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KF #29. Demonstrates Self-Awareness

449: Leaning Out with Marissa Orr

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Marissa Orr shares fresh, actionable wisdom on the workplace gender gap and reframes how alleged weaknesses can actually be strengths.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The problem with the ‘lean in’ mentality
  2. How power and money trigger value judgments when it comes to gender differences
  3. Why strengths depend on context

About Marissa

Marissa Orr began her Google career over 15 years ago as a founding member of Google’s Sales Operations & Strategy team, after which she worked as Vertical Marketing Manager at Facebook. She has conducted talks and workshops for thousands of people at diverse organizations across the globe. Originally from Miami, she now lives in New Jersey, with her three children.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Marissa Orr Interview Transcript

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

Marissa Orr
Thanks, it’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your perspectives. I think it will be provocative in a fun thought-provoking kind of a way. But maybe before we go there, let’s hear about your love for reality TV.

Marissa Orr
It’s a great way to start out in terms of setting my credibility, but that’s okay. It’s my escape. I actually have – I don’t watch it as much as I used to. Years ago I lived on Bravo – a steady diet of Bravo TV, Real Housewives of New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, LA, wherever. I’ve always been a big fan of The Bachelor and things like that.

In the past few years, my time has been crunched and I haven’t gotten to watch nearly as much as I would like to, but I’m still a fan. I’m not going to lie. I’m not ashamed.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, my brother loves The Real Housewives as well. You articulate from your world view and preferences and values and such, what is it that you dig about the show? No judgment. I genuinely want to understand you.

Marissa Orr
Yeah, yeah. No offense taken. Like I said, no shame here about it. I think if I’m really kind of digging into why these shows appeal to me so much – and I don’t mean to turn it into something highbrow because it’s certainly not – but I have always just been fascinated by the drama of humanity. These women on the show are such caricatures of people that we all know in some way that I just find it fascinating in terms of even just like observing people and how they act.

For example, on The Bachelor, I also love to guess based on what I’m reading from The Bachelor and the contestants or whatever, their body language, what they’re saying, it’s fun for me to guess who’s going to make it on to the next round it sharpened my ability to sort of read people’s behavior. When you’re right, it feels great and when you’re wrong, you learn something. That’s really The Bachelor.

But Real Housewives is just an escape. It’s drama. It’s kind of like why do people like to watch sports. They’re not participating in the sport. It gives them a little kick to root for a team. I think it’s a similar thing. It gives me a little kick. It’s fun. I find these people crazy and hilarious. I work so much. I make so many decisions every day. It’s fun to just watch other people and kind of laugh at them or with them.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear that. Sometimes at the end of the day it’s like, “I want to do the opposite of thinking.”

Marissa Orr
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
What is that?

Marissa Orr
Yes. There’s nothing wrong with it I think as long as it’s in moderation I suppose.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I want to hear about your book, Lean Out. What’s the big idea here?

Marissa Orr
Lean Out is really, quite obviously, a counterargument to lean in, but really a counterargument to most of modern-day feminism because we have been throwing the same solutions at the gender gap and at women at work for 20 years and virtually nothing has changed in terms of the numbers.

The first part of Lean Out really explains everything that modern feminism and conventional wisdom, frankly, has gotten wrong about women at work. One of those things, a broad theme, is that equality doesn’t mean we all have to be the same. We don’t have to like the same things, want the same things, get the same things. After all, diversity is about diverse set of interests, talents, strengths, perspectives and experience.

That’s one of the big themes. There’s a lot more underneath that, but I don’t know if you want me to go further or-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure. Well, we’re going to talk about all kinds of things.

Marissa Orr
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d say one of the themes in your book is you say that there is a systemic dysfunction in our workplaces. Can you kind of paint the picture there? What is it that is broken?

Marissa Orr
Well, let me set that answer up first with a little bit more detail around the difference in the premise lean in and lean out. The general premise of lean in really pins the blame on women for the gender gap.

The prescriptions for success hinge on women acting more like men, so being more ambitious and assertive, whereas lean out really pins the blame on our institutions, which have not changed since the Industrial Age, at a time when there were no women – virtually no women in the workforce. Since then, our entire economy has transformed and the composition of our workforce, but these structures, these competitive hierarchies have remained exactly the same.

One of the things that I ask in the book is what makes more sense, rewiring women and their personalities and what they want or rewiring a system to better meet the needs of a more diverse workforce?

Part of my problem with lean in and that whole school of thought is that it dismisses women’s wants and needs as a product of culture. I think instead of dismissing them as needs, we should embrace them because men and women a lot of times want different things at work. We should embrace those differences instead of sort of dismissing what women’s concerns are and attributing it to a product of cultural oppression.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right, there’s so much good stuff to dig into here. First, I just want to get really clear on terms here. When you say ‘the gender gap’ what are we talking about here?

Marissa Orr
I refer to the gender gap to explain the fact that there’s four percent of Fortune 500 CEOs for example are women or a highly disproportionate amount of the C-suite and executives in corporate America are men. It’s a great question because at the beginning of the book, I really define the scope, which is corporate America, which has very different dynamics than small businesses or-

Pete Mockaitis
Education.

Marissa Orr
Education or even things like being a doctor or lawyer. One way to look at that is through the lens of academia, which you mentioned. Women dominate academia. They have for many, many years. A big question is why doesn’t that dominance last after graduation.

The conventional wisdom, again, points to culturally reinforced behavior of women bodes well in school, but not in the corporate world, whereas, my argument is that that’s not the explanation. What’s really happening is in school, performance is graded objectively. You get 94 out of 100 questions right, it doesn’t matter what your personality is, it doesn’t matter how long you study, you still got a 94.

In the corporate world, especially in today’s knowledge economy, it’s really hard to tell who’s doing a good job. We don’t have grades, so we grade instead of on competence, we grade on visibility, who is talking about their work the loudest and the most and all these really visible behaviors that correlate more highly with men.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting how the grades go. When it’s subject to a human interpretation like, “Oh, I like that behavior,” “I don’t like that behavior,” then that can work against women in your worldview.

I guess, now I’m intrigued I guess when it comes to sales. That’s one of the grand sort of fair zones of performance. It’s like, “How many sales did you make?” We’ve got a number, so we can compare that there. Do women fair better in sales? I don’t actually know that answer.

Marissa Orr
I don’t actually know that either, but I think – it’s a good question – but I think there’s so many kinds of sales and so many industries. I think the context is really important, but it’s a really interesting question. I haven’t looked at it through the lens of just sales.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so I’m with you. That is intriguing. I remember when I was at my cousin, graduated from high school a couple of years ago. I was beholding all of the valedictorians – and I was a male valedictorian in high school – but they were outnumbered like four to one. It was like 80% of the valedictorians were women. It was like interesting.

Marissa Orr
It is interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Then the numbers in terms of colleges, in terms of getting into college and then not flunking out of college are also more so in favor to women. I guess I’m really intrigued. We talk about the systemic dysfunction. You had a great video in which you shared some statistics associated with how many men versus women want to be the CEO. Can you share that piece for us?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. One of the statistics that I cite in the book is the fact that only 18% of women aspire to sort of executive or C-level roles versus 35% of men. I think what you’re talking about – is it when I said that means that the majority of the population doesn’t want to be CEO.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Marissa Orr
Why don’t we look at what’s wrong with the job instead of all the people who don’t want it?

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. I think that’s a compelling point there. So what is wrong with the jobs and the systems and the hierarchies and the competitiveness? You say it’s old. It’s from the Industrial Revolution. What about that is suboptimal here now today?

Marissa Orr
There’s just so many things to talk about with respect to this, so if I go off on a tangent on any of them, just rein me back in.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure thing.

Marissa Orr
But I did want to dovetail off that earlier point quickly because it is obviously relevant. Of it is not just the systems, it’s how we’re measuring female progress because obviously one of the measurements that we use is positions like CEOs and corporate executives.

Only 18% of women desire to be a corporate CEO. That means the majority of women don’t want to be one. If we push them to do it anyway and they get the corner office, but they sit there sad and alone, can we really call that success? I think that goes back to what I mean about embracing women’s stated desires.

If we did a study on how many men want to run their household and do the majority of chores and domestic tasks, I wouldn’t think it would be much more than 18% either, but we don’t sort of make nationwide campaigns to push up those numbers. We judge sort of what women do in a way – or what women want in a way that we never really do with men.

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing. You talk about the campaigns and I’ve sort of wondered we’ve got sort of the gender wage gap with I don’t know the number of cents now – 72-ish cents on the dollar – but sometimes I wonder about the gender child time gap, like men only spend 41 minutes on the hour with their children as compared to women. But I don’t see that campaign being made.

Marissa Orr
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
So I think you’re really onto something. Discrimination and bad behavior totally happened, but you’re saying, “Hey, let’s take a look at what people actually want as a way of evaluating things.”

Marissa Orr
Yeah. What a revolutionary idea, right? Actually measure female progress based on what women say that would make them happy or make them sort of improve their wellbeing, which is a whole other chapter, which is in the book called Well-being Versus Winning, measuring female progress on wellbeing instead of winning, how we’re winning against men or in the corporate world. But should I go back to your question about what I mean with-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please go. Please continue.

Marissa Orr
Okay. I was going to go back to the original question, which is I think how the systems are broken. One of the ways is what I mentioned about grading on visibility versus competence because in a knowledge economy – and anyone who works in a big corporation knows that it’s really hard to tell these days who’s doing a good job.

When your job is to create marketing campaigns and strategies and even service customers, most people don’t even agree on what success looks like, let alone know who’s achieving such success or making an impact. We talk about creativity and imagination, but those things are really hard to see and measure.

One of the ways that it’s broken is that we really use these subjective and emotional measures, which are riddled with biases, to determine who’s doing a good job and we default to these proxies.

But another way is the reward system. Once you get past a certain level of management and make a certain salary, the only reward really that’s there to motivate people to climb higher and higher up the corporate ladder is power, more power over more people. But-

Pete Mockaitis
Right because you’re saying money – you’ve already got more money than you need, so it doesn’t do much for you to go from two million to two and a quarter million.

Marissa Orr
Exactly. When you look at what’s driving those people to keep going, it’s power. Research is fairly conclusive that that kind of power – power has a lot of definitions, but I’m talking about professional authority, power that’s based on your position in a hierarchy. It’s not universally motivating. A lot of women are less sort of unsatisfied.

It seems so obvious. We learn in kindergarten, everybody likes different things, but at work there’s only that one thing, so naturally the winners are going to be the ones who like that one thing more than anybody else. If you-

Pete Mockaitis
Power lovers get the power.

Marissa Orr
Well, I mean, yeah. What kind of – one of the things I joke about, but have you ever seen a corporate CEO that is kind of more like a hippy than a Gordon Gekko? No. The profile of winners are always going to be the same if you’re only motivating a very narrow subset of your workforce.

One of the things I talk about is increasing the variety of incentives. There’s other ones too, but I’ll pause here if you want to go in a different direction or have a-

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool, yeah. It’s a good point. Just while we’re there, what are some of the other incentives that should be on the menu?

Marissa Orr
Well, research also shows that women have less – their life goals are – fewer of them are focused on this kind of power. They have more life goals and they’re more varied. Some of that is balance. I would have traded 50,000 dollars’ worth of my salary for increased flexibility.

But those things in the corporate world are looked at as let’s say weakness. If you’re not in the office as much as somebody else, you’re not going to get the work assignments, the recognition and the respect if you’re only there part time. It’s not only just the incentives; it’s really how those incentives are viewed, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Marissa Orr
That’s one example. The truth is when I talk to women who’ve read the book, one of the things that really resonates with them is a part where I say that people say women lean out or don’t want to lean in once they have kids or childcare and all that stuff. That’s all very true, but I think there’s another reason.

[18:00]

I think when women start having kids and get into more of their middle to later 30s, with their time squeezed, they have dramatically lower tolerance for the office politics and BS frankly. So many women I know want to go to work and do a great job and they want work that’s meaningful, but there is just so much politics and bureaucracy and stuff that really doesn’t matter.

I think that’s another big reason that you don’t see women wanting to climb higher and higher. It’s just not – good, competent work is not rewarded, so what is left there for women at the office, but these power games that they have no interest in playing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. That makes sense, especially if you have less time, your opportunity cost is increased and you see that junk, you’re like, “Why am I spending my life in this way?”

Marissa Orr
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I can do something else.” That makes sense.

Marissa Orr
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Then let’s share a bit about strengths that are more often associated with women and more often associated with men.  I want to get your take first of all just because some folks aren’t even on board with that notion that men and women are different. In fact, I found an American Psychological Association brief entitled Men and Women: No Big Difference. What’s your take on this one?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. That’s interesting. I have so many things to say on this point, but with respect to that study, I have to look at it and see what that headline really captures because sometimes there are nuances, but I think what it’s probably referring to is the fact that men and women largely are the same when it comes to personality traits. I think it’s something like 60% overlap, so yeah, that makes sense.

However, at the extremes – and 40% is not insignificant – there are differences. After all, testosterone is proven to run – we all know that that – men have more and women have more estrogen and that those hormones influence our behavior, so I don’t think that we can sidestep that sort of biological fact.

But the other thing is we all – I don’t know – I have two boys and a girl and everybody talks about freely, “Oh, boys are like this. Girls are like this.” There’s certain elements of their behavior and personality that are different. We joke about it. If you say to your mom friend or whatever, “Oh, my boys are so wild. Your girls play so nicely. Girls are – they’re not as rambunctious, whatever,” nobody accuses you of being sexist for saying that. It’s kind of something we all intuitively see with our own eyes.

But the second you put an element of power into the equation, people go crazy and take a lot of issue with that. For example, when the book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus came out all those years ago, I don’t recall that being a controversial thing. It was focused on the therapeutic and communication aspect to it. We accept that in a way.

But when it comes to power and money, I think people really take issue because they believe that if we say men and women are different, that it’s implying one’s better than the other or one’s weak and one’s strong. If you say, “More women like red and more men like green,” there’s nothing offensive about that.

Pete Mockaitis
How dare you, Marissa.

Marissa Orr
Right. People would accept that without an argument if that’s what a study said. People wouldn’t bat an eye. But it’s when you put in things like, “Women don’t want professional authority as much as men,” people start to see that as – they start making value judgments on it. I think that’s really people’s issue is the value judgment.

When you report on things like this, if they perceive that one is better than the other, it makes people defensive. But when I say women don’t want professional authority as much, I don’t mean women don’t want power. Power is a much broader concept and that’s just one kind of power.

I think women wield incredible amount of power in this world. They just – it’s not the power through a male-world view. Men have a very different relationship to power. The power men and women wield are different in a lot of ways. The only reason that would be offensive is if someone’s making a value judgment on one being better than the other.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an interesting perspective there. Folks tend to get really riled up when it has to do with power, but if it’s about boys and girls and what they do on the play yard or color preferences, then it’s no big deal.

Marissa Orr
Or if you say, “Men like sports – watching sports more than women. Women-”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s outrageous.

Marissa Orr
Right. Nobody cares when you say it on things that they don’t believe is superior.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s intriguing. When you talk about sports, now if we’re talking about consumer activity, now these are just facts that every marketer knows. Well, yeah, this product is interesting for women or for men, which is why we’re pursing advertising in particular channels because those are also consumed disproportionately more so by women, more so by men. Fun fact, the vast majority of my audience is women.

Marissa Orr
Hi girls.

Pete Mockaitis
Isn’t that interesting?

Marissa Orr
Hi ladies.

Pete Mockaitis
But we also have about a quarter of gentlemen, so hello to you as well.

Marissa Orr
Hi men.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so with that being established, then what are some of the research findings about the strengths that show up at work that are more so tend to be represented more frequently in women and then more so represented among men?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Something is a strength only in context because let’s take the corporate world, which is mostly competitive. At Google and Facebook it was a zero-sum game. It was very intensely competitive. We think of these companies as sort of progressive, new wave organizations, but their structures are exactly like any other corporation. These are very intense zero-sum games.

If my teammate gets a promotion, it means I didn’t. Even performance scores are graded on distributions, where you can’t be equally amazing as your peer. You have to be a little more amazing or a little less amazing, so it’s all very intensely completive. In that context, some of the strengths – some of the common behaviors and traits of men show up as strengths.

Men are more motivated by competition. Research shows that in competitive scenarios they perform better. In the corporate world you see that as a strength.

But research also shows that women are more collaborative and they are not as satisfied or motivated by these zero-sum games. They prefer win-win scenarios, but in the corporate world there’s not many – you don’t come by much of that. In that context, even though collaboration is a strength in many respects, in the corporate world it becomes not a strength.

Research shows that women perform worse in competitive environments. Their performance suffers. They become less creative. Then the opposite happens when it’s collaborative. That’s what I mean by strengths depend on the context.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an outstanding example. Could you lay it on us? What are some other strength representations that we see more so with men versus women and vice versa?

Marissa Orr
There’s a thing I talk about in the book, a story, there’s a book called The Confidence Code. I really sort of try and unravel its premise, but one of the stories from the book that I talk about that they have is there’s a women giving a presentation in a room. She sort of starts to hesitate before she moves on to the next point. She tries to get a temperature of the room so she knows which way to go next in her presentation.

And a man – it was I think her manager – was a man talked to her afterward because he saw that hesitation as lack of confidence. He said, “These things hurt women. They show up as less confident.”

When I read that story, my first thought was she’s demonstrating empathy. More women have a talent for taking the temperature of a room, building consensus. That was my interpretation of what she did there. If the goal was to really build a consensus as a team moving forward, she was doing great. If the goal is to act like you know everything and that you have this infallible certainty and are decisive, then she failed at that.

“What do we want from people at work?” is the question. But that consensus building is another strength that, again, can be interpreted as weakness depending on your perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Give us some more of typical men’s strengths, typical women’s strengths.

Marissa Orr
Let’s see, another example. Again, context. There’s times when you need a really authoritative voice, where certain situations call for a display of dominance in a room to align people towards something. Research shows that men communicate with the intent to establish sort of authority. In situations that call for it, that comes out as a strength for many men.

I want to make one thing clear too, when I say men are like this and women are like this, I’m obviously not talking about all men and all women. A good portion – could be upwards of maybe 30% of men have some strength that’s female dominant. These aren’t black and white things. I just talk about them that way because if I created all those nuances are conversation would be ten hours long.

It also doesn’t mean that men should behave one way and women should behave another. The goal is to behave authentic to who you are. These are just more reports of – observations on patterns of behavior. That’s an important distinction. Maybe it’s obvious. I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s handy. Sure. Thank you. What else have we got there?

Marissa Orr
Wow. Let’s see. Empathy, cooperative, consensus building, win-win for women, that’s a lot, no?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

Marissa Orr
There’s more in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
… for men. Do men have …?

Marissa Orr
Oh, oh, I mention-

Pete Mockaitis
Competitive, authoritative, dominance.

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Assertiveness, things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, then given that how do we go about leveraging these strengths optimally, both to get great results as well as to look good doing it, to get our props and advance?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Well, there’s a few things. One is just how we frame this conversation. First we need to stop measuring women against what men have. We need to stop thinking about female progress in terms of winning and really kind of reorient to wellbeing because then we’re serving the largest issues for women for people who need it most. It’s really about how we measure it.

I think also people are diverse by their very nature. The reason that diversity is not reflected at the top of the corporate world is because it rewards a subset of that behavior. I think first, we need to recognize that our institutions, as they are today, are limited. They’re not built to fulfill lots of people’s needs.

For women, I think the first step is always to turn inward and really kind of untether yourself from how your company defines success and how your peers define success and really better understand how you as a person define it. What is most important to your wellbeing?

If a promotion is going to get you a rung higher, but you’re playing more politics, which you hate, and you’re working longer hours, which you don’t want, that is not your definition of success and it’s okay to set the terms for what you need and what you want.

A lot of this is really on an individual to learn more about what their own strengths are, how they can put those to work in a corporate setting while understanding that that setting might not be designed to capitalize on those strengths. A lot of is about figuring out how your institution/organization can meet your needs, how they can’t, and then how you, yourself, can fill the gaps.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, I dig it. Well, then when it comes to some of the stuff that’s broken, do you have any kind of short-term tactics like, “Okay, you’ve got a broken system?” What are some maybe self-defense tactics or things that you’ve got to do just to make sure you don’t get an unfair shake?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Well, I go into a whole chapter about this in the book. There’s so many things to say to all these great questions. But I think ultimately we have to own our own path and our own success. For people suffering – can you be more specific so I can give you kind of maybe a personal story of how I handled something of that nature?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Well, so for example, if there’s tons of subjectivity going on and you’ve got the right stuff. You’re bringing it and delivering good things, but it doesn’t seem to be kind of noticed/appreciated/rewarded, what do you do?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Well, I think people need to get really clear with their management team or their direct manager about how their success is being measured. It’s a conversation we rarely have with our manager at the beginning of performance season. We talk more about – or at least in my experience at Google and Facebook – we really talked much more about what our goals were more so than what success looked like.

Pete Mockaitis
So your personal goals as an individual professional.

Marissa Orr
No, no, your work goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, the work goals.

Marissa Orr
For example, if you talk with your manager at the beginning of every quarter about what your goals are for the quarter. Let’s say you have five of them. Let’s say we build this new order entry system and we get 50% there by the end of the quarter. That’s your goal.

One important question to ask is how are you measuring if we get to 50%. What does 50% look like? What does 100% look like? What does a bad job on this specific goal look like? It’s a question we rarely ask, but at the end of the quarter, if you get a bad grade, if you haven’t asked how you’re being measured, you don’t really have anything to stand on.

But if your manager at the beginning of the quarter says, “Well, if we get X, Y, and Z in place, then we’ve reached 50%,” then at the end of the quarter you can show whether or not you’ve reached X, Y, and Z. That’s a much more objective way of communicating how well you did that quarter. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Right, understood. So you want to get crystal clear on okay, these numbers, what’s the numerator? What’s the denominator?

Marissa Orr
Or what the expectations are. What does success look like? Paint me a picture. What are the five things that need to be sort of very clearly accomplished for me to exceed expectations this quarter? I think the more specific and objective things that you can get from your manager, the easier it is to make a case for your performance.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. More tips like this please. Lay them on us.

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Well, it’s hard though because in most positions in corporate America, your manager has absolute power over you and your livelihood. Even when you get a bad grade and you don’t deserve it, there’s really no recourse. Sometimes all of this advice is meaningless because you are basically – your career is at the whim of this person with total power over you. It’s kind of like tyranny by another name.

I think until our corporations have better systems in place to – like checks and balances on some of that power so that if you did do those five things and you still got a bad grade, there’s something in the company that you can – a team – HR is really mostly there to serve the people in power. I would say HR, but they’re not set up with any real authority to help.

I think part of the onus is on the organizations to rebalance that power a little bit to the employees so that if you do a good job and you do get a bad grade, if you have these objective measures – I don’t want to say a court, a trial, but there needs to be some recourse. Showing these objective metrics helps that as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool.

Marissa Orr
I just want to be real about it because so much business advice that people give in theory is great, but when you’re in a power structure under somebody with total power over you, it kind of doesn’t matter.

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

Marissa Orr
Nope, I think we covered it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Marissa Orr
I hoard quotes. It’s a little like asking to pick favorite children, but one quote that I love because I think it has a lot to do with kind of the story of me and my work life and how I came to write this book, it’s a proverb, “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.”

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

Marissa Orr
One thing that’s in the book that I love is research showing that disagreeable people, so people that are not very likeable let’s say – and disagreeableness is one of the – or agreeableness one of the five big personality trait categories. So disagreeable people are more likely to get ahead in business than agreeable people, so people that are – agreeable people are more warm and likeable. It’s actually a detriment to getting ahead in the business world.

Being unlikeable, being disagreeable is a better predictor of who rises to the top. By the way, the authors of these studies always say it doesn’t mean they’re better in that job, it just means they’re more likely to get it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, I can just think of so many examples in which folks who were less agreeable are just all the more comfortable demanding the thing they want or the goal is, whereas I’m pretty agreeable.

Marissa Orr
I am too.

Pete Mockaitis
Where sometimes I’m just like, “Well, okay, I guess we can do that your way.”

Marissa Orr
Yeah, I’m actually-

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to “No, this is not optimal per the objectives. Fix it now.”

Marissa Orr
Totally. Absolutely. By the way, in every person – I’m like the highest on the continuum of agreeable that you could possibly be, which says a lot about why I never made it to the top in that world, but it is what it is. I’m happier now.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. How about a favorite book?

Marissa Orr
Again, it’s hard. One book – can I say two books?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Marissa Orr
One book that gave me sort of some of my best foundational understanding of behavior is a book from the ‘80s from a psychologist called Nathaniel Branden. The title is terrible, clearly needed some marketing help, but it’s called The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. It really opened my eyes and was a paradigm changing book for me. I understood myself and people in a totally new way, so I love that book.

Then when I was going through a hard time at Facebook, I read this other book that really got me into sort of another paradigm shift and it got me into meditation and changed my life in other ways. That is called The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Marissa Orr
You’re welcome.

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

Marissa Orr
Does meditation count?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Marissa Orr
I would say I wouldn’t have been able to write the book without meditation because it was a foundation for me to learn discipline and a host of other life skills that I wouldn’t have been able to write the book without.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite nugget, something that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they say, “Yes, that is so right and wise. Thank you, Marissa.”

Marissa Orr
Nothing I ever say to my kids that’s for sure because that’s never their reaction.

I would say that if you really get the fact that at the end of the day all people want is to be heard, I think a lot of problems in this world would be solved because we’re always trying to – we speak to other people, we listen with the intent to sort of control them or control the situation and everything is about control. Things work in the exact opposite way.

When you try and control people, they rebel in ways big and small, but if you really try and understand people, things have a way of working themselves out. When people feel heard, they are empowered. They’re empowered to fix their own problems and whatever. I think that’s a very underestimated concept when it comes to communication.

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

Marissa Orr
They can find me on Twitter at MarissaBeth. It’s M-A-R-I-S-S-A Beth B-E-T-H Orr O-R-R, @MarissaBethOrr, on Medium, it’s just @MarissaOrr and LeanOutTheBook.com, but also it’s on Amazon for preorder, but LeanOutTheBook.com is the book’s site.

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

Marissa Orr
Turn inward. Know who you are and hold on to that regardless of what those around you are doing or saying. Just be you. How’s that for a clichéd ending?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it was fun. Well, Marissa, I wish you all the best. Keep on doing the good work and have fun with it.

Marissa Orr
Thanks so much. This was a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.

446: Making Fear Your Friend with Judi Holler

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Judi Holler makes the case for exercising your bravery muscle and making fear your friend—one challenge at a time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The small things we do each day that slow our long-term progress
  2. Why technology is a great servant but a terrible master
  3. How to deal with fear when it never goes away

About Judi

Judi Holler is a keynote speaker, author, and a professionally trained improviser and alumna of The Second City’s Conservatory in Chicago, Illinois. Judi is a past president of Meeting Professionals International, Chicago Area Chapter, and was named one of the 40 under 40 in the meetings industry by Connect magazine in 2015

Judi’s book on Fear, titled “Fear Is My Homeboy: How to Slay Doubt, Boss Up, and Succeed on Your Own Terms”, was recently endorsed by Mel Robbins calling it: “relatable, relevant and most importantly ACTIONABLE!” Fear Is My Homeboy came out last week.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Judi Holler Interview Transcript

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

Judi Holler
I am honored to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fun. Well, I am honored to have you here. And I think we’re going to have a lot of fun digging into some cool stuff. But I got a real kick out of your fun fact, which is you do some karaoke performances from time to time, and you’ve got a go-to “Caribbean Queen.” What’s the story here?

Judi Holler
Okay. So, Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen” is always my go-to karaoke. I have a few. I have a bag of tricks. But, you know what, listen, I always loved karaoke. Who doesn’t want to be a rock star? Who doesn’t want to be Beyoncé for just a minute? And I can’t sing to save my life, so karaoke, it’s just a great way to sort of play rock star, crack people up, improvise, which we’ll talk about later, and improv background, and just be goofy.

And so, Billy Ocean really kind of became one of my favorite songs because nobody sees it coming. It’s super old school. I’ve got a thing for yacht rock and like old R&B, and my mom used to like clean the house to like Lionel Ritchie and Billy Ocean, and so I kind of grew up listening to that song and I know all the lyrics, so it’s just great because no one sees it coming.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s really fun and what that reminded me of is that song, I remember when I was a kid, all the time there’d be this TV commercial for an ‘80s compilation CDs called “Totally ‘80s” or something like that.

Judi Holler
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, my buddy Ronnie and I like knew every word to this commercial because it was on so much. And our favorite part was when they show you one sample and move to the other, they didn’t really transition very well, so it was like, “Everybody wants to rule the…” “Caribbean Queen.” And I was like, “Do they want to rule the Caribbean Queen because that’s what it sounds like when you splice it together?” Oh, you brought me back, so thank you, yeah.

Judi Holler
That is amazing. Oh, yeah, Billy Ocean, it’s just old school, so there might a lot of people listening and they’d have to Google it up to find out who the heck he is. But that’s why I love it because no one sees it coming and, yeah, like ‘80s R&B.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m wondering if you’ve ever bumped into any Caribbean women, like, “I’m the Caribbean Queen”?

Judi Holler
Well, you know what, okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, in the bar or so when you’re there.

Judi Holler
Totally funny caveat to that. My husband and I honeymooned in the Caribbean, and they had musical performances in our hotel lobby, and we got to know the band because they were there a couple nights in a row and I’m not a shy sort of person. And I said, “Hey, do you guys do any Billy Ocean? You got Caribbean Queen?” And they were like, “Well, yeah.” These were American performers. And so, I’m not kidding you, we have a video footage of me doing “Caribbean Queen” in the Caribbean, the Caribbean as they say it, and it was just epic, and it was just amazing and people were kind of clapping, also awkwardly wondering what was happening. It was just magic.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s lovely.

Judi Holler
So, there you have it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it sounds as though you have, indeed, lived out the title of your book, Fear Is My Homeboy because it seems like you have befriended those sensations that, “Oh, I don’t know if I wanted to go up there and do that, and everyone is going to be looking at me, I don’t know.” So, could you sort of share with us kind of what’s the main idea behind this book here?

Judi Holler
Yeah, so the big idea behind the book is this, if I could have one page in my book, literally, one page in my book, it would say, “It doesn’t get easier. Scary things don’t get less scary, but you will get stronger. Keep going.” The big idea is that when you choose courage over comfort on purpose, almost every day you will start fearing less, which is how you pick up momentum, which is how you get stuff done, and it’s how you start succeeding in and outside of work the way you really want to succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, yeah, that sounds great and I’d like to have some of that. So, maybe could you give us a little bit of a picture here when it comes to what are some of the ways that we frequently choose comfort and not courage to our detriment, particularly in a career context?

Judi Holler
Yes, so I really believe it’s all the small stuff we don’t do every day that ends up holding us back in the long run and really leads to regret. And I’m sort on a mission to remove the word “regret” from the dictionary because we’re too brave, we are too busy dancing with our fear. This means we’re getting stuff done.

And the main reason we’re not leveling up personally and professionally is because we’re afraid. We’re afraid to raise our hand in the sales meeting. We’re afraid to speak up in a meeting. We’re afraid to sit in the front row, or go for the promotion, or ask for the raise, or to promote ourselves, to talk about ourselves online, to toot our own horns.

So, I’m on a mission to stop that, and I think there’s a lot of unique things you could do to get uncomfortable every day to sort of mix up your routine to make sure that you’re staying in the driver’s seat of your life and not your fear.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s really interesting is that what this makes me think about is sort of all the little ways that we choose comfort instead of courage. And it’s like, in a way, I think I may have become, at least temporarily, a little bit less courageous than before only because I’m married now, you know. And my wife is awesome, and our kids are awesome. But there was a period of time in which I was, you know, meeting a lot of people and asking for a lot of dates, and I kind of got into a groove where I didn’t have that momentum such that I felt kind of bold and able to kind of ask for and do all kinds of things because I was in that regular habit.

Whereas, now, I’m kind of settled in and mostly working from home. And so, it seems like it does take me a little bit more of a push to think, “Okay, I’m going to send that email to ask for that opportunity. All right, we’re going to do it. Okay, I’ve put this off a couple of times, now is the time.” And it seems like that’s crept in a little bit more, which would follow your theory, that I’m kind of had fewer moments of choosing courage on a day-by-day basis and all kinds of other contexts.

Judi Holler
Well, think about it like this, Pete, like you just nailed it. Here’s the deal. If we don’t work that fear muscle, we will not work the fear muscle, just like when we go to the gym. We go to the gym and it’s hard at the beginning, right? But we keep going and we keep showing up and then we get stronger. And when we don’t go to the gym, we get weaker, right?

So, I look at it that way, like we have to be working that brave muscle. And so, when you’re not dating, and you’re in a relationship, right, you’re not out there doing that scary thing anymore but you, and I can bet my bottom dollar, doing all kinds of other uncomfortable things to move your life and your business forward, and that’s the real big idea.

We have to be doing something every day. Maybe it’s just something as simple as taking a different way home from work, right? Or, asking for a discount in a coffee shop, or just like taking a selfie of yourself in public to get better and not carrying what people think. But we have to work the brave muscle and, I tell you, this is how we fear less.

We shouldn’t be chasing the unrealistic goal of fearless. Because if you really think about it, if we were fearless, we would never pay our taxes, we would never go to a doctor, we’d walk down alleys at 4:00 in the morning by ourselves, at night, we would eat poisonous foods on purpose. Like, the goal shouldn’t be fearless because fearless could be dangerous in some situations.

So, the goal should always be brave. And how do we fear less? Well, the way you get to the other side, the way you fear less is by working that muscle, and you have to use it or you’ll lose it, so doing those small scary things every day. And sometimes, maybe some days, it’s a big scary thing. Maybe you’re leading a toxic relationship tomorrow, maybe you’re literally moving to a new city, maybe you decided to quit smoking. There are big things you could do for yourself as well, but it’s all those little small things that add up over time that really end up causing a lot of the problems, so we’ve got to work that fear muscle.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it there, you provided a few examples in terms of little things you can do every day to work that muscle, from asking for a discount in the coffee shop. And that came up with Jordan Harbinger, and a little bit of Ruth Soukup as well in those conversations. So, loving the reinforcements.

Judi Holler
So cool.

Pete Mockaitis
So, what are some other key things you recommend as means of working the fear muscle? You call it, is it the fear muscle or is the brave muscle?

Judi Holler
I guess you can say it either way. There is no wrong way to work that courage muscle, or fear muscle, or bravery muscle, whatever that looks like for you. I could give you an example of someone, and this could apply to your audience if you’ve got someone who’s leading a team, or maybe there’s someone in your audience and they’re working for someone else. I bet you have a little bit of both.

I have a client, who lives and works in downtown Chicago. She’s leading a team of about three or four people. And so, remember, the idea is to get uncomfortable, to mix up our routine. And so, she found herself really overwhelmed, and really stressed out, and exhausted and crabby and irritable. She just wasn’t succeeding the way she wanted to succeed. She wasn’t leveling up.

So, she started a fear I proposed in my keynote. I work primarily as an author and a keynote speaker. And one of the things I proposed in my keynotes is this idea of fear experiments, doing something small and scary and brave every day to advance yourself and get stronger. And so, I told her about this idea, and she said, “Okay, I’m going to try something on my own. I really need to get in front of my schedule.”

And I talk a lot about focus. And this can feel scary because it requires us to do things we’d never done before in our schedule and in our work lives. Most of us sit down and we literally, the first we do, maybe sometimes before you even get out of bed is we open our iPhones and we look at our email. It’s what we do, right? Or we’d check out social media.

So, she says, “I’m going to do a fear experiment, and I’m going to take the first, I’m not going to look at email until 9:00 a.m. every day. No emails.” So, she’s getting up at 7:00, she’s not looking at that phone, she’s not looking at her email, but she’s taking the first 60 minutes of her work day from 8:00 to 9:00 to move one small thing forward for herself or for her work first, and she started small with that first 60 minutes, just that first hour for a day. And you can even go as small as 30 minutes.

And what happened for her is she immediately started triggering momentum in her life because she started actually moving things forward which made the dopamine in her brain happy and it gave her confidence to keep going. And so, she saw it, she said, “Oh, okay, if I can do this in 60 minutes, what could I do if I did 90 minutes, if I grew this?”

And she didn’t look at email for 60 minutes, she didn’t take a phone call, she didn’t sit in meetings, again, advancing a goal before she was fine to the rest of world. That 60 minutes grew to like, I said, an hour and a half to 120 minutes. And today, most days, because there’s no perfect world, no perfect day, she doesn’t look at her email until noon.

And let me tell you, she is working in corporate America, she has a boss, she has a team, but she started small, bird by bird, and it took guts because she did not ask for permission. She just took the action and monitored her results because, after all, you are the CEO of you. And let me just tell you, Pete, what she did in a year.

So, because she started with this hour, and then it grew to like a 120 minutes, I don’t think she got to noon until like the second year of doing this, but in her first year of just protecting that first 90 minutes of her day, she lost 50 pounds because she started going to the gym in the morning, she read 19 business books. She was reading zero books. She reduced her staff turnover by like one person left in an entire left. They had had a really bad problem with turnover.

She got the certification that she had been trying to get for a long time. She grew tradeshow revenues at that organization by 25%. She watched like over, I could get this number wrong, 45 or 50 TED Talks. And she found herself happy, healthy, and this really bled into her personal life, so she was leveling up at work, leveling up at home, she got herself a promotion, she was making more money. And watching all these talks and reading all these books gave her a lot of great information to be able to have cool conversations at work, with her leadership, at the dinner table, at the networking event, sending them an email, to clients.

So, again, she started small but that took courage. It took her getting uncomfortable, literally not looking at her email, to open up a whole new door. I mean, she got a promotion on a video.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that example, too, because when we talk about fear, I think sometimes it’s natural to think about big, dramatic, scary fears, like, “Oh, I’m terrified of public speaking,” or heights, or you can sort of fill in the blank there. As opposed to, I don’t imagine she was terrified of not checking her email but it was uncomfortable. It was a little bit uneasy, like, “Oh, what if there’s something really important, and someone is waiting for me, and they’re like, ‘Hey, what’s the deal? How come you didn’t get back to me?’” As well as it’s a habit, it’s a groove that you’re in, so it just feels kind of off when you sort of reject that and don’t engage in it the first few times.

Judi Holler
And here’s the kicker, and this is new data, we are spending 6.3 hours a day on email. A day on average. The average worker is spending 6.3 hours a day on email. And you wonder why we’re not getting anything done. And we wonder why we feel stuck and irritable, and overwhelmed, and I’m doing air quotes here, “crazy busy,” right?

So, if we want to get out of this cycle of suck, we have to have the courage to try something new, to break a pattern, to flip the bad habit, and the more you do it, the better you get at it, and you’re going to start seeing results which welcomes momentum into your life party, and that’s really where all the magic lives.

It’s some staggering stuff, 55% of us are checking email after 11:00 p.m., 81% of workers are checking email, work email, on the weekends, 59% of us keep up with our work email while on vacation, you know what I mean? So, we wonder why we’re overwhelmed, and irritable, and crabby. We’re not turning off the machine, right?

When you hit the pause button on human beings, we actually start. It’s the opposite. So, we’ve got to be getting in control of this, and it takes courage to break some of those habits that are important. We need to be engaged. We need to be connected, certainly. But how do we make sure that we’re the boss? Technology is an incredible servant but a terrible master.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, intriguing. So, all right, well, that’s quite a case study in terms of tremendous results possible when you just sort of unplug a little bit from the technology. Sort of reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where Homer stops drinking.

Judi Holler
Oh, my gosh.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, geez, all these phenomenal things.

Judi Holler
That’s hysterical. Perfect analogy.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s good. All right. So, anyway, I think we talked about a few things to sort of challenge yourself and to grow the muscle. I’d love to hear a few more things. So, that’s a great idea, is maybe you start with a few minutes away from the technology and maybe in the morning, and it’s high leverage there. What are some others you’d recommend?

Judi Holler
So, I would say it’s looking for, you know, and I think you’ve got to think about it mentally, too, because you’ve got to, I believe, when you’re managing fear and working with fear, knowledge is power. So, understanding, this is a big thing for, I think, everyone to understand. If you want to get better at fearing less, you can make more bold courageous moves in and outside of the workplace, you have to understand all of the sneaky ways that fear shows up. Fear is a trickster. It hides on purpose to trick you with the number one goal of getting you to stop, right?

Because if you keep going, if you do these new things, you become a version of yourself your fear has never seen before, and so fear doesn’t know what to do with that. So, understanding, I think, for me it was really big. I have a background in the improv theater, and I started to realize all of the sneaky ways that fear showed up to get me in my head as an improv performer. So, self-doubt is fear. Self-sabotage is fear’s way of stopping you.

Let’s not forget about procrastination. Just understanding, when I understood that procrastination is a way that fear shows up to stop you and block you is a powerful thing to get. For example, I was trying to finish a really meaty chapter of my book, and I was putting it off because I was afraid to sit down and do the work. So, I found myself for, literally, about 60 minutes, 45 minutes, organizing all of the drawers in my desk. I was on a deadline. I needed to finish this chapter of my book. But, boy, my office was clean, right?

And then I realized what I was doing. I was procrastinating instead of sitting down to do the work. So, the reason I shared this is because understanding that procrastination is sort of one of fear’s best friends is really a good thing to know so that you can move through it, right, and say, “Oh, hello, fear. I see you. I appreciate you. Do you ever take a day off? I don’t know if you do, but right now I don’t need you because I’m in control. I’ve got work to do, so have a seat on the other side of my desk and come back when I’m done, right?”

So, that was an a-ha moment for me, understanding that that’s just one of the many sneaky ways fear shows up. Perfectionism. Excuses. If you have someone on your team, someone in your life, that is making excuses for why they can’t do the thing, instead of getting frustrated and upset and trying to control, ask them what they’re afraid of because nine times out of ten there’s a fear on the other side of that excuse, you know, blame, gossip, jealousy, all of those are fear-based behaviors. So, just a few ways that fear mentally shows up. And I share them because we’ve got to be aware. Awareness holds our power.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’d love to get your take then, when it comes to this procrastination story, so you were avoiding writing a chapter of your book, and instead organizing your desk. So, what exactly was the fear there?

Judi Holler
Oh, my gosh, the fear of impostor syndrome creeping in, doubly fearing that, “I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough.” It was a chapter that’s been, it was meaty. It was the chapter that is now chapters three and four. We actually ended up combining it into two chapters. But I was just afraid to start because I knew that if I sat down to do the work, I would have to sit down and do the work, and I would probably face a few things that I wasn’t comfortable with in building out and beating out that chapter. But a lot of it was impostor syndrome, worried that I wasn’t good enough.

And, by the way, once I finished the chapter, oh, my God, we’re moving forward, we’re moving forward, we’re putting a book out into the world. And so, there’s that. So, it was probably a combination of things mentally for me. And I think we all find our own internal demons, but there’s always usually something there. There’s always usually a reason. Anxiety. You know, you’re anxious and feeling fearful because maybe you feel that what you have isn’t good enough or whatever that may look like. But there’s usually always something living there.

If we’re procrastinating, okay, what are we afraid of? What is it? For me, it was about not being good enough, of not being smart enough, of not having a good chapter.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. So, now, but you were not aware that that was what was going on at the surface level, it sounds like, at first.

Judi Holler
At first, I wasn’t, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how did you get to that level of awareness?

Judi Holler
Well, in my research, and in really studying all the different things I was studying about fear, and then realizing that fear’s job is to stop you and to block you, and that self-doubt is a way it does that. Certainly, we self-sabotage, and procrastination is a form of self-sabotage. And that’s when it clicked, I was like, “Oh, my God, I’m sabotaging myself here. My office can get cleaned anytime, right? So, what am I doing here? It’s just busy work.”

And I, still to this day, do it. My husband always says, “You know when you’re stressed out,” because I’m either doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen, doing the laundry, mopping something, sweeping something. I do an activity, right, when my mind is filled with stress about something else. So, just understanding that stressors are triggers, right, to stop us from really sitting down and do the work.

So, I’ll give you a hack. If you’ve got someone listening that finds himself procrastinating, or not able to start something, what I did, and I write about this in my book, is I set a timer for 10 minutes because I believe so much in the magic of momentum. Because once we get a little juice, it helps us move forward.

So, I set a timer for 10 minutes, and I do this sometimes with working out as well when I don’t necessarily feel like it. I set a timer for 10 minutes, I say, “Okay, let me just do 10 minutes of the thing. And if I hit that 10 minutes and I don’t feel like it anymore, then I am not in the right mental space, the energy, the vibe isn’t right, and I stop the work. But if I have caught a vibe, and I feel good,” and nine times out of ten you will because you just welcomed momentum into the party, you just keep going, and then you keep going.

So, I find just even it’s the starting, that’s the problem. And sometimes 10 minutes can get you out of a funk. Just sit down to do the work for 10 minutes. Go sit on the bike. Go for a walk anywhere. If you’re not feeling it after 10 minutes, stop. And if you are, which most times you are, keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so now, I want to dig a little bit into your mindset and your title Fear Is My Homeboy. So, how do you think about fear in terms of befriending it as oppose to dominating and destroying it and you’re subjecting it to your fiery will of superiority? So, it sounds like that’s a different kind of a feel in terms of fear is your friend versus fear is something you were to punish and minimize. So, how do you think about that?

Judi Holler
Certainly. And here’s the deal, we have to work. I dance with my fear. I work with my fear because I realize that in my community, we call ourselves fear bosses because I’m the boss of my fear not you. Fear is never going to go away. Fear isn’t going to go anywhere. But I choose to dance with my fear. I choose to work with my fear. And in our community, we’re called fear bosses. This means we’re the boss, not our fear. So, I call the shots. And fear isn’t going anywhere.

So, fear, well, they’re very different for you at the age of 20, they will for you at the age of 50, what you fear, the things you fear, what keeps you up at night. And men and women, we internalize and externalize fears very differently. So, I got really awake to this idea that we’re never going to be able to get rid of our fears. This idea, this notion of fearless that everybody is telling us we need to be. I go back to that because it’s unrealistic.

So, why am I wasting my energy, my precious energy, trying to outrun something I’ll never be able to get rid of? Let’s work together. And, yes, I may feel fear. I may be afraid about whatever it is that I need to go to do, whether it’s going to a doctor’s appointment, or it’s making a phone call, but I know, yes, I’ll feel afraid, and I’ll never not feel afraid of things I feel afraid about, but I know because I know that fear is my homeboy. That if I keep going, if I keep doing small scary brave things every day, I will get stronger, and those scary things won’t be as bad. I’m now actually start fearing less, that’s the big idea, right? We’ve got to work with it. We dance together. We dance with our fear.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, then. So, you just sort of given up the idea that fear will ever be completely absent.

Judi Holler
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in a way, yeah, it seems like fear is both your friend and your slave or colleague, I don’t know, if you’re the boss of it how you see that.

Judi Holler
What do they say? Keep your friends close but your enemies closer, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, there you go.

Judi Holler
So, there you go, right? It’s this idea like, yeah, fear is not the best thing to have around. It can really destroy so many beautiful things that can happen for you. Yet, keeping that enemy close is a powerful way to get to know it and dance with it a little bit. So, that’s an analogy that may help people sort of mindset to.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so now, we’ve covered a lot of different potential things to do when it comes to fear. But I’d love to hear what do you think is just the most reliably outstanding, efficient, effective means of advancing when you are experiencing fear? Like, what is the thing you think is just the best?

Judi Holler
The thing. Action. Starting action. Action. Making the decision to go, and to do something, and to stop overthinking, and to stop self-doubting, and to stop overtalking. Just go do it. There are so many ideas and dreams and goals living inside of people all over the world and they’re waiting. They’re waiting for the right time, they’re waiting for, “Someday when the kids are grown. And someday I’ll have our money, and someday when I’m older. Oh, if I was only younger,” any excuses we make. So, starting is the hack, right? If you want a hack, that’s the hack.

So, momentum, again, I’m going back to that 10-minute timer. Just doing it, right, and propelling yourself into action. Mel Robbins has a great book The 5 Second Rule, right? That’s what the book is all about. It’s action. It’s starting. It’s momentum, right?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. And so, what would you say, on the counterpoint to that, is sort of like the most frequently arising mistake? Folks, they’re trying to do the stuff you’re saying, but they are kind of flubbing it. What is sort of the obstacle that’s popping up for them?

Judi Holler
Yes, I have one. It’s probably the number one question I get asked, this idea of, “Listen, I want to be more brave. I want to put myself out there. I want to promote myself and take more risks, and all of those things. But I don’t want to look like I’m bragging. I don’t want to look like I love myself. I don’t want people to judge me or make fun of me or not like me.” We get so worried about what other people are going to think. We’re so worried about publicly failing, or embarrassing ourselves, or people not liking us.

And here’s the hard, real truth, and this is a massive a-ha moment for me, and this will help you manage fear, and I hate to break it to you, but people already don’t like you. People are already judging you. And people are already making fun of you. So, the question is, “Who are you living your life for? Who are you running your business for? Who are you living for? You or everybody else?” So, the number one mistake people make is worrying way too much about what other people think. They’re already talking, you might as well give them something to talk about.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s really interesting perspective. I thought you were going to say, “Hey, for the most part, people are just aren’t paying much attention to you and they don’t really care because they’re wrapped up in their own lives.”

Judi Holler
It’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
But then you took it in the direction of, “They’re already making fun of you.”

Judi Holler
Right. I mean, I’m not saying everybody is making fun of you every day, but people are already talking about you, right? Look, we can’t control that or stop that. And people don’t care about you as much as we think they do, but we’re already being judged, right? It’s already happening, so live your life. That’s the point, right? Live your life.

Pete Mockaitis
And I really appreciate that when it comes to I think I’ve had an a-ha moment recently because we had a previous guest, Mindy Jensen from the Bigger Pockets money podcast. We talked about sort of money things. And she was just making a point how she just doesn’t care at all about what other people think with regard to her money decisions or if they think she’s a total cheapskate or whatever in these certain ways. And what I found interesting is that folks are going to judge you no matter what you choose in terms of like, so, it’s funny. We have two kids and we don’t own a car yet, right? So, hey, you’re in Chicago, so you know it. It’s not so essential especially when we’re really close by a Brown Line stop.

Judi Holler
Love it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s on the list. We’re going to get to it pretty soon.

Judi Holler
So good. So good.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I sort of thought people judge me or imagine me to be foolish or, I don’t know, a bad dad, or broke, like, “Oh, Pete’s business must not be doing very well. He can’t even scrap together to get a used minivan or something.” So, whatever. And so then, I sort of just imagine that to be the case, I was like, “You know what, I’m fine. We’re going to wait till the time is right, till we get just the right vehicle.” And then I mentioned this to someone, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, we’re going to get a car pretty soon, that’s long overdue.” And then that person said, “Why do you need a car for? The train lands right there.” That’s like, “Wow, you just judged me in the opposite way. I assumed everyone else is judging me.” Therefore, my assertion is that people will judge you good or bad whatever you choose.

Judi Holler
It’s so true.

Pete Mockaitis
Therefore, that’s not a useful or valid or helpful decision-making criterion, they’re going to do what they’re going to do.

Judi Holler
Correct. It’s a waste of time or energy. We can’t control people, places, or things. So, all we could do is control ourselves. So, when we take action, the courage to take action, and just to trust ourselves, I mean, that’s what the improv theater is all about, just really trusting ourselves. So, I love that your guest said that, like, “I don’t care what people think.” I learned that so big and clear in the improv theater at The Second City because there is so much power in looking silly and not caring, and just doing you. And it’ll inspire other people to want to do that as well.

And that’s what need more of in the world, to get a little woo-woo here. We need more people being themselves and doing things that light them up, right? So, yeah, it’s like a brave movement. We love watching people do brave things and be themselves because it makes us want to do more of that ourselves.

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

Judi Holler
No, I think that’s it. Like I said, if I could have one page in my book, it doesn’t get easier. Scary things don’t get less scary but you will get stronger. I think a big consequential mistake people make is they do one brave thing and then they stop, and they think that, “Okay, now I’ve done it. Now, I’ve got that brave thing going.” That’s how we miss opportunities and end up with a mediocre life. We’ve got keep going and it’s just consistent action little by little every day. We don’t need to do big scary things. We can start small and just still be very effective. So, that’s it in a nutshell.

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

Judi Holler
Yes. I would say I love the Steve Martin quote, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Love that.

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

Judi Holler
I would say, ooh, this is a good one. I recently read a study that showed, it was on happiness and laughter, that babies laugh about 400 times a day, and adults, we laugh, about 4 times a day. And that just certainly made me sad but it inspired me to bring more joy and laughter into my life. And I think joy and laughter is coming back into the workplace. And if we’re not having fun, what’s the point? We’ve got to sit at that fun table because we’re not laughing. We’re not a baby anymore, I get it. But laughter, for 400 to 4, how do we increase that laugh factor every day? And I loved that study.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, that is intriguing and I have thought that to myself, it’s like, “I would like to have some more laughs.” And, from time to time, I make a discovery, like, “Oh, my gosh, the TV show A.P. Bio is hysterical.”

Judi Holler
So good, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And then I binge all of those, it’s like, “Okay, now what do I do?” So, what do you do to bring in more laughs every day? I mean, you got your whole improv posse but outside that, yeah.

Judi Holler
You know what I do? I tell you this is brand new and I love this idea. I actually need to put it in my newsletter because it’s such a fun little hack. Because of this study, I have started watching on Netflix Stand-Up Comedy Specials, and I’ve been watching a lot of like “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” with Jerry Seinfeld, and those were like 15-20 minutes long. And I’m telling you, I watch about five of those “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” the other night while I was eating and making dinner because it’s all kind of in the same room. And I didn’t look at my phone once. I even forgot about my email. I forgot about the book launch. It was just so lovely to just sit there and laugh.

And so, that’s an easy thing someone could do. Just start like watching comedy specials and just let yourself laugh at the world because there is a lot of serious stuff going on, but if we’re not having fun, what’s the point? So, that’s a way to start laughing more.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that is fun and I’ve turned on the Spotify Comedy originals in there as I’m like taking a walk or whatever. And that’s great, yeah, because you don’t really need to look at it, you know. You can mostly listen to the Netflix Comedy Special, maybe you pop on some Bluetooth headphones.

Judi Holler
Correct. In your car, yup. Or, your, not car, your iPhone.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you just mix your ingredients.

Judi Holler
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. So, how about a favorite book?

Judi Holler
Favorite book, oh, my gosh. That’s a hard question. I have so many, but what I would say for this audience, I think what shifted me in a professional way, from a professional perspective, which really just changed the way I work, it’s a book called Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we interviewed Greg.

Judi Holler
Oh, God, that book changed the way—you know that client I was telling you about, the first 60 minutes of her day, those ideas inspired a lot of those changes that she made and I made, and we just really all started working together to get in front of it and living like essentialists. So, that book is a game-changer. If you haven’t read it, go get you some.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about favorite habits.

Judi Holler
That’s definitely it, but I would say I use a goal-focused planner. I use a planner called the Volt Planner by a company called Ink and Volt. It is the number one tool in my business from a productivity standpoint that helps me living work like an essentialist, so I couldn’t live without it.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and listeners?

Judi Holler
Yeah, I think my book comes out May 28, but there are a lot of folks that have had advanced copies, and one of the retailers are shipping early, and I think the quote that’s kind of getting tweeted a lot, and shared a lot, and have come up a lot even on podcasts is this one, “You can be a victim or you can be a badass. The choice is yours.”

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

Judi Holler
I would point them to, first and foremost, my website which is JudiHoller.com from a social media perspective. I am most active on Instagram, so @judiholler on Instagram, certainly on Facebook. And then I think those are the best ways to get in touch with me. And we’re doing a little freebie. I’ve got a little gift for your listeners. Do you want to share it or do you want me to share it?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yup, tell us.

Judi Holler
Okay. So, if you want to get to know a little bit more about me and kind of test drive my book without buying the book, we’re going to give you chapter one, in the beginning of the entire book, for free. And I’ve also included a couple of downloadable freebies. Most importantly, most specifically, my secret weapon which is my morning planner page.

And the way you get it is you text the word BRAVE to the number 474747, and you’ll get texted a little link, you click it, and then all of the downloadable freebies will be sent to your email once you enter your email.

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

Judi Holler
Just trust yourself. Trust yourself. What you have is good enough. And in the improv theater, we’re not trying to find the best thing, but we are always looking for the next thing. So, it’s all about momentum and moving the scenes forward on stage, you’ve got to do that for yourself. It’s about doing small things every day that are going to move your life forward. This is how you achieve results, fear less, and, of course, make fear your homeboy.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Judi, thanks for this. Good luck with the book and all your adventures.

Judi Holler
Oh, my gosh, thanks for listening.

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Ellen

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ellen Ruppel Shell Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s a bummer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And do what, specifically?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, the one predictor number one predictor.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis  
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tamara Loehr shares her perspective on work-live blending.

You’ll Learn:

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

About Tamara

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Tamara Loehr Otting Interview Transcript

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

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

Tamara Loehr
Thank you for having me in advance.

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

Tamara Loehr
Wonderful. Thanks for having me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tamara Loehr
It’s a win-win.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

Pete Mockaitis
I like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. How about-?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you.

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Laura

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Laura Gassner Otting Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
I also went to cyber camp.

Laura Gassner Otting
Did you really?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
It was fun. It was fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Yeah.

Laura Gassner Otting
How did that feel?

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

Laura Gassner Otting
It’s limitless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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