for being more unemotional, more calculating with himself when he was performing. That’s what he did. When he put on his football helmet when he walked out onto the field, when his foot hit that field, that’s where Jason lived and Jason would enter him.

He unconsciously did almost every single step of the process that I talk about in the book perfectly. He created a context because he wasn’t Jason off the field; he was Jason on the field. He took the qualities that he most wanted that were the reverse of his frustrations and that’s what he found in his inspiration, which was Jason.

He actually leveraged an existing story, which is when you were looking for maybe places of inspiration, it’s a lot easier to just use characters that have already been built, whether in movies or whether in comic books or whether in your favorite TV show or whether it’s your favorite fictional book or existing people from your own personal life.

If there is a quality of an alter ego that is most popular or a type, it’s actually grandmothers. Grandmothers for me is the most popular alter ego that people use for whatever reason. There’s just many grandmothers that are inspiring to many people that are out there. There are specific qualities about them that they’re trying to activate.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re own grandmother?

Todd Herman
Yeah, they’re own grandmother.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Todd Herman
Yeah, 100%. Yeah, 100%.

Pete Mockaitis
Not an archetype.

Todd Herman
I’ve got a wealth manager here in New York worth just more money than people would need definitely and that’s what his is. He’s a hard charging person and could naturally fall into a bullying type, but when he started growing his company to be a lot larger and really having to adopt way more of a leadership role as opposed to a trading role in his business, it was just grating on the business and he was just turning over staff way more. That costs your business a lot.

When I started working with him and we started talking about leadership qualities, who he’s seen them in the past, he started talking about his grandmother. He wasn’t talking about his grandmother right off the bat. I just asked him a question and he started talking about her. It wasn’t really in the context of being a phenomenal leader. Then he started saying other people in business that he was maybe inspired by.

I said to him, “I don’t think so. I think 100% the most important leader that’s been around you is your grandmother.” We just unpacked that more. When he’s going into have performance meetings or he needs to have leadership conversations or challenging conversations with people, that’s who he stepped into was more his grandmother. Now he doesn’t need to use that alter ego anymore because he actually became that person that he more wanted to be.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, I’d love it if maybe we could take on an example. I imagine we’ll have to fast-track it because it probably takes a good while. That’s fine to push the fast forward button repeatedly.

Let’s say – this is semi-true for me right now – I find that I’m getting so many ideas, which is really fun and exciting and cool when I’m sitting down to work, that I’m digging it. I’m sort of chasing after them and exploring them. But then I look at what I had hoped to accomplish in a day and there’s quite a mismatch.

It’s like, oh, I chased a lot of cool, interesting ideas, which may very well have some huge potential, but now I’m in a little bit of an urgent hurry up mode because I didn’t do what actually needed to be done on that particular day. If I want to have more focused and – you said willpower’s tricky – but that notion of “Hey, here’s the list. I’m going to crank through it,” how can I use the alter ego effect to make that happen?

Todd Herman
Yeah. I am the poster child of that when I started out. Yeah, absolutely. When I was starting out getting to kind of one of my uses of the alter ego, I was 21. I looked like I was 12. I was terribly insecure about how young I looked, who’s going to believe me when I go up on stage to talk about these ideas. I don’t have 19 degrees. I’m not 40 years old yet.

I had all these ideas of the age you need to be before you’re taken seriously, how many different years of you’ve been using this or consulting on it or coaching on it before you’re taken seriously. It was just stopping me from getting out there.

The reality was I was very, very good at working with young athletes. That’s where I was starting. I wasn’t trying to go work with pro-athletes off the bat. I was working with 11-, 12-, 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds, 15-year-olds, on it. I now was really good. I was good at developing rapport quickly, developing trust, then sharing all of the strategies that I had done to help me get a college scholarship, be nationally ranked badminton player.

My real skillset was my mental game, but I was getting in my own way. I wasn’t taking the action I needed to take.

I would. I would drift all over the place in my day. I would fundamentally just avoid doing the things that were going to make me money, which is in business or in sales, that’s when the white, hot light of performance is on you because now you’re on the field and it’s easy for people to see based on the results that you did ten phone calls today, but nothing was brought in revenue wise or something.

It’s easy for your self-esteem or your sense of self of concept to be beaten up in those moments. I wasn’t taking any action.

I was like, wait a second. I used this when I played football and when I went on the football field. I would go out as this composite kind of alter ego of Geronimo, Walter Payton and Ronnie Lott. The name I used was Geronimo for it. I was like but Geronimo is a little bit too aggressive. It’s not going to help me in business. Then I thought but I really want to step into this Superman version of myself in business.

That’s when it clicked in my head. I’m like wait a second, Superman puts on glasses to become the mild-mannered version of himself in Clark Kent, but I want to put on glasses and I want to become the Superman version of myself. That’s what I did.

I went out and I went to Lens Crafters in West Edmonton mall, where I was living at the time, and I bought a pair of non-prescription glasses so that I could activate this self that would be decisive, that would be articulate, and that would be confident, all the three things that I felt like I was lacking at the time in the way that I was showing up.

That was back when wearing glasses wasn’t cool or fashionable by any stretch of the imagination. The optometrist was like, “You don’t need glasses. You have 20/15 vision.” I’m like, “Please, just give me the glasses.” I bought them. That’s what I did.

I would literally sit and I would practice putting those on. Just like when he would take off those glasses as Superman, all of the sudden just the chest puffs out and he transforms, I was transforming into that other self. When I was in that state, I was very deliberate and intentional about being very decisive, being very confident, being very articulate with the way that I was describing what I could do for people.

The moment that I would start to fall out of it and become that other insecure self, I would take off those glasses immediately because the moment that you’re in that kind of state of being your alter ego, you don’t want to dishonor that idea by allowing that kind of other – whether it’s a weak or a mild-mannered or whatever self or scared or insecure or resistant self to show up – I’d take them off because I wanted to honor that idea.

It’s a very powerful mindset to be in when you’re doing that. I talk about that with my athletes and just even people that are on here right now. It’s very powerful to step into that mode. We have these phenomenal capabilities in our mind to do that.

Going then back to you, it’s that – some of what you’re talking about too could be just that there is a creative self that’s inside of you that sometimes you’re just hunting through and finding ideas to be inspired by to create the training programs that you want or to write the things you want to write. You shouldn’t beat yourself up with those things, but on those days when you did have certain activities that you needed to take care of, those need to be siloed.

Then there needs to be the most heroic version that you could bring to that to bring the best that you’ve got available into that moment so you can smash it and get the best result. Whether you think that’s you right now or you don’t think it’s you, what I do know is, that you is inside of you because the imagination has that power. Let’s find a way of unlocking it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s good.

Todd Herman
What I was doing with those glasses was I was accidently – because I didn’t know what enclothed cognition back then – but I was enclothing those glasses in the cognitive state of being smart, articulate and decisive. I was leveraging the power of another story of using Superman to help make that happen too.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny, as you kind of deconstructing that a little bit, it seems that we started with what was already meaningful to you with the Geronimo, Superman, etcetera, so what was already sort of striking a chord and being resonant in the ways that you wanted to be as opposed to saying, “Well, technically, this literary figure embodied these qualities perfectly.” It’s like, “Well, I’ve never read that book, so that’s not helping me out here.”

The first thing that comes to mind for me in terms of if we’re talking about no nonsense, taking care of business, the first thing I think of is the Shark Tank intro because I get such a kick out of how they all do the same pose, where they fold their arms over each other. It’s like that’s, I guess, the no nonsense entrepreneur pose. You find it The Prophet and other business shows. I think we’ve adopted that. That’s what comes to mind.

Todd Herman
But if that’s what resonates with you, then that should be your takeaway. Yet, I’ve seen other people who are not even close to being an arms-crossed-type individual that are very no nonsense here in New York City or even not just here, but that’s my context because I live here and I work with so many people that are here. But I know more people that are no nonsense and they sit back in a very relaxed look.

Actually even Mark Cuban, when you see him and his matters in …, he’s actually quite relaxed. He sits back and sort of – but then when he starts to get excited, he starts to lean forward, his eyebrows go up a lot. Just as a person who lives in the world of mental game stuff, I’m always looking at body language of people. But if that’s what it is for you, then hold onto that and that’s what you can step into.

Pete Mockaitis
When I go about doing this step into, what exactly am I doing? I’m going to cross my arms. I’m going to imagine being no nonsense. What are my steps?

Todd Herman
Well, it’s what are the – all the steps are – because we’ve kind of unpacked a bunch of them. First place we start is context. We’re doing it for a field of play. Again, we’ve been talking about business and stuff, but this is 100% useful as a parent.

Kids use it all the time anyway, but as a parent sometimes you’re working all day long. You’ve been operating as a certain self throughout the day, then you go home and it’s hard to switch that off. Using this stuff, it crates great context for you.

For me when I go home, I don’t know want to be that articulate, decisive and confident version of myself that challenges people all day long because that’s what I need to do. That’s not what my children want. They want fun, playful, get-on-the-floor-and-play-with-them dad that’s gentle with them. I can be tough as well, but that’s so natural for me, I don’t need to magnify that up. That’s going to come out anyway.

I caught myself with, especially my middle daughter, Sophie, where she’s got this great emotional bandwidth, where she has these fantastic highs. Then she’s got these tantrums that can just go on for a very long time. I was meeting that force of her tantrum with my force of parent dad telling her to stop and all that and getting nowhere. I caught myself and I went wait a second. This isn’t how you perform at a high level.

Immediately I went to who I would be to get the best out of myself as a parent. It took me about a split second to go Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers undeniably is a phenomenal human being around young children. That’s who I stepped into.

The very next time she had this huge tantrum, I got down on one knee, just like he would. I reached out. I grabbed her, brought her in for a hug, despite the fact that she didn’t want to be hugged. She melted in eight seconds. Melted. She was done. That’s all she wanted and needed and then she was off running around, doing her own thing.

Meanwhile, I was still on the inside angry, enraged because noise and that screaming just drives me into an emotional state, but in that moment though, I did act as my best self for her and the result transformed.

Going back to you. Context matters. Second thing in that story I unpacked my frustrations. What’s a way that you’re showing up on whatever field that you’ve just chosen that aren’t getting you the results you want or how are you not showing up or what are the things that you’re doing that is providing you this angst and this frustration.

Okay, then now that you’ve got that, now it’s easy to go to the third step, which is well, how do you … want to show up and/or who already shows up that way that you’re inspired by. It doesn’t have to be in your work. It could be someone completely outside of it that you look at it and you’re like, “Oh, I’d like to be more like that person. I want to show up more like Luke Skywalker,” or whoever it might be.

What is it about their qualities that you’re looking at that you like? Is it their demeanor? Is it how calm they are? Is it about how confident they are? Is it how charismatic that person is? Whatever it is.

Then it’s okay, now is there a totem, this fourth step is what’s this totem or artifact or talisman that you can use to help activate it so that we can leverage the power of enclothed cognition. Is it that you are going to put on some Superman socks or Wonder Woman bracelet?

That’s what one of my equestrian riders – she’s a world class dressage, which is to the layperson, it’s like horse dance, where they have to do very, very specific and calculating kind of moves in the arena. It’s very challenging.

She was someone who was kind of all over the place inside emotionally, which then gets reflected through a horse. You talk about a difficult sport from a mental game perspective. You’re sitting on top of an animal that can detect any sort of emotional ambiguity that you might have. That’s why horses are used in therapy because they just have this phenomenal emotional bandwidth to work with people.

When I asked her, “Well, who most resonates with you as to how you want to show up,” she didn’t hesitate for a second. It was Wonder Woman. Not the current version because this was actually years ago. It was the 1970s version of Wonder Woman. I encouraged her, “Okay, go out. Let’s get an artifact or a totem to use.” She went out and she actually made a custom bracelet. I told her, I said, “When you do, make sure that the clasp has a loud sound when you snap it shut.”

Pete Mockaitis
Nice.

Todd Herman
Because sound is a phenomenal trigger in the mind. When that snap happens, that’s when she clicks into her inner Wonder Woman to show up on that horse as her best self.

Pete Mockaitis
I like what you said about sound. That’s got me thinking about get all your senses involved. Maybe there’s a small. Maybe there’s a texture. Yeah.

Todd Herman
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I don’t know how many people that are listening or even yourself, Pete, people use the term visualization a lot. They say, “You’ve got to visualize your goals,” or “People with vision are the ones who win,” or all these different things. The reality is, as someone who’s been teaching visualization with people as a skill for a long time, it’s actually quite hard to do.

That’s why I get frustrated with the amateurs that are out there saying, “Well, you’ve just to visualize.” It’s like it’s not that easy. Just because we can do it and do do it every single day, doesn’t mean that we can deliberately create movies in our mind easily. It’s a learned skill.

However, sound and we want to be using as much of the senses as possible. When I’m really teaching people about using imagery and visualization, it’s about engaging all of the senses because sometimes there’s a good portion of the population that are driven auditorily. I am. I am one of those people where I can build movies in my mind way easier when I start with sound then when I start with pictures. There’s other people who are engaged with smell of something or the touch of something.

That’s why this whole process of using a totem or an artifact is so powerful because just to your point, when you’re touching something, when you’re feeling something, when you’re putting something on, when you’ve got something in your pocket, whatever the case is, it’s there as a great environmental reminder of the intention of who it is that you’re’ showing up as.

That’s not being fake. That’s not about doing it to deceive other people because that’s being fake. If you’re doing something to deceive others or trick others, your intention is completely wrong. This is about tapping into the internal power of you saying, “I am being very intentional about who and what I’m showing up as so that I can get the best result from me or for others.”

Just like me. It’s not me being fake just because I’m stepping into and leveraging Mr. Rogers in that moment. That’s actually stepping into a very genuine part of me. Gentleness of course is a quality of mine somewhere because it’s not like I learned all of that challenging self or I was born that way. I learned some of that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Todd, I love the Mr. Rogers in particular because it should have occurred to me when I was looking through your book, but then in the last couple months, I noticed that in marriage/family life I sort of brought more of my creative brainstorming problem solving-ness into conversations with my wife. She was less interested in that and wanted more kind of emotional stuff.

I just sort of forgot. It’s like, “Oh right, yeah, yeah.” It’s like, “I was just so interested in your problem and all of the potential options and solutions that I could offer.” I actually purchased a red zip-up Mr. Rogers sweater to wear as a reminder of – he’s got that song, It’s a Good Feeling, the feelings and to just slow down and listen and to talk about feelings. It’s like, “Well, how did you feel about that?” because that’s what she was wanting.

Todd Herman
Yeah. Well, if you’ve watched his documentary it’s fascinating because literally about a third of it is dedicated to them talking about his alter ego. His wife talks about Daniel Tiger. There’s this great sequence in the documentary when she says that Daniel was the more real version of Mr. Rogers because that’s who he really was.

When you think about Daniel Tiger, he’s this hand puppet that he used to talk about feelings and other things. During that sequence, Mr. Rogers, Fred, says – he’s holding up the hand puppet now near his head and he’s saying, “The distance between-“ which is his mouth to the hand puppet, he’s like, “This doesn’t look like it’s very far, but I can tell you it was very self-efficacious for me.”

It’s the same for me. The distance between the six inches in your ears and your mouth by what you want to say, but then you don’t say it. Nothing beats a person up more than when they get to the end of their day, their head’s on the pillow and they’re unpacking their day and they’re like, “Why didn’t I say that? Why didn’t I raise my hand? Why didn’t I speak up? Why didn’t I ask for the sale?” or the action, “Why didn’t I take that final shot at the end of the buzzer?”

That distance between the six inches in your ears and the action that you want, the difference between thought and action is very, very short inside of our selves, but it can be a huge leap for many people to make. Well, what’s the bridge that runs over that gap? It’s emotion, proven by science again.

When you sever the ties inside of a human’s brain from their rational thinking brain and the emotional brain, which is the decision side of the brain, decision doesn’t happen then. It’s been shown in Alzheimer’s patients, where they can think that they want to have a sandwich, but they actually can’t get up and take action on it because there is no emotional grease that helps them make that decision.

Well, that emotional factor that helps you go from where you are now to where you want to be is the creative imagination to go by it and move around resistance. An alter ego is just a great tool to help make that happen. I talk about it enough in the book, all the different science of how to do it, the other people that have used it to actually get themselves out onto different fields of the play and do amazing things. Like we kind of talked about earlier, it’s a wonderfully playful way to help navigate life as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That is so excellent.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Todd, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Todd Herman
We’ve just unpacked so much of it. I just strongly urge people to – I just know that a lot of people are just that mental part, that mindset side of things is the thing that can be a big challenge for them, whether it’s adopting new habits or changing behaviors. Stepping into and using these tools that they used, you’ve already used them in your past.

Pete, we had 19 publishers interested in my book, which if you know about publishing is an insane amount of publishers. Now, that’s not because of me actually. It’s not because I’m Michelle Obama or something like that. I don’t have a big platform like that. But it’s about the idea because people would walk into those meetings and they would say things like, “I feel like I’ve been doing this all my life.” I’m like, “I know you have because it’s a natural part of being a human being.”

There’s so many people who just saw so much relevance in the idea. I think that if people raced out and sunk their teeth into it, they would chew their way through the book very, very, very fast.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now could you share with us a favorite book?

Todd Herman
A favorite book of mine, I love From Darwin to Munger, which is all about mental models and how to think a lot more quickly without getting down into the weeds and details. They kind of unpack Charlie Munger and his brilliant thinking for the way that he has adopted different thinking models in the way that he navigates life. It’s an amazing book.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget that you share with your clients or audience listeners or readers that really seems to connect and resonate and gets them quoting it back to you?

Todd Herman
In that book, I don’t share a specific thing other than the ability to what’s called chunk up, which is the ability to kind of start to see things at 30,000 foot views so that you can think a lot more strategically and see what’s actually happening down on the field, not get tied up so much in the details of stuff. Probably chunking up is one of the big things that people take away from it.

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

Todd Herman
I’d point them to my home base on the interwebs would be ToddHerman.me. All of my kind of social profiles are out there. I’m active on pretty much most of them. Then for the book, they can also go to AlterEgoEffect.com to see some videos and click on any one of the links to find the book in airport book stores and book stores all over the place.

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

Todd Herman
Yeah. This is the easiest one. Don’t make the mistake I did early on. Don’t make the mistake of trying to do everything on your own. I wanted to be one of those people that climbed to the top of the mountain, planted the flag by myself and said, “I did it.” It’s slow and it’s stupid.

You are going to get a lot father in life by bringing around and getting around fantastic allies and being great supporters of other people. I truly do think that business and life moves at the speed of relationships. Always be finding great relationships and developing them.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Todd, this has been a treat. Thanks so much and keep on doing the good stuff you’re doing.

Todd Herman
Thanks Pete. Appreciate you.