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KF #29. Demonstrates Self-Awareness Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

818: How to Find Greater Clarity, Satisfaction, and Fulfillment in Your Career with Scott Anthony Barlow

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Scott Anthony Barlow shares powerful wisdom from many career changers on how to craft a fulfilling career path.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The massive costs of poor career fit
  2. Why you shouldn’t wait on clarity to act
  3. Three risk-free ways to get a feel for a career change

About Scott

Scott Anthony Barlow wants you to find work you freakin’ love! He is CEO of Happen To Your Career and host of the HTYC podcast, which has been listened to over 3 million times across 159 countries, and is the largest career change podcast in the world. As a former HR Leader, Scott has interviewed over 2000 people for jobs and completely rejects the way that most organizations choose to do work. He’s a nerd for self development, human behavior and ice hockey. Scott lives in Washington state with his wife and 3 kids.

Resources Mentioned

Scott Anthony Barlow Interview Transcript

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

Scott Anthony Barlow
Thank you very, very much. I am quite excited to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to have you as well. And so now, Scott, we’ve had a lot of conversations that were not recorded, maybe for the best.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Accurate.

Pete Mockaitis
And one thing that I know about you is you are hardcore and inspiring when it comes to your goalsetting and you even have a nifty family goalsetting approach that involves your kids and a fun environment. Tell us the story here.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Well, here’s the story. My wife and I, we’ve set goals for probably approaching 15, maybe even approaching 20 years. I’m not even sure exactly when it started. I’d have to go back and do the calendar math. But all that to say we’ve been doing that for ourselves over and over again. And, actually, it originally started when we were trying to pay off about almost $400,000 worth of debt.

And so, we had this initial goal and so we started building skills around how to set and accomplish goals in order to get that nearly $400,000 paid down. And we eventually did that but then we realized, “Hey, this is actually working for us.” So, many years later after we had children and after Alyssa and I had started trying to focus on, “How do we be great parents? What do we want to instill in our children? What do we want to teach them?”

And after we started having those kinds of conversations, we realized, “Hey, we’re doing this thing over here, and, arguably, we’ve developed some skill at it, but we’ve taught our children almost nothing about that. Why is that?” And that’s where that question started. So, we eventually said, “Well, what would this look like? What would this look like if we wanted to take what we’ve learned about goalsetting and accomplishing some seemingly impossible things? And then how do we get our kids to want to do that?”

Because my kids now are teenagers, all of them are teenagers, and at the point in time we started doing any kind of goalsetting with the kids, they were, I think, nine and 11 and approaching teenage years, so they were at the ages where they don’t know necessarily want to do everything that we think is a great idea.

So, we said, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do it in a crazy environment that we wouldn’t normally do, something that seems so serious, and then we’re just going to try and make it as fun as possible.”

So, we said, “What would that look like?” Well, we had just ordered a new hot tub, so we said, “Okay, we’re going to take the duck, the rubber duck that we got as a gift from the hot tub company, and we are going to do hot tub goalsetting where we pass the duck around and we talk about each person who has the duck what they want to accomplish this year, and what would be fun, what would be amazing, what would be uncomfortable, and talk through those types of questions.” And that’s how it began, and now it’s turned into this regular thing where we meet each month in order to review how we’re doing against our individual goals.

And I think something that’s really wonderful and personally inspiring to me watching my kids go through and really take this and have fun with it and run with it is that they’ve done some things where they set it initially. Like, okay, here, my son, Grayson, my youngest said, “I want to break a world record.” And Alyssa and I did the thing that sometimes you do as a parent where you want to be supportive, we’re like, “Okay, Grayson, all right, that sounds amazing. All right. Fantastic.”

Where I’m thinking, “Okay, maybe we should start it with something else.” So, both Alyssa and I were able to successfully, in that case, suspend our beliefs about that, and say, “Okay. Well, how can you do that, Grayson?” He eventually, over about a two-month period, ended up researching what type of record he might want to break, decided on video games. He decided, “I want to be the first in the world to speed run this particular game.”

Pete Mockaitis
Which one?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Kirby. One of the Kirby games. It’s the most recent one, and, I, for some reason, it’s totally escaping me what’s it called.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so speed run a Kirby game. All right.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yup. So, he did that, and two months in, after he set the goal, he literally was the first person in the world to get this time on that particular Kirby game. So, he has the screenshot to prove it. It’s like it literally said, “You’ve accomplished a world record.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s nice to hear.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yeah, but here’s the thing about that. We started realizing that, “Wow, this is incredibly powerful, not just for us but even more so for our children,” because both Alyssa and I, we really didn’t honestly get into things like goalsetting or really figuring out what it is that we wanted to do, wanted to accomplish, what type of life or career do we want to live, and it’s quite powerful once you decide that you want to do something, figuring out the very best way that that can actually happen in reality.

So, Grayson literally broke a world record.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so cool. That’s so cool. And you have seen transformation with many people in your work, your organization, and podcast Happen to Your Career, and now book Happen to Your Career.

Scott Anthony Barlow
And now book, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, transforming folks. And you’ve seen a lot of folks set a career-related goal and go get it. Can you maybe orient us, generally speaking, what is it you do and know that’s fresh and unique?

Scott Anthony Barlow
I think that with the book, it was very much we wanted to be able to reach people a different way because, really, what we do as an organization is we are very focused on helping people find what their own personal version of extraordinary is, what does a wonderful fit look like for them as it relates to their career, and, ultimately, their life because, first and foremost, we can’t really separate out many of the decisions that we make for our career. They have a tendency to be inseparable from the rest of our life.

So, if we keep that in mind, then that means that anything that we are defining as extraordinary for our career is absolutely going to impact all of the other areas of our life. So, we get the opportunity every single day to be able to help people all over the world with defining what they want their life and career to look like, and then going and making that happen, going and getting it, this seemingly impossible thing, making that and turning that into their reality. And that’s what we do every single day both with the book as well as when we get to serve people as clients.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. And so, I would love to get your take, when it comes to people and their careers, just what is at stake for professionals if their career is a great fit versus okay-ish fit?

Scott Anthony Barlow
We all only have so much time on the planet regardless of how you feel spiritually or what you believe. We only have so much time here, and I want to, personally, make sure that, for me, my time is spent in a way that I am able to contribute to other people in the way that I want and serve other people the way that I want, but also building the type of life and career that I want to live.

And I find that not everybody is looking at it that way necessarily. But the point that I would make is that if we’re all, or at least most of us, are going to spend arguably most of our waking hours doing some type of work, some type of service, if you will, then that means that we should probably find a way to do it in a way that is much more meaningful to both us plus the people that we get to work with, around, serve, and that’s how I look at it. I look at it as an opportunity to be able to do life completely differently.

Now, here’s the sad reality. So, although I can say that, and although I believe that, and I think a lot of people might agree with that, depending on which study, depending on which research you look at, it is someplace between half a percent and about 13% of people in the entire world that are just enamored with their work. And that’s dismal.

When I look at that and say, “Almost nobody in the entire world is really enjoying their work and finding it fulfilling in the ways that are wonderful for them, then that’s sad, and that needs to change, and that’s not okay.” And I know that you’re referencing a particular part in the book when you say, “What’s at stake?” We begin the first chapter and we tell a story of Michael. And in Michael’s case, he was working for a pretty large studio, one that most people have definitely heard of, a movie studio.

And that particular studio, he had actually had really a pretty wonderful career up until the last three years that he was there. And he found himself in a new promotion, new situation, that what was once a dream job for him was no longer that dream. It turned into a pretty terrible situation, one that was no longer a fit. And it became really bad, bad to the point in which Michael had considered self-harm, which is not a thing to joke around, but we’ve had many stories like that.

And in Michael’s case, he realized that this was bad for his mental health, it was bad for his physical health, it was ultimately just really a terrible fit for him. And by continuing to stay in that type of situation, he was possibly going to give up the opportunity to have any other type of life, let alone a life at all.

And so, this is a little bit of an extreme situation but it happens much more frequently. What I’ve learned in working with people all over the world is this is something that happens pretty frequently, where people’s health is severely impacted by what most people would look at, and say, “That’s an amazing job. That’s an amazing opportunity,” from the outside looking in.

And in Michael’s case, here’s the real thing that was at stake. If we fast forward about roughly a year to where Michael ended up making a career change, we got the opportunity to meet him and work with him. Alyssa, my wife and I, we had ended up actually meeting him in California and we met at this little diner down in Pacific Beach, and he was telling us, as we were eating banana pancakes, that it was the first time in his life where he had considered that work could potentially be fun. Like, that had never, ever even entered his mind. Like, literally, it was not a possibility for him.

So, he went from this situation where it started out as seemingly wonderful to him, he moved up the ladder really, really quickly, and arguably was good in a lot of very challenging ways. But then it became not so good, and, ultimately, he didn’t realize that was a fun possibility like that but it was something that if he stayed in that situation, it could be not a possibility. I guess that’s the word I’m looking for. I’m looking for a way to even describe that, like what he was feeling and the emotions that he was going through at that particular time. But imagine that if he had stayed. He literally never would’ve found that. So, I think that’s an example of what’s at stake.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful and an eye-opener that folks who may be listening, it’s like, “Fun, huh? It’s going to work for a reason. It’s a job. It’s not play.” And so, that could be a lightbulb for many, like, “Oh, yeah,” some folks really do have fun at work. They find it meaningful, engaging, and life-giving, energizing, so some groovy stuff. And, of course, I think it’s also fair to say, with realism, that no job is 100% euphoric 100% of the time. Is that a fair statement? 

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yes, I do believe that that is a fair statement. And I’m curious with your opinion on that, because there’s been many times where you and I have had pivots and how we personally think about work.

And I remember talking to you, and even our group at one point in time, where it’s like, “Hey, I have checked the box in many of the things that I wanted to work in for a while. My role has changed and this was wonderful, and it’s no longer wonderful anymore.” So, I think I point that out because even if there is a situation that is great, and even if it is a great fit, part of the challenge, part of the reason why figuring this career thing out, figuring out what extraordinary looks like, is so challenging is because it’s actually a moving target as we go through different seasons.

Like, you have three kiddos now, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Do you want the same things that you did when it was 10 years ago with no kids?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m not quite as interested in as much travel and hustle, and it’s like, “Oh, sweet, I’ve got 11 coaching sessions today.” It’s like, “I would not find that sweet were that to happen to me tomorrow.”

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yeah, and I think that’s true for everyone, and I think that that’s normal. The really interesting thing, the thing I find fascinating is that we have a tendency to beat up on ourselves in so many different ways. When that changes, we don’t realize our wants and needs have changed and we’re still trying to shove the, I don’t know, square peg in the round hole, insert your cliché here.

We’re still trying to do the thing, we’re still trying to keep going, we’re still trying to beat our head against the wall, and I don’t really hear too many people talk about, like, it’s actually okay to change and it’s part of the game. But, simultaneously, that’s part of what makes it challenging to figure out what a great situation, what an amazing situation, what we call the unicorn opportunity situation looks like for you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s talk about figuring it out. Clarity, we all want it. How do we get it?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Has anybody ever asked you for, or has said to you, “Hey, I’m looking for clarity in this particular area or that area?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Absolutely.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Okay. All right. So, we get that all the time, and the really interesting thing I found about clarity is that when we’re asking for it, we’re often looking at it as a destination. We’re often looking at it as a, “If I just figure out what it is that I want, then I can go and do the thing.” However, when we look into even the origins of the word clarity, we find that it has many of the same root words as declare, the same root word which is clarare, right?

And what that means, when you start to break down the history and the evolution of that word, is that it means to act or an action is required, the action of declaring, the action of declaring something as a priority is really what leads to any kind of clarity. So, so many of us think that we need to go and figure out the thing. We need to get all our ducks in a row. We need to go away and sit in a cabin for a month, and then we will emerge, and we will have clarity, and it’ll be amazing. There’ll be rainbows and butterflies. I’ve got a unicorn back here. It’s going to be awesome. And that’s not actually how it works, as it turns out.

Instead, what we find is actually true is that clarity comes from the simple act of declaring something as a priority for you, declaring something as more important, which obviously takes courage. It takes courage to be able to say, “My wife is more important than all of these other things.” I think many of us would say that but very few of us, I find, are willing to act on that in a way that takes courage. So, I’ll give you a quick example from my past.

Like, if my wife calls me right now, I’m literally going to pick up the phone. There she is right there on the phone. Not everybody can see that but if she calls right now, I’m going to pick that up because she is the most important thing in my world. Is that weird, as in socially kind of unacceptable? I would say so. Probably.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m going to light you up. Well, I wouldn’t because we’re pals.

Scott Anthony Barlow
It’s a good thing we know each other, right?

Pete Mockaitis
But, yeah, other people would say, “What the heck, dude? Seriously?”

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yeah, and that feels, honestly, when that happens, very uncomfortable for me. Also, if I’m going to behave like my wife is the most important thing in the world to me, then I should treat it as such. So, that’s a really small example but think about what goes into that. I have to think through, first of all, “What is most important to me?” And then I have to consciously make the decision that that is, in fact, the most important thing. In this case, the most important person, my wife. And then I have to be able to commit to that in a way that allows me to act as such.

And that’s part of what we’re talking about when we say, “What does it take to get to clarity?” Clarity allows you to be able to act, not action before clarity. Most of us think that we’re going to get clarity, and then we’re going to go do the thing. But, instead, it happens exactly the opposite way, “I’m going to declare what’s most important, and then that allows me to be able to make movement on whatever that most important thing is.” So, it is literally the opposite of how almost everybody in the world thinks about it.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to doing that declaring and then living as such in harmony, in integrity with those declarations, might you discover through a little bit of trial and error that what you declared was actually not the most important thing to you, it’s like, “Huh, actually now that I’m in it, I’m realizing,” not this to be the case with your wife, “I’m realizing that this is not as important to me as perhaps I thought it should be, or is, or once was. Things have evolved”?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yeah. Short answer is yes. I have many examples of that. But I’m curious, have you had that experience in the past? Have you gone through and realized that, “Hey, this thing that I thought that was most important one way or another, one area of life or another, is actually less important than what I think”? What are some of your examples? What are the Pete examples?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. I think that that has come about…well, it’s so funny, like being awesome at your job. So, we have a whole show on this. So, I think that’s pretty important but I don’t believe that’s the number one most important thing in life. And so, it’s funny, when I think about other podcasts, I think that I would say they’re sort of like a pecking order or a hierarchy that I would rather folks listen to my show than true crime or sports or news, like for their own edification, I think. We’re going to do more of that for you than those things.

But if someone is listening to a show about how to be more kind, or spiritual, or healthy, or solving like a really challenging thing that makes their life and others miserable, I would rather you spend your time listening to that because I think that is more important than being awesome at your job. And, in fact, many of our guests do have a little bit of a mental health slant because there’s a real rich carryover in terms of if you’re mentally healthy, then you’re making better decisions, and you’re energized, and you’re able to bring good effort to stuff, so it’s like Yin-Yang, like reinforcing virtuous cycle thingy going down here.

So, I don’t think it’s either/or but I would say that, for example, I used to think, I don’t know if you remember a show “Boy Meets World.”

Scott Anthony Barlow
I do. I do. 

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m about to drop a spoiler here.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Oh, dear.

Pete Mockaitis
But when Topanga gives up, I think, it was Harvard, her top dream school, to go be with Cory, I thought that was so dumb, I thought that was a horrible decision, I was like, “You’re young. What do you even know about love?” And I guess I think I’m high school-college age too when this comes about, and I just thought that was bananas because, at that time in my life, career really was sort of number one. And I hadn’t been in a relationship that serious, I suppose, as to make me think that I would give up such a career opportunity for a person. So, that was me then.

And now I think, “Well, yeah, if that’s like your soulmate, or the person you’re destined to be with, or someone who’s just really clearly the one, well, absolutely, you should probably give up just about everything.” So, that happened. I remember once I was at a Subway sandwich shop, and Kelly Clarkson’s “Miss Independent” was playing, and I started tearing up, it’s like, “What is even going on here?”

Scott Anthony Barlow
“What is happening right now?”

Pete Mockaitis
I think I was…like, if you listen to the lyrics, you hear sort of the story arc, and it’s about like that kind of a transformation. There is someone who is all about their career, independent, taking care of business, winning. And then she came to realize, “Oh, there’s something else that’s even more important.” So, yeah, I think that what you say about things being a moving target is dead-on in terms of there’s a time and a place.

And Ramit Sethi talks about this too in terms of like there’s a season where it’s like, “Growth, baby. Bring it on. More, more, more, more, more. I want the biggest stuff, the toughest challenge, and I’m just going to pour myself into work or whatever.” And then there’s a time where that season is no longer suiting you, and it might come back a little later. That’s the game.

Scott Anthony Barlow
First of all, can I just say that I love that you started that whole section of the conversation with “Boy Meets World.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you may.

Scott Anthony Barlow
And, second of all, I think that there is this stigma, at least in much of North America and some areas of Europe, too, but there’s this stigma that it’s not okay to change, or that one way is the right way, or the direction that we keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
“And you’re a flip-flopper. We don’t like our politicians flip-flopping. We don’t like quitters or flip-floppers.”

Scott Anthony Barlow
No, no quitters, yes. And so, interestingly enough, the main reason that I have this company now is because I quit and went from one thing to the next thing, to the next thing, to the point where, we counted it up the other day, I’ve had, in the last 20 or so years, I’ve had 20 different roles, and all of that set of experience of being able to go through many, many different things came from quitting. And, actually, for me, personally, I felt a long time, like that was an inadequacy in so many different ways because it felt like as soon as things got really hard, or whatever, then I would get bored and then I’d run off to the next thing.

And although there was some level of truth to that, that wasn’t necessarily the full reason but that’s the story that I was saying in my head for myself. And it was furthered by the fact that that is the message that we unintentionally put out in society. 

Pete Mockaitis
So, when it comes to clarity, you said one way we get there is we declare the priorities, and then act in alignment with them. What are some your other favorite questions, practices, exploratory activities that can yield oodles of insight for the time we spend doing them?

Scott Anthony Barlow
So, first of all, let me give you a high-level overview of the process we often use with our clients, and the reason that we do this is, I mentioned earlier that it’s really difficult to be able to separate out your career from other things. When you plug yourself in, if you think about plugging yourself into a particular career choice, whether that’s the people that you work with, whether that’s the organization that you’ve said yes to for a job opportunity, whether that is whatever you’re getting paid, all of those things impact other areas of your life from your schedule to the pressures that you feel or don’t feel, to everything else.

So, it becomes really important that we’re looking at all of these things as a whole. So, I wanted to be able to say that first, and that’ll give you some insight as to why we often are approaching activities that appear to be more holistic or addressing other areas of your life even though we often focus on career. So, one of those things is, initially, we try to help people create what we call an ideal career profile. And really just think about that as literally what it sounds like. It’s a profile of what makes up your ideal career.

Now, when I say that, often people are thinking about occupation, and I’m not talking about occupation. I’m talking about the things like, “How you are utilizing your strengths within your work opportunities? What amount of money do you need to make in order to satisfy your other goals that maybe aren’t even financially related? Who are the types of people that you want to spend your time around knowing that the choice that you make and plug into is going to impact who you spend your time with?”

So, starting out, we put together that ideal career profile, and I’ll give you a few questions here momentarily, but then what we’re going to do with it is we’re going to take that profile, which is an educated guess, and then we’re going to test it out. The reason we test it out is, generally, we find that when people come to us and they’re wanting to make some kind of career change, and they’re wanting to move to a better situation, a more ideal situation, then they also are simultaneously not wanting to take significant risks, because a lot of times they are not fresh out of college, if you will, necessarily. A lot of times, they may have already determined that, “The career that I’ve pursued is no longer a fit in one way or another,” so there’s an aversion to risk.

And one of the ways that we can avoid risks while still getting wonderful input is by creating a small series of experiments in order to determine, “Is that hypothesis, that ideal career profile, actually the right direction? Am I giving some road signs indicating that I am, in fact, headed in the right direction for me?” versus just making another career change, or going back to school, or putting all the time and effort in only to realize that the names and the faces have changed, but it’s the exact same situation. So, that’s no good for anybody.

So, here is a couple things that we use specifically. Number one, if we’re evaluating strengths, let’s say, let’s take that as scenario, one question that is my favorite, and maybe you can answer this, too, or we can answer it together, “What do you find yourself gravitating to that isn’t actually a part of your job but shows up over and over again? Now, is that I’m supposed to be doing these spreadsheets and these financial projections but I find myself wandering the halls and going and asking my neighbor what they were barbecuing the other day because I’m fascinated about what do people eat?”

Whatever it is, what do you find yourself doing over and over again? That’ll give clues or indications, especially if it’s not a part of your paid role. And what I find is that, as you dig into that type of question, often you start to observe some patterns. So, let me ask you that really quick. When you think about your past opportunities, roles, paid, unpaid, whatever else, what do you keep gravitating towards, Pete, that really didn’t have much to do with what you’re supposed to be doing at the time?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what’s funny is I’m think about consulting back in the day, I really loved recruiting, which was part of…all of us was supposed to have a part of recruiting, but I really loved being able to go to a career fair to being able to do case interviews or help people prepare for their case interviews.

Scott Anthony Barlow
I see where this is going.

Pete Mockaitis
Or more people-y stuff, like, where there’s an intern, I got to play manager just a little bit with a fresh intern. I thought that was really cool in terms of helping them learn stuff. And so, I was having fun with that for sure. And I think I also learned this isn’t just about skills or strengths, but just the environment. I remember, once I was so excited to be able to take a trip by myself to Kansas City where some very hallowed terminals where I could access some data that was, I guess, air-gapped from the cloud to go there and get the data.

And I was really stoked by this trip, I thought, “That’s kind of weird. I’m traveling somewhere alone to do a fairly manual repetitive task, and I’m stoked about it.” And what I was stoked about was the autonomy in terms of, “You know what, I can eat what I want when I want when I don’t have to check in with the whole team.” Like, “Hey, so you’re going to do lunch. Oh, okay, we’re going to wait. Okay, we’re going to wait for the senior people because they want to eat with us but they’re not ready to eat yet, so we’re just going to wait some more, but I really want to eat now but I can’t eat now. So, we don’t know how long this is going to take but it might be four minutes, it might be 40 minutes. I’m hungry now.”

It’s so funny. I don’t know, but being able to choose when and what I eat during my work day felt very exciting.

Scott Anthony Barlow
So, that’s kind of fascinating because now you have, in some ways, the ultimate set of choices.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, I like the autonomy and I like the people development. And go figure, here I am in a very autonomous role doing a lot of people development.

Scott Anthony Barlow
I am so shocked. So shocked. And by that, I mean not shocked at all. But I think that that is just one of many questions. And what I find is that none of these questions yield the ultimate answer. None of the questions yield the “magic bullet” or the “magic pill” or whatever. But they do all give clues, and those clues lead to a-has, those clues lead to being able to understand yourself and what you need in a different way.

And what I find is that a better way to think about uncovering the right type of career, or career fit for you, which may not be occupational, it might be about the environment, it might be about some of those other areas I mentioned earlier, is to think about it more as a CSI or detective-type of approach where you find one clue that helps you get a little further along but it leads to another clue, which leads to another clue, which leads to another clue. And, eventually, we solve some version of the case, which then leads to a new case.

And that is a much, much better analogy for how to think about your career in a healthy way where it’s going to continue to evolve, it’s going to continue to change, and just because you climbed up the mountain in one way or another doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over. It’s an ongoing, living, breathing set of decisions. And for some people, that can feel a little bit scary but I think that it can also be really, really empowering because, take your example here, like you probably, if we talked 20 years ago, would you have known all of those, “Well, I need people development or I need autonomy, and everything else”? I’m guessing probably…

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Not.

Pete Mockaitis
No, I might have some clues in terms of I really had a lot fun when I’m speaking to groups. And so, that’s true, I do, but the topic makes all the difference.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Oh, really?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. If I were talking about how to use a software program, that might be moderately energizing for me. But if I were talking about “Do this and you’re going to be way more productive and happy with your work,” that’s way more exciting for me to be talking about.

Scott Anthony Barlow
I agree. Me, too. I can only get so far. So, a topic for me makes a massive difference as well, but for some other people, it might just be about the act. For some other people, it might be about who they’re talking to. And for still other people, it might be about “Am I getting to speak with people one on one versus large groups, versus communities of people, versus any other way that you might slice that up?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I’m thinking about the nature of the impact, like, “Are you talking to…?” “I’m just helping rich people get richer,” and that really bothers you versus you don’t care at all. That doesn’t bother you at all, it doesn’t even occur to you, versus, “Oh, I’m really helping disadvantaged communities,” or whatever. So, the who could be, or it’s sort of like the elite students were really engaged and fired up with it and challenging, like that’s exciting.

Or, they are very much not elite students who, like, really need your help and you feel a great sense of purpose for having assisted them and really met them and made a difference that you feel more palpable. So, yeah, that who, I think, has all kinds of angles and flavors that provide cool clues right there.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Well, the important part is finding the right flavor for you because, in the book, we talk about what we call the seven keys to fulfillment, and there are areas that create more or less fulfilling careers, or feelings of fulfillment. However, if you’re talking about the who or how you work with people – is it in a one-on-one format versus large groups format – it’s a very different from a person-to-person basis. And finding that right variety, that right recipe is also very, very different from person to person.

So, I think that to go back to, say, how you contribute to others, as an example, the important part there is not just who you’re helping but, if we look at all of the data and the research, the real question is, “Are you helping people in a way that feels like you are helping people?” I know that sounds a little bit weird because, arguably, any job in the world is probably helping, like we can make a case that it’s helping people.

Whether you are at a movie theater, you are a VP of finance, you are taking out the trash, like in some way or another, it’s helping people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it feels like, and you can see a direct connection between how you’re helping other people, and that’s the real key. So, finding out how it feels, the right type of how for you is really what we’re after here.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, Scott, boy, we could talk for hours about this, but I want to hear, tell me, any top do’s or don’ts that we absolutely must hear from you before we shift gears and hear about your favorite things?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Absolutely. Absolutely. I think the number one do is run towards something. So many people are running away from something, running away from a not-great boss, running away from a situation that doesn’t feel like a great fit, but they haven’t actually taken the time to figure out what it is that they actually want. So, to be able to run to something, you really have to take the time, effort, energy to identify all of the areas and all of the pieces and parts that make up your ideal, otherwise, that’s going to be impossible. You won’t be able to run to something.

And the disadvantage, if you’re running away from something and not towards something that’s clearly defined, is you’re automatically going to be settling by default. So, run to something, that’s number one. And then, number two, experiment. We briefly mentioned that experimenting, or the idea of experimentation, however, I think that’s so critical as it relates to your career because it takes all of the risks, or at least most of the risks and perceived risks out of the equation.

So, so many people don’t career-change because they’re like, “Well, it feels so risky,” and in some ways it is. However, if you take small steps and a small amount of work to validate that you’re heading the right direction through a well-crafted experiment, that doesn’t even have to take a significant period of time, then once you get those road signs indicating that you are heading in the right direction, then it can reduce a significant amount of that risk. So, I think that’s thing number two.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Now, well-crafted experiment, can you give us a couple quick examples of what that might look, sound, feel like?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yeah. We have helped people craft hundreds of different types of experiments but there are some that are more common than others, and I’ll give you a couple just really quick examples. One is the social Goldilocks, another is what we call the volunteer, another is the paid researcher.

So, the volunteer is what it sounds like, where you’re actually volunteering your time or energy either with another organization or even, potentially, inside your organization, and that’s where we might move into the paid researcher. Now, the benefits of doing either of those are getting to trial out the work without necessarily a full-time commitment, and understanding the feedback from that experience about whether or not you’re heading the right direction.

Now, the side benefit from that, and I think this is part of what makes a well-crafted experiment, in my opinion, is it’s not just for the feedback. But a well-crafted experiment also allows you to experience multiple benefits. Quick example, we had…personally we were working with…her name is Stephanie, and she volunteered at a marketing organization. She thought she might be interested in marketing, and volunteered with a local chapter of a marketing organization, met a lot of people and two things ended up coming from that.

One, she was able to land a copywriting gig, a small contract-based copywriting gig that didn’t take a lot of her time but allowed her to experiment in a paid way, and that’s what we call the paid researcher. A way you can do the paid researcher. And the other side benefit from that was she discovered she didn’t really like marketing by volunteering for that particular organization.

So, she eliminated an entire area that she suspected that she wanted to move into, and, instead, another area she was exploring at the same time was organizational communications. And some of the connections that she had made through that marketing organization ended up causing her to be introduced to other people that led to communications-type of experiences. So, there’s a quick couple examples.

Social Goldilocks, I mentioned that one at the beginning, that’s the idea of…well, you’re familiar with Goldilocks, of course, like, “This chair is too big. This porridge is too cold, too hot. This corner office is too large,” whatever. But the idea of the social Goldilocks, instead of doing what people call informational interviews, how can you identify either roles or organizations or other types of opportunities that might be a good fit?

And go talk to people in those roles, or in those organizations, for relatively short periods of time, even as little as 10 or 15 minutes, and learn about what makes them enjoy the role, what they think are relevant experiences to be successful in that role. Learn about what they love about their organization, what they don’t love about their organization.

And the idea here is not just the interaction itself, but that you can string together many different types of interactions with, say, 10 or 15 or 20 people in a relatively short period of time, and then you have a set of feedback where you can start making decisions from, “Should I dive further into this strategy-type role that I suspected that I love? And now I talked to three different people, and I’m getting similar feedback. And I think that it might be worth diving further in.”

So, these are all really quick examples of ways to do two things – get that feedback, and, simultaneously, build relationships at the same time, which, at this point, we don’t have very many computers hiring people. It does happen occasionally, but for the most part, it’s still people that hire people and make those hiring decisions, so relationships are critical when it comes to that. So, there’s a few different examples.

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

Scott Anthony Barlow
This one gets attributed to Da Vinci a lot of the time, and I’m assuming it was not originally in English, but the English translation comes out to be something that, “I often observe that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and allowed things to happen. Instead, they went and happened to them.”

And although it gets attributed to Da Vinci, I believe it actually, as near as I can tell, comes from Da Vinci’s mentor, and Da Vinci ended up repeating it many, many times and that’s in some of his books.

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

Scott Anthony Barlow
There is a huge body of work around strengths, and what Martin Seligman originally called signature strengths now. And so, this is not one particular set of research but the body as a whole has really expanded over the last 30 years, and it is fascinating.

When you get to spend as little as one or two more hours a day working in your strengths and operating in your strengths, there are so many benefits from smiling more in a given day, all the way to be more productive, to having health benefits, or being able to avoid health risks.

So, that’s fascinating to me, personally, and it’s really interesting, some of the lengths that have nothing to do with what people perceive to be strengths, and, in some cases, nothing to do with what people perceive work but that impact overall quality of life when you spend very small amounts of time more, comparatively, to what you might be right now focusing on areas that fit your strengths. So, that’s my favorite body of research as a whole.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Here’s one book that changed my mind on quite a few different things. It’s called 80/20 Sales and Marketing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, Perry Marshall. He was on the show.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yeah, Perry Marshall. Okay, so this was useful even if you care not about sales and marketing whatsoever. The idea behind 80/20 and something that tipped me off to a different idea that I don’t think that was said in that book but it sparked a lot of things for me, because the quick bit of 80/20, where it originally comes from, and now it’s pretty popularized, I would say, but the Pareto Principle is another thing that it’s called, where the idea of having 20% of the inputs produced 80% of the outputs.

So, Pareto saw that when he was raising peas way back when. He noticed that some of the peapods on certain pea plants had very few peas, and on 20% of the plants, they actually had roughly 80%. They produced 80% of the peas. And he started observing this all over the place in nature, this natural phenomenon.

However, what doesn’t get talked about that the book turned me onto is if you take that top 20%, it has its own top 20%, the 4% that produces 64% of the results. So, that idea is fascinating to me, and I’ve spent the last, almost seven, eight years really trying to figure out, “What is the 4% that really moves the needle so that you can just let the rest go in so many different areas of life?”

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

Scott Anthony Barlow
Superhuman, which you turned me onto.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. It’s all good.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Oh, my goodness, love Superhuman. We have it for almost my entire team now, yeah. Are you still using it?

Pete Mockaitis
I am.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Oh, my goodness. Thank you for that. Like, lifechanging in so many different ways. A whole different way to do email.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Scott Anthony Barlow
I think my favorite habit recently is fasting till afternoon.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I tried that and really didn’t like it.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Well, it’s not for everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
Glad it’s working for you.

Scott Anthony Barlow
And I really didn’t like it until maybe, I don’t know, probably after a month in. Then now it’s actually become a wonderful thing that adds energy, where the first probably two weeks, I’m like, “This is terrible. Who would do this?” So, not for everyone but that’s my current favorite habit.

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

Scott Anthony Barlow
The idea of identifying what you want so that you can then go and ask for what you want, and I find that people who ask for what they want are very often more frequently getting what they want.

So, that really simple concept has changed my life in so many different ways, which means that I need to have ownership and understanding around not just where I’m running to, which we mentioned earlier, but what it is that I, in fact, want and what’s great for me and my highest priority, which we mentioned clarity earlier, too, and it all ties back to that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to connect or hear more about you, where should they go?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Well, certainly, HappenToYourCareer.com, and we have, of course, a podcast by the same name, Happen to Your Career, in all the places where podcasts are played, so certainly over there. But I think that for people that really want to get started in figuring out what could be a next amazing step, what extraordinary could look like, and utilizing much of the concepts that we just talked about, go to FigureItOut.co where you get an opportunity to sign up for an 8-day email course where we send you an email each day, and it asks you a few questions that will begin to allow you to figure out what truly is your north, what is your compass.

We’ve had almost 50,000 people at this point through that particular course. And we’ve got so many people sending emails and feedback over the years that it’s helped them get started in figuring out what they want.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Scott, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun and success as you’re happening to your career.

Scott Anthony Barlow
I appreciate it.

812: Bill George on How Emerging Leaders Can Succeed Today

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Former Medtronic CEO and current professor, Bill George shares foundational principles for excelling as a leader in today’s world of work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What a “true north” is and why it’s so critical
  2. The top three distractions leaders must overcome
  3. Powerful questions to clarify your purpose

 

About Bill

Bill George is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic.  He joined Medtronic in 1989 as president and chief operating officer, was chief executive officer from 1991-2001, and board chair from 1996-2002. He is currently a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, where he has taught leadership since 2004. 

Bill is the author of: Discover Your True North and The Discover Your True North Field book, Authentic Leadership, 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis True North, Finding Your True North, and True North Groups. He served on the boards of Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil, Novartis, Target, and Mayo Clinic.  

He received his BSIE with high honors from Georgia Tech, his MBA with high distinction from Harvard University, where he was a Baker Scholar, and honorary PhDs from Georgia Tech, Mayo Medical School, University of St. Thomas, Augsburg College and Bryant University.  

Resources Mentioned

Bill George Interview Transcript

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

Bill George
Thank you, Pete. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to be chatting with you. And I’m fascinated, you’re a bit of an interviewer yourself. You’ve chatted with 220 of some of the finest leaders of organizations. I’m curious, what’s been the most surprising and impactful theme that’s emerged for you from those interviews?

Bill George
Well, first of all, let me say I did the interviews, Pete, for my book True North and I’ve got the Emerging Leader Edition out now. I truly aimed it at your generation of leaders from Gen Xers to Millennials, to Gen Z because I think it’s a different time to lead today. I think the good news is that people believe that being authentic is the way to lead. That’s a huge change from when I was CEO at Medtronic when it was all about charisma and style, leadership style, and all those things because, now, it’s much more real.

And so, I’m really excited to hear that. And that’s in all the leaders, I interviewed 50 leaders for my new book, and that’s what they’re all saying. So, I’m thrilled to hear that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Authentic, that sounds like a good thing. Tell us, what precisely do we mean by authentic, authenticity, authentically if we use these words a lot?

Bill George
Sure. It means being genuine, being real, being who you are. And I think, for a long time, when I was growing up, you had to be something different. You were expected to emulate Jack Welch or be a different person than you are, and I think that’s a big change. And I think we realized, part of it comes with being, well, just to be vulnerable to admit your mistakes, being human. We all are and we all face similar challenges of trying to lead an integrated life and have a good career and a good family life, like you have. This is very critical.

And so, I think people today don’t want to work for a phony, they don’t want to work for a jerk, and they want to work for somebody who’s authentic and is real. And that’s what they’re saying, and I think one of the reasons a lot of people are quitting their jobs is because they’re working for the wrong boss or somebody they don’t admire or don’t respect.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then can you tell us, what’s sort of the big idea or main thesis behind True North?

Bill George
True North is before you can lead other people, you have to learn to lead yourself. And I think, today, the new book is really saying, “We have a different challenge we have today than we did 30 years ago, and we need new generation leaders to step up. We need to open the door and let younger leaders take charge,” because we’re leading through a series of intersecting crises, and today you have to be an inclusive leader, you have to have a clear set of values, you have to have a purpose for your leadership. That wasn’t true in the past.

And so, I think a lot of the Baby Boomers don’t get that and they don’t really know how to lead people. And so, that’s why I wrote the book to encourage younger leaders, like yourself, to take charge, and I think it is about time, and the challenge is there. I have no question about that, people are ready. But this leading in crisis is a tough thing because, look, we have multiple intersecting crises right now, and your generation, frankly, has been through one crisis after another, and you know how to cope with that, so.

Pete Mockaitis
And I have a feeling we could spend a whole interview talking about these intersecting crises, but I can’t just let that lie. What are these multiple intersecting crises that provide the backdrop context for us?

Bill George
Well, I think COVID is the first crisis we had that affected everybody, maybe World War II, but that’s before our time, but it affected everyone. And I think it’s had…there’s a huge post-COVID psychological effect. People don’t want to go into the office, they want to work from home, they want to work for a sense of purpose, they want to work for an organization that’s inclusive. There is a big change taking place.

But, in addition to that, we’ve got the fallout from Russia’s attack on Ukraine. We haven’t seen a war in 77 years like this, and where an aggressive attack like that took place. And there’s, of course, that’s driving inflation rates up to a record high, 9%. We haven’t seen that in 40 years. And we’ve had the so-called Great Resignation, but we’ve got 11 million jobs open right now and only 5 million unemployed, so this is a huge change.

And so, leaders, having to cope with these changes and figure out, “How do we get people to come together?” And the new attitude today, employees have agency, that’s what I write about in my book, that we’re going through an employee revolution. Starbucks is an example. Here’s the quintessential employee-focused company. Now, they got 160 or 200 stores, they’re applying for unionization. Why? I think they’ve lost touch with their own employees.

And so, I think we’re facing enormous changes and we need people to understand these changes and know how to lead through them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, when we say true north, what precisely do you mean by that?

Bill George
True north is who you are. It’s your most deeply held beliefs, the values you live by, the principle you lead by. And I think most people understand what that is. They get pulled off course of their true north. It’s also where you find satisfaction and joy in your life. And don’t we all want that? Don’t we all want to say we work for a clarity of purpose, and, “I can be who I am, live my values. And, at the same time, I can find real joy and satisfaction in my work”?

We spend a lot of time at work, we should find it. And I think a lot of organizations just see work as drudgery, just drive people harder. It’s not going to work. And so, that’s your true north. And then, once you know your true north, then the key is, “Can you find an organization where you feel aligned, that their mission and values align with your own?”

Pete Mockaitis
And could you give us some sample articulations of a true north? In some ways, it sounds like it’s felt and known and experienced, and I imagine it also can be articulated and communicated. And, yet, there is a distinction, it feels like, between, “Oh, this is our mission statement. It’s a bit different.” Could you unpack that for us?

Bill George
Yeah, I think your true north is basically your moral compass. And if you think about that, and we see something like Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook, a brilliant guy, but he has no moral compass, so he can’t decide who to let on his site and who not to have on, or what damage they’re doing to offset the good. So, I think true north is your moral compass.

Now, I think when you understand, “Why are we leading? Why are you spending all this time being a leader?” Really, you need to have a clarity of purpose, and that’s what we call your north star. That’s your constant point in the sky. My north star is to help people reach their full potential, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do since I was in college, across every organization I’ve worked for, and teaching now at Harvard Business School. So, I think if you have that sense of your true north.

Now, here’s the problem with that, Pete, is that people get pulled off course. They get seduced by money, fame, and power. And these are the three great seducers. And so, I think it’s important to stay grounded in who you are and not let to get entrapped by that. We’ve seen a lot of people that happens to them, it’s a real tragedy. But I think, again, why would you go through your life without a sense of purpose? And so, that’s your north star, and having that understanding, what it’s all about.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, Bill, I’m just curious. Have you chatted with Mark Zuckerberg and discussed his lack of moral compass? And how did that conversation go?

Bill George
No, I have not chatted with him. I’ve read tons of things about him, everything he said, and I don’t think he’d want to chat with me because he’s only interested in driving more people to Facebook, and, frankly, what’s happening, they’re being driven away right now. The young people are all moving away. Some people or older people who are still on Facebook, they don’t use it anymore. 

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, just because…I want to stick with this for a second, because, well, one it’s a bold statement, “Mark Zuckerberg has no moral compass.” And, two, it’s something I think we can relate to, it’s like, “Oh, people know what Facebook is and who Mark Zuckerberg is.” So, what would be some examples of, if Mark Zuckerberg did have a moral compass, what might that potential articulation of a north star look, sound, feel like? And then what might be some decisions that would naturally follow from that?

Bill George
Well, he wouldn’t have founded a site that sells your private information, that’s where it starts. If, say, you’re consulting a therapist, you may not want that sold or you may not want requests from a lot of therapists. There are certain elements of privacy, and I think a lot of people, when they sign up, don’t realize that that information is going to be sold and you’re going to be profiled down to your eyebrow. And so, that’s one thing that’d be different.

And you wouldn’t let a lot of people on the site, you know, I know people who have committed suicide because of they’re so abused on the site. And so, you would keep those people off, you would say, “No, you can’t come on here. We’re not going to have hate speech. We’re not going to do all those things. We want to have a friend site.”

And so, I think he’s kind of lost sight of all that. Now, he’s going to go to more of like a TikTok, short videos, celebrity videos, stuff like that. But I don’t want to just pick on him. There are a lot of other people that have tried to lead without a clear sense of true north. Some of them, like Elizabeth Holmes is going to jail. Mark Zuckerberg is not doing anything illegal. I just think that he’s going to lose it, and he’s got a long way to go. And I think he’s a young guy, he could do a lot of good for the world, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you mentioned your true north is to help others realize their full potential. Could we hear some other examples of people’s true norths that really do inspire, they guide their decisions, they provide a sense of satisfaction and joy in life when they’re in alignment?

Bill George
Yeah, a lot of people, and, of course, in Medtronic, we’ve got a lot of people in healthcare and a lot of doctors devote their whole life to try to heal people. Nurses, too. Anyone involved in healthcare is committed to that. I know people in our community, like Tim Welsh, I’m meeting with later today, who’s vice chairman of the largest bank in this area, a US Banc, and he’s got 26,000 employees.

He’s totally committed to help you have a more secure financial future. If you need a mortgage, he’s going to help you find a way to do that responsively, not like we did 10, 12 years ago when everything collapsed. And he really wants to help people, and he’s been calling them up during COVID and scheduling, and saying, “How can we help?” because a lot of people are hurting. They get payday loans and things like that, and a lot of the poor people being taken advantage of. So, he’s totally committed to that.

Now, I just mentioned payday loans. A friend of mine, John O’Brien, that’s in the book is a former homeless man. His whole commitment is financial literacy for the poor so they won’t be taken advantage of in their own communities. Those are a few examples. But Mary Barra is really committed to changing General Motors, from fossil-fueled cars to electric cars. And she’s shut down all development of anything that’s not electric car. And by 2035, they’ll be out of fossil fuel cars altogether.

So, she’s a woman, in 41 years, one of my former students, and just very passionately committed. And her role is to try to help contribute to climate change by converting the automobile industry into electric cars.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, it’s interesting. As I reflect upon the north star, the examples that you share, some of them feel very broad and applicable in all spheres or domains of your life, like, “Helping others realize their full potential.” You can do that with a spouse, children, etc. as opposed to financial literacy for the poor or no-fossil-fuel cars in this organization. It seems like sometimes they can have a more broad or narrow flavor. Is that accurate and fine?

Bill George
Absolutely, yeah. And I don’t think just saying, “Hey, I want to change the world,” is really…

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, too broad.

Bill George
…living by a north star, and that’s too broad for me. But I think you want to understand, like, “What do I do?” I mentor people, students at Harvard Business School, all the way from MBAs up to CEOs, and I’ve been doing this since I was in college, not just CEOs, but that’s what I do. I’ve been doing it. I’m not some kind of genius in medicine. At Medtronic, we have a lot of other people who invented things, and my whole idea was to build an organization where people are performing at their peak.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, so I want to try one on with you, since I got the almighty master of true north here, Bill George.

Bill George
No, not almighty. Just another guy trying to stumble through the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’ll say a leading expert in this concept, then. So, I think that truly resonated for me. It started in my career but I really am seeing it with my children as well, and it really does provide me with joy and satisfaction, even a rush, a thrill. And my articulation goes to discover, develop, and disseminate knowledge that transforms the experience of being alive. And that’s a little bit wordier than help others realize their full potential, but that’s really what I mean pretty specifically.

Like, I get fired up when I hear about a thing, it’s like, “Whoa, I never knew that, and that’s awesome.” That gets me going, and I’m excited to share that with other people. And sometimes I’m discovering it and curating it from others, and sometimes I’m kind of figuring it out, cracking the code, and developing it myself, but that gets me going. Would that count as a true north or would that be an adjacent or subsidiary concept?

Bill George
Oh, absolutely, it is. It sounds like you’ve made, what I call in the book, the-I-the-we journey. So, it’s not just about Pete being the biggest man around, the most important person. It’s about you really are trying to share this with other people, and get them fired up and excited. And I love your energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Oh, thank you.

Bill George
You not only have a passionate to your work and go quit and sit out on the beach. And I hear about people quiet-quitting. What is a quiet quitting? Look, if I hate my job, quit. Go do what you love. How would you like to spend your 40 years or 30 years of your life doing something you hated? Why? You only live once.

But, no, I love your passion for it. And, yeah, you’re helping other people. Hopefully, with this podcast, you’re helping them realize what they want to do in life and what kind of roles they want to have. Like, the reality is, Pete, we spend more time at work than anything else. And shouldn’t you be able to claim some joy and satisfaction with it? And, at the same time, shouldn’t you be able to have a complete wonderful family life?

You said you have three kids; I spent a lot of time with my kids. I don’t want to work for a job I don’t have time to see my own kids. That’s really important, and have a good marriage and a good life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so this true north business sounds awesome. Can you tell us, if folks are struggling with that a bit, like, “Oh, that sounds really nice for Pete and Bill. They’ve got a handle on that. I have no idea what mine might be or how I’d articulate it,” any strategies or approaches for zeroing in on it?

Bill George
Yeah. When I say you’ve got to be who you are, go back to your life story and think about who are the people in your life, your parents, school teachers, coaches, scout master, whatever? Who had the greatest influence on you? And how did they influence you? Who did you look to them? What did you learn from them?

And then think about some you don’t want to think about or I call the greatest crucible in your life, the greatest challenge you ever faced where you kind of felt like everything was stripped away, all the pretense, and everything else. You really have to figure out who and what you are and what you wanted out of life. That happened to me. I lost seven elections in a row in high school and college because I was too eager to be a leader. I was a kid that was trying so hard to get ahead but I didn’t realize leadership is all about relationships.

It’s funny, some seniors at Georgia Tech told me, they said, “Bill, you’re moving so fast to get ahead, no one will ever want to work with you, much less be led by you.” And they were right, it was all about me. That’s why I said you made that the-I-the-we journey, but I hadn’t made that yet. It was all about, “Have you seen my resume, man? Look at this. Here’s my GPA and here’s all the organizations I’m a part of.” I didn’t get it, so I had to make that transition back then.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we talked about crucible, the hardest times. Well, you mentioned the pandemic mental health situation, and that I think many people might point to that, and say, “Well, yeah, that’s probably the toughest thing I’ve been through in terms of a crucible.” And so, how do we interrogate, investigate, explore that life experience, like, “Yep, I lived through the pandemic. I was sad, lonely, deeply depressed, and it sucked”? How do we turn that into some insight?

Bill George
Well, you have to reframe it. You’d start with that, “Yeah, it sucked. Who wants to be sad, lonely, and depressed?” Come on. So, now, “What my life gives me joy and where do I want to spend my time? And how do I want to do that? And who are the people around me that care about me and I care about them?” Call it your support team, “Who are the people around me I want to be with?” Why would you spend your life not just be lonely and depressed or with toxic leaders?

I worked for organizations with toxic leaders that wanted to manipulate me, and I felt like I had to put on the armor to go to work every day. That sucks, as you say. That’s not how I want to live my life so I had to make a change, that’s when I went to Medtronic. But I would say to people, figure out what it is and then go do it. It’s your life. You only got one life to lead, and that’s what I’m talking about in the book, is trying to say, “How do you do that?”

We talked about having an integrated life. I remember there was a time in my life, Pete, when I was traveling 70% of the time, and I was under stress all the time, I would, myself, and I was under a lot of pressure. And, finally, I looked myself in the mirror, and say, “Hey, this is not worth it. This is not what I want to do. And I’m not working for the man to make money. There’s got to be more to life than this.”

And then it was hurting my family, my marriage, my kids. When I made the change at Medtronic, it all turned around because I felt like I was working for a purpose, to restore people to full life and health, and can motivate an organization, help develop leaders in the organization. So, everything turned around then. And so, I encourage people listening to this, figure out, what do you want out of life? And you don’t have to follow what somebody else wants for you. You’ve got to be your own person.

Pete Mockaitis
And I believe that you had a practice at Medtronic that we had a guest speak about, and it’s amazing, associated with that, I believe, tell me about this. Is it true that you had an annual company event where, for an hour, you took to stage multiple families that were people staying alive because of a Medtronic device? Is this something that you did?

Bill George
Absolutely. It’s more like two hours.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Bill George
And probably, so in the December, you speak all the Christmas party, I changed it into the holiday party. It wasn’t really a party, but that was the most meaningful day of the year. Everyone said, “This is kind of, I figure out, why I’m doing what I’m doing.” You even find them in the accounting department or in the IT department, “Now I understand why I’m here.”

This woman gets up and says, “See my little girl? She wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Medtronic.” Or, a guy gets up and said, “I’ve got your product, and I’ve got a new life.” Or, there was a young man that really influenced me, a young man named TJ Flack from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He had cerebral palsy from birth, and it’s not curable, but he got a Medtronic drug pump and it’s changed his life. And he patted his belly, his stomach, and he said, “This is my friendly ally. It saved my life.” Totally, I remember calling him back when I was retiring 12 years later.

And he came in and he said, yeah, he had a good job now. He’s not going to be a superstar but he has a family, a marriage, kids. He’s got a life and before he had no life. And so, that makes you feel it only takes one person, if you feel like you helped one person’s life. so, yeah, there are a lot of tears when people talk about these things but pretty exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Bill, yeah, absolutely. I’m sort of tearing up a little bit right now, and I wasn’t even at these meetings. But a podcast guest, Don Yaeger, Episode 371, four years ago told me about this, and I was like, “Wow.” So, just hearing the story about it happening is something that is enough to stick with me. And, here you are, Bill George, the man behind it.

Bill George
By the way, Don Yaeger is an awesome guy. He is an incredible motivator and he inspires me. And that guy, one of my students, get in my class, get in my courses, and he’s gone out and carrying it out, and he’s doing it now, but, yeah, he’s fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think another thing I love about that is you realized you had to make some changes, and that didn’t mean, “Ah, I’ve got to quit my job. Got to leave Medtronic,” but rather it was an internal shift, which then flowed into practices that reshaped your context to be more awesome for everybody.

Bill George
You’re a very smart guy. That’s exactly what he did. He had to reshape the context. If I went to production with Medtronic, I’d said, “Pete, how are we going to make 3.91 a share? Can you help me?”

Pete Mockaitis
I’m inspired.

Bill George
They know how to do that. Yup, they know how to make a quality product. I remember a woman told me, she said, “Mr. George, I make a thousand heart valves a year, and I can tell you that if for you, 99.9% quality is fantastic. If I have one defective valve, someone is going to die and I can never live with the fact that I caused someone’s death.” And she’s a woman who didn’t have any direct reports. She went in training classes on quality of how to make a heart valve. So inspiring.

She’s simply, “You know, when I get home at night, you know what I’m thinking about? I’m thinking about those 7,000 people who are alive in the world today because of the heart valves I make. That’s what gives me pride.” Now, this woman is never going to be rich but she’s rich in her inner heart, and she’s got a great one, I bet, but she’s not going to be rich.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so, Bill, this is a lot of inspiring stuff. And if listeners are saying, “Yes, I want to be that kind of person who makes positive impact in these ways,” what’s the day-to-day, step-by-step practices, processes, conversation stuff we do to get there?

Bill George
It’s hard work. I mentioned processing your life story, processing your crucible. A lot of people don’t want to do that. Studying. We talked about Mark Zuckerberg. How do people go off course on getting seduced by money, fame, and power? I’ve seen very, very successful people do that, and they kind of lost it. They didn’t live in Hendersonville, they went to New York, okay, and they want to be a billionaire. I’ve seen people literally do that and lose their way and wind up in jail.

But I think, then, you have to think about, “How do I become self-aware?” Self-awareness is the key to anyone who wants to lead. You have to be self-aware about yourself, because the hardest person you literally have to lead is yourself. So, then I think you need to practice. I happen to be a meditator but you need some form of introspective practice where you put all the electronics away, take 20 minutes, and really reflect on, “How did I show up today as a leader? What kind of person was I? And did I find fulfillment? Did I find joy in what I was doing? What kind of day was it?” and do that every day.

And the next thing I would recommend is surround yourself with some truthtellers. They’ll tell you what you don’t want to hear. They’ll hold a mirror up to you, and say, “Bill, look how you showed up today. You were kind of too aggressive and pressing people. Relax a little.” And you need those truthtellers in your life. So, I believe in 360-feedback, I believe in having people around me that tell me when I’m getting off track, and they help pull you back. Boy, you get off track your true north, it’ll help pull you back, “Why am I worried becoming CEO of Honeywell? I don’t even love the mission or the purpose? I’ve got leave, okay. Does it matter if it’s a much smaller company? No, I want a life.”

And so, think about that. Or, I used to have students tell me, Pete, these are 26-year-olds, 27-year-olds. “I work a hundred hours a day when I was trying to get into business school,“ hundred hours a week, I mean. And, man, that’s great, I said, “Really? How do you have a life? You can’t have a life and work a hundred hours a week. And, by the way, what are you doing? Why are you over it? If you’re going to be a leader, you got to learn how to delegate. Let other people do it and stop trying to take over everything.”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Well, so I also want to get some of the don’ts, there you go, like don’t try to take over everything. Any things that you recommend that we stop doing, as we want to, if we want to make progress on this journey?

Bill George
Well, I think stop trying to look for fame, recognition, power over other people. Your job as a leader is to empower people. And stop trying to be, like, command and control, and, “I want a title. I want to be manager or supervisor, director, or vice president, senior vice president, CEO.” That’s where I got caught up in that trap, and that’s not a good trap to be in. I just want to do it. I really find joy.

By the way, then you will get to promotions because the people around you are saying, “This is a person I really want to work with, I want to be led by.” So, you build those relationships. And so, you want to stop chasing the brass ring, so to speak. There’s nothing wrong with being well-paid and making money, but how much do you need?

Elon Musk is worth $250 billion, which I can’t even conceive of. I can’t conceive of what it’s like to be worth a billion. But does he give any money away to help other people? No. Why not? What’s he going to do with it all? You can’t take it with you. So, I said that I feel blessed enough to make money. I did well, very well at Medtronic so we give it away about half our net worth into the grants from our foundation. But I’m not trying to brag. I’m just saying share it. Share it around.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. That’s beautiful. Well, Bill, now I want to zoom into the particular specific interactions you have with people that you’re leading, you’re influencing, you’re interacting with. Are there specific words or phrases that you’ve really found magically helpful along this journey or pretty toxic and have chosen to abandon?

Bill George
Yeah, if you want to lead, create an inclusive environment with a sense of belonging. And I think that’s really important. Don’t be exclusionary of other people just because they’re different than you. Accept people for who they are, and then reach out and help other people. Let me give you an example of someone I interviewed.

Alan Page, who just played for the Minnesota Vikings, Hall of Fame football player, National Medal Award of Honor, he said, “I’m not about football. I’m about helping everyone get an education.” So, he took the money he got from the Hall of Fame, created a foundation, others would give into it, to help kids who wouldn’t otherwise go to college, not the A+ student but the kids who wouldn’t otherwise go to college to go.

And he’s done amazing, he sent 7700 kids to school that otherwise wouldn’t go on and got into college, whether it was a four-year or two-year vo-tech, they got through, and that’s what he takes pride in. And so, somebody like that is I really admire. You could say, “Oh, he’s a big man, he’s a big football player.” No, he doesn’t look at himself as a celebrity. He just said, “I’m a guy who’s just trying to help other people.”

So, that’s why I commend you when you talked about your own purpose, you make that I-the-we journey. But if it’s all about me, it’s not going to end well.

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

Bill George
Yeah, I want to mention the fact that today, everybody talks about diversity, Pete. I think it’s not just about diversity. It’s about creating an organization that’s inclusive, so I feel fully included. I don’t feel different like I’m out of step here because I’m a man or woman, or my religion, or my race, or my sexual identity, or national origin. Accept me for who I am. Just let me be real.

And I think that’s really important. And I think that’s what good leaders today do. You can’t help people reach their full potential if you’re judging them by their gender or color of their skin or religion. So, I think creating an environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging is really…we have a new idea in the book that I’m very excited about. Instead of being a command-and-control leader and telling you what to do, the leader is coach, and think about coaches you’ve had.

A coach isn’t going to be your six unless you feel your cares about you. I think of the coaches I had when I played high school and college sports, and my coach really care about me. And can that coach really challenge me to be my best? And so, it’s an acronym we use in the book, but I think that leadership is changing so there’ll be more coaches to help people, and be challenging, and say, “Hey, you didn’t give us your best game today. You can do a lot better than that. Here’s where you can get better.” You can get out there and help people. So, that’s, I think, a big idea.

And, finally, I think leading with a clear sense of be a moral leader with a sense of moral compass. That’s not a religious term. That’s a sense of, “We know where this person stands. We know what his or her values are, and they are not going to be moved off it,” even if you disagree with them. We don’t have to be the same but they have clarity about who they are and what they stand for.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, you said there’s an acronym. What is it?

Bill George
C stands for caring about people because people won’t follow you unless they know you care about them. O is organize people in their sweet spots. Think of a sports team, not everyone can be the quarterback or the point guard. You got to get people where they’re using their greatest abilities. And then the third, or the A is align people around, like we’re talking about Medtronic, a clear sense of mission and purpose, or purpose and values.

And then the second C is challenge people. Challenge people to be their best. I had a student who played for Coach K, Mike Krzyzweski at Duke, and he would say, “He seems like a great value. There wasn’t a day when he wasn’t at my face, yelling at me about why I can’t be better.” And then, finally, the H is get out and help people. I think business executives spend too much time in their offices, sitting in meetings, going over their PowerPoints charts, looking at numbers. You’ve got to get out there with the people, and that’s where the action is. So, that’s the idea of what it means to be a coach.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thanks, Bill. Now, let’s hear a favorite quote, something you find inspiring.

Bill George
There was a Buddhist monk man, who just died recently, named Thich Nhat Hahn, he said, “The longest journey you’ll ever take is the 18 inches from your head to your heart.” And by that, he meant is to be a leader today, you can’t just lead with your head. You’ve got to lead with your heart, with passion, compassion, empathy, and courage.

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

Bill George
Well, I can tell you about a breakthrough, Pete, is the work that’s being done, taking ideas from meditation and how neuroplasticity changes people’s lives, and now you can mold your brain as a result of it, and you can overcome the kind of anger parts and move into a kindness, more compassionate kind of person through these practices. And this have been studied with fMRI by Richard Davidson at Madison. Brilliant work. He ought to get a Nobel Peace prize, or a Nobel Medical prize for this.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Bill George
I’m reading a book called Younger Next Year, and it’s how you stay young by staying healthy and taking care of yourself by exercise every day, eat healthy, get some sleep, and relieve your stress. And I think if you begin to do those four things, you’re going to live a lot longer.

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

Bill George
I hate to confess it but I use social media and I use a computer a lot because, now, an awful lot of work is done remotely. But for whatever bad things you see, I can reach a lot of people. I’ve got a quarter a million followers on LinkedIn, and I can have dialogues with people, and I try and respond to every comment that people make. I can’t get them all but I sure try. And I think it’s a great tool to reach people. So, the negative things I said about Facebook, something on LinkedIn just gives me a great source of networking with people that I maybe never met in person.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Bill George
For me, I think I mentioned to you, it’s meditating every day. I just got back from India from a meeting with his holiness, the Dalai Lama, last week. I got back on Sunday. And, man, I was exhausted after a 35-hour trip, and I had to meditate to kind of regain, overcome jetlag and get my health back.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with people and they quote it back to you often?

Bill George
I didn’t make this up, but, “Be who you are because everyone else is taken.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill George
Yeah, be authentic and, yeah, that’s what I try to do and share with people. Follow your true north.

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

Bill George
Yeah, you should read the Emerging Leader Edition of True North. It’s my best book, I believe, and I’m very excited about it because it takes all these ideas that we’ve been talking about, and you’ll find it a great guide to leading a more fulfilling life.

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

Bill George
Yeah, you only live once. Make a difference in the world. Whatever money you make, you can’t take it with you. Make enough money to have a good life and take care of your families. But do something where you’re really have an impact in the world, a positive impact. You can leave a mark, so that when you go to your grave, people will look and say, “Here’s a person that really had a positive impact in my life.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Bill, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck in following your true north.

Bill George
Thank you, Pete. Thank you for having me on. It sounds like you’re already following yours, so thank you.

804: A Recruiter’s Insider Tips for Acing the Job Search with Zeinab Kahera

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Zeinab Kahera shares the best job search practices learned from her decade of experience in recruiting, interviewing, and hiring in multiple industries.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A behind-the-scenes look into what recruiters want to see 
  2. Powerful questions to identify your unique expertise
  3. The most important thing to communicate in your resume 

About Zeinab

Zeinab Kahera is a career specialist, who specializes in working with people to amplify their voice while utilizing expert techniques to build a cover letter and resume that is professional, strong, and best represents them.  

Her professional expertise comes from a decade of experience in recruitment, interviewing, and hiring in multiple industries. She has also served in Human Resources and various management roles including for a Fortune 500 company.   

Zeinab earned her Bachelor in Business Management from Georgia State University and a Master of Education in Counseling with a concentration in Student Affairs from the University of West Georgia.   

 Resources Mentioned

Thank you, Sponsors!

Zeinab Kahera Interview Transcript

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

Zeinab Kahera
Hello, Pete. How are you?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m doing well. I’m doing well.

Zeinab Kahera
Very good. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to speak to your audience and to speak to you and, hopefully, drop some gems this afternoon.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we love gems.

Zeinab Kahera
Or this morning or whenever they’re listening, the evening.

Pete Mockaitis
We love gems. Well, first, I was curious to hear about you’ve lived in four different countries. Whoa! What are they and what have you learned from that?

Zeinab Kahera
Yes, I have. So, I started off in Saudi Arabia. My parents actually started off in Sudan. That was their first country but I was born in…or I moved to Saudi Arabia as an infant. And then, after that, came back to the States, did Egypt, lived in Egypt for a couple of years. I was older then so I remember that. I don’t remember Saudi too much. And then, obviously, the US, is one of the countries because I’m from the States. Now, I live in Canada.

So, what I will say in terms of what it taught me was I have such an appreciation for just the human experience and that I’ve seen so many levels. I’ve seen an excess of wealth, I’ve seen an excess of poverty, but the thing that kind of stayed the same was that people just really wanted to have a good life and do right things. So, I appreciate that perspective from living in those different countries.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, very cool. Yes. And I also want to get your perspective on, so you’ve been on both sides of the hiring table: hiring, being hired, negotiating, being negotiated. And in so doing, I want to hear any interesting or surprising things that you’ve picked up along the way that you just found really striking, like, “Huh, never would’ve guessed, but now that I know, that’s super powerful.”

Zeinab Kahera
Yes. So, what’s interesting is that I recently went through an interview process again, and this time was so different for me because, in the past when I had been looking for jobs, I was unemployed either through layoffs, the last time was COVID, this time I was working now.

I think if I could pinpoint, the biggest lesson that I share with people a lot is that there is a space for you to feel empowered in your job search. I think a lot of times people feel like we have to cater to or at the beckoning call of the hiring manager. And at the end of the day, or a colleague said to me that managers really just want to hire nice people who are knowledgeable and skilled. But that nice people part is really important.

And so, leaning into for myself and embracing, “Hey, I am a nice person. Let me show it more,” and not be caught up in my fear and my anxiety of the interview process really helped me to feel empowered in my job search. So, yeah, that’s, I think, a perspective that I recently garnered.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I do buy that in terms of just like showing you’re a normal real human being as opposed to sometimes it feels like we enter into this, like, professional mode. Like, I remember being at career fairs when I was recruiting, and folks will say things like, “Hello, I’m looking to combine my interest in finance and accounting, and find a rewarding career in which I can dah, dah, dah synergy,” I don’t know. And it’s like, “Really, is that what you’re looking for?” I mean, it feels a little too, I don’t know, PR’d. It just doesn’t feel real and authentic.

And that might be true, like, “Yeah, I like accounting, I like finance, and I want to put them together and do some things,” and yet the presentation just felt a little bit like, “Oh, I’m not quite talking to a person so much as I am talking to talking points.”

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah. What came up when you were sharing was it lacks authenticity, and I think that’s a thing that sacrifices a lot in people’s job searches is that they don’t feel like they can be their genuine selves. They have to be an image of what they feel this professional should look like. I’ve hired in various roles, and the most recent one was for a web developer bootcamp, and I was part of the hiring process for our career coaches.

And I just remembered the biggest thing for me was, one, obviously, how they articulated their skills, that they have good examples of workplace experiences. Were they reflective in their experiences? But also, were they allowing themselves to just be themselves, and maybe make a quirky joke? I had a colleague who we interviewed, and he had technical issues with Zoom, and most people would just kind of like freak out, and he just laughed. He’s like, “Did you all do this to me on purpose?” and that was like such a seller for us because he allowed himself to just be in the moment. But then what sealed the deal was that he knew his stuff, he had the experience, he showed great examples.

Pete Mockaitis
That reminds of that viral video of the judge and the lawyer and the filter, it was like, “I’m right here, judge. I’m not a cat.” “I am not a cat.”

Zeinab Kahera
Yes, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I also want to get a take on, okay, here we are, summer 2022, there are murmurs of recession upon us, how quickly the times changed. Can you tell us, okay, given that, anything we should be doing differently, thinking about differently, staying, looking around, negotiating?

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah. So, when I hear people say the word recession, obviously, there is like an anxiety or like a discomfort that come from that word, but I remember the recession of 2008. And I just remember I actually got a job during that time. And so, there are people who are still getting jobs. I think that we don’t stop believing that we can get jobs. We just make adjustments to our strategy.

So, regardless of the times that we’re in in terms of recession, we should always be having the job search that allows you to have human contact first. So, everything is online now, we’re all applying online, so there is an influx of applications that are coming in. And companies are like, “Well, we don’t want to pay somebody to look at 350 applications,” so they’re using these softwares, these applicant-tracking systems, and so people are getting filtered out.

And so, your goal is, “How do I bypass that wall, that technical wall, and I get an opportunity to talk to people?” And in a time of a recession, that’s even more important because of the fact that you are going to have more people who potentially will be laid off. So, how do you differentiate yourself from those other 200, 300 people who are applying for the same job? So, are you sending a cold email? We also call them intro emails. Are you utilizing your personal network, not being afraid to ask for help? Those are the things that help, especially in rough times in the market.

And, yes, it’s okay to look for another job if you have a job. If there are jobs posted in your industry that could be potential growth opportunities for you, go for it. Obviously, we’ve seen some companies that have decided to freeze their hiring. But I do think that there are still jobs being created every day that are not going to be eliminated.

But I think, on a personal note, just to end on this, you have to assess where you are in your personal life. If you feel like, “You know what, I just want to just kind of ride this wave, not make any moves until things kind of quiet down,” that’s perfectly okay as well. It’s not a very black and white decision-making process. There’s a lot of gray with it. So, some people are like, “You know what, I’m not in love with my job but things seem to be okay with my company. I’m not hearing any hints of layoffs. Let me just stick this out for a little bit and see what opportunities are created in the future.”

Pete Mockaitis
And when you talk about assessing kind of your personal situation, how do you think broadly about assessing what is your next best career move?

Zeinab Kahera
So, as a career coach, I’m really big on the self-awareness piece, and I’m really big on assessing what your needs and your values are. With my clients, that’s one of the first things that I challenge them to do, is to look at, “What is it that you currently need and you value?” And so, I think that when it comes to assessing your situation, you have to have that reflection piece. You can’t be making decisions based on external factors, what everybody else is doing, because now you’re allowing other people to dictate your life journey, in a nutshell.

So, to give an example, I had a client who was doing pretty well in their job, didn’t really need to go anywhere else. They worked in nonprofit so they were in an ED role but they kept seeing these opportunities come up. And so, for them, I asked them, “Okay, so where is the challenge for you?” And they’re like, “Well, I like what I do and nothing is broken. Why fix it?” And I said, “Okay, so then why are you contemplating leaving?” And they said, “I believe in the potential of the future, and if other people want to work with me, I feel like why don’t I see what’s possible.”

And I said, “Well, what’s most important to you?” And they said, “I really like growth. I like learning more. I like not feeling stagnant. I like the risk of trying something new.” And I said, “Well, that sounds like something that you value enough that it’s worth it to you.” And so, that’s kind of the conversations that we have in terms of internally assessing where your situation is.

Now, the other external factors are your financial situation, your security. What potential debt do you have or currently have? Are you trying to position yourself with a house or a family or all of those factors involved? But it always starts with self. It always starts with fulfilling what your needs and your values are.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in needs and values, you talked about learning growth, you’ve talked about financial. What are some of the other big items that pop up frequently that we’d want to assess?

Zeinab Kahera
Yes. So, the idea of needs and values came up because I actually did an assessment by, I think her name is Carolyn Weir. W-E-I-R, is definitely her last name, and she created the needs and values assessment. And so, some of the things that are evaluated are “Do you have a need for having a sense for accomplishments, certainty?” I’m looking at my list that I have for myself. “How much do you value safety, order?”

Then also, “Are you someone that likes to teach? Are you someone who likes to be supportive, an educator, spirituality?” So, you see how it’s very specific interpersonal elements that are defining the needs and values. Those are the things that I would have my clients assess in terms of assessing where you are in your life and your decision-making process.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then, let’s say, we’ve got some clarity on that and there is an opportunity that piques our interests, generally speaking, what are the things that make you interested in a candidate versus you just sort of pass right on by them?

Zeinab Kahera
I personally value someone who has a good career story. I think that a good career story shows growth, it shows adversity, it shows resilience, it shows courage. And those can define a holistic experience for someone. And so, when I’m interviewing candidates, I’m not just looking for check-off the box, “Can you do skill one, two, and three?” It’s like, “Okay, in your journey to get to where you are right now, what were some things that you had to overcome to get here? Or, in your last role, like where were you challenged? And what were the tools or resources or people that helped you, supported you to overcome those challenges?”

Another thing that I think is valuable, not to sound like a broken record, but it’s really important, is just someone who allows themselves to be themselves and show their genuine side and laugh and show their kindness or their character. Maybe even show a little bit of vulnerability. Why are those important? Because that’s who you’re going to be working with every day. You’re not going to be working with just the resume paper, words on the resume. Like, there’s a human being behind that, and that’s who you’re going to have to problem-solve with, maybe even manage crises with, come up with creative innovative ideas with.

And so, specifically, in the interview process, I’m looking for the best expression of your personality. And one thing, I want to mention this, because this is really important to me working in tech, I’ve had the opportunity to really have good conversations about neurodiversity, especially individuals specifically who are on the spectrum.

And so, the communication of personality may present a different way as someone who is not on the spectrum. But I’ve found, even with the clients that I’ve worked with, who self-disclosed that they were on the spectrum, it was almost like a puzzle and we just had to move some pieces around, and, boom, they were able to find themselves and their voice and be who they are and feel comfortable with who they are.

So, I’m saying that to say that the advice that I’m giving, it does exist for everyone. It’s not going to necessarily look as cookie-cutter as we want but it does exist. And then one more thing because I talked a bit about the interviews, but specifically on paper with the resumes, I’m really someone, and even LinkedIn, I’m really someone who values individuals who, you can tell, that they’ve put the work in. And not the work necessarily just in their career but just how they present themselves.

I tell the clients I work with all the time, “If your resume is mediocre, like it doesn’t show accomplishment-focused language, it’s not even showing keywords, it’s not celebrating your achievements, that, to me, is an articulation of how you feel about yourself. So, why would I want to hire someone who’s presenting that they don’t really feel that confident in themselves?”

It’s not faking it till you make it because you have to actually believe what you’re saying, but it is like challenging how your truth about yourself and your perspective of yourself, and allowing yourself to celebrate the accomplishments, how far you’ve come, the skills and the knowledge that you’ve gained, and then taking that, putting that on paper, putting that on your LinkedIn profile.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s where I was going to go next, is you talked a bit about one’s unique expertise. How do you recommend we figure that out for ourselves and showcase it well?

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah. My litmus test for that is, “What can you teach other people to do really well?” And the word expertise makes people feel very uncomfortable because they feel like it has to be somebody in a suit and they look very prim and proper, Just like this sensationalized image of an expert. But it’s like, “What is the thing that people depend on you to get done? What is the thing that if someone had to be trained on it they would go to you? You are the point of contact, the subject matter expert.”

So, if you’re trying to evaluate that, I would sit down and look at the work that you do, “What is the thing that just clicks for you, it comes very naturally, you could do it with your eyes closed?” And here’s an extra thing, that there is a space for it, “What do you enjoy doing, too?” because most likely, the thing that you are really good at is the thing that you enjoy doing, so much that you’re willing to invest the time and the energy to get better at it. So, that’s a way of evaluating what your expertise is.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, there’s a beautiful sort of a feedback loop cycle going on there, like work-fun-good. It’s like, “Ooh, I’m working on this thing and it’s fun, so I’m going to keep doing it. And then, hey, I’ve done it for a while, so now I’m good.” And then it just kind of snowballs in a good way.

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah, there are sometimes debates about like, “Does this dream job or this ultimate career exist?” and I’m the person who believes that it does. And one of the books that I read is called The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, and he talks about this idea of your zone of genius. So, below your zone of genius is your zone of excellence. So, your zone of excellence, you do it really well but it doesn’t really bring you any fulfillment. Your zone of genius, you do it really well, it brings you fulfillment so much that if you do it for free, meaning like you didn’t have to worry about other things, you would just do it.

So, to give an example. For me, I discovered that coaching is in my zone of genius, like I am a very empathetic person, I communicate well, I can really leverage and maximize one-on-one conversations with people, and I get such a sense of fulfillment from being able to help people, specifically with their careers, and help them navigate an aspect of their lives that can be overwhelming. And I did it for free before I even started getting paid. I just started helping people for free. So, in terms of making that connection back to your expertise, it can also be something that that’s in your zone of genius, that you’re a genius at.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And you mentioned a mediocre resume. Can you dig in a little bit and tell us what makes the difference between mediocre and exceptional? Or, what are the key mistakes that show up again and again that we should put the kibosh on?

Zeinab Kahera
So, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel because there is definitely very good advice about resumes that I think people should listen to, but the first thing is just language. How are you speaking about yourself? I’m very much someone who believes in being bold and almost audacious in some aspects in terms of how you talk about yourself, “So, I’m qualified to do this.” Like, we’re talking about their profile. “I’m qualified to do this. I have a proven record of doing this. I’m an expert at this.” You’d be surprised so many people feel uncomfortable using that language.

Then when you start getting into your actual work experience, task list. If you’re writing a task list, that’s not demonstrating the impact that you’ve made. The language that you use has to demonstrate impact. So, for an example, as a career coach, if I’m writing a task list, I could say, “Meet with clients one on one for 30 minutes.” Or, “Provide feedback upon request,” or, “Schedule appointments on a weekly basis.”

You see how it just falls flat. So, if I want to be impactful though, I’ll use language like, “Responsible for supporting the career development and growth of web developers and data analysts by providing one-on-one coaching, interview prep, as well as,” “feedback that is attainable,” or something like that. It’s always rough when I try to get it off the head, but my point is to say, I told you what I did and how I did it.

If there’s a basic thing that you want to demonstrate in your resume bullet, “What did you do and what was the impact that you made? How did you make that impact that you said you did?” So, if you were like number five out of ten in sales for your division, what were a couple of things that you did to help you get to that point? And that language also tells a story. So, it’s not just, “I did A, B, C, and D.” It’s like, “A, B, C, and D helped this company do this,” because companies that are looking to hire you, they want to know, “How are you going to make a change? How are you going to solve a problem that they have?” and they can’t do that if you just tell them what your to-do list was.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I heard some great advice associated with put the achievement or impact results number at the first part of your bullet, and then the “by coaching, developing, mentoring,” and how you did it at the second part because…and it’s so funny because, in my own resume, I said, “Oh, okay, I guess I can give that a try. Does it really matter? I’m just changing a little bit of the…” and it really did it because, as a reader of that resume, it’s very easy, like, “Okay, you did a bunch of stuff. All right,” versus, “Oh, you achieved that? Like, I’m intrigued. How did you pull that off?” “Oh, well, let me tell you.”

It’s sort of like this sequence follows my attention, like, “Ooh, that’s awesome. How did you do that?” “Oh, now I know,” versus, “Okay, you did a bunch of things.” It’s like, “Oh, and, by the way, that resulted in $3 million of savings.” It’s like, “I might miss it because it’s at the end of the bullet.” And do you have the stats on like how long a human looks at a resume?

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah. If you’re lucky, you’ll get them for 60 seconds but it’s really like less and they skim. So, you mentioned creating interest. So, a good resume from the beginning, creates curiosity, which entices the reader to keep going and going and going. So, I’m a big fan of profile, sometimes the word is a summary, but I like to use the language profile. So, that’s a small paragraph, two to three sentences, introducing yourself to the reader.

And then you go in and you’re like, “Here are my skills that are very industry-specific.” Don’t go really strong with the, soft skills where I tell people, “A soft skill is like, if you told me what it was, I can’t tell you what job you did.” So, like, “I’m a good communicator. I have a strong attention to detail,” okay, but what job are you doing? It’s not to say that soft skills aren’t important, it’s just that the reader is looking for, “Are you checking off the list in terms of industry-relevant skills that I need you to do?”

So just with those two you’re already telling the reader, “Here’s my synopsis of what you’re going to see as you read my experience from the profile. Here are the skills that I can do, which you’re also going to read when you read my experience.” So, when they go to the experience, now you’re just reinforcing what you’ve already told them, and that’s what captivates their interest is the story.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. the profile is handy in terms of orienting, it’s like, “Okay, how do you see yourself and sort of, generally, how might you fit in here? What are the high points?” I think, for me, when I hear someone say they’re a good communicator, it’s like I guess I’m just a skeptic.

Zeinab Kahera
No, I feel you.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m just like, “Prove it. Prove it.” It’s like, “I received the highest evaluations out of 20 speakers at this conference.” It’s like, “Okay.” that’s sort of unfudgeable in terms of, “You’ve got to be like a straight up con artist who’s lying to me, or that really happened and you’re good at communication. Well, I have some context. Like, oh, okay, to groups which is very different than one on one, and so maybe we’ve got something else there in terms of your coaching clients have scored X percent, increased, I don’t know, salary, or interview rate, or placement percent,” I don’t know, whatever the most relevant metrics.

Zeinab Kahera
Or hired within 180 days or something like that of working with me.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Zeinab Kahera
Right, exactly. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. And then, cover letters, do they matter?

Zeinab Kahera
I hate them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Zeinab Kahera
I hate cover letters. I do not feel any shame about saying it. And I will say, as someone who follows a lot of people in the career coaching industry, I’m not alone, but I think that the cover letter is important because, so your resume demonstrates your qualifications and your accomplishments. Your cover letter tells the reader why they should hire you.

And I think the thing that people miss out a lot on is you get the opportunity to make a personal connection between you and the company, especially in that first paragraph. People kind of skim through it, “I’m really interested in working in this role. I’m qualified to do this, this, and this,” and they ignore the company. They don’t mention anything that they admire about the company or any research that they’ve done. If you’re interested, it’s okay to tell them, like, “I researched you all, and this is what I found, and I love it, and this is how I feel. Like, I connect with the thing that I love about your company.” And your cover letter really genuinely allows you to do that.

And then when you get into your more industry-specific or your relevant skills, then you can kind of talk more about your accomplishments and so on and so forth but don’t miss out on the opportunity to make that personal connection with you and the company.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then when it comes to interviews, any top do’s and don’ts there?

Zeinab Kahera
My biggest thing is you have leverage in the interview. A lot of times, people think that…I think I said that you’re beckoning call of the interviewer, and obviously you want to make a good impression, but it’s not about being someone that you’re not. It’s being the best expression of your best self. The best expression of yourself.

So, the best way to help you with that is to practice, honestly. You can hire a coach or you can grab a friend, say, “Hey, ask me these questions. I want you to look for this, this, and this. I want you to look for the quality of my answer, the timing of my answer. Do I give a good example? And do I sound confident? Look for those four things.” And then you practice with that person. Or, I did this before multiple times, I recorded myself on my computer, and I went back and listened to my answers, “Okay, I need to trim that down a little bit. Oh, that’s not necessary. I don’t need to mention that as much.”

Also, do your homework. Research the company. Research the people you’re interviewing with. When I would coach my students at my previous job, I can’t tell you the amount of time people would come to the mock interview and not research a company at all, and I’m like, “You are trying to convince these people to hire you, and you don’t even know anything about…like, go to LinkedIn and see if the person that is interviewing has a LinkedIn profile, and look up some things about it, and bring it up in the interview. It shows that you care. It shows that you’re willing to put the effort forward.”

So, to recap, practice, practice, practice, do your research, practice the timing of your answers, the quality. Make sure you have good examples of your work experience. Make sure you research the job description again so that your examples are aligning with what they’re looking for. And, also, research and look up the people who you’re going to be having these conversations with.

Pete Mockaitis
And what do you think about the STAR framework or is there an approach you recommend to interview stories?

Zeinab Kahera
Yes, the STAR method is very, very helpful. The other one that I like is CAR, which is context, action, result. I find that the extra letter can be a little bit…the S and the T can get a little bit intertwined. But, yes, when I was coming up through TARGET, we would use a model of what you did, how you did it, and the impact that it made. Or, who was involved, what you did, and what was the impact that was made.

So, this is something that I love sharing, you have to have a point system. The STAR method is a point system, there’s four points. Situation is point one, task is point two, action is point three, result is point four. Let’s say that you’re asked like an open-ended question that’s not really behavioral in structure or competency-based, how do you answer those, like, “Why do you want to work here?”

So, you can still follow the point system, “I’m going to give three reasons why I want to work here,” or, “I’m going to give two reasons why I want to work here.” Two to three is usually my sweet spot. Why does that help? Because it allows your answer to be more memorable from the interviewer’s perspective. It also keeps you from rambling and it also keeps you from under-answering.

That’s a great technique that I like to recommend to individuals who may be ADHD because they sometimes struggle with the organization of their thoughts or they lose their place. So, I say, “When they ask you a question, obviously, give yourself a few seconds to think about it. It’s okay to think about it. And then while you’re thinking about it, figure out your number, what’s your number going to be? ‘Okay, my number is going to be three and I’m going to give three reasons why I want to work here’ and then you start answering.”

Pete Mockaitis
And talking about ADHD and whether it’s clinically diagnosed or just that we’re all distracted, is the interviewer themselves is also a human being whose attention is subject to wander, and it’s just magical. I’ve noticed this in my keynotes, it’s like when you say, “There are three key things,” it just sort of like the pens click, “Oh, one, two, three,” it’s like they’re just primed. And so, why not galvanize attention that way?

Zeinab Kahera
That’s right. And when you say it through points and then you summarize really quickly, again, it makes it more easier for them to remember because you’ve organized it in a way where they don’t have to go through and search for what you said.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Zeinab Kahera
Very true.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah, I was thinking about what are some things that I have found to be really helpful in a successful job search, and I identified like five things that I wanted to share. The first one was that you have to have a plan that is manageable but flexible. And you can use the SMART goal setup if you want to for your plan but the reason why the plan is important is because it allows you to track and measure your progress. So, that’s number one.

Another one, though, is that, in your measurements of success, there has to be an existence of grace because I find that people are very hard on themselves or they set these expectations that can be somewhat unrealistic. So, is your measurement of success graceful? Then you have to also be willing to be uncomfortable because we live in a time that we get things instantly a lot or we have a perception that we’re getting it instantly because time is still time.

I think that we feel like when we start applying, we should instantly start hearing something, there’s not going to be any waiting time, and that’s just a lie. It’s going to be very uncomfortable and you’re going to sometimes question your decision-making process, but if that’s coming up for you, the discomfort, that’s a normal thing, so embrace it.

I mentioned before about connecting with the best parts of yourself. You have to trust that person. I think sometimes we default to the worst parts of ourselves, and that’s what causes us to question our decisions a lot more. But you did something to get you to where you are right now. You didn’t just show up. So, what were those things that you did? What were those things the best parts of you that helps you to get to where you are right now? And lean into those, channel those.

And the very last one is you got to allow other people to help you. and this really comes up, especially in that networking piece because I think that people feel like, “Well, I don’t have a big network.” If you even just found four names, three names, and you write an email, and you say, “Hey, I’m making a career change, I’m getting into this industry, I’m just looking for some potential opportunities. I’ve attached my resume. I’d love for you to look at it. If you know anyone who may be interested in hiring me, please send them my way.” Done.

And it’s okay. Why? Because if you were challenged with the opportunity to help someone, most likely you’re going to do it. You’re not going to say no. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think what’s fun about that one is because when it comes to helping, that’s one of the easiest things you can do. It’s like, “Oh, I can send an email that might take three minutes. Like, hey, you people know each other now,” and it could very well result in they get a job there, and then both people are grateful. You’ve scored brownie points with both people, the hirer and the hiree. And it took you only a few minutes, and it’s almost like you get a sliver of the credit. So, just in terms of like impact per minute, I think it’s just huge and a fun to help that way.

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah, best investment in time you can put in for yourself. And I mentioned just recently coming out of a job search, and one of the things that I did differently was I was like, “I’m going to use my network this time because in the past I didn’t do that.” That’s how I got a job literally. A friend had a friend that worked at the company that I’m going to, and I set up a coffee chat because I was like, “Okay, well, I want this person to actually know that I’m qualified to do it, and I want to…” so, we did an informational interview, is another way you can call it.

And when I spoke to her, there wasn’t a job available but the conversation that we had was so impactful for her that when a job became available that I applied to, she went from just a reference to an advocate, emailing the hiring manager, having a chat with the recruiter. And so, for me, I was like, “Wow, this is so much rewarding,” and it felt weird asking for help but I’m glad that I did it because my job search went so much more smoother and quicker than I had anticipated.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. All right. Well, now can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah. I’m not a Christian but I love this quote from the Bible, it says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” And I love that because it talks about being able to be yourself and evolve through educating and learning and transforming yourself, not necessarily just falling into place and doing what everybody else is doing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Zeinab Kahera
The Four Agreements. I love that book. I love that book.

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

Zeinab Kahera
I have two, and these are big because I give them my money two use them. One is Grammarly. I love Grammarly. And then the other one is Calendly. And what took hold of Calendly is just a story behind it because I remember using it before the CEO started really getting a lot of funding, and just to see it evolve. I love Calendly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. Did you schedule this meeting with Calendly?

Zeinab Kahera
I surely did.

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

Zeinab Kahera
Be kind to yourself and show yourself grace. People tell me that when I tell them that it helps them a lot.

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

Zeinab Kahera
Yes. So, once again, thank you so much for having me here. This is a great conversation. I love talking about this stuff, so much that I turned a career into it, so I appreciate it. My website is ZeinabKahera.com. So, that is Z, E as in elephant, I, N as in Nancy, A as in apple, B as in boy. Kahera, K-A-H-E-R-A.com. Email is zeinab@zeinabkahera.com. And you can hit me up at LinkedIn. LinkedIn is like that is my boo. I love me some LinkedIn. I’m on there all the time, so definitely reach out to me there. Let’s make a connection. If you ever want to practice an informational or an interview or a coffee chat, holler at me. Yeah, that’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Zeinab, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in your career adventures.

Zeinab Kahera
Thank you so much, Pete. I appreciate you having me today.

802: How to Level Up Your Career and Find a Job You Love with Brandi Nicole Johnson

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Brandi Nicole Johnson shares simple and practical tips for streamlining your job search.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get really clear on what you want  
  2. The best salary database I’ve ever seen
  3. The tiny mistake that can ruin your entire resume

About Brandi

Brandi Nicole Johnson is an award winning international speaker, facilitator and coach. Currently, Brandi remains focused on her passion for developing the world’s next generation of leaders and creating experiences that transform lives. 

Brandi spent most of her career at the Center for Creative Leadership, a globally ranked, internationally known provider of leadership development, research, and executive education. 

Brandi has a Master of Science Degree in Management and Leadership and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and Communication Studies. She loves consuming food that is life changing and asking provocative questions that inspire action.  

 

 Resources Mentioned

Brandi Nicole Johnson Interview Transcript

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

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Thank you so much, Pete. I’m so excited to be here today. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. Well, I’m excited to dig into your pro tips on how one levels up one’s career. But, first, I want to hear a bit about you and the Girl Scouts. You’re a lifetime member, you’ve been awarded the Girl Scout Gold Award. What’s the story here and why do you love them so much?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Ooh, I’ve been a Girl Scout since 1995, so I actually got involved because I was transitioning school systems, and I wanted to stay connected to my previous friend group. And so, a friend, a childhood friend’s mom actually reached out to my mom, and my mom was like, “Well, this is a way for you to stay involved.”

So, I started as a junior, so those were the green uniforms back in the day. I’m not really sure what color they are now. And then stayed in until I graduated from high school. I got my Girl Scout Gold Award at my last year of high school. I created a project that was really focused on helping high school seniors really think through their options, and whether or not college was the right thing for them to pursue. And if so, like how do they pick the right college?

That was something that I really struggled with when I was a senior, so I really wanted to create a playbook that made those things easier. And then since graduating, I have continued to be involved in the movement at all levels of the organization, so global, national, and local. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m curious, is there a particular vibe or ethos that captures you emotionally there?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
I would say making the world a better place. So, that’s embedded in the Girl Scout promise and law, and when I think about how I framed my career, when I think about pivotal decisions I’ve made in my life, I always think about what’s going to have the greatest impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, you’re also making an impact in your Level Up Your Career program. Tell us, what’s this program and what’s the big idea here?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
I started the Level Up Your Career program because I wanted to scale my impact. So, rather than meeting with coaching clients one on one, Level Up Your Career is a group live training opportunity where you can quickly learn everything that you need to learn in order to be set up for success in your job search.

So, typically, we would take four weeks over the period of a month to walk through my signature career coaching framework. And that’s rooted in, first, creating a strong job search strategy, then crafting resumes and brand that get results, then taking an opportunity to think through, “How do you maximize your interview performance?” And then, finally, getting prepared to actually level up your offer once you get an offer that you’re really excited about.

So, in a couple of weeks, at the end of September, we’re actually going to offer the program again in a Masterclass format. So, over a period of two evenings that start at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, we’re going to take an opportunity to walk through that same framework in an accelerated fashion. So, I’m really excited about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, I’ve got to know. Can you share with us some of the juiciest gems in each of these four phases in terms of I see in my mind’s eye that silly ad about one weird trick to eliminate belly fat? Brandi, can you give us at least one weird trick, or it doesn’t have to be that weird, inside each of these that is super handy to leveling them up?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yup, absolutely. So, I’d say in that first phase, especially when you want to really focus on creating a strong job search strategy, I see so many people today on LinkedIn talking about how much time they’re spending on job applications, and I highly recommend not doing that. And I recommend not doing that by getting really clear around what it is that you’re searching for.

So, there are a multitude of resources that we can pursue to help us learn more about what criteria we want to set so that we’re really clear about what it is that we’re looking for in terms of our next professional opportunity, and then letting technology do the work for you.

So, one of the magic things, or one of the wonderful things really about LinkedIn right now is that LinkedIn allows you to set up job search alerts. So, once you’re clear about that criteria, LinkedIn will actually notify you when something that aligns with your criteria becomes available. And so then, you’re streamlining your job search in terms of the amount that time you’re spending actually on applications.

In that second phase where we’re thinking through how to craft resumes and brands that really gets results in a way that really want and keeps recruiters in your inbox, this really comes down to helping other people understand what you can do for them. And the best way that one can illustrate that is by taking an opportunity to quantify every single contribution and accomplishment that you have achieved in your past.

So, if there was an increase, actually talking about the percentage. If there was a revenue goal that you met, actually talking about that dollar amount. If there was a portfolio that you managed, actually talking about the depth of that portfolio and the size. When we get to maximizing your interview performance, and this is where I see a lot of candidates go wrong because the reality is, if you’ve taken the time to apply, you have submitted your application, you’ve then been invited for an interview, interview experiences can make or break your candidacy.

And so, it’s really important to make sure you’re investing the amount of proper time to set yourself up for success. So, that often means that you have to practice beforehand, and that you’re also really clear from your previous conversations with the recruiter, from your research about what that company is looking for, and what problems that role will actually have an opportunity to solve.

And when you get to that final phase, which is my favorite because it’s all about the money, this is when we don’t want to leave any money on the table. And so, in order to be best prepared for any salary negotiation conversation, it’s going to require that you do your research upfront. I don’t recommend going to check out Glassdoor. I actually recommend taking it a step further and going to look at trusted resources of information. So, one of the best ways to do that is through salary databases that are open source.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, Glassdoor, not the trusted source. What are the open source for salary databases that are trusted?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yup. So, if you look at H1B data, for example, that’ll give you a really good pulse as to what the base salary is. Now, the reality is compensation varies based on industry. So, if you’re in tech, you’re likely looking at a compensation package that may also include a bonus or equity of some kind. Another trusted salary resource, I love 81cents. They just got acquired not too long ago, but their mission is still very much the same, and that is they can help you understand your market value and what kinds of compensation expectations you should have going into that job search, and especially as you’re preparing to get an offer. So, that’s another wonderful resource.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, we’ll zoom in a little bit on the first piece with job search strategy. Are there any particular approaches you recommend we go about doing to for our own soul-searching, or identifying, “All right, these are the things that make all the difference when it comes to finding a fit you love versus hate”?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yeah, for sure. One, I think in today’s time, being really honest about the reality of what’s not working for you and your current role, if you are working, or, if you’re not working, what you’re more excited about. I think, over the last two and three years, especially as we journeyed throughout the pandemic and all the other things that have been happening around the world, the reality is work is different. And because work is different, we have an opportunity to really think strategically about what it is that we want so that we’re making sure we’re pursuing opportunities that align with our strengths and with our preferences.

So, the first thing is honor yourself. The second thing that I’d say that’s really important is take some time to do some introspection. So, whether you hire a career coach, whether you talk with a trusted friend, whether you take some time, spend half a day reflecting on questions like, “What kinds of problems do I want to solve?”

For me, when I was in the same situation and job searching, it was when I had taken my first sabbatical. I remember thinking about, “How did I want to spend my energy?” because the reality is that, in today’s time in 2022, most of us are spending most of our awake hours at work, if we’re working. And so, for me, I really wanted to spend my awake hours doing something that gave me great joy, but that also gave me an opportunity to learn and earn.

And so, I returned to coaching, I returned to learning and development. And so, I invite and encourage everyone to think through that same lens of “What are you excited about? What gives you great energy? What kinds of problems do you want to solve?” Take that one step further, and also think through, “What brands do you really admire? Who has a strategy that you’re really excited about helping them build, and helping them execute?” Those are some of the guiding things and principles that I often encourage clients to really think through and to think about.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Well, I’m also curious, when it comes to this personal brand business, can you speak to that and give us some examples of what does an okay personal brand sound like versus an excellent one?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yeah, I would say we have to remember what age and time we live in, which is that everything is searchable in today’s time. And because it’s searchable, that means we really need to be mindful, especially digitally, of what we’re showing. It doesn’t really matter whether or not your Instagram profile is public or whether or not you have an unlisted video on YouTube. The reality is the power of meme and screenshots is still very real.

And so, the first thing I always recommend when it comes to thinking about your brand is making sure you have done an audit. So, for example, is what I’m posting, is what I’m sharing, is what I’m commenting on something that’s helpful to me getting my next career opportunity or is it not? Does it detract away from the opportunities that I want?

And so, if there are things that detract away from it, I encourage you to delete it and remove it. And then, also, really thinking about how you brand yourself starting with your name. So, I know from a previous private coaching client I had, we did a quick Google search on their name, and we realized that there was someone with the same name that had an open warrant out.

And so, I was like, “You probably want to put your middle initial in your name from now on professionally just to make sure it’s abundantly clear that you are not this person, should a hiring manager ever do a search.”

The other thing I really encourage is to take an opportunity to really invest and creating a really robust LinkedIn profile. So, not only thinking thoughtfully about your picture and using every character of your headline, but making sure you’ve captured your experience in a really meaningful way throughout your profile, and that you have at least 50 connections so that you’re able to still grow and build your network.

I also highly recommend commenting on posts that you find intriguing and engaging with others across the LinkedIn network community. LinkedIn is very powerful in that in today’s time, if there is a new opportunity, especially if it’s a new job opportunity, it goes there first. Hundreds of thousands of roles are posted there week over week, and so it’s a great place not only to build and increase your professional network, but to also find out about new opportunities as they become available.

Pete Mockaitis
And you said something that made my ears perk up, when you said things that you can do that are detracting from your online presence from a career professional perspective. Well, I imagine there are some things that are obvious and maybe juicy and funny, so tell us about those. But what are some things that are maybe more subtle, like, “Oh, it didn’t occur to me that I should perhaps not do that”?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yeah, I would think thoughtfully through that lens because this is going to be very contextual, right? So, through the lens of I always say that if you wouldn’t want to testify about it in a court of law, you probably should not post it. If you wouldn’t want to be called to HR because you posted it, you probably shouldn’t post it.

Pete Mockaitis
Or in an interview, “Brandi, I noticed this on your Instagram.”

Brandi Nicole Johnson
That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, well, you don’t think that’s kind of funny?”

Brandi Nicole Johnson
You’re right.

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, no? Uh-oh. Okay.”

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yeah. So, if you don’t want to be asked about it in an interview, which is always fair game if you posted it, again, it’s probably something that you would want to remove in that season. In today’s time, some companies now even have social media policies so they’ve been very specific about what you can and cannot post on social media, or they even have a disclaimer to say, “Hey, my posts are my own.” So, I just always encourage all of my clients to be really mindful of what they’re posting, whether or not they’re job searching or not. Like, your brand always matters.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s good. Well, now let’s talk a bit about resumes. Any top do’s or don’ts, mistakes you see all the time in terms of things that people should stop doing or start doing right away?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yes, absolutely. So, I see typos in resumes all the time, and that’s got to stop. So, get somebody else to proofread your resume. A typo, for me, is an automatic no. I’m going to move your resume to the bottom of the pile. I think it’s also really important to acknowledge again that resumes yield a short attention span.

So, the research says that recruiters and hiring managers typically spend about six seconds reviewing your resume before they move on to the next. So, you have a very small finite amount of time to get their attention. So, again, make sure your resume is aligned with not only representing your experience in a quantifiable way, but really painting a picture of what you want them to know about you, and giving them an opportunity to think through what it might be like to have a conversation with you in real time because it’s often the interview that comes next.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’re bringing back fond memories of resume typos back when I was doing hundreds of consulting resumes. There were several people who were looking for a challenging role in a world-class “consulting” firm, and I was like, “Oh, well, I don’t think this is the place that you’re looking for, actually.”

Brandi Nicole Johnson
See what I mean? Use Grammarly, use spell check, get a friend to proofread. Like, it really does make a difference. It really does.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Brandi, this is fun. Tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
I would just say, if there’s anything I can do to support any of you, just reach out and let me know. You can always reach me at BrandiNicoleJohnson.com.

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

Brandi Nicole Johnson
“Be who you needed when you were younger.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.
Well, now, could you share a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Right now, I’m reading a lot about toxic work cultures, and the impact that they can have not only on our careers and our lives, but also our health. And so, for me, I’ve become ever more vigilant and passionate about making sure everyone that I’m connected to is pursuing opportunities that they’re really excited about and where they know they can truly grow and advance their careers.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Becoming by Michelle Obama.

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

Brandi Nicole Johnson
I’m going to say it’s a tool that makes me better, my prayer journal.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great, yeah.

Brandi Nicole Johnson
So, I take an opportunity every morning to write down and capture at least three things I’m grateful for, and then three things that are top of mind for me that I likely am worried or concerned about, and then I let them go.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. Well, my next question is a favorite habit, so it sounds like we’ve already heard of one.

Brandi Nicole Johnson
I’m working on a new habit, which is I try to see my trainer every week day. So, not only does it give me an opportunity to invest more in my own wellness, but also in movement. And so, that’s going really well. It’s a habit I’m trying to build.

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

Brandi Nicole Johnson
“Consider it done.”

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

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yup, absolutely. You can go to BrandiNicoleJohson.com.

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

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yeah, absolutely.
So, if you are finding yourself in a place where you’re overwhelmed by your job search, where you are looking to transition and level up in your career, I invite you to join us for the next Level Up Your Career Masterclass a little bit later on this month. You can find out more at CareerGold.co.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Brandi, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun as you level up.

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Thank you. It’s been an honor. Thank you so much, Pete. Take care.

782: How to Overcome Distraction through Minimalism with Joshua Becker

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Joshua Becker shares his practical ideas for letting go of distractions so you can focus on what matters most.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one thing that starts day right
  2. How money can prevent us from growing in our jobs
  3. How to tackle technology addiction

About Joshua

Joshua Becker is the Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-selling author of five books: Things That Matter, The Minimalist Home, The More of Less, Clutterfree with Kids and Simplify.

He is the Founder and Editor of Becoming Minimalist, a website dedicated to intentional living visited by over 1 million readers every month with a social media following of over 3 million. His blog was named by SUCCESS Magazine as one of the top ten personal development websites on the Internet and his writing has been featured in publications all around the world.

Resources Mentioned

Joshua Becker Interview Transcript

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

Joshua Becker
Oh, it is good to be here. Thank you for the invitation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, I’m excited to talk about your book, Things That Matter: Overcoming Distraction to Pursue a More Meaningful Life. But, first, I want to hear a little bit about you and your family’s story. You’ve become a minimalist. What does that mean in practice? And what’s the tale behind it?

Joshua Becker
Yeah, okay. Well, yeah, let’s start with the easy stuff, huh? Small background, I grew up pretty typical middle-class America. I’ve been married now for 23 years and have two kids. And like most American families, it seems like whenever we got a pay increase, we just increase the size of our house and increase the amount of stuff in it.

My life changed 14 years ago, my son was five, my daughter was two, and I was introduced to minimalism on a Saturday morning. I was living in Vermont at the time, Phoenix is now home for me. But I was living in Vermont and we had had this long winter. We were into our spring cleaning. I offered to clean out the garage that had gotten all dirty and disheveled over the course of the winter.

My son, Salem, was five at the time, for some reason, had this vision that he was going to enjoy cleaning the garage with his father but he lasted about 30 seconds and went into the backyard, and my garage project just compounded and compounded, and hours later, I was still working on the same garage. And I started complaining about it to my neighbor who was doing all of her yard work, and she introduced me to minimalism. She said, “You know, that’s why my daughter is a minimalist. She keeps telling me I don’t need to own all this stuff.”

And I remember looking at the pile of things in my driveway, dirty and dusty. I’d spent all day taking care of them, and out of the corner of my eye, there was my five-year-old son swinging alone on the swing set in the backyard where he had been all morning long. And I suddenly realized, Pete, that not only were my possessions not making me happy, like most of us would say, but even worse, all the things I own were actually distracting me from the very thing that did bring me happiness in life. And not just happiness, but purpose and meaning and joy and fulfillment.

So, that was the start of our journey into minimalism, our journey into owning less so that I could free up more of my life for the things that actually do bring back dividends that pay off in the long run.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, owning less, I mean, there’s such a spectrum between stuff and how much is enough, and too much and not enough. How do you think about that?

Joshua Becker
Yeah. So, it’s very interesting because when I…so, this was 14 years ago. I don’t think there were any…I think I was the first blog. I started a blog that weekend, just a diary. Becoming Minimalist is the name of the website. And I started it just to keep track of what we were doing and what I was getting rid of. Becoming minimalist was a decision that we had made and so it seemed like the perfect title for the website.

At that time, most people writing about minimalism, they were in their 20s, and they were backpacking around the world, or they owned a hundred things, or 20 things, and like I was never drawn to that type of lifestyle. I liked my neighborhood, I liked the school that my kids were going to, I liked having people over into our home that were new to the neighborhood, or I worked at a church at the time, people who were to the church.

And so, minimalism for me never became about, “I just want to own the least amounts of things as possible.” That’s not ever what I pursued. I pursued “I want to own just the right amounts of things so that I can focus most of my life on the things that matter.” And that’s always going to change from person to person. It’s going to look different from a family of eight to a single person in their 20s.

It’s going to look different if you live in the country, if you live in the city, if you’re an architect, or a teacher, or a writer, or a farmer, or a mechanic. Like, you’re going to own different things in order to pursue those things that are most important to you but, in most cases, the things that we’ve accumulated and the things that we continue to pursue have actually become the distraction from those greatest values in life.

And so, how each person finds that, I think, looks different from how they shake out looks from person to person but I think the value is in the pursuit and in starting to recognize how possessions become so much of a distraction from us for us.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, in the book Things That Matter, are we talking distractions in terms of like physical stuff items as well as what are some other key distractions?

Joshua Becker
Sure. Possessions is a chapter in the book but there are eight distractions that I cover in the book that distract us from a meaningful life. I cover fear, I cover past mistakes, I cover the selfish pursuit of happiness, the distraction of money, the distraction of possessions, the distraction of accolades, the distraction of leisure, and the distraction of technology, or maybe trivial is a better way to say that last one.

So, yeah, people hear the title Things That Matter: Overcoming Distraction to Pursue a More Meaningful Life and they think, “That is a book I need to read. My phone is definitely a distraction,” like we can all picture that one. And then I think the book really hopefully, challenges us to think through distraction in broader and more socially ingrained ways than simply, “I’m playing too many levels of Candy Crush on my phone.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, before we dig into a couple of them in particular, are there any sort of fundamental mindsets, beliefs, habits, behaviors that transcend or cover all of them that’ll be handy for folks to take on in terms of pursuing a more meaningful life and being more awesome at their jobs?

Joshua Becker
Yeah, they’re very broad and they’re very varied. The distraction of fear is very different than the distraction of social media. But if I were to try to boil down the premise of the book that I think applies to all of them, it would be I start with a story of my grandfather who asked me to play a part in his funeral. It was really a life changing conversation hearing my grandpa talk about death, not fearing death, not regretting that death was coming, but proud of the way he had lived his life, so much so that he had few regrets about how he had lived.

And my question became, “How do we get to the end of our lives with fewer regrets?” And I think the way we do it is we identify what is essential, we identify what is important, we look at the distractions that are keeping us from those main pursuits in life, and then we work to overcome them every single day going forward.

And so, if there’s any uniting thought between the distractions, it’s that we were designed to live meaningful lives, that there are pursuits and there are good…there’s a good that we can bring into the world that no one else can bring into the world, and we need to work hard to overcome those distractions that keep us from it, and realize that it’s not a one-and-done thing, that we need to do this every single day when we wake up, to take it to work every single day when we go to work. We need to overcome the distractions that keep us from doing our best, most meaningful work in our jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any sort of key guiding principles or questions or thought exercises to help us zero in and distinguish the essential from the nonessential?

Joshua Becker
Well, yeah, very interestingly, we did a survey for the book and one of the questions we asked is, “Would you say that you have identified a clear purpose for your life?” And I was surprised 70% of people say that they have identified a clear purpose for their life, which I thought it would be lower but I was excited to see so many people who would say that.

We asked a follow-up question, “How often do you feel you are spending time and resources on less important pursuits at the expense of things that matter?” and 77% of people say that they often spend time and money and energy on things that aren’t as important as that thing that their clear purpose is. And so, number one, I think there’s just a thought process to taking a look at our passions, taking a look at our abilities, the personality that we have, and working hard to discover, like, “What is most important to me? And what role can I play in bringing that about or in pursuing that goal?”

Just thinking of all the different problems in the world, this is a side note but I’m pretty convinced one of the reasons we have so much division in our country, in the world today is that people are passionate about different problems, and we seem to have begun judging people in that way, that, “If you are not as passionate about the same problem that I’m passionate about, then there’s something wrong with you, or you’re distracted,” rather than leaning into, “Hey, I’m passionate about solving this problem. I’m passionate about serving this person,” and leaning into that.

So, I think, number one, just elevating what it is that we want to do in the world and the role that we want to play and how we bring about the greatest good for the greatest number of people is how I like to say that, and then starting each day with a thought exercise. I would just call it setting my intention every day, that I wake up every day and one of my first thoughts, usually when I’m in the shower, is, “Hey, today I commit myself to…” something and fill in that blank, and it’s usually the same thing every day.

But somehow starting the day and setting, “Hey, this is what I’m pursuing this day. This is what’s going to be important to me today.” I’ve learned that in college from a mentor of mine, and I’ve tried to keep it as a daily exercise as much as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you give us some examples of articulations of both a life purpose as well as a daily intention?

Joshua Becker
Yeah. For me, I think they’ll, hopefully, stem from each other. So, for me, I would say there’s three main purposes that I have with my life, and the first two come from the first one. So, like my greatest purpose in life, my greatest goal in life, the thing I desire most is I want to be a faithful follower of God. So, my faith has always been important to me and this is always my driving force.

Beneath that, I want to be a faithful husband. I want to be an intentional father. I want to focus on the relationships that are in front of me. So, I always want relationships to be important to me. And the second thing, or the third thing, depending on how you’re counting, is I want to make an impact in the world, and I want to use my gifts and talents, and I want to help as many people as I possibly can.

And so, those are the main driving forces in my life. As opposed to I want to make as much money as possible, I want to be as famous as possible, I want to rise to the top of my corporation, I want to own a house in that neighborhood. Those are the purposes that drive me the most. And then, of course, I think the goals along the way change.

So, my son just left for college, and so, me being an intentional father when he’s 19 is different than me being an intentional father when he’s three, but it’s the same purpose. The goals just change. And so, for me, my daily intention every morning would be I want to, again, just as a faith-based intention, I want to honor God with my day.

So, that’s how I would set out every single morning, but it might look different for someone else, “I want to be the best mom that I can be today,” “I want to be the best architect that I can be today,” “I want to serve people the best that I can today.” It looks different for different people.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, then zooming into the eight distractions, can we zero in on a couple? Like, what do you think are the most widespread destructive and easiest to get some quick wins on?

Joshua Becker
Yeah. So, good ones because, How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast, man, so many I think of these distractions can pop up in work specifically, or in life more generally. Fear, I think, the distraction of fear can pop up, I think, in our work over and over again. And what’s really interesting, a friend of mine, actually, brought about this distraction. It wasn’t on my radar when I was penciling out the book or had the idea for the book, and so he’s the one that kind of shared it with me.

And the more research I did into fear, really, the more fascinating it became that I interviewed someone for the book, his story is in the book, and he’s always had this fear of failure. And it was interesting because he would say that his fear of failure, as he looks back over his jobs and careers, he said, “My fear of failure follows me.” And he said, “Even when I became more successful in organization, the more successful I became, the more my fear of failure began to haunt me,” is the way he would say.

And so, as he rose up in the corporation and got more and more responsibilities, and closer and closer to the top, he said, “My fear of failing, my fear of being found out that I’m not actually good at my job,” would like, eventually, he said it led him to resign from every good job he’s ever had. And it was a new way for me to look at fear that it’s not something that we just overcome one time, but we recognize it over and over again, and how the fear of failure can force us to set low expectations or small goals.

One of the ways we overcome the fear of failure is we just try little things. We’d set very easy goals that we can attain because we don’t want to really march for something that we might not attain. So, certainly, I think that’s a big one.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if we do have that fear, and maybe it’s failure or something else, and that can, one, just suck in terms of the experience of having that over your shoulder, and, two, cause us to not stretch for opportunities that are bigger or riskier, how do we overcome that distraction?

Joshua Becker
Yeah. Well, number one, I think we become aware of it. I mean, number one, I think we, just in that conversation with my friend, it was interesting. Like, I think he was learning as much about himself in my interview as he knew going in, he’s like, “You know what, I think this has led to me leaving every job I’ve had, now that I’m saying it out loud, and now that I’m talking about it.”

And he would trace it back to just conversations, I think, he had with his father and some of the words that his father spoke into him about being good for nothing. And he said, “I feel like I thought that I had overcome that but now I can recognize that it’s still sabotaging me even to today.” So, I think recognizing that.

Number two, I think believing people when they speak confidence into us, to not push those compliments aside as just flattery or someone trying to get something out of us, but if we’ve heard this compliment over and over again that we’re good at something, to begin believing it. I’m not the type of person who says that we always avoid fear.

Like, I think there is some healthy fear that we have in life. Fear, hopefully, keeps us from doing dumb things. But it’s when the fear is irrational, when, “Hey, I have been successful in my career. These are competent people ahead of me in the organization, that they keep promoting me or keep giving me more responsibility. Why am I so afraid that I can’t do this job? Or, why am I afraid of taking on this new responsibility, or taking on this new project, or really trying at this new goal? Or, why would I let one setback keep me from trying again if this is really what I feel like I’m supposed to do and good that I can bring about into the world?”

So, I think recognizing that, and looking back at our past, and learning from others, and putting some safety nets in place, I guess, if we need to. I tell a story how I transitioned. So, I worked at a church, now I just write full time, and that’s a pretty fearful thing for me to do to become self-employed and become a full-time writer. And along the way, there were, “We can save some money and we can put some money aside to dissipate that fear a little bit.” So, putting some of that safety net in place as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about money next as a distraction. How does that cause havoc?

Joshua Becker
Eighty percent of Americans, actually it’s 79% of Americans say they’ll be happier if they have more money. And over 90% of Americans have financial-related stress, which has always been a really fascinating statistic to me. I think it’s like 92% of Americans have financial-related stress.

And there are certainly some people who don’t have enough money but it is not 92% of us. We are statistically the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and still 90 plus percent of us are worried about money. It’s not because we don’t have enough money. It’s not because we don’t have enough income coming in, in most cases. It is simply because we have started looking for money to bring something into our lives that it is never able to provide – happiness and security.

We think that more money will make us happier. We think more money will make us feel more secure. Eighty-seven percent of millionaires say that they are not wealthy. And there was a study done by Boston College, and they did a study of the ultra-rich, they called it. And among people with a $20 million net worth or more, when asked if they had enough money, the most common response is, “I just need 25% more and then I’ll feel secure.”

And so, what happens is we start chasing happiness and we start chasing security in money, and then we start making more money, our net worth goes up, or our income goes up, and we realize that we’re not that much happier, we don’t feel that much more secure. And so, rather than thinking, “Hey, maybe money isn’t going to provide this happiness and security,” we tend to just think that we had the wrong number in mind, and we start thinking, “Oh, I just need that much money,” or, “I need that much income.”

77% of Americans say that, almost daily, they’re motivated by having more money. And I think this plays into our job, this plays into our work because the goal of our work, the goal of our job becomes, “How do I make more money in my job?” rather than, “How do I serve people better in my job? How do I find more meaning in my job? How do I help people more in my job?”

When the motivation just becomes, “How do I get more money?” I think that we lose out on a lot of satisfaction, and a lot of fulfilment, a lot of meaning, and even a lot of growth that we can find in our work and in our job and in our careers.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that really resonates and this reminds me, I’ve quoted this a couple of times, but this song “Ill With Want” by The Avett Brothers. There’s just a stanza that just grabs me, that 25% more comment, it goes –

“I am sick with wanting
And it’s evil how it’s got me
And everyday is worse than the one before
The more I have the more I think
I’m almost where I need to be
If only I could get a little more.”

And it’s like that is it. And I kind of tease myself if I start falling for that, whether it’s money or…I think about podcast downloads, like, “Oh, boy, when I have 18 million downloads, then I’ll be happy.” It’s like the absurdity, and much like the possessions, not only is it sort of maybe enough, but it could be actively harming you if you’re pursuing more money at the expense of other dimensions of your career that really are bigger drivers of happiness.

And I think it was a paper with Daniel Kahneman and others, and I’ve updated the number for inflation a few times, but it’s something like in America, they didn’t see happiness gains above $75,000 or they became quite minimal at that point, which I thought that kind of resonates, like, “Okay, when you’re not worried about your home, your vehicle, your food, your ability to do a bit of saving and giving, then that’s a lot to just take care of them.”

Joshua Becker
There’s a Harvard study and they surveyed 100,000 adults, which I always think it’s, for me, the go-to study on money and happiness. There’s literally some studies say there’s no connection between money and happiness. Some 75,000 is the most common quoted one. There’s one study that said it’s 24,000. There’s one study that literally says the more money you have, the happier you can be.

But this Harvard study, they tried to really sort out this answer, and what they discovered was it’s not so much about how much money you have, but it’s “What priority are you making money in your life?” And what they discovered is that people who trade off more important things to get more money end up less happy than those who just pursue the things that are important. And so, for them it’s about time, and it was this whole idea of, “Hey, if I just work really hard for the next six months, then I’ll make it financially and I can finally focus on the things that matter most.”

If that’s the thinking that we embrace in our jobs, those people always end up less happy even if they have more money than the person who says, “No, I have enough already and I’m just going to focus my time on family, or I’m going to focus my time on hobbies, or focus my time on these pursuits that mean the most to me.” And so, I think that’s one of the things.

Like, there’s no limit to the amount…I would say there’s no limit to the amount of money making opportunities in the world, like if the goal just becomes, “I want to have more money,” like there’s no end to the amount of things that we can sacrifice or give up in pursuit of that because I don’t think we never reach that security that we think it’s going to bring us, and so we just constantly want more, and we take on the new opportunity and the new clients, or whatever it might be.

Anyway, and here, your story about the podcast is great because there’s a whole chapter on accolades, which is basically that whole point. In some ways, podcast downloads equals money in some indirect way or direct ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Or likes.

Joshua Becker
Yeah, but when the goal becomes, “Hey, I just want this many people to know my name,” or. “This many people to be listening to the podcast,” or, “This many people to be mentioning me,” what it can do, like you know this, like it can change the content of your podcast. Like, you know by now, a topic you could put on that is going to be really popular and is going to be downloaded pretty often, like I know the articles that I can write on Becoming Minimalist that are going to go more viral, but they aren’t necessarily the content that helps people the most, or is the most meaningful work that I can do, same with your podcast, I’m sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I guess I do think that way about the podcast and meaning because I believe the most popular podcast categories are news, sports, politics, true crime. And I’ve listened to three out of four of those categories, and that’s kind of entertaining, occasionally riveting, but it rarely improves the quality of my life in terms of, like I heard an awesome hacker story.

And, okay, maybe there’s an actionable nugget about password manager, and it was a thrill for the moment. We’re talking about Darknet Diaries, Jack Rhysider, a free shoutout. But in terms of that’s what gets me going is when listeners say, “Whoa, I did this thing, and I got this result, and life is better from that.” Like, that’s the coolest.

Joshua Becker
Yeah, I agree. I agree. I think that, I mean, there’s a time and a space for sports and entertainment and hobbies, like not to discount those things, but, for me, yeah, you could get more podcast downloads by doing something. I could write the article.

Pete Mockaitis
“One weird trick to become minimalist.”

Joshua Becker
“One weird trick to never clutter again.” And I just know that it’s going to get a lot of clicks and it’s going to get a lot of views, but it’s not true. There isn’t an easy one-step answer to some of these things, so.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s talk about technology. That is often the source of much distraction. Any unique insights to share here?

Joshua Becker
Yeah, my approach to technology is, and obviously it’s always going to be an important chapter in the book, look, I get to do what I do today because of technology, and so this was never going to be, “Hey, how do we avoid technology? And technology is evil.” We’re here today because of technology. What I think the problem is, the way I look at technology is I try to notice a difference between creation and consumption when it comes to technology.

I can use technology to write an article, I can use technology to be on this podcast, I can use technology to create something that’s going to spread on social media, or I can use technology to scroll cat videos, or play Candy Crush, or watch and binge another season of something on Netflix. And so, noticing in my life the difference between, “Hey, I’m using technology to bring about good,” or, “I’m just using it and it’s become a distraction.”

And so, that’s always the first way that I think about technology to try to help me, I think, notice the good and the bad. And, again, not that there’s not a space for cat videos and whatever the video game is that we might be playing, but when it becomes a distraction is when it becomes the problem. And, for me, I have always taken, I started about four, five years ago, I started taking one annual tech fast every single year.

And the first time I did it, it was for 40 days. I’ve done it as low as 14 days and up to 40 days, which was the longest, where I just set aside a time where I do, ideally, no technology in my life. That’s not usually possible with my job and with most people’s jobs, but there are still limitations that we can put on it in terms of, “Hey, I’m just going to use my computer when I’m at work. I’m not going to do anything. I’m not going to do social media for 14 days, or I’m not going to play my games for 14 days, turn off the TV for 14 days,” whatever it might be, and having that period of time.

Well, for me, going that whole cold turkey route is better than, “Hey, I’m just going to turn off the TV at 9:00 p.m.,” or, “I’m going to limit my social media to 30 minutes a day.” I’ve always just done better with three weeks of no social media, three weeks of no television, and then I always think it helps me evaluate better when I come back.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and then you can really feel, I think, more of the impact and the difference, like, “Huh, okay.” Like, if I go on a camping trip where technology just isn’t even an option, it’s like, “Oh, there’s some loveliness here,” versus if it’s just small changes or interventions, often lead to small results, but not always. That’s rather exciting when there’s levels there.

Joshua Becker
I always think like a food detox is a way to think about that. If I think, “Hey, maybe I’m allergic to dairy,” and you take it out of your diet for a month, and then the first time you come back and have a glass of milk, and you can feel it, you’re like, “Oh, this actually was having a more negative impact on my body than I thought it was. I thought it was just normal how I felt but now I can see that the impact that it has.”

And so, you cut out social media for a month, over the month of July, or the month of August, and you enjoy your summer, and then you come back in, you’re like, “Oh, this is kind of a waste of time scrolling this constantly every evening.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Joshua, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Joshua Becker
We asked, “How much your past was harming your future?” and 61% of people self-reported that something they had done in the past, a past mistake was keeping them from the future they wanted, and 55% of people said that a past mistake committed against them was keeping them from the life that they wanted to be living in the future. And that’s just the people that could identify it.

And, certainly, there’s a lot of overlap there but, man, that is a lot of bottled-up potential. That’s a lot of people who can say, “Hey, I am not able to live the life I want today because of something that happened in my past.” And I just encourage people, if that’s you, to turn and face that problem, whether it’s getting professional help or reading something or talking to a friend. Like, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not easy to overcome but it’s a distraction I really think we need to work hard to overcome.

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

Joshua Becker
Yeah, a favorite quote, actually one that I use in the opening chapter of Things That Matter came from Seneca, the philosopher, and this is what he said, he said, “It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievement if it were all well-invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we’re forced at last by death’s final constraints to realize that it passed away before we knew it was passing,” which is very much, I think, the message of minimalism and the message of this book that we would invest our lives in things that matter.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a favorite book?

Joshua Becker
A favorite book, man, the greatest book that I read recently is The Greatest Salesman in the World. It’s an old book and I bought it for everyone on my team, and I recommend it to everyone.

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

Joshua Becker
Yeah, I mean, I just want to say my computer here. My favorite tool, got to be my laptop computer, as boring as that sounds. I make my living online and I have found it to be a powerful opportunity to influence people.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Joshua Becker
My favorite habit is I go to the gym every morning and I work out every morning an hour before starting at work, and it’s become my favorite habit for the last several years.

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

Joshua Becker
Yeah, own less, live more, that our lives are too valuable to waste chasing and accumulating material possessions.

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

Joshua Becker
My homebase online is BecomingMinimalist.com. So, everything, I do quite a few things but that’s the best place to always find me.

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

Joshua Becker
Find the meaning in your work. Don’t see work as just the thing you do to bring home the paycheck. But find out how your job is helping others and serving others. Find the selfless side of your job and focus on it, and you’ll find more joy in it every single day, and you’ll find more passion to excel in it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Joshua, thank you. This has been a huge treat. I wish you much luck and fun in doing the things that matter.

Joshua Becker
Thank you so much.