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KF #30. Self-Development

381: Building Your Career upon Dignity and Talent with Soulaima Gourani

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Bestselling author and Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum Soulaima Gourani discusses the importance of knowing and owning your own dignity and making the most of what you’re good at.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mother of all values
  2. Three steps for zeroing in on your true talent
  3. To clearly distinguish what you enjoy vs. what you’re good at

About Soulaima

Soulaima is a TED Talks Mentor and works with corporate clients and world leaders as a World Economic Forum expert in behavioral science and education. She is a two-time author and speaks on the topics of change management, career development, leadership, entrepreneurship, global trade, emotional intelligence and much more. Everything she does always serves a common purpose: to create more innovators, critical thinkers, and problem solvers–more peace in the world.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Soulaima Gourani Interview Transcript

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

Soulaima Gourani
What an honor. I’m really, really thankful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. I’m thankful too. Well, I wanted to start by hearing something interesting about yourself. Now, I understand that you don’t ever drive cars and only use your bike even if you’re going to a very formal place, is all dressed up. What’s the story here?

Soulaima Gourani
I got my driver’s license of course when I was 18. That’s usually the age of driver license in Scandinavia, where I am from. I believe my first trip in my new car was not so successful, sorry. I destroyed the car completely.

Pete Mockaitis
First trip. Wow.

Soulaima Gourani
Then a few months later I drove a car again and I had another accident. I’ve had a few accidents, three or four accidents in my life; I kind of just decided maybe this driving is just not a thing.

You know what I did? I simply hired a driver. My first paycheck when I became independent in 2007, the first thing I did was I actually did hire a driver, a personal driver. In my country, it’s the Prime Minister and the Queen, they have drivers. Normal people don’t. But that was one of my first hiring, that was a driver, so I could make more money and I was more efficient and I didn’t have to think about accidents and stuff.

When I had to pick my next country to live in, I actually looked where I could be sure that there would be Uber drivers, so I picked Austin, Texas, but very shortly after I moved there, they forbid Uber.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow.

Soulaima Gourani
I was really devastated because I need my ride, right? So I moved to California. I can get an Uber within a few minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow. I thought you were going to hire a driver in Austin as well.

Soulaima Gourani
No, I did not. I ended up not doing that, but I moved to California, Palo Alto in Silicon Valley earlier this year. I can get a ride within a few minutes. I kid you not; it’s on my top three reasons to pick a city. Well, good weather and international environment, so the three things that I look for.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that. I can relate in terms of the connectedness of a city to certain resources really matters. We’ve gotten rather accustomed to having our groceries delivered with Instacart.

Soulaima Gourani
Oh yeah, yeah. I use Instacart as well. I’m on Amazon every day. Everything are being delivered to my home. I don’t go shopping anymore. I get everything delivered. I have to say, I’m so much more productive. I tip really well, so I believe I’m supporting the gig economy in a positive way for people who need the job more than I do, so I think it’s a win-win.

Remember, I am from a country, where we don’t have Amazon, we don’t have Instacart, we don’t have all those things, so for me living here is – it is really like paradise because I can spend time on the things I really care about, doing my sport, work, and be with my kids. I don’t waste my time on doing shopping or grocery shopping. I’d rather sit in a library reading and studying for my next book than going shopping.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I want to hear about the fruits of this tremendous productivity. You’ve won numerous awards for being inspirational and a great thinker and sort of just being a great force for good in the world. I’d like to hear a little bit about how do you keep motivated and inspired, such that you just continue to do these things?

Soulaima Gourani
First of all, you become the average of the people you spend time with. I grew up as a very lonely child. I was the only immigrant. I was the only brown child. Everyone was white. I grew up surrounded by middle class families and we were very – we were broke most of my life. My parents were simply broke. We grew up kind of poor, brown, so I felt very lonely.

I remember for the first 10 – 15 years of my life, the only thing I wanted was to be with exciting people, be inspired. All my life, I’ve been looking for my tribe, people who are upstanders, change-makers, inspirational people who – activists, people who do stuff. I’m not so inspired by people that live comfortable lives. I need people who put themselves on the edge.

Most of my life I’ve spent most of my money travelling. I’ve worked and been and lived in 35 countries now. What keeps me motivated is to see and to understand what is going on in the world. For instance, if I want to understand the conflict in Israel, I go to Israel. If I want to understand what’s going on in Saudi Arabia, I go to Saudi Arabia. If I want to understand the pollution situation, I will go to Mongolia. Or if I want to understand the political situation in Russia, I go to Russia.

I wouldn’t use the term lucky, but instead of buying expensive furniture or even an expensive bag, I’ve spent all my money on traveling. The more I travel, funny enough, the more money I make because the more knowledge and inspiration I bring back to my home country, wherever that might be, or the more authentic stories I can put into my books or in my talks. Kind of, when I do what I love, I’m more successful.

I’ve never been drawn to stability. I’ve never found it very fancy to have a life based on routines. I don’t need much. I need a bed. I need my toothbrush. I need my husband that I’ve been together with for, oh gosh, 25 years, and my kids. Everything else doesn’t matter. I can live in a one-bedroom apartment even now. I don’t need much. I just need to travel and write about I see.

That keeps me motivated by traveling the world and seeing what is going on. I’m a tremendous advocate for doing things, so I cannot just sit and see the news; I need to go out there. In a way I’m documenting what is happening in the world. I look at the world as a mom, as a young solopreneur, entrepreneur, investor and as a speaker. I think that’s my life. I don’t have a job. My life is my job. It’s kind of weird.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s really interesting. Even just preparing for this interview, it’s like, well, I know you’ve got some real useful things to say about being awesome at your job, even though your sort of life is your job and your instance, so I was like, but where shall I focus and prioritize. We’ll see what we get into.

One thing I was intrigued with is you’ve got a real message associated with all people having dignity and realizing that dignity and that value. Can you unpack some of those ideas for us?

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah. I’m sorry to say, but there has been done a lot of research showing that most people grow up, live their lives without living accordingly to their core values, meaning they get lost, they find it difficult to focus, they don’t know what is a good chance and what is a right chance, they might spend their money wrongly, their time, their energies wrong.

They might feel kind of lost in life. They end up having a job they don’t like. They might even end up working for a manager they don’t trust or don’t like. That’s not a life worth living.

I’ve spent more than half of my life trying to find out how to connect people with their core values. One of the values that I think is the number one, you can call – you might call it the mother of all values. It’s dignity. Dignity is everything. You cannot give your dignity away. I mean no one can take it from you, but you can give it away.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time of my life traveling the world, building and supporting the message of dignity. I’m on the global board of an organization called Global Dignity, of course. We educate kids in – not elementary, but college and universities and graduates in how to live a more dignified life. I believe by sending them out in life with a great amount of understanding what it means to live a dignified life and how to treat other people with dignity, will in the end create world peace.

I take it one-by-one. I kind of transform young people’s life by having that conversation, what does it mean to live a dignified life. Because if you have that strong feeling of dignity, you don’t get into these maybe troubles, partnerships, relationships. You might not stay in a job where you’re not appreciated. There’s a lot of things you don’t do if you a strong feeling and appreciation of your own dignity.

That drives everything I do I have to say. I’m super passionate about it. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing there in terms of you’re right. The first thing that comes to mind when you talk about being in relationships that you shouldn’t is this comedian Dane Cook. This joke is years old now.

They were talking about someone in a bad relationship. It’s like “You should just get out of there, just get out of that relationship.” It’s like, “Well, it’s not that simple, Karen. My CDs are in his truck.” It just still tickles me to this day is that we all have all sorts of reasons that your CDs being in someone’s truck, if you still have CDs, is not a very good one.

Let’s hear it then, could you define for us what do you mean by dignity and acting in a dignified manner and how do we kind of build that up if you’re lacking in that right now.

Soulaima Gourani
First of all, dignity is a universal feeling. Dignity is the same in Sri Lanka as it is in Palo Alto. It’s the same. It’s the way you treat yourself, the way you think about yourself and the way you behave towards other people.

Dignity is a very strong, deep, and profound feeling. For instance, if someone – if you’re in the schoolyard and some kids undress you and run away with your clothing and you’re standing naked in the schoolyard. That’s a very undignified situation. Or if someone spits you in the face or hit you or steal something from you or say something to you, that’s a lot of – every day actions.

You may not hold a door for an older woman that is coming just after you or you might not help someone crossing the street even though you can see he or she needs the help. There’s a lot of activities throughout the day where you can easily improve your own feeling of living a more dignified life, but also improving others.

I’m enforcing to think dignity in everything, how you communicate, written, verbally, actions, education, school, work, everywhere. It’s about really treating others as we should. Bring more love, hope, light, the more positive feelings, understanding, sympathy.

Tolerance is a very difficult word because I don’t want people to tolerate each other. Tolerance is not a strong word. It’s not a good word. If I tolerate you means I don’t like you, but I need to have you in the room with me. That’s not a good feeling, but I want people to start understanding that we are different. Every single time you meet a person in school, in church, at work, wherever you are, that person has been through a lot of things that makes it and turns that person into being that person that he or she is.

We should show each other some more patience because it’s a tough life for many people. When we lose it, when you lose it sometimes, we should try to meet other people with a great amount of understanding that this has been a tough day or it’s a tough life or – so I want to improve the understanding, not the tolerance, but the deep, deep understanding that we are different and everyone deserves a really good life.

Just a small thing, when I walk down the street, I smile at people. If I’m in Asia, they think I’m super weird.

Why is she smiling? That doesn’t work everywhere, but mostly in US it’s a good strategy just to smile at people in streets. The feeling I’m left behind with is extreme happiness and I can see that the people I’m smiling at – it’s just a small smile – people get so happy. I know that’s a small action of dignity, but I try to implement it in everything I do. Helping, helping, helping if I can help.

It does spread. The good thing is my actions in the morning will impact the people I smiled or helped in the morning, their actions later on in the day. I’m spreading good karma.

Pete Mockaitis
This is intriguing. I’m thinking back to a previous episode we had with Kimberly White, who talked about just the power of seeing people as people. This is kind of resonating with some of those messages and the difference it makes. When you say dignity, you mentioned that is a strong, deep, profound feeling. If I had to put you on the spot and ask for your one to two sentence dictionary style definition, it’s like “dignity is…this.”

Soulaima Gourani
Self-acceptance and love if you ask me.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got you. Self-acceptance and love, then when you don’t have dignity you either don’t think you’re worth much or deserve to be treated well in your job, you mentioned a romantic relationship or in other contexts. One of your theses sounds like is that if you treat other people with respect, acceptance, and love, you sort of bolster within yourself your own strength to expect, demand, or not tolerate not being treated in that sort of a way. Is that fair?

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, it’s 100% fair. It’s easy to sit and talk about on this podcast, but the true challenge is really to live out your own values because it can be difficult to find your values.

One of them being dignity, of course, but to live out your values because you know when you have to sit down with your mom, your sister, maybe a colleague, maybe even your manager, and tell that person, “I need to tell you, how I want to be treated. Let me tell you how I’m motivated, how I can be a compassioned sister or brother,” or “Let me explain how I function. This is the way I want you to treat me.”

Then you will explain why fairness or freedom or whatever, there’s a million different words to describe the values that you might represent, but maybe you pick out four.

To explain – one thing is to find them yourself. Secondly is to understand them. Thirdly, start communicating them to others. Four, to implement them and kind of make people understand that these are my values and if you don’t live up to those values, and if you don’t treat me this way, we will have to talk about leaving each other or stopping.

It’s very difficult for people because I think most people want to pleasure others. It’s troubling because we end up in jobs and relationships and all those things where we feel that is not based on what is truly good for me, but good for someone else. It should be good for someone else, but we’re losing our self and when we’re losing our self, we get depression, suicidal, we need to drug and drink and overdo things and we have a big issue.

People have never been more depressed, never been more medicated, never more lonely, never more self-hate. I live in Silicon Valley, where our young people are killing themselves. We don’t get it. They have money, future. They have most things that we desire in life and yet they kill themselves. It’s really a problem that is universal.

We cannot create the growth, the prosperity, the happiness, if we don’t fix this first. It’s very hard to think about environmental issues or refugee crises or whatever if you can’t even get up in the mornings and go to job and function.

We need to fix the problems first. It’s very basic, but if you can give that compass to people, deep understanding of what it means to live a dignified life, if you can give that, educate people on just that one value, I promise you, a lot of things will be easier in the future.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so then when it comes to the education and the development of leading a dignified life, we talked about treating others with dignity is sort of one key way that that happens. What are some others?

Soulaima Gourani
First of all, finding your true talent is not that easy either. We still have a very fixed mindset in the education system. I’m not blaming the educators because honestly speaking, I’m married to a teacher myself. It’s not an easy job. But finding out what is my true talent is really difficult because the traditional system, education system has a certain way of looking and describing what is a talent.

It can be intelligence, what is the right intelligence, what is a good job, what is the right job. As we speak, I’m writing on my next book that is kind of, I hope, mapping what the future is going to look like until 2040. I’m looking into what kind of jobs that will disappear and which jobs that will come or be created.

We need more people to understand to find their talents and be more creative about how can their talent – everyone has a talent. Everyone has a talent, but not a lot of people think that their talent can be transformed into a real job where they can make a real living. We’d rather stay in jobs we don’t like, that we’re not good at than actually exploring what could be our best future.

The second thing after dignity, that should be finding your talent. I think it’s a human right that someone teaches you how to find your talent. It might be a very small talent. It might be almost invisible, super small talent, but even the smallest talent can be a job or a way of living.

Pete Mockaitis
When you talk about the finding of the talent and how they can be super small, invisible, can you give us some examples of what you would call a talent that has been found, like what’s yours, and others and then the process by which that is discovered?

Soulaima Gourani
First of all, I was never told I had a talent. I’m not that good in school. I was kicked out of school in seventh grade. I ran away from my parents when I was 13. I lived in the streets. I was in foster care, children’s home, institutions. I had a very troubled upbringing. None of my teachers ever, ever told me I had a talent. Actually, they did the opposite.

I still remember when I was in fourth grade, my math teacher, he said, “Soulaima, you’re so ambitious, but honestly speaking, let me tell you something. You will never be successful in your life. Let me explain why.” No, he said that, honestly.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Soulaima Gourani
I still know that teacher’s son. I still know him, so it’s a very well-known story in my home country, Denmark, because it’s ridiculous. But everyday teachers are without even knowing, they’re killing people’s dreams. It happens every day.

But this teacher told me that I will not reach very far in my life because I was a woman, I’m brown, and my name was Soulaima. He said, “It’s never going to be a success.” I left, I left the class. I left my math teacher and I never returned to math, so I had to learn math again much later in life when I took my MBA. I could take an MBA because I could pay myself. But I was kicked out of school.

I was never told that I had a talent, so of course, this is a very important matter for me because no one saw mine and I was told I did not have any. That’s not okay. It’s really a principle for me. It’s something that I fight for a lot. I’ve spent thousands of hours teaching teachers how to look for talents they have never seen before because honestly speaking, how can you recognize a talent you have never seen before?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm.

Soulaima Gourani
No, but really.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Soulaima Gourani
In the future, we don’t know what talents we need. I’m a mom. I have a nine-year-old and I have an eleven-year-old son, a nine-year-old daughter and an eleven-year-old son, how can I ever be a good mentor for them in the future because I have no clue about what future they are going to be growing up in and all the things I’ve learned, I learned them in a different time.

We need to give people that framework and understanding that by knowing their talents and by working on mental health, health as such, love for learning, they will always be okay. They will always be okay. There’s no such thing as a stable, secure future for none of us actually.

Talents are really difficult to see, especially if you’ve never seen them before. My talent, really, I was told by a teacher when I was 16 that he could see I had a talent. He said, “Your emotional intelligence is very, very strong.” This is way before I even knew there was anything called emotional intelligence. I didn’t know.

He didn’t say anything about my IQ. He just said “Your emotional intelligence is very strong. I can totally see you become a leader in the future.” I looked at him and I said, “Honestly?” I dedicated my TEDEX talk to him afterwards, many, many years after because it was really a crucial moment for me that someone said I had a talent. I was never told such.

He said that “I can totally see that you will be a leader in the future. You alone will change the way we look at leaders.” I couldn’t believe it. I was 16. I had never seen a woman in a management position at that point. It didn’t exist in my town. It didn’t exist really not in my country. We only had a very few women in politics and CEOs didn’t exist as women. Denmark was at that point in time very traditional, still is. I wasn’t inspired. But he said you will be that.

I meditated on that for many, many years after. As you say, I’ve been nominated and received so many awards now as the leader of the future, but I didn’t know how to get there. I just thought about it. That’s what I want to be. I just didn’t know how to get there. But today I am. They say I am the leader, not only of the future, but a leader to be looked up to. I’m a woman and I’m brown and my name is still Soulaima. I think that’s really the good thing about the story.

I’ve seen other people’s talents, like I have a friend who really wasn’t good at much. He was only good at gaming in front of his computer. He was quite old at this time like in his late 30s. His wife was very unhappy with him. He said, “I have to find out how to make gaming into my living because that’s the only thing I love.” He started thinking about developing games and now he’s one of the most successful gamers in the world. He lives in France. He’s a millionaire.

I have another friend who said, “There’s nothing I’m really good at. The only thing I really enjoy is tasting chocolate. Chocolate is the only thing I know of. It’s my pleasure.” He developed one of the biggest chocolate companies in Europe later on. Even the smallest talent that might be – gaming and chocolate, I think most people can relate to those things. They built themselves careers in that.

Pete Mockaitis
So what is sort of the process or key questions you ask or the means by which you explore and zero in on, “ah-ha, this is the thing?”

Soulaima Gourani
First of all, you have to be honest with yourself. Is this my talent? Is this really what I’m good at? Then sometimes you’re really disappointed because you might say to yourself, “Is this it? Is this the only thing I’m good at?”

Then what’s really important is you don’t get depressed. If you realize the only thing you like is chocolate, some people will say that’s really – honestly, that can never be a job or how can that be your skill, then you have to be honest with yourself and really believe that this can be a job.

If you enjoy chocolate, you should then start understanding more about chocolate and become an expert in that field and think how that can be a job, either you create a job or you get a job, where you work with that talent that you have found.

First thing is to find it. Second is to accept it. Thirdly, is to be creative and find out how you can build either a job or a portfolio or whatever around that talent.

It might be a very small talent and that’s where people usually get disappointed with themselves because still a lot of people think that they should be good at something like numbers, coding, leadership, something big, but our talents might be very, very small and we might not even know it’s a talent. It’s not always easy to find your talent because if you ask people what is my talent, they might not see it either because how will they know it’s a talent.

I was told – later on in my life I was told that – I was laid off from my job in 2007. I was pregnant and I couldn’t get a job because no one employs pregnant women, not even in Scandinavia. I had no choice but to create my own business. I decided to become a consultant because I knew I was good in selling. I knew I had some core skills in education, to educate sales people in selling and basic skills from my old job.

Then some of my clients hired me and my old employer hired me back. I was laid off, right? When I asked my employer, “Hey, you laid me off, but you hired me back as a consultant. It does not make sense.” My HR manager said, “You know, Soulaima? We like you and we think you’re so great. We’d really love to have you as a consultant and we pay you a lot of money as a consultant, but we also pay you a lot of money to make sure that you walk out of the door again.”

I never understood what she meant, but she meant that I’m super – I’m brilliant. I’m good at what I’m doing, but I cannot stay too long because I’m also very irritating. Being irritating is really a great skill as a consultant because you’re being paid for being annoying. That’s why ….

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. This thing you keep ignoring, stop ignoring it. It’s very, very important. It’s like, “Stop talking about this. It’s not fun for us to deal with this.”

Soulaima Gourani
As an employer, it doesn’t really work because if you were employed, people don’t like it. If you’re a consultant, you can ask them to pay ten times as much per hour and you do the exact same thing as you did when you were employed, but then at that time they didn’t like it.

I found out that I’m irritating and I totally build my brand about being controversial, irritating, straight to the point, a cutthroat way of delivering messages. I created a great brand as a consultant because I was just me. I was just me …. So I didn’t have to change anything. I just had to change position from being at one side of the table just by going to the other side of the table, yeah, I became, yeah, this recognized leader.

It was only half a meter that I had to change my position, but how would I know? Being laid off was really my blessing. I didn’t think it was my blessing. I was very, very sad and almost depressed about being laid off, being pregnant. That was really a low point in my life. But it was really not a low point. It was my starting point, but I didn’t know that at that time.

Pete Mockaitis
You talk about the finding of your talent process. You zeroed in on the examples of the chocolate and the gaming and those are things that they really like to do. I’m curious, is there a distinction between something that you just enjoy doing versus something that you’re actually good at and how do you think about those waters?

Soulaima Gourani
Oh yeah. Let me give you an example. A few years ago I met a musician. She’s a very famous violinist, artist. I was sitting next to her and I asked her, so oh my goodness, it must be amazing to live from what you do – art must be a blessing. I can only imagine being – make a living out of your art must be the best thing in the world I thought. She looked at me and said, “No, I absolutely hate playing my violin, but that’s the only thing I’m good at.” But she’s famous and she’s extremely talented.
You can be very good at something, very good at something and not enjoying it, while you can be enjoying doing something really, really a lot, but not being good at it. Those things are not related at all.

I mean, it’s a miracle when you’re good at what you’re doing and you enjoy doing what you’re doing. That’s a miracle. Most people never find that. That’s okay. That’s okay. But your talent can be something you don’t enjoy doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay, so you’re looking for both of those things to line up and then to build the job, the career, the money maker, whatever format it takes around it.

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, I mean I’m not a fan of thinking as a job as something that is kind of something you go to and you leave in the night. I’m more into a lifestyle. I’m more into a portfolio of things that you’re doing.

For instance, I’m an author two days a week. I’m always working on a book. I try to publish books every year. I’m an author two times a week. I’m a speaker two times a week somewhere in the world. Then I have one day at home with my kids or I’m having board meetings. Then during the weekend I might do interviews or something else.

The thing is I have a portfolio of things I do. I’m not only a writer or a speaker or an investor or a board member. I’m all of those things. Saying you can be good at a lot of things and you can enjoy doing a lot of things and the thing is really to combine those things and design your own life. Designing your life as it should be where you spend time – then it’s okay to do something you’re not really enjoying doing two times a week because that’s okay. If you can spend three or four days doing something you like for the rest of the time, it’s perfect.

I’m more thinking of life design, how do you want your life to look like. I don’t mind that people have a job they don’t like three times a week if that means that they have three or four days during the week they can do something else.

For instance, if you like – let me give you an example. One of my daughter’s teachers – she’s an amazing teacher, elementary teacher – she works two days a week, maybe three days a week, and she’s having two days off per week. She lives near the ocean. I’m in California, right? She’s a semi-professional surfer. Her tradeoff is, I’m an elementary school teacher three days a week and then the two other days of the week I do my surfing. That’s a brilliant, brilliant example of a great life design.

I think it’s about finding what makes sense for you and you only have one life I believe, so to say that’s the only thing I can prove at least. It’s about getting the most out of it. I don’t mind working hard and sometimes you also have to do things you don’t like because it’s a way of gaining skills, it’s a way of making a living, making money, save, invest.

I don’t believe in throwing what you have in your hands and jump into a new career because it’s more shiny or more interesting. You should be careful because you will be jeopardizing your money and your investments and your time and maybe even your family. Make smart decisions. I like life design because it’s a more responsible way of designing your life.

Most of us can tolerate a lot of pain, even a job we don’t like, if we know we’re doing it because we want to build, gain knowledge, money, whatever to really do what we like doing in our life later. I don’t judge people if they do something they don’t like. I just want them to realize they don’t like it and they must have a reason why they’re staying there.

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

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, I want to say lots of people come to me and say, “Hey, Soulaima, I always wanted to be this or that, but now I’m too old,” or “Hey, I’m too young.” I will just say age is really not an excuse. Unless you come and you’re 45 and you say to me, “I want to be a professional ballet dancer,” or something, something that is maybe you should have started doing when you were younger, then there’s nothing you cannot do just because you’re 45 or 66 or – age is just really a number.

I have a friend, she always wanted to be a model, but she was not tall enough. She’s pretty, beautiful, but she’s not tall enough, but she really wanted to be in the fashion world, so she just started being a designer. She has her own fashion brand. She was recognized as the best designer in Europe not too long ago. She’s 49, 52, something. She’s mature. She just wanted to be a model, but it was too late and she didn’t have the whatever skills you have to need to be a model, so she just found a way for her to be in the fashion world.

I’m saying nothing is too late. You can be a late bloomer and that’s okay, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Soulaima Gourani
“We’re stronger together.” I believe that everything can be done in the world if you have access to smart people who are different than yourself because very often we say, “Oh, I cannot do that because I don’t have the skills,” but it’s really not about you; it’s about the ones you know.

If you have a really good network that you’ve mapped, that you have nurtured, that you know really well, that is more diverse than you, who have competence you don’t have yourself, then you have access to the skills you don’t know how to do, meaning you can do anything in the world. I believe we are stronger together.

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

Soulaima Gourani
My favorite experiment is how to stay focused. I think nowadays you’re being tempted so much by social media, things you could do, things you’re invited to, and things – staying focused and get things done is really something I’m very a fan of. I can see people don’t get things done. They talk about it, but they don’t get it done.

I’m very motivated and highly interested in understanding how people get things done and stick to things even when it doesn’t look promising or when it’s hard, they still keep doing it and focus and get it done. I like that. That’s a nice skill.

Pete Mockaitis
You said there’s research there about how it’s done that you found compelling and what is it?

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, I think Greg, you had him on your show.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right.

Soulaima Gourani
His book is very-

Pete Mockaitis
Essentialism, Greg McKeown.

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, yeah, exactly. He’s a good friend of mine. He keeps inspiring to this very day on how to – because I live a life at least where I get invited and attended to travel, go somewhere all the time or jump on this or be part of this or invest in this.

I met him the first time I believe in China six years ago. He’s been a friend ever since. He inspired me because he is, as some of your listeners might know if they heard the podcast, he’s on it, man. He gets things done. He don’t jeopardize his time or his focus. I’m super inspired by Greg.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Soulaima Gourani
Oh man, that’s a tough one because there’s so many friends that I have that have written amazing books. New Power by Jeremy Heimans is a very good book.

I think Giving Work by Leila Janah is how we improve people’s life through the gig economy. She’s the owner of Samasource and she wrote an amazing book called Giving Work. Instead of giving aid and money to people, just give them a job. How about that? Let’s teach them how to make a living. Those two books I think is – New Power and Giving Work I think that’s my two favorite books.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a favorite tool you use that helps you be awesome at your job?

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, I saw your question and I’ve been thinking ever since because what is my most important tool. I know this might be cheesy, but I will say it anyhow, walking. I walk for one hour every day in the nature. That gives me the power and the mental focus that I need to be good at my job. I know it’s weird. I hope – I wanted to tell you it was an app or something more sexy, but it’s really one hour of hiking in the mountains just near my home every day that gives me the true power of being good at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect, resonate, and gets quoted back to you?

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, what should it be? Can you give me an example of what’s some – I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, like with Greg McKeown, we talked about with essentialism, might mention the closet analogy and say, “Hey, it’s not just a matter of might I ever wear this some time. It’s a matter of saying does this garment spark joy.” That resonated for me. I was like “Wow, yeah, that’s really good, higher standard. Does it spark joy? No, no, no.” I’m able to kind of really quickly clean through my closet with that higher standard.

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, I have actually. Everything I do, everything I do in my life, I measure it out of, “does it make me happy, does it make me more relaxed, does it improve my economic status, do I make money out of it, and fourth, do I improve my skills?”

Not every decision fulfills those four things, but it makes it clear for me that I can make a decision. Okay, I say yes to this, it’s funny, but it’s not going to give me any money. I’m not going to learn anything from it. Then I can make quick, good decisions on behalf of if it doesn’t make me relaxed, not happy, if it doesn’t improve my financial situation, and if I don’t learn anything from it, if none of those four things are being met, kind of, then I shouldn’t do it.

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

Soulaima Gourani
Go to hopefully to my homepage and sign up for my newsletters, Souliama.com. I have had a newspaper for ten years called Straight Talk. I put myself in those newsletters. I love them. I put a lot of energy into it, so if people want to know what I’m doing and if they’re inspired, sign up for my newsletter.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeing to be awesome at their jobs?

Soulaima Gourani
Yes, first of all, really understand the value of your work. If you understand the value of the work you do, then you will like your job more no matter what job it is. If you understand the meaning and what it is doing to others, then you will appreciate your job more and by appreciation, you’re going to be more happy. If you’re more happy, you’re more creative. If you’re more creative, you’ll be more successful.

It’s actually about taking away your stand and start appreciating, I know it’s a tough one this one, but start appreciating where you actually are in life even if you feel you’re at the wrong place, by starting to appreciate, you will do your brain a big favor that will help you get out of your situation if you know what I mean.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Soulaima, thanks so much for sharing your time and wisdom here. This has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck in all of your next adventures.

Soulaima Gourani
Oh, thank you so much for having me on your show. I’m really honored. Thank you.

380: The Five Routes to Personal Change with Jane Ransom

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Trainer, author, and master hypnotist Jane Ransom discusses how you can remap the brain’s neural pathways toward what you want using self-intelligence and self-hypnosis.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Scientific proof for the effectiveness of hypnosis
  2. How to strengthen the neural pathways to achieve behavioral change
  3. The interconnectedness of self-discipline and self-forgiveness

About Jane

Jane Ransom is a coach, speaker, trainer, master hypnotist, dedicated optimist and an incurable science nerd. The international publisher Quarto Group recently released her book Self-Intelligence: The New Science-Based Approach to Reaching Your True Potential. She helps individuals transform their lives and works with organizations to improve leadership and strengthen employee engagement.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jane Ransom Interview Transcript

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

Jane Ransom
I am truly excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh me too, me too. But first I want to hear a little bit about your story in terms of, you have an interesting relationship with practical jokes, you mentioned. Can you unpack this both on the giving and receiving side?

Jane Ransom
Yeah. By the way, so I answered that. That was in answer to your question, what’s something people don’t know about you. The reason they don’t know about that is because I never talk about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, on the record.

Jane Ransom
After I sent that to you, “I thought what have I done?” But now that it’s out there, I’ll run with it.

I’m just really gullible. I choose to trust people and I would rather be trusting than cynical, but that means that I’m very open to practical jokes. I can give you an example of a certain kind that’s not even that inventive, but I have fallen for it more than once.

Pete, let’s say we have lunch together. Here’s how you can fool me because it will still work even after I told you. That’s the sad part okay, let’s say I’ve got a veggie burger and some beautiful sweet potato fries. We’re talking.

You point over my shoulder and you say, “Oh my gosh, doesn’t that look like Meryl Streep?” I turn around and it doesn’t at all look like Meryl Streep, but because I don’t want to embarrass you because I’m really nice, I’ll try to make it work. I’ll look really hard and think, “Okay, well maybe.” I’ll turn back around and I’ll say, “Well, I don’t know, but maybe.”

We’ll keep talking and then after a little bit, I’ll notice that my fries have moved to your plate. That will totally crack me up.

Pete Mockaitis
So people have done this to you multiple times?

Jane Ransom
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve never thought to steal fries nor have I had my fries stolen, but now I’m inspired.

Jane Ransom
It could be anything. It doesn’t have to be fries.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, that’s a good trick for being awesome at your job is free food.

Jane Ransom
I can tell you a joke. I am fooled more than I do in reverse, but once I did – way back in the day before internet travel reservations and so on, I knew I was going to be sitting beside my oldest brother on a plane trip. This is actually when you had to make a phone call to make a plane reservation. I was able to say, “Well, where is Barley Ransom sitting? Can you put me by him, but don’t tell him.” They actually said okay.

Anyway, I had long hair then and I had just had a perm. I had big hair. I wore sunglasses. I wore this crazy outfit. I put on these stick on nails. I looked really goofy. I sat down by my brother and I left my sunglasses on and I kept trying to talk – make conversation. I was like, “Hi, where are you from?” I was so ditzy, he tried not to talk with me.

In order to force him to talk with me, I had to spill my water on him, just kind of knock it over. Then he had to talk to me just to be nice because of course I would have felt so embarrassed. Then we had this conversation. I was like, “Where are you going?” He, “I’m going to Indiana.” “Oh, I grew up in Indiana.”

It went on like that until finally I said, “I think I know you.” I pulled the sunglasses off and I said, “I really think I know you. Don’t you know me?” The poor guy, he stared at me. He was, “Oh, no, no.” Then there was this shock. Then he just looked completely horrified.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that is sophisticated.

Jane Ransom
I don’t know if he ever recovered.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m going to tuck that away. That’s good. Thank you. Thank you.

Jane Ransom
You’re welcome. I was trying to think of well, how could this be meaningful at all after I sent that info off to you. I thought, what I think it’s about for me and why I like to be fooled is that it really helps me to laugh at myself because I feel like one of the ways we hold ourselves back is we get so serious. We feel so bad about mistakes. We have to be right. We get very uptight. There’s no better way to shake yourself loose than to feel really silly for a moment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Very nice. Well, so let’s talk about your latest, your book, Self-Intelligence. It sounds like an important thing. What’s your main thesis here?

Jane Ransom
Okay. The main thesis I think, because there are many roads to Rome, but there are also kind of a set of proven roads to Rome, Rome being positive change. If we could pause for a moment – or just to lay a little bit of groundwork here.

The book partly sprang out of my own enthusiasm over the discovery of brain plasticity. Pete, the reason I would like to pause on that is because I go around talking about brain plasticity and people nod their heads, but not everybody actually understands what it is. Could I take a moment just to kind of describe-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure, go for it.

Jane Ransom
Okay. When I was growing up I was told was that the brain stops changing and developing after a certain age, basically when you’re a kid, but certainly by your 20s because that’s when the prefrontal cortex kind of sets in.

What that meant was you brain is set. Once you’re an adult, your personality is set, your intelligence is set, your character traits, whether you’re a procrastinator or not, whether you’re self-disciplined or not, whether you’re a cheerful person or not, all that’s set. You’re done.

What happened was around the 1980s this brain imaging technology started coming in driven by computers. Once scientists were able to look inside the brain, what they found was that brain plasticity is real. Until then just a few outliers had been arguing for it, but no one believed in it.

What that means, plasticity, as in plastic, as in malleable. We each have about 100 billion neurons or thinking brain cells. They each have at least say 1,000 connections each, so we’ve got at least oh, a hundred trillion connections among our neurons.

Well, plasticity means those are constantly shifting and remapping. You’ve got all these connections and brain maps and they’re constantly shifting and remapping. What that means is that we can literally reform our brains by choosing better thoughts, better experiences, and better actions.

Why scientists didn’t believe that for so long until they could see it due to the neuro-imaging technology, why they didn’t believe it is because people don’t seem to change. They don’t seem to change because very often, it’s quite natural to maintain homeostasis. We go around thinking and doing the same old things. If we do that, we’re just continually remapping our brains onto the same old, same old.

If you decide to change, it’s not that hard. The brain is actually set up for your entire life to be changeable. This is a revolution in neuroscience. By now people have heard the term, but to really take that good news in, I think it’s astounding.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly and it’s inspiring in terms of the potential and what that can mean for someone and their life and their potential for where they can go. It’s really cool. Yeah.

Jane Ransom
Yeah, yeah. What happened was in 2008 my dad had died. He had had lung cancer. He had been a smoker. Then I had read this book about brain plasticity I was really excited about. Then my dad died. Before that my stepfather, my mother had died of lung cancer, been smokers. My father had never been able to quit smoking.

Somehow I stumbled upon the information that hypnosis was an effective way to quit smoking. I thought wow, that’s so interesting. Then I started kind of a deep dive into the science, like is hypnosis real and wow, yeah, there’s lots of science on it. I also was open because I’d just been reading about brain plasticity, so it made sense to me. Okay, hypnosis is a way into the brain to kind of speed up, to put on hyper speed brain plasticity.

I got my training. I opened an office. I was living in San Francisco, opened an office in downtown San Francisco and started a hypnosis practice helping people among many other things to quit smoking.

But what happened was people would come in and they would be so excited about their results, but then they would ask me for help with other stuff like, “Help me with my relationship,” or “Help me get a promotion.” Hypnosis isn’t a magic bullet for everything. Being a science nerd, I would run home and keep reading the science.

So I would be helping my clients by gathering all these science-based tools and there’s so much. Once brain plasticity was discovered, that’s launched many new fields of investigation because once scientists realized, “Oh my gosh, we can change. People can change,” now many, many scientists are investigating, “Well, how do we change? What actually works?”

As I was gathering those tools, I was kind of spewing them at my clients in my nerdy way. One of them said, “Can’t you just put this into a kind of a pretty picture for me?” so I started forming this model of self-intelligence that’s basically got sort of five routes into personal change. Then I started sharing that. One of my clients said, “Well, why don’t you put it in a book?” I was like, “Okay.” Then followed about six years of deep dive research and testing and practicing.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear a little bit. These five routes, what are they?

Jane Ransom
Okay. One is programming the subconscious self. When I was growing up, hypnosis was like woo-woo, considered kind of spooky. The word subconscious was sort of the same, woo-woo. But now with brain imaging technology, we know that most of our brain activity is subconscious. If you want to change yourself and your habits, you’ve got to deal with the subconscious.

There are ways of more or less directly dealing with it. For example, programming your dreams or hypnosis is another one, visualization, things like that. That’s one portal.

Another one is conditioning your conscious self, self-talk, say gratitude practice. I don’t actually talk about that in the book because so many people already know about it. But being aware of choices, becoming more aware that everything you’re doing is a choice, being aware of your self-story, things like that. There’s conditioning your conscious self.

Then, you’ve talked about this on your show, three is thinking through your embodied self, the mind-body loop you really can’t take apart the mind and the body anymore. Knowing that what we do with our bodies can directly influence our thoughts and emotions, so that’s embodied cognition. I love that stuff.

I think you’ve talked about – have you had Amy Cuddy on your show? I think someone’s talked about it on your show.

Pete Mockaitis
Not yet. I think the day is coming. But she has definitely come up.

Jane Ransom
Yeah, yeah. Her work – it’s not just her. There are scores of other scientists doing amazing research there. That’s the body-brain loop, the embodied self.

Then four is integrating your social self. When I was growing up, friendship was not considered important to one’s mental health or physical health, now we know otherwise. Not only is social connection vital to your well-being, but it’s also vital to professional success. That’s been a wonderful new area of research as well. That’s integrating your social self.

Then the fifth one is vitalizing your striving self, where I zero in more directly on okay, goals, setting goals, achieving goals, how we can best do that and how we do that in order to pursue meaning in our lives. I think that we’re all naturally strivers. When we stop striving, I think that’s not a good idea. That’s the fifth one, vitalizing your striving self.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m perhaps most intrigued by the subconscious piece because we haven’t talked about it a whole lot on the show and secondly, you have lots of hypnosis experience and thirdly, you’re all about the science, so I can just candidly ask the hard questions about the evidence-base associated with them.

Let’s talk about the programming of the subconscious self. Can you maybe first orient us to what extent is that possible or what are the limitations? What’s too much to expect from what you can get from programming the subconscious self, versus what’s something that is totally achievable if we’re looking to take her around in there?

Jane Ransom
Okay. I wouldn’t put any limits on what’s achievable, but I would say that – this has to do with brain plasticity. When we’re talking about programming the subconscious self – when we’re talking about any kind of change, but think about this in terms of brain plasticity – what we’re doing is we’re going in and we’re laying down new neural pathways. Now, to make those pathways stick takes practice and habit, repetition.

For example, somebody might come in for a hypnosis session and they – often people want to just feel better. They might leave feeling great, but now to continue feeling great, they’re going to have to keep reinforcing those new neural pathways. It can vary from client to client because some clients are high hypnotizables.

I should also tell you, I’m happy to talk about hypnosis. I love it. I use it all the time on myself. I’m a self-hypnosis junkie. But I should also tell you, it’s just one tool in my toolbox now. But the science is very real.

I’m so thrilled, on the back of my book one of the blurbs is by Elvira Lang, who used to teach at Harvard Medical School. She is probably the world’s top researcher on the uses of hypnosis for medical procedures. She’s done studies involving many, many hundreds of people.

She’s found – at Harvard these were done – that people, they need less anesthetic when they’ve prepared using hypnosis. They suffer fewer infections. The surgery takes less time because the body is subconsciously cooperating with the surgery. The patient later heals faster. Here’s what’s extraordinary, even bones heal faster if the patient has prepared for the surgery using hypnosis. Isn’t that astonishing?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that because in the world of clinical/medical stuff, it’s all about the numbers. There’s no fudging, outside of outright fraud or abusive reporting of things. Anyway, that’s pretty cool setting in terms of its high-scrutiny and high-evidence basis there. That’s intriguing.

I find if that’s the case, then it’s easy to believe that hypnosis may have some good impact on you, say, feeling more confident and less anxious and being more creative and having more great ideas. Let’s talk about it. If we’ve established that hypnosis can work, what does one do to lay some of that neural pathway and do some of this hypnosis work to impact the subconscious?

Jane Ransom
Yeah, yeah, great question. Hypnosis can be used for so many different things because the mind can be used for so many different things. I mentioned self-hypnosis. I use self-hypnosis for example, I was a lifelong insomniac. I think this may run in my family somewhat, whether it’s genetic, epigenetic, whatever. I use self-hypnosis every night to get to sleep. When I wake up, I use it to get right back to sleep.

What I like about it is that it actually involves a certain amount of self-discipline so that I have to focus – which is counterintuitive. You would think that going to sleep is just like let it go and relax. Well, sometimes relaxing actually takes discipline. That’s one thing I use self-hypnosis for. But you’re absolutely right, you can use it to dial up confidence.

I have a little free self-hypnosis mini course on my website that people can go and learn it there if they want to. I can share with you a funny thing. We do a funny example of how do you use hypnosis at work?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, funny is good, but I guess what I most want to know is sort of what are the practices, sort of the how to with regard to most reliably getting some positive results?

Jane Ransom
Well, so it’s quite easy basically to hypnotize people. Maybe a little bit of background here. There are high hypnotizables and low hypnotizables. We’re not really sure why. We’re not sure whether it’s brain structure. It seems to have something to do with whether someone is easily absorbed, like the kind of person who can just drop down into a novel and forget everything else. But we’re not really sure why.

I also want to just come clean and say we don’t really know what hypnosis is. Somebody that pretends to know what it is, is not actually well informed. But keep in mind, we don’t really know what gravity is either, but they both work. There’s major research that shows that they both work.

In terms of the how to, there are many ways to hypnotize people. I work with people sometimes just over the phone, so I can use language to hypnotize people. There’s the old visual use of – remember the swinging watch?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh right.

Jane Ransom
That’s a Hollywood stereotype, but it could actually work. Sometimes we use visual fixation. Milton Erickson, who was a psychiatrist who was probably one of the most famous hypnotists ever was said to be able to hypnotize someone by shaking their hand in a certain way, that confused them, led them in one direction, and then in another direction mentally, and then they would just sort of give up and drop in without knowing it.

In terms of the how to, there are various techniques. This course I have on my site throws a bunch of them in there, but there are many, many ways to bring a person into hypnosis.

Now, about maybe 10% of the population are what we call high hypnotizables. Some people call them somnambulists. Those people go right in. I mean they are so easy to hypnotize. I feel jealous of them because they also often have that sort of like they’re being in a movie experience.

I had one client that used to – she’d come in and say, “Oh, while we’re doing the other stuff, can I go flying around through the pink stuff again today?” I’d be like, “Yeah, okay.” Now, when I’m hypnotized, whether it’s self-hypnosis or by somebody else, I don’t go flying around in the pink stuff. For me, it’s – the conscious experience of it is more or less just being deeply relaxed, but it still works for me.

Often the result is a little bit more delayed. With my own self-hypnosis for sleep, obviously it’s not so delayed. But I’m a low hypnotizable. Some of the non-medical research has been on high hypnotizables just because scientists know that they are going in.

One of those studies used PET scan. I think it’s been done with FMRIs as well, where they give people a piece of paper with black and white designs on it. They put them in the brain imaging machine. They say, “Okay,” they say, “Imagine that those black and white images are in color. You’re seeing colors.” They measure the brain activity and look at what the brain’s doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Are your eyes open when you’re looking at the black and white images or are they closed?

Jane Ransom
I think they’d be open, but I’m not sure whether the people are allowed to close their eyes when they’re asked to imagine. But then they put them in hypnosis. First they take these people and they see what’s going on when they just imagine it. Then they hypnotize them and, again, for the experiment they’re using high hypnotizables because those people just go in so fast. Then they give them the same instructions.

Now, not only do those people report seeing vivid colors, but their visual cortex is just going wild. They are seeing those colors. There’s no doubt.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing.

Jane Ransom
Yeah, yeah. But so those are the high hypnotizables. The strategies to go into hypnosis are wide and varied.

Pete Mockaitis
Why don’t we maybe just grab your favorite? Let’s say it’s just me, Pete Mockaitis, or the listener.

Jane Ransom
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s say we’re looking to have more confidence and ability to speak up at work and less sort of anxiety and self-consciousness. What would you say given all you know might be your best bet approach for self-hypnosis to get some progress here?

Jane Ransom
First, it’s going to take practice. This is the thing. I’ve learned if you wanted to do that – and I’m not plugging myself here to plug myself, but go do the mini course because it really is a mini course. It won’t take you long at all. But the thing is to practice. First, get good. If you’re high hypnotizable, hey, you’re way ahead of the game, but most of us aren’t.

The first thing is to learn how to go into hypnosis to kind of get used to that. The more you practice it, the faster you can drop into a trance. Then once you – then I would say – the way I prepare people is I have them practice doing a couple of things. I have them first practice mental imaging.

If I’m teaching someone and I like to teach all my clients self-hypnosis because I want to send them out – I don’t want my clients hanging around forever. I want them to go on their own. I teach them – some of them I improve their mental imaging skills. You can do that. You can use this for other kinds of visualization too. Because I meet people sometimes, “Well, I don’t know how to visualize.” “Well, yeah you do.”

There’s a couple ways to do that. One easy way is just to look up, see everything in front of you, close your eyes, try to reconstruct what you just say, look up, see what you left out, keep doing that exercise.

The other one – the other way to increase your visual imaging strength is to close your eyes and – I love this one – imagine some food on a plate. I often do a red apple on a white plate, but you can make it anything. Imagine that you like that food. Pick something you like if you don’t like apples. And make it something really easy to bite into, so it could be-

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jane Ransom
Okay. What I would have you do then is to first of all notice that you can change the color and the shape of the apple and the plate.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jane Ransom
Then once you’ve made it look as – and just notice the choices you’re making. Is it a paper plate? Is it a porcelain plate? Is it a green apple? Is it a red apple? Is it a tall apple? Is it a short apple? Does it have a leaf on it? Again, as you’re doing that to notice how easy it is for you. Whatever way you’re seeing that image, it is there for you. You’re able to change it.

Then, I suggest in your mind’s eye, in your imagination, just picking up the plate and noticing – with the apple on it – and noticing just what it feels like in your hand, like both the weight and the texture, even the temperature. Okay. good.

Then I would say, you can put the plate down and now pick up the apple in one hand and first of all, just as a test to see how this works for you, bring it to your nose, in your mind’s eye. You don’t have to actually move your hand. In your mind’s eye, bring it to your nose and smell the apple. See if you can get a whiff.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Jane Ransom
Okay. Then take a bite. As you’re chewing it, notice all the sensations: the flavor, also the juiciness, the crispiness, the crunchiness, how long it takes to chew, what it feels like in your mouth, what it tastes like, what it feels like to swallow. Just enjoy that process. That’s a great way to improve your overall sort of imagining skills.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s interesting because in so doing, my brain feels like it’s in a different place now having done that visualization across and experiencing the imagery on the senses, so well, I guess a couple things. One, this mini course is there – what’s the URL?

Jane Ransom
I would go to my site, JaneRansom, that’s all one word. No ‘e’ on the end. JaneRansom.com. Then go to the book page. It’s right up there in the corner. I think you have to opt in, but it’s free. It’s a really good course and it’s really short.

I think that’s the first exercise is the first part, module is practicing that. Or no, maybe the first part is setting your intention. I’ll give you that quick as well, but go through the course because it leads you through it and it’s very, very fast. It’s really carefully thought out so as to not waste people’s time.

But the other part that I would do before doing the actual hypnosis hypnosis – and you’re right, even the visualization part that you just did gets you a little trancey, but the other part I would do is practice setting your intention. Suppose you want to feel more you said confident, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure, yeah.

Jane Ransom
Okay. Can you think of a time when you felt the kind of confidence that you would like to feel more of?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure.

Jane Ransom
Okay. Do you want to share it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah. I guess I’m just thinking about – I guess this is maybe kind of like a winning victory moment, which associated with confidence. I remember when I was in a college there was a time in which I was facilitating for the model United Nations club-

Jane Ransom
Wow.

Pete Mockaitis
-a date auction fundraiser. I was kind of the emcee guy. I felt totally confident doing that because I had done it before and these were mostly all my friends.

But then at the time I felt so confident that when I got a phone call about a job that I was very much wanting to have, I just passed the mic over to someone else, like, “Okay, now you tackle this,” and just walked off, like it’s fine. I can just do that. I can be on the front of the stage, speaking, facilitating confidently and then I can just walk off at a moment’s notice because I’ve got something to do.

Yeah, that felt pretty darn confident because I think many people would be like, “Oh, I just can’t leave the stage. Everyone’s looking at me.” It’s like, “No, I’m running the show and I’m just going to walk now.”

Jane Ransom
I love that. I love how your own confidence also it spread out to include really confidence in the people around you as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, they were great, totally trustworthy.

Jane Ransom
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “You got this. Fine. Here’s the mic.”

Jane Ransom
But that is I think a sign of genuine confidence also when we’re able to trust others, so that’s beautiful. That’s how you as a leader, as a confident leader, are then – that’s part of the leadership too is trusting others, not feeling – because some people, they think it’s about being in control,, being confident, but I just love that.

Okay, you know that, you remember that time and you remember you’re right there. Can you conjure up that situation in your mind? Can you remember maybe even what you were wearing and what the place looked like around you? Who was there?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. It was the University of Illinois, Illini Union, one of the ballrooms. There were many folks I knew from the club who were there. Then there are friends of friends that they had roped in to do some bidding. They were there. I was wearing a suit, probably my only suit at the time in college, my one suit. Yeah, it was black. Don’t recall the shirt combo, but yeah, that’s that.

Jane Ransom
Okay. Do you remember what it felt like to be wearing that, your one suit, the black suit? You can pause a moment, kind of go inward here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Jane Ransom
To actually kind of feel it on your body. What did it feel like on your shoulders, the weight of it, the texture, the warmth or coolness of it, the give of it, or the constriction of it?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, at the time it fit well. I guess, it’s funny, I was wearing it earlier in the day for interviews, so it’s funny, it might have been kind of wrinkly or kind of a little bit dusty or dirty, but I didn’t seem to care at all.

Jane Ransom
I love it. Even better. Even better. That’s great. Okay. What I would advise you to do – you don’t have to go through this whole thing now – but is to spend some time revisiting that moment. Then to invite into your whole being, body and mind, because remember those are the brain-body loop – it’s all really one entity – to bring into your brain-body loop what that confidence felt like.

We tend to feel our emotions in the body, so to become aware, you’re wearing that one suit. You’re in that place where you recognize these people, you recognize the location, you might notice textures and colors, architecture, things like that. You’ve got all that surrounding kind of nailed down. Then let yourself go inward and recapture what that confidence felt like. Now you might want to spend more time with this, but can you begin to get a sense of it right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, that’s great. Thank you.

Jane Ransom
Okay, good. Okay, so that’s actually – that will help you even without hypnosis. It’s a great way to just practice confidence. Remember, brain plasticity, neuroplasticity is all about just strengthening those pathways. You’ve got that pathway already in you. It’s a matter of kind of bringing it back and now strengthening it.

What I do with people training them to do self-hypnosis, I’m like, pick the thing you want to feel, say confidence, choose the event that you want to draw from and work on imaging that in your mind with all the sensations, and particularly revisit what it really feels like.

Now, if you were to go into hypnosis, either with somebody else hypnotizing you or practicing self-hypnosis, then you bring that word with you and that memory and you practice them in hypnosis. What hypnosis seems to do is to – it sort of puts visualization on steroids. It seems to remap the brain more quickly and more powerfully than can be done outside hypnosis. Why is that true though, I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. You mentioned some of the cool research. What I love on your website, that page that has the book, you’ve also got – talk about being a science nerd – you’ve got all of the references and there are many of them.

Jane Ransom
The bibliography.

Pete Mockaitis
28 pages of them, each pointing to the particular journal articles or books or whatnot for each chapter. I feel like I can put you on the spot, so tell me we heard about some cool results for hypnosis for bones healing faster and better surgical outcomes, any other cool hypnosis study results to speak to with regard to healing from trauma or sort of capability development like we were talking through?

Jane Ransom
Do you ever hear of the pianist, the late pianist, Glenn Gould?

Pete Mockaitis
That sounds familiar.

Jane Ransom
Okay. He was one of the great classical pianists. He practiced more in his mind than he did physically. He visualized practice.

They’ve done studies. They did a while ago a classic study with some dart throwers. They got a bunch of people at the same level, same level of training. They had half of them practice – they had one-third of them practice throwing really throwing darts every day. Then they had one-third not practice at all. Then they had the last third practice one day actually throwing the darts and on the other days, every other day, practice only in their minds. Guess which group improved the most.

Pete Mockaitis
The visualizers.

Jane Ransom
Yeah, because you can have a perfect practice. Also, you can prepare for the worst. Michael Phelps, for example, talked about how he would visualize getting water in his goggles. He would use it to prepare for any situation.

The reason I wanted to mention this is sometimes people use the word visualize and they’re like, “Visualize your success,” but studies show that merely fantasizing about something, can actually have a detrimental effect. If you go around just fantasizing that you’re winning an Emmy or something, that is actually probably going to decrease your motivation to actually do something and won’t help you at all.

But if you do visualization in a disciplined, focused way, it will remap your mind really for much better performance. Then if you pair it with hypnosis, oh my gosh, you can become unstoppable.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Tell me Jane, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

Jane Ransom
Let’s see. My problem is I’d like to talk about everything. I would like to mention one book that people should read that has nothing to do with hypnosis.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Jane Ransom
Okay. It’s been out for a while, but it’s sort of like brain plasticity that people often use the term growth mindset and they don’t really know what it means yet and they’re not fully appreciating it or taking advantage of it. I do not know this scientist personally, but her book changed my life. This is Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Do you know about this research, Pete, a little bit?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Jane Ransom
Okay. I’m just going to quickly, quickly sum it up for people because this changed my life. She has found that when we praise somebody for being smart or intelligent, we undermine their authentic confidence. When we praise ourselves for being smart or intelligent, we undermine our authentic confidence. That doesn’t mean we should tell people they’re stupid. That will even be worse.

But what you always want to be – this has to do with the subconscious mind because we think of those traits as innate and people don’t – they feel that they don’t have any control over them, so once somebody gets labeled as smart, for example, they become subconsciously afraid to take on challenges that might make them look dumb because they feel like they don’t have that much control over that.

The thing to praise is effort. Because our brains are plastic, are malleable, we can actually become smarter.

The guy that invented the IQ test, Alfred Binet, never meant it to be a test of what people are throughout their entire lives. He actually invented it – he was French – he invented it because he thought some school kids were being badly educated and so he thought they could do much better if they’re education improved. He took a baseline IQ test with a purpose of proving that with better teaching, their IQs would go up, which indeed did happen.

Anyway, everyone should read that book and keep that in mind. When you praise people, this is really important for managers as well, never tell people, “Oh, you’re so brilliant,” “Oh, you’re so talented.” Praise them for what they actually do, their effort and their strategies.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful, thank you.

Jane Ransom
You’re welcome.

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

Jane Ransom
Yeah. This was hard to choose as well. Can I give you two?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing.

Jane Ransom
Okay. One of my clients turned me on to it. It’s by Teddy Roosevelt, “With self-discipline most anything is possible.” By the way, something else we could talk about in a different conversation, but self-discipline and self-forgiveness go hand-in-hand. If you want to be more self-disciplined, be more self-forgiving.

Then the other quote that I love is Walt Whitman from Song of Myself, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. How about a favorite study? You mentioned a few, but are there any others that are mind-blowing for you?

Jane Ransom
Many. But to stay sort of on topic, I will say that – because there are amazing studies into the split brain subjects, having to do with what we do with the question why, which is some wonderful crazy stuff.

But I’ll just point to Carol Dweck’s work because she has, for example, given a bunch of school kids the same test. They all do well. Tell half of them, “You did well. You must be really smart.” Tells the other half, “You did well. You must have put a lot of effort into what you do.” Then they’re put through all the same learning program.

These studies that have been with kids and with adults and professionals prove over and over again that the people who are primed with the fixed mindset and told they’re smart, start underperforming. The people primed with the growth mindset, praise for effort, embrace challenge and they don’t mind failure. It’s just a great thing to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. How about a favorite book?

Jane Ransom
Again, so many. I mentioned Carol Dweck. John Ratey’s, Spark, which is about how physical exercise is just about the best thing you can do for your brain. Then another book that changed my life is – came out around 2007 I think. It was one of the first books on brain plasticity for laypeople. That’s by Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Jane Ransom
Self-hypnosis for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And habit.

Jane Ransom
Yeah, okay. I always tell people to make things easy on themselves, like I was saying self-discipline and self-forgiveness go hand-in-hand. Also just making things easy.

For example, I like to stay fit. I don’t watch TV, but I have a screen up that’s connected to my computer so I can watch Netflix. My rule is I never watch anything on that screen unless I am also simultaneously exercising. I have a stationary bike, I have a hula-hoop, I have weights, whatever. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, but I simply do not watch anything at all unless I’m exercising. It makes exercising so easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh lovely. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your audiences?

Jane Ransom
It probably has to do with self-forgiveness and going easy on yourself. People think that change has to be hard. It doesn’t. It’s oddly enough, the nicer you are to yourself, the easier change will come. That means practicing self-forgiveness and it means setting up situations like I was just saying like with my Netflix to make things easier on yourself.

Because self-discipline is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it is, but on the other hand, you don’t want to be spending it on stuff that doesn’t matter, that isn’t necessary throughout the day.

When I work with people, the main thing is self-forgiveness and I’ll just say it here even though we’re not going to talk about the science in it, but self-love. Love yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say self-forgiveness, since we’ve hit this a couple times, in practice what does that look, sound, feel like? Is it just like, “Pete, I forgive you for sleeping in until those many hours instead of exercising the way you had hoped to?” Is that all I do or how does one forgive oneself?

Jane Ransom
In a way, kind of, yes. Do you know what the what-the-hell effect is? It’s a scientific term.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t think I do.

Jane Ransom
Okay, can I – do I have time to ….

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure. Let’s do it.

Jane Ransom
Okay, okay. The what-the-hell effect is the fact that if you beat up on yourself, let’s say you did sleep in, the more you beat up on yourself, the more you chastise yourself for that, the more likely you are to do it again. This has been proven over and over with overeating, over drinking, procrastinating, not studying for exams. Whatever it is, the harder a person is on themselves, the more likely they are to repeat the bad habit. By the harder they are, you can test that by seeing how bad do you feel about yourself.

What some diet researchers discovered this a few decades ago. They called it the what-the-hell effect because what they hypothesized is that the subconscious is basically saying, “Well, I guess all is lost. What the hell, I might as well keep doing the bad thing.” I love that. Kelly McGonigal, who wrote a book called The Willpower Instinct, which I also recommend, calls the what-the-hell effect, “The biggest threat” – this is her quote – “The biggest threat to willpower worldwide.”

Pete Mockaitis
Tweet that. There you go.

Jane Ransom
Yeah, yeah. It is counterintuitive, but the harder you are on yourself, the harder it becomes.

In your example, if you sleep in, yeah, what you do is you say, “Hey, Pete, everybody screws up now and then. We are all beautifully imperfect. It is the human condition to be imperfect. Okay, I screwed up today. Oh well, I’m going to do better going forward and that’s great, but I certainly forgive myself.” I know as silly as that sounds, trust me this is actually proven science and it’s very powerful.

I had one client who – won’t go into the whole story here – but he was having major problems in his life. They surfaced when he originally came in as he was very out of shape. He had a gym membership and he wasn’t able to – he was like, “I haven’t gone and I’m a fat slob,” and this and that. He was having issues in a number of other areas in his life.

We worked on the self-forgiveness. His whole life turned around. What turned out for him was that he’d actually been carrying a lot of guilt because he was a Vietnam vet and he actually had killed people and never dealt with it. We didn’t have to go over the details. He didn’t need to talk it out. I don’t do talk therapy in that regard. But what we did is some self-forgiveness exercises.

You can use visualization too. Sometimes I will ask people to just close their eyes and imagine wrapping a nice self-forgiveness blanket around themselves. I’ll have clients hug themselves. I’ll have them go into hypnosis and picture holding themselves as a baby.

Anything to kind of loosen up our adult self-criticism, which can be so harsh because we are – think about a child learning to walk. I know many people use this metaphor, but it’s really – or this analogy, but it’s really true. When a little kid is learning to walk, they are falling down a lot, and we don’t sit there and go, “Oh, you idiot.” We’re like, “Yay, rock on. Get up and try again.” We really, we need to be that loving toward ourselves. The science says that is what will really help you to walk faster.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jane Ransom
I’d point them to my website, JaneRansom.com. Again, they can find that self-hypnosis course on the book page.

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

Jane Ransom
Yeah, I would say make an effort to praise somebody, and it could be yourself, today if it’s not the very end of the day for you, specifically for something that they did, but make a practice of praising people for effort.

It takes effort to praise people for effort because you can’t just say, “Great job.” You have to actually say, “Oh you did a really nice job of keeping everybody engaged and bringing out the people who weren’t speaking,” or whatever it is. My call to action is make an effort to praise effort.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jane this has been a whole lot of fun. Thank you for taking this time. I wish you lots of luck with the book, Self-Intelligence, and all you’re up to.

Jane Ransom
Thank you Pete. I’ve had fun. Thank you.

378: How to Tackle Uncertainty–and Enjoy It with Josh Kaufman

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Josh Kaufman shares his research regarding tackling uncertainty, the value of persistence in new skill acquisition, and best practices for self-directed learning.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The PICS formula for assessing your goals
  2. The five parts of every business mental model
  3. How and Why to pre-commit to learning a new skill

About Josh

Josh’s research focuses on business, skill acquisition, productivity, creativity, applied psychology, and practical wisdom. His unique, multidisciplinary approach to business mastery and rapid skill acquisition has helped millions of readers around the world learn essential concepts and skills on their own terms.

Josh’s research has been featured by The New York Times, The BBC, The Wall Street Journal, Time, BusinessWeek, Wired, Fast Company, Financial Times, Lifehacker, CNN, and many others.

Josh has been a featured speaker at Stanford University, World Domination Summit, Pioneer Google, and many others. JoshKaufman.net was named one of the “Top 100 Websites for Entrepreneurs” and his TEDx talk was viewed over 12 million times.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Josh Kaufman Interview Transcript

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

Josh Kaufman
Pete, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for the invitation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get into this discussion. One fun thing I learned about you as I was stalking you in preparation for this discussion is it still active that you have a monthly Dungeons and Dragons group going? What’s the story here?

Josh Kaufman
That is absolutely accurate. Actually, we just had I think it’s our one-year group anniversary this past Saturday.

Pete Mockaitis
Congratulations.

Josh Kaufman
It’s fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me, what’s the – Dungeons and Dragons, it’s so funny. It has all sorts of connotations, but I want to hear straight from the horse’s mouth, what is it for you that drew you in and keeps you coming back?

Josh Kaufman
Oh, it is the most fun game that has ever been invented. It’s this really wonderful combination. When I try to explain it to people who have never played, it’s like imagine a game where literally anything is possible and people can do crazy things that you have not prepared for and don’t expect and there’s some way of figuring out if a character who tries to do something crazy in a story, if they can actually do that thing.

I love it in two ways. It’s this wonderful combination of group storytelling and improv. The storyteller kind of knows where it’s going to go, but doesn’t know for sure. The players have agency and latitude to do whatever they want.

Then the players can explore a world where they can and try and pull off things that are just really fun to think about and come up with creative solutions that the person w ho’s telling the story just never anticipated. It’s this wonderful combination of story and surprise and creativity. It’s the best.

Pete Mockaitis
Not to get too deep into the weeds, but I’m intrigued. How do you make the call on whether something that someone invents out of their head – I guess I just saw matches like “You are locked behind a dungeon door.” It’s like, “I’m going to pull out some – a bazooka and blast it away.”

I guess how do we determine whether or not they in fact can or cannot pull out a bazooka and blast it away? That’s always kind of been my sticking point looking out from afar, having not experienced it first-hand.

Josh Kaufman
Sure. There’s actually very active conversations in RPG circles about how you deal with this. I think the term is verisimilitude, so how much do you want to try to emulate real life in this fantastical story that you’re all telling together.

Every system has different ways of doing it. At least in Dungeons and Dragons, all of the player characters are playing an individual who has certain goals and desires and also, very important, a list of equipment that they have on them at their disposal, so pulling out a bazooka from nowhere is totally not kosher as far as the rules of the game.

Pete Mockaitis
It would be on the equipment list in advance is what you’re telling me.

Josh Kaufman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Josh Kaufman
Imagine somebody like Conan the Barbarian fighting a dragon at the top of a mountain. The dragon is hurt and tries to flee and Conan flings himself off of a cliff and tries to grab the dragon in midair. Most games don’t really have a good system for figuring out what happens next.

The whole point of a rule system in a role-playing game is essentially giving you the tools to figure out just that. What is the situation? How difficult is it? What is this player? What are they good at and what are they not good at?

There’s a way to essentially reduce it to statistics of you don’t know for sure, you’re going to roll some dice to figure out what happens next, but how great are the chances that Conan will be able to leap far enough to get to the dragon and then hold on if they’re able to make contact. Things like that. It’s really fun.

Pete Mockaitis
I see, so you’re kind of jointly deciding that as a group.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, and the really interesting parts are when the players figure out a solution to a challenge that you didn’t anticipate. At risk of going too deep, my players were fighting ice demons that exploded when they died this past Saturday.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve all been there, Josh.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, as you do. It was really interesting to see the group brainstorm and come up with solutions of how to isolate and then put these monsters in a position where they could be defeated without doing damage to the party.

There were five or six different solutions. Every player came up with their own take on it. But it was just really interesting to see with all of the different personalities and the different sets of skills at the table, everybody came up with their own little solution to figure out this thorny problem.

I was telling the story and I had no idea what they were going to do. The fun of it for me was putting a whole bunch of people in a situation and seeing how they tackled it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s nifty. You’ve compiled some wisdom when it comes to fighting fantastical and mythological beasts in your book, How to Fight a Hydra, but there’s more to it than just a fun fantasy fiction romp. Can you unpack what’s this book all about?

Josh Kaufman
Sure, so How to Fight a Hydra is compiling a lot of research into a universal problem that all of us have that’s we may have a big ambitious goal or pursuit, something that we want for ourselves and we’re not quite sure if we’re going to be able to pull it off. There’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s a lot of risk. There might be fear of the unknown or uncertainty that we have the skills that we’re going to need in order to get what we want.

A huge tradition both in ancient and modern philosophy about how to deal with topics like uncertainty and risk, but also a lot of new cognitive psychology or behavioral psychology. How do you get yourself to do something that you know in advance is going to be challenging or is going to be difficult?

I started researching this and started doing it the way that I did my previous two books, which were research based non-fiction. The funny thing about writing about uncertainty and risk and fear is that if you treat it that way, you start writing a book that nobody wants to read because those topics are inherently uncomfortable to think about too long.

That’s where the idea of instead of explaining how to do this, approaching it from the perspective of a story. Let’s take a person who is deciding to pursue something genuinely difficult, something that they don’t know if they’re going to be able to do and let’s follow them as they go through the process of accomplishing this very big goal and experiencing all of the normal challenges along the way.

Then watch them skillfully apply these things that we know from research works in these sorts of situations. It’s fiction. It’s a story, but it’s a story with an underlying logic and purpose that is very firmly rooted in this universal challenge that we all face.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. We won’t spoil the story elements, but within it, there are some components associated with sort of physical training and getting tougher as well as acquiring or crafting a sword in order to pull it off. Could you – at the risk of us entering into the boring territory for the book that nobody wanted to read – what are some of the fundamental steps and scientific insights associated with flourishing when you’re tackling a big project like this?

Josh Kaufman
There are a bunch of insights around – let’s group it around expectations going into something – a new big project, something you’ve never done before, something that is at the limit of your capability. And there are a few common patterns or denominators in how you approach that, and how you approach it makes an enormous difference.

Let’s say you want to enter a new career. You want to start a new business, pursue a creative project. Whatever it happens to be, there’s this undercurrent of, like, “I don’t know if this is a good idea. I don’t know if this is going to work. I don’t know if I invest my time and energy in this way I’m going to get the results that I want. I may have a vague idea of what I’m trying to do, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.”

Those are all very common things that I hear from lots of different people and experience myself. One of the things that’s very useful to know from the beginning is that that is completely normal. It doesn’t mean that you are not up to the task. It doesn’t mean that this is a bad idea or there’s something wrong with you. It’s just a fundamental feature of the world.

These big things that we want to achieve, there’s an inherent element of uncertainty, complexity, variability, ambiguity and risk. Those things are never going to go away. If you understand that from the beginning, you can shift your mindset more from “How do I get this uncertainty to go away? How can I make it stop?” to more of a you are pursuing an adventure. You’re exploring something interesting. You are challenging yourself in important ways.

One of the things that makes an adventure interesting, or exploration valuable, is you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. That’s part of the fun. That’s part of the challenge. Just thinking about these things that we want to do more along the lines of adventures or exploration is a very useful way to think about the process of pursuing something in general.

Pete Mockaitis
That is really cool in terms of just reframing it as an adventure because we pay good money to experience adventure, whether you’re going to REI and buying some outdoor backpacking-type stuff and going out on a trail or a mountain or a campsite or whether it’s more indoorsy, a room escape adventure, you know?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis
Paying money for that kind of experience or just a trip to the movies or a novel or whatever. Yet, elsewhere in life, we want that uncertainty gone. We would like to just sort of know how it’s going to unfold. That’s a pretty clever move in terms of by reframing the uncertainty into adventure, now it’s no longer terrifying and doubt-producing, but rather it’s fun and interesting.

Josh Kaufman
That’s absolutely the case.

Pete Mockaitis
Nifty. I imagine some ways that may be easier said than done, but let’s say you’re in the heat of it. Someone’s looking to change their career wildly from we’ll just say one field of accounting to another field of pinball machine design.

Josh Kaufman
Fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve always loved pinball and this is kind of a crazy switch, but they think they’ve got some special skills and abilities and things to contribute there.

Let’s think about it. One person may very well be freaking out in this situation, like, “Oh my gosh, where would I even start? Why would anyone want to hire me? Should I quit my job? Should I not? That’s pretty crazy. How am I going to support my family, pay the mortgage?” Here we are in the midst of uncertainty and big dream and fear. Where do we go?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, the first bit is exploring more fully what the new thing looks like. I’m guessing that our fictional example may have some experience doing this but may not have completed an entire project start to finish.

One useful thing about thinking about all of these transitions as adventures is there’s a certain amount of exploration that’s always going to happen, particularly at the beginning. There’s actually – I did a full essay about this on my website, JoshKaufman.net, about exploration versus exploitation.

There’s a lot of research about it in computer science, but it’s one of those generalizable things that’s useful in a lot of circumstances. When you’re doing something new, it is in your best interest to spend the vast majority of your time exploring all of your different options.

Maybe in this case, the individual is still working their day job, so there’s some risk mitigation going on there, but then most of the time and energy devoted toward this new activity is spent exploring.

What types of pinball things sound good? What are some of the different industries or businesses that you could work with? What do they tend to specialize in? What do they need? Are you going to build your own pinball machines or are you going to outsource it to a contract manufacturer? Are you selling it yourself or are you selling it through somebody else? There are all sorts of unanswered questions around this topic.

Spending a lot of time and energy in the exploration phase makes a lot of sense. You’re gathering information. You’re trying new things. You are testing to see what are the parts of the business or the venture or project that you really like and what are some of the things that you would rather avoid.

All of that exploration is extremely useful later when it comes to the second phase, which is called exploitation. Exploitation is when you’re spending most of your time doing the things that you know are rewarding.

Imagine you move to a new town and you don’t know which restaurants are good. You spend maybe the first couple years that you live there, you never eat at the same place twice. You explore lots of different options to see what you like and what you don’t like.

But the longer you live there, the more you know what’s going to hit the spot at any particular moment, so you spend more and more time doing the things that you know work and doing less and less of the time with things you don’t.

So for our aspiring pinball designer, after that period of exploration, they’re going to have a much better sense of what works and what doesn’t. Then the more and more things that work, the easier it’s going to be to make a transition from accounting to pinball.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing example there when it comes to the food. It’s so dead on because I found myself, particularly when I’m at a restaurant that I’ve been to several times, it’s like I’m torn. It’s like, okay, there’s one thing I know that will be delicious and wonderful, so I’m naturally drawn to that and yet, I’m also intrigued by the new and seeing what could be there.

I’ve had it go both ways. I try something new and it’s like, “Wow, that was even better than the thing I loved. I’m so glad I did that,” versus “Oh, this is kind of lame. I could have just stuck with the thing I knew was good and then been feeling more delighted post meal.”

I like that you’ve provided a particular rule of thumb here, which is in the early phases, you’re going to get a better bang for your buck by doing more of the exploration versus once you know the lay of the land, you’ll have a better return by doing the exploitation.

Josh Kaufman
Absolutely. And the additional wrinkle to this, so this is often in the research literature called the bandit problem because the classical mathematical formulation is you’re playing slot machines, which I do not recommend by the way, but for the sake of understanding, it’s a good example.

Imagine you go into a casino and you can play any slot machine you want. You don’t even have to spend money. It’s just the time that it takes to pull the lever and see the result. If you’re given this opportunity and you want to maximize your return from this experience, what do you do? Well, that’s where the exploration and the exploitation phase comes it.

You spend quite a bit of time testing different machines gathering data. Then after a while you start shifting to the machines that you know provide a much better pay off.

The interesting thing is you would think at a certain point that exploitation is the way to go. You just do the thing you know works over and over and over again. When you look at the studies and you look at the math, that’s actually not the case. There’s always a certain amount of your energy and attention that is going to be devoted to exploration because you don’t have perfect information about what is going to be the most rewarding thing you possibly could do.

The more time you spend, the more confident you can be that you’re on the right track, but it’s always beneficial to you to reserve at least some percentage of your capacity for trying new things and seeing if they work out.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. I guess it’s just my personality or strengths or whatever, it’s just like I find that exploration of the new is so much more exciting and interesting.

Josh Kaufman
I’m right there with you.

Pete Mockaitis
And sometimes to my detriment. It’s like, “No, no, Pete, just continue doing the thing that’s really working for you instead of gallivanting off to some crazy thing,” but the gallivanting is fun. I guess when you talk about the context of slot machines, which is gaming is for the purpose of fun, then that may be all the more true.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, I think a lot of it comes down to – in the personal context, why are you doing this thing in the first place? There may very well be situations or decisions that you might make from a career standpoint that might get you a lower financial return than other options, but if you have a payoff in another dimension, so maybe it’s personal interest and engagement maybe it’s exploring an area that you really love and you’re willing to make tradeoffs in order to work in that area.

There are all sorts of things to optimize for that aren’t necessarily financial return. I think the more broadly you think about what’s the reward for this thing that I’m trying to do and how can I get more of the things that I care about, the easier it is to make those sorts of tradeoffs.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Okay, when it comes to the hydra fighting, any other kind of key takeaways that you think are particularly on point for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, I think the understanding that it’s going to be difficult and that’s okay, is a really great mental framework to begin and that most of these sorts of challenges are met by both improving your skills, so getting better at doing the things that are critical to achieve the results that you want, and persistence and specifically persistence in the face of frustration and difficulty.

And so it’s very easy, particularly early on – this is actually a theme in my second book, The First 20 Hours. When you’re doing something new or something you’re not familiar with or something you’re not very good at yet, that early experience of trying to make progress and not getting the results you want is extremely frustrating.

Understanding that persistence is the thing that allows you to push through those early barriers and solve the challenges and get what you want, the more you can understand that that is the path to victory. It’s not being naturally skilled. It’s not having some sort of magic problem-solving device. It is consistent effort, attention and energy over a long period of time.

That is setting you up for success in a way that a lot of messages in broader culture, just don’t really help you with.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us a couple, quotables or articulations of the counter message that’s suboptimal?

Josh Kaufman
Well, I think the best way to frame it—that I’ve seen in various forms is don’t compare your inside versus somebody else’s outside. social media does not do us many favors here because you tend to see the highlight reel of other people’s lives. You see the promotions. You see the vacations. You see the raises. You see the major status-oriented achievements. You don’t necessarily see, the struggle or the fear or the anxiety or the work that goes into a lot of  the achievements that other people have.

Understanding that everyone deals with the same challenges of not knowing what’s going to happen next, not knowing if an investment is going to pay off not knowing if something is a really great idea that’s going to change their life or career or a terrible idea that is going to blow up their life or career. It’s a universal problem.

Giving yourself a bit of grace and being comfortable saying “I may not be where I want to be yet, but I am on a path and I am working towards getting there,” that goes a very long way.

Pete Mockaitis
Not to kill dreams prematurely, but I guess the counter side of persistence is knowing when is it appropriate to shut down a plan that is not going to cut the mustard. Any pro tips on that side of things?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, the biggest advice I can give in that regard is be very, very clear about what you want upfront. The way that I like to think about this most people’s goals or dreams if they’ve articulated them to themselves are very broad and very general. Broad and general to the point where it doesn’t really give your brain anything to work with in figuring out how to get there.

The acronym or approach that works really well for me is PICS, P-I-C-S. That’s positive, immediate, concrete, and specific. Those are the qualities that should apply. When you write down what you want, try to make it as concrete, specific, vivid and something that you can look into the world and figure out, “have I achieved this thing or not. Am I there?”

“I want to climb a mountain,” is very not specific. “I want to climb Mt. Everest by next year,” is much more specific. You can do something with that.

Pete Mockaitis
I like the acronym PICS just because that’s kind of what you’re getting at is we’re trying to paint a picture that’s super clear, that we know if we’ve hit it or have not hit it.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, the more vividly you can imagine what your life looks like and what this thing you want to achieve looks like when it has been accomplished, the more useful it is going to be in terms of figuring out what to do next to get there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Then it’s easier to make that call. It’s like, “This is what I was going for and what I’m experiencing is in no way, close to that nor getting closer to it, over time,” so there you go as opposed to if it were fuzzy, it would be tougher to know that we’re not where we’re headed or where we wanted to be.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, I think a lot of people experience that particularly early on in their career, where they have this image before they enter the workforce or in a new role about what it’s going to look like and what it’s going to feel like and what their life is going to be. And a lot of times, the early experiences don’t match up very well with that. it helps to be able to really articulate what am I trying to get out of this, what is the benefit for me, what do I care about and what do I not care about so much? And then be able to figure out, okay, on a day-to-day basis, is this thing taking you closer in the direction of where you want to be or is it actually taking you farther away?

In my corporate career, I was actually in product development in marketing at Proctor & Gamble, which a huge consumer goods company. I was really excited. I loved creating new things. That part was really great. I decided to move on from the company when I was in a meeting to prepare for a meeting to prepare for a meeting to prepare for a meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you unpack that?

Josh Kaufman
Four levels of ….

Pete Mockaitis
The layers of the meetings. I’ve got to hear this.

Josh Kaufman
A lot of how product development works was we’re individual teams who are working on things and they would essentially pitch it to the vice president/president level in order to get funding.

I was having a meeting with my manager to prepare for a meeting with the brand manager of the product that this would be under to prepare for a meeting with the marketing director, and then to prepare for a the final pitch to the vice president and president to get funding.

And all of those meetings were important. And then I just looked at my life. I’m like, “I don’t want to exist in meetings for the rest of my career. There are other things I want to do.”

Pete Mockaitis
What’s intriguing is that the final, final meeting was still an internal one as opposed to say a venture capitalist or Wal-Mart, Amazon. Are they going to carry your product? It was still an internal one.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, absolutely. I actually had quite a few meetings with Wal-Mart and Target and Costco and all the big retailers and somehow those were more straightforward than the internal meetings about how to allocate funding. It’s kind of funny.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Okay, well, so that’s a little bit about the hydra story. I cannot help myself if I’m talking to Josh Kaufman, I’ve got to get some of your wisdom when it comes to self-directed learning. I first heard about you when you came up with the notion of the personal MBA which sounds great. What’s your take here in terms of should nobody pay for a traditional MBA and how do you view this world?

Josh Kaufman
I think that if you’re already working at a company you like, you know you want to move up in that company internally there’s a requirement to have an MBA, uh, to have the position that you desire and the company is willing to pay for it, then that’s probably a pretty good reason to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, some stringent criteria.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah. Anything else aside from that it’s probably going to be more expensive, both in terms of financial time and opportunity cost than you expect and the value of the credential in and of itself is just not really great. In a financial sense, it’s almost always a negative ROI.

If the goal is to understand what businesses are, how they work, and either how to start a new business or make any existing business better, you can learn how to do that on your own. You don’t necessarily have to spend years and tens, hundreds of thousands of dollars to learn business skills. Business skills are very learnable on your own.

The goal with The Personal MBA was to create the best possible introduction, that I could make to the world of business. So assuming you know absolutely nothing about how businesses work, how can you understand all of the parts, that go into making a business work in a way that allows you to do important stuff, whether that’s making a new product, new company or just doing better in your existing job?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. You did a nice job of unpacking the key sub skills that are associated with the MBA and then you’ve got an infamous – maybe just famous, I don’t know about infamous – reading list associated with when it comes to strategy and these marketing and all these things that are handy to know to comprise what an MBA knows and getting there.

I’d love to get your take then when it comes to doing this learning on your own as opposed to in a classroom or a group environment, what are some of your pro tips for pulling that off successfully outside those supports?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah. I think the biggest thing is aside from the basics of setting aside time to read and research and think and apply, that’s going to be necessary in any case. There’s a particular type of thing that when you’re self-studying you should, look for.

A lot of traditional academic book learning is all about memorizing terms and techniques, so specific things that apply in specific situations. I think a much better way to approach learning for application in general is to look for things that are called mental models.

A mental model is basically a conceptual understanding about how a thing in the world works, what it looks like, how different parts of a system interact with each other. It’s essentially one level of abstraction higher.

It’s being able to see the same principles at work in, businesses in different industries, different markets, different products, products to services, understanding how things work at a deeper level and that gives you the ability to look at a situation you’re not familiar with and that you have no context about and have a place to start and have a place to figure out how you would go about getting more information or make decisions in this particular area.

And so, The Personal MBA is really designed around that idea. Let’s learn the most important mental models about business, about people because businesses are created by, run by, and run for the benefit of people, so let’s understand psychology and communication and how that works.

And then systems because most successful businesses are essentially comprised of systems, processes that can be repeated in order to produce a predictable result. The more you understand about systems in general, the more you’re going to be able to take that back to a functioning business or a new business and say these are the things that would probably make the biggest difference right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us an example of a mental model? It’s like, “Oh, because I understand this one thing, I can now take that with me and apply it to having a starting point for this other thing.”

Josh Kaufman
Sure. So one of my favorites, which is, early in the book for a reason is what I call the five parts of every business. And it’s uh, this very universal way of deconstructing a system or deconstructing a business into, universal parts that help you understand how it functions at a very fundamental level. The five parts are value creation, marketing, sales, value delivery, and finance.

Every business creates something of value to other people, could be it products, could be it service, could be a shared resource like a museum. There are all sorts of different ways businesses create value, but it always makes something that other people want or need. So it’s important to understand what that is and why people want or need it, how that value is created to the people who ultimately pay the business’s bills.

Marketing is all about attracting attention for this valuable thing that you’ve created. So how do you make sure that people know that you have something valuable to offer them?

And then from there, you can attract all the attention you want, but if nobody ever pulls out their check book or credit card and says, “Yes, please. I’ll take one,” you don’t have a business. You have something else. And so sales is the process of taking someone who is interested in what you have to offer and then encouraging them to become a paying customer of the business. It’s the part where, money flows into the business instead of running out.

It turns out, if you take people’s money and you don’t deliver what you promised, you’re not running a business; you’re running a scam.

Pete Mockaitis
You find yourself in prison.

Josh Kaufman
Exactly. So value delivery is the part where you have a paying customer. This is great. You have something valuable that you’ve promised to deliver them. Let’s deliver this thing in a way that makes the customer deliriously happy. This is everything from the construction of physical products, the, service, delivery, follow-up calls, and all of those things that turns a paying customer into a happy customer. That’s all in value delivery.

And then finance is essentially the analytical step. So, in, value creation, you’re usually spending money to make this thing. You’re investing. Same with marketing. You may be spending on advertising. You may be spending on any form of outreach to attract more attention to this thing you’ve made.

Sales is the wonderful part where money comes in. Then value delivery, when you are making your customer happy delivering what you’ve promised, you’re usually spending money there too.

And so finance is the process of analyzing all the money that you’re spending and all the money that you’re bringing in and answering two very fundamental questions. One, is more money coming in than is going out, because if not, you have a problem. And then, number two, is it enough. Is it what we’re bringing in from this system worth the time and energy that it’s taking to run the whole thing?

And no matter how large or small the business is, whether you’re one of the largest companies in the world or you are a company of one starting something new for the first time, if you’re bringing in money and it’s enough and it’s worthwhile to keep going, congratulations, you have a successful business. That’s all it takes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so then that mental model there is you just said, hey, we’ve got these five components, so even if I know, know jack diddly squat about, real estate investing and, buying homes and renovating them and renting them out, by applying this model of the five key areas, I can sort of quickly get an understanding in terms of saying, “Okay, what is it that customers, people who rent apartments want?” and then away you go.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, that’s exactly it. I was doing consulting and advising related to personal MBA for many years. It was really fun talking to people who worked in wildly different industries and markets, being able to come back to the same core process of okay, I may be speaking to someone who is implementing electronic health care records for midsized doctor’s offices with 10 to 20 doctors practicing.

That’s not an area that I had any direct expertise or experience in, but coming back to this framework, it was very easy to understand what was going on, what was important, where the opportunities were just based on a conversation around, “okay, these are the areas of this particular business that I need to know before we can dig in on here’s what’s going to be most beneficial and what you should focus on.”

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you.

Josh Kaufman
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well so then I’d love to go a little bit deeper when it comes to the how associated with, developing these skills. You’ve laid out kind of a four-step approach for learning a new skill within a mere 20 hours, not 10,000. How does this go?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah. This is part of my research for I did for my second book, The First 20 Hours. The goal for that one was to understand how to go from knowing absolutely nothing about something you’re trying to do to being reasonably good in a very short period of time. Usually that early learning is slow and frustrating, so anything that we can do to make it a little bit faster and way less frustrating is going to beneficial for us long term.

That goes back to the PICS acronym we discussed earlier. Like, getting very clear, very specific about what you want to do, how you want to be able to perform, and what that looks like when you’re done.

And so from there you’re able to take that image of what you want and, do what’s called deconstructing it into smaller parts. usually the skills that we want to learn, aren’t single skills in isolation. They’re actually bundles of different skills.

So a good way to visualize this is imagine a complex game like golf. So playing golf actually involves lots of different things. I don’t play myself, so apologies if the terminology is wrong. But driving the ball off of a tee and putting it into the hole, on the green, are two very different things.

And so the more you can understand what those isolated sub skills look like and which ones are most important to get what you want, the easier it is to practice the things that are going to, to give you the best return for your invested time and energy. You practice those things first.

Learning just enough to go out and be able to correct yourself as you’re practicing gives you the biggest return.

Too much research can be a subtle form of procrastination. That’s actually something that I, struggled with quite a bit. I want to know everything about what I’m trying to do before I do it. Spending just a little bit of time and energy researching just enough to go out and try to do it and to be able to notice when you’re doing something wrong and then try, go back again and self-correct. That’s really important.

There are two other things that are particularly important, so removing barriers to practice, some of those barriers can by physical, mental or emotional. Make it as easy as possible for you to sit down and spend some dedicated time getting better at this thing that you want to do. Then pre-commit to learning the most important sub skills first for at least 20 hours.

The pre-commitment is a very powerful tool from a psychological standpoint that makes it much more likely you’re going to practice long enough to start seeing benefits. So the early hours, super frustrating, so you need to have some type of method, some way of getting past that early frustration.

And the best tool that I found is pre-committing to a relatively short period of time and I recommend 20 hours as a nice happy medium for most of the skills that we would learn either in a personal or professional context.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy with the pre-commitment upfront. “Hey, this is what it’s going to be and I’m ready for it. I’m strapped in and we’re kind of pushing past it,” as opposed to, “Hey, it turns out I’m not good at this and I hate it, so we’re done.” That’s nice there.

When it comes to the sub skills, could you – I imagine it varies quite a bit skill to skill – but could you give us a further example of, what’s the approximate breakdown in terms of when it comes to sub skills, I think I might make it a bit too granular in terms of “There are 83 sub skills.” What do you think is kind of the right level of detail when defining the sub skills that we’re going to tackle?

Let’s say I want to be handy. I’m a homeowner now. I want to be handy around the house. It’s like, okay, well, we can talk about screwing screws. We can talk about drilling holes. We can talk about drywall. We can talk about furniture assembly, etcetera.

I think that it might be possible to subdivide it into a huge number of things and maybe, well, hey, being handy is a very broad thing that warrants that. But could you give me a sense for what’s roughly the right size of the piece when we think about a sub skill that we’re going to get our arms around?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, so in an instance like that, I’m really glad you brought it up because you’re right, being handy is like a state of being that you develop over time. It’s hard to look at your day-to-day life and experience a moment where you think to yourself, “Wow, I have really accomplished being handy.”

Pete Mockaitis
I have arrived at handiness.

Josh Kaufman
Yes, like I’m here. But one thing that’s really useful in situations like these is to think in terms of discrete projects. So look around your house for all of things that you would want to change or improve.

So I think the drywall example is a really interesting one. Let’s say there’s a section of your house where for whatever reason the drywall needs to be replaced. Maybe it has dents in it. Maybe it wasn’t done well the first time, who knows. But there’s some section of wall where you want to do that.

That is breaking down this very meta ‘I want to be handy’ into ‘I want this particular section of my house to look good and having it look good requires drywall work.’ That gives you the context to figure out, “Okay, if I’m going to work on this piece of the house, here are all of the things that I’m going to need to learn how to do and here are some of the tools I need and here’s how I’m going to have to figure out how to get the drywall down.” You can start breaking it into smaller and smaller parts.

And then the practice of it might look like saying, “Okay, I’m going to try to replace this myself. And I’ve never done it before. I’m a little hesitant to do it, but it’s either going to be done or I’m going to put 20 hours into the doing of it.”

If you’re terrible and everything looks horrible and you need to hire somebody to fix all of your problems after the 20-hour-mark, great, but in the meantime you’re going to focus on solving this specific problem with the time you have allotted to it.

Pete Mockaitis
What I love about the 20 hours, to jump in there, is that it’s – on the one hand that seems like a crazy big amount of time if you think about someone who already knows what they’re doing. It’s like, this could be a one-, two-, three-hour job max for, uh, someone who’s uh, experienced with drywall. But you have laid it out that I’ve pre-committed to the 20 hours. The goal is to learn the thing such that I can deliver on this one project.

I think that does a huge service in terms of short-circuiting that frustration because if—if you find yourself in hour 16 like “This is insane. It’s taken me over five times as long as somebody who knows what they’re doing would take them,” you’d be like, “Ah yes, but I’m almost done and according to my 20-hour commitment, therefore I’m winning.”

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, totally. I really like um – there’s just something about making the commitment that short circuits all sorts of very detrimental things. The First 20 Hours, the first edition of the book was published in 2013.

And now like, five years later, having lived with this for a long time, every time I pick up a new skill, I have to think to myself, “Okay, I’m going to do this. If I’m terrible, I’m going to be terrible for 20 hours. If I don’t like it, if I’m having a miserable time, then I only am going to be miserable for 20 hours and then I can stop.”

But just making that mental shift of it’s okay if I’m not good at the beginning. It’s okay if it’s frustrating. I’m just going to push through that because I know that if I stick with it long enough at minimum I’m going to be a lot better than I was when I started.

Um so, there’s just a whole lot of excellent goodness in both letting it be hard, like not expecting it to not be because it very often is. It usually is. But then also helping to really shift into the mode of, um, not comparing your skills or abilities versus other people who have probably been doing it for a lot longer than you have.

Like, that’s a huge trap, both in skill acquisition, but also in business and creative endeavors in general. Like looking at somebody else and their level of development and expecting ourselves to have those skills and that level of development from hour zero.

This—this approach really helps you to hone in on, “Okay, where am I right now? Where do I want to be?” And then as you’re putting in the time, you can see yourself getting better and better and better.

It’s called the Power Law of Practice. It’s one of the most reliable, effects or studies in cognitive psychology. The first few hours that you practice something new, you will get dramatically better very, very quickly. It’s just a matter of sitting down to do the work in the first place and then persisting long enough to actually see that improvement happen.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that. I also really appreciate the notion of the comparisons and how, I guess, silly and futile and unproductive that is in the sense of I can imagine, it’s like well, you can think about something that you’re amazing at and then say, “Well, what if my contractor tried to start a podcast or deliver a keynote speech or write a book?” It’s like, things that I’m good at.

It’s like, “Well, he’d probably not so graceful and elegant, kind of the way I do right now as I’m hacking through this drywall and doing a comically poor job.”

Josh Kaufman
Absolutely. That’s exactly the way to think about it. Like, there are things that you have become amazing at because you have learned and practiced consistently over a very long period of time. That—that’s just how humans fundamentally improve at everything.

And so you can take that general insight is if you approach the early part of the process in a skillful way, so knowing it’s going to feel hard and it’s going to feel frustrating. And that’s okay. That’s expected. If you can get through that early part, then you can become better at anything that you put your mind to. It’s mostly a decision of what to work on and of all of the things that you could work on or improve at, what are the things that are going to give you most of the results that you want.

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

Josh Kaufman
This has been really great. I think the um, underlying theme of my work in general, and I have some new books that are in various stages of, of research right now, but I really try to focus on, on the, uh, straightforward, practical wisdom if that makes sense, just trying to understand important areas of life, figure out how to get really good results in that area, and describe it in a straightforward way.

If anyone decides to explore my work, I really hope that’s what they take away, whether it’s business or learning a new skill or tacking this big ambitious project you’ve always wanted to do, I hope you’ll take away some, um, very straightforward, very practical approaches and techniques that will help you get what you want.

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

Josh Kaufman
I love quotes. I collect them. It’s hard to pick a favorite. So there’s one attributed to Andy Rooney that I think about a lot, which is, “Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all of the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.”

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

Josh Kaufman
Well, all of my books are my collected research,so that’s kind of an ongoing uh, uh project. Part of how the personal MBA came to be, was reading a bunch of business books and—and pointing folks to the ones that I—I found most useful.

A book that I’m in the process of reading now, by Mo Bunnell called The Snowball System, which the best way I can describe it is like, sales and business development for normal people, who may approach the sales or business development process with a little bit of trepidation or not wanting to be a salesy person. Mo does a really, really great job of making sales and relationships very practical and very accessible. I’m about halfway through it and I’m really enjoying it so far.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. How about a favorite tool?

Josh Kaufman
Favorite tool. Well, we were talking about this a little earlier. I’m doing a lot of podcasts and audio book recording.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, you sound amazing.

Josh Kaufman
Thanks, yeah. So, so the microphone I’m talking into right now is the Mohave Audio MA-200. No joke I ordered I think it was 12 different microphones from various manufacturers. I spent—I spent like three solid days recording the same thing into each microphone and trying to compare how they sounded. This one is a really good one. If you do any sort of recording of any sort, I would highly recommend it.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Josh Kaufman
Favorite habit, so I am,  in the process of really firmly establishing a strength training routine. I have been exercising with kettle bells, which I love for all sorts of different reasons. They are inexpensive and compact. I used to live in New York City, so I could imagine myself having this in my former 340 square foot apartment. You can get a really excellent workout in about 25 minutes. In terms of return for your time and effort invested, it’s really high. You don’t have to spend hours in the gym every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks? They keep retweeting it and quoting you back to you.

Josh Kaufman
I think that one of the recent ones, which was related to Hydra, is about the idea of exploration. By virtue of doing it, you’re kind of committing to wandering lost in the woods for a while if that makes sense. So many of us feel really bad when it’s not immediately obvious where we should go next or what we should do next.

Part of understanding that this is an adventure and that adventure requires exploration and exploration involves being lost for a while. That’s something that a lot of people have seemed to find very useful recently.

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

Josh Kaufman
Best place to go is my website, JoshKaufman.net. From there you can find links to the various websites for The Personal MBA, The First 20 Hours, and How to Fight a Hydra.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge for folks seeking to be awesome at their job?

Josh Kaufman
Sure. We’ll go back to our conversation about defining very clearly what you want, what that looks like, what your day-to-day life looks like when you get it, what you’re going to be able to do when you reach the level of skill or development that you’re looking for.

The more clearly you’re able to articulate to yourself what you want, what that looks like, and very importantly, what you’re not willing to do in order to get it – so are there lines you won’t cross, are there tradeoffs that you’re not willing to make? The more you are able to understand the full details, the full scope of what you’re trying to get, the easier it’s going to be for you to figure out how to get it and figure out what you should do next.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Josh, this has been a load of fun. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with us and you’re lovely sound over on the microphone.

Josh Kaufman
Thanks.

Pete Mockaitis
I wish you tons of luck with the hydra fighting and all you’re up to.

Josh Kaufman
Pete, this has been great. Thanks so much for inviting me.

376: How to Become the Success Nobody Saw Coming: Research Insights into “Dark Horses” from Harvard’s Todd Rose

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Bestselling author and Harvard professor Todd Rose dissects how Dark Horses became successful and how you can apply their secret to live a reliably fulfilling career and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The implications of pursuing personal fulfillment vs. power, wealth, or prestige
  2. The most important step to understanding what fulfills you
  3. Why fulfillment isn’t just for the rich

About Todd

Todd Rose was a high school dropout with D- grades and a GPA of 0.9.  He caused a ruckus in class and was suspended several times. He married his teenage girlfriend and by the age of 21, was trying to support a wife and two sons on welfare and minimum wage jobs.

In less than a decade, Rose was able to turn his life around from a dead-end factory job to the most influential spheres of American academia. Today he’s the director of the Mind, Brain, and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and cofounder of Populace, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming how we learn, work, and live. His previous book, The End of Average, was a best seller and his talks have been featured at TedX, the Aspen Ideas Festival, SXSW, Google, Microsoft, Pixar, Costco, JP Morgan, Chevron, and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Todd Rose Interview Transcript

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

Todd Rose
And thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom here, but first I want to hear a bit about your story because it’s a unique one with some twists and inspiration. Can you lay it on us?

Todd Rose
Sure. Yeah. Today I’m a professor at Harvard, but I have the distinction of also being a high school dropout. Actually, it’s even worse than that. I dropped out with a 0.9 GPA, which I really believe you have to work super hard to do that poorly. By the time-

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious, and did you or how did you find yourself with a 0.9 GPA?

Todd Rose
It was interesting. From a very early age – I grew up in rural America and the school I was going to was all about conformity and it just didn’t fit. It kind of snowballed, where it doesn’t work and then it really doesn’t work and then you’re like, “Screw it. I’m just going to do what I need to do.” And like, I think if I just would have shown up in class enough, they probably would have passed me just to get me out of their class.

But I did that and I ended up – my girlfriend got pregnant. She’s still my wife today. We ended up on welfare with two kids, working a string of minimum wage jobs before realizing I got to do something different with my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Todd Rose
Yeah, that was the short version. And then ended up going to night school at Weber State University, an open enrollment university, mainly out of desperation. Not because I had some grand vision for what my life was going to be.

Through that process, really discovered who I was, discovered what mattered to me. I was able to turn that into something, which in my case turned out to be academia of all places, which I just couldn’t believe at the time. I ended up getting my doctorate at Harvard. Did a post-doc at the Center for Astrophysics and then came back as a faculty member.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m just intrigued with this astrophysics. Fellowship at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Okay, wow. There you go.

Todd Rose
It was a funny thing because it actually came out of a hunch that I had that I was working with an astrophysicist named Matt Schneps. We had this hunch based on some of the genetic and neuroscience work we’d done that actually people who have trouble reading, would have very specific talents with visual stuff. And there was no better place than in astrophysics.

I got funded. We went there. I did a post doc. I got to learn a lot about science, truthfully, really taught me how to be a scientist more than anywhere else. But I got to study astrophysicists and how they detect black holes. It was so cool. It was to me just this luxury for a couple of years that was just fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is really cool. And I want to dig into a little bit of the Weber State part of it. This is a whole other conversation, but I think people talk about the – to what extent is America, United States, still a place where if you’ve got grit and hustle and determination, you can make something of your life and yourself regardless of the circumstances you’re born into versus are the scales wildly uneven.

That’s a giant conversation for a whole podcast, but I want to get your sense of so there you were. You sort of found the something inside of you to stick with it. What was that something?

Todd Rose
Well, at first it really was desperation because no kidding the last job I had before I decided I was going to go to college, I actually was working in a factory and then was a minimum wage job and then this home nurse assistant job came open, but no kidding I had to drive around and give people enemas. That was my job. I was like, look, it’s honest work and it’s important someone does it, but I was like, “there has to be more than this.”

For me, it was largely – my dad was the first high school graduate in our family. I remember when I was in middle school, he came home one day – and he was a mechanic. He said, “Look, for me I think there’s something more.” And he said, “I’m going to go to school.”

Well, no one in any of our families had gone to college. That wasn’t a thing that you do. And yet, he had figured it out. His parents actually weren’t happy about it. They thought he was kind of – he was big timing them. Yet, he still – he did that.

He became a mechanical engineer and he’s one of the most accomplished airbag designers in the country now. He’s got lots of patents. He’s done amazing work. I watched what education did in terms of changing our lives and life circumstances. So I realized that’s probably the way to go. I knew that much. What I didn’t know is like, “Okay, where does this path go?”

I got my GED. I went there. Didn’t want to go back. What was remarkable, it was really – it’s an open enrollment school. It takes all comers, which I think is the future of our country, frankly, is where the innovation has to go.

But it was actually the relationships I developed with faculty and people who taught me how to think about who I am and help me make I think kind of interesting decisions about what would help me get on a better path for myself.

But as I developed my abilities there, I went from thinking I was a terrible learner and didn’t have a lot of talent to thinking actually maybe I’m pretty good at a couple of things, to thinking actually maybe I’m reasonably smart. That was just a process. But it was just a remarkable one for me and something I’m always grateful for.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve done a lot of work there associated with The End of Average and how, we’re not average-sized people. We’re not average learners. That’s silly. We’ve got to really get customized on different dimensions of the brain and people and how they’re operating, which is really cools stuff. Could you orient us a little bit to what you’re doing now at Harvard? Then I want to talk about your book.

Todd Rose
Sure. So at Harvard I do a couple things. I’m the director of the Mind, Brain, and Education program, which is this really cool interdisciplinary program that brings neuroscience and psychology to issues of learning both in schools, but also workplaces and things like that.

Then I also run this thing called the Laboratory for the Science of Individuality. And in the lab, just as you were saying, there’s this cool revolution going on in science that most people don’t know about, which is we’re done studying averages, groups of people. It turns out that kind of science doesn’t really predict very much about individual people’s lives. That’s been true in everything from studying individual cells to cancer progression, to how kids learn.

Everything that people hear about, whether it’s personalized medicine, personalized nutrition, personalized education, is all coming because this science is giving us very, very actionable insights about individuals. We contribute to that science.

The third thing I do is I have a think tank that does a lot of my public-facing sort of work, called Populace.

I think academia is a fantastic place for science and reflection, but isn’t the best at action. It’s just not what it’s built for, so created this thing called Populace. Our purpose is to get these ideas to the public in a way that helps them be part of deciding where we go as a society because all of this technology and know-how is bringing deep personalization to everything that we do as a people.

That could turn out well. It could be really, really valuable, but it also could become incredibly manipulative. Right? It could be incredibly divisive in terms of the have’s and have not’s. Populace exists to ensure that we take the right path.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Let’s talk about your book here, Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment, sort of what’s your main thesis here?

Todd Rose
The basic thesis is this: that we’ve been told that the way to be successful is essentially follow the standard path and try to be the same as everybody else only better. The thesis is basically, if you want the most surefire way to be excellent and happy, it’s actually to prioritize personal fulfillment and make choices off of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so you’re prioritizing personal fulfillment as opposed to what are the top alternative s that get prioritized instead of personal fulfillment.

Todd Rose
Yeah, and this is what we feel like society pressures us into. Usually it’s some combination of wealth, status or power. You think about picking the kind of college major you’re going to take or the job you’re going to do or the promotion you might go after. There’s a lot of pressure for prestige and showing that you make a lot of money.

That kind of view of success is very comparative. It’s like, “Am I better than somebody else? Do I make more than somebody else?” We know this. It’s like keeping up with the Joneses. We know this. It’s also terribly zero sum. We tend to think somebody has to lose for me to win.

Personal fulfillment just orients things internally. It’s about achieving things that matter to you. It’s very personal because the things that will matter to you aren’t the same as things that matter to me.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. This reminds me. I remember I had a buddy in high school. He loved cars, just all about cars. He knew the in’s and the out’s of the V6’s the V8’s, the V4’s, all the stuff. I don’t so much know cars. I remember his family – he said it was because “Oh, it’s my Indian parents.” I don’t want to paint with a broad brush. I’m sure people of all ethnicity and races can do this to their children.

But he said that he wanted to do something with cars, like own a car dealership and do repair or sort of body work and retool them, make them awesome, this kind of vision or dream for him and cars. His parents said, “Yes, yes that’s fine. You can do that. But you have to go to medical school first.”

Todd Rose
Medical school to be a good mechanic.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Todd Rose
…. But that’s a perfect example. The truth is most of these parents are doing it not because they don’t want their kids to be happy, but because they are convinced that there are a handful of paths that really bring stability. Right?

They think, “Well, look, if you just go to medical school, you’re going to have a great job. You’re going to get paid a lot and then you can kind of dabble in the things that make you happy on the side.” The truth is that was actually a pretty good suggestion for a long time in this country. Right? Through most of our sort of industrial age, there were just a few paths.

My argument is simply that that’s really not true anymore and that in an age of AI and automation and a very diverse economy, this idea of figuring out you love cars more than anything else, let’s have that person go ahead and find a career and a life that revolves around that because they’re going to be deeply engaged, which means they’re going to be more productive and they’re going to be happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes. This is reminding me of some of the Shawn Achor research with the happiness advantage in terms of the engagement and the happiness and how it’s all kind of linked up there. You say that these dark horses, which you define as folks who just succeeded and no one saw them coming. It’s like, “Surprise. I have huge accomplishments now and you never expected that from me.”

Todd Rose
Yeah. What’s so funny is so this whole thing – it didn’t start out meaning to be a book at all. It started out as a project at Harvard, where we were just kind of interested why – we all know about dark horses. When they’re successful, there’s usually some media attention, people get excited about it like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” Then that’s it.

We feel comfortable just walking away as if there’s nothing we can learn from them because it seems like, too one-off, like, “oh, it’s too risk. They were lucky or super talented,” or whatever excuse we make. We thought, maybe that’s true, but let’s just study them.

We thought maybe someone’s looked at them and no one had. We ended up studying a wider range of fields and people from all walks of life as we could. After studying hundreds of people, I was looking for do they have anything in common.

I have to say, I’d like to tell you that I knew that it would prioritizing fulfillment, not even close. I like to, before we start any project, write down my hypotheses so I hold myself to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Of course I always do at this point.

Todd Rose
Yeah, like not revise it after. … new. Here’s what I thought it would be. I thought to be a dark horse you would have to have a certain kind of personality. You’d have to be someone who doesn’t mind bucking the system, like a Steve Jobs, Richard Branson because it’s kind of rough, right? You’re going to against the grain and people aren’t going to be that happy.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that just simply wasn’t true. Twenty people in, you realized their personalities are all over the place. The thing that was crazy to me is that I kept asking them questions about – I wanted to know were their tricks about they got great at things. All they wanted to talk about was how they figured out what really mattered to them.

Then they would use things like fulfillment. They’d talk about fulfillment or meaning and purpose. I was like, no, this can’t be it. It seemed too squishy and fluffy. I wanted – I’m usually a numbers guy. All of my research is quantitative up until this point. I just didn’t want to hear it. But it just kept coming through.

They prioritize personal fulfillment over someone else’s view of success. That is why they end up on these very individual paths. It’s also, we believe, what allows them to be successful and happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. In a way it sounds sort of too simple and somewhat squishy, but you mentioned that they kind of kept coming back to kind of tools or approaches, like how they came to these discoveries about themselves. Could you give us an example and tell us some of these strategies?

Todd Rose
Yeah. Exactly as you were saying. It’s one thing for someone to say, “Look, it’s all about living a fulfilling life.” Is that what you say after you’re successful?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Todd Rose
You rewrite your own history. We really pushed hard and realized, no, they’re prioritizing it early. What we were interested in is well, okay, how is this not follow your bliss off a cliff, right? Because it’s not the first time someone said, “Pursue happiness.” Follow whatever. We were digging into okay, what is it that makes this actionable really.

It turns out there’s a handful of things that they know that really does make this what we call a “dark horse mindset” a reliable path to success. The first thing – if you don’t get this right, we have plenty of non-examples, where if you don’t have this it doesn’t turn out very well, which is they have a deep, deep understanding of what really motivates them.

That sounds so simple. Who doesn’t know what motivates them. But I would actually argue most of us don’t really know what motivates us.

All you have to do is look at the engagement research. Gallup shows that the vast majority of Americans are disengaged in their jobs. Something like 30%, I don’t know the exact number, they’re called actively disengaged, which sounds kind of crazy to me, but actively disengaged. A majority of kids are disengaged in school in this country. Something’s wrong there. If we were so smart about what motivates us, wouldn’t we have made better decisions?

So dark horses do something that I thought was really, really interesting, which is when we think about what motivates us, most of us go to the way society talks about it, which is these big universal things, like, “Okay, are you more about …-”

Pete Mockaitis
….

Todd Rose
-or competition or whatever.” Some of those are true, right? But what we found with dark horses is that motivation is very, very individual, that people are motivated by a wide range of things, some of them big and universal and some of them are very, very specific to the individual.

All that matters is that you figure that out and you figure out that mosaic of what motivates you because then you’re going to make decisions that sort of check those boxes. When you’ve got a choice between A and B and A checks ten of your motives and B checks three, you know which one to pick. That starting point of figuring out what we call your micro-motives is by far the most important first step.

Pete Mockaitis
When you’re saying micro-motives, you’re saying hey, it’s much more individualized and specific and precise than competition. Could you lay it out for us, either yourself or a few of your dark horses, like this is what a micro-motive sounds like? Like it’s not competition, it’s like seeing my opponent squashed on the mat or …. I don’t know.

Todd Rose
It’s even crazier than that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Todd Rose
Again, certainly competition and those things are true for people. But – and we can imagine that being a motive. But what about aligning physical objects with your hands. That for me-

Pete Mockaitis
There we go.

Todd Rose
-saying it right now, I’m like, who in the world would be motivated by that, like truly motivated, not like it’s a nice thing to have, but I need this in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
So they’re misaligned, you mean the silverware drawer is askew or what do you mean by aligning objects with your hands?

Todd Rose
Like, for example, becoming an engineer that is actually aligning copper wire to fiber optic to solve one of the biggest problems in the telecommunications industry 30 years ago. That kind of stuff. This guy – we talked to this guy who – this is a primary motive for him, among other things. He’s this engineer, but then when that doesn’t – he gets out of it because – for a number of reasons.

But he is now the top upholstery repair person in New York City, which you’d never think of those two jobs as being the same, except for upholstery repair is terribly difficult and you’re fixing family heirlooms and leather, where you’ve got to align these things. He is just so happy and so good at what he does. We also-

Pete Mockaitis
I love this so much. It’s precise and beautiful. Please continue, more and more micro-motives.

Todd Rose
How about, again, we can imagine something like collaboration being great, but what about someone who truly is motivated by organizing people’s closets.

We talked to a woman who was a political rock star, who had basically worked at local, state, federal, all the way into a great job at the White House, so good at what she did. She realizes one day as she’s leaving the White House, she gets asked to help run Bloomberg’s government in New York. She realizes she can’t get out of bed. She can’t figure out why. This should be the next step.

She comes to the realization of what’s missing as she’s organizing her own closet. For her, everything is about being able to create order on behalf of other people, right? The benefits to other people that come from having their lives have order and meaning like that. She realized everything she loved early on in politics was about that, not about beating the competition, not about winning, but this.

As she rose in the ranks, you get less and less opportunity to do that. She said, “What am I supposed to do with that?” Except for she realized, wait a minute, there’s a whole field called professional organizers. She didn’t even realize they existed. She figures out, “Wait a minute. This is like what I’m born to do. I love helping people and I love organizing.” She literally loves closets more than anything because she sees it as the most intimate form of organizing for people.

She starts a company. Now she’s one of the most prominent in both New York and Florida. She makes great money. She loves what she does.

Over and over again, we found that what dark horses did got them on this right path is they really had this deep understanding of that quirky collection of things that matters to them. Even if they don’t matter to anybody else, that’s okay because it’s what gets them out of bed. They’re going to use those micro motives to start making decisions in their life big and small and that’s what gets you on the path to fulfillment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so aligning physical objects with your hands, creating order on behalf of others. Let’s hear a few more micro-motives.

Todd Rose
Some of them get a little more familiar you think, we talked to a woman who owns a flower shop, florist stuff and decorator, like that. She has this really interesting motive, where it’s like she likes to arrange floral stuff, but it has to include non-floral stuff.

She has this really weird combination of things. If she’s just arranging flowers, that’s not good enough. If she was just doing stuff with non-flowers, that’s not good enough. When you combine the two, it’s magic for her.

Another one, which I thought was remarkable, I just – for me none of these things are actually motivating. It’s like, I’m like, “Are you sure?” When you talk them and they just light up. They can’t imagine a world where they don’t get to do this. Imagine someone being motivated by literally holding paper in their hands.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there’s some good papers out there.

Todd Rose
Yeah, right.

Pete Mockaitis
I could be fired up if it’s the right paper.

Todd Rose
Interviewed a woman who is one of the most famous art conservators in the country, but for her it’s not any kind of art. It has to be paper. Her ability – she said, “Look, to be able to hold it” and it’s history and everything it means. She talks about it in great tactile detail. For her, she wouldn’t even take a promotion or move onto something else that would take her away from doing that.

Now, as a result she has actually been responsible for the restoration, some of the most prominent paintings and other kinds of things in the country.

But, time and time again, this is it. We all have things big and small that motivate us. If we turn to what society tells us should matter, we get in trouble because we’re not really listening to who we are. Now I would say probably the next question because I know you’re all about practical stuff and application I like, “Well, wait a minute, how do I start to figure this out then?”

Pete Mockaitis
I will absolutely ask you that question. But if I could first get even some more micro-motives when it comes to – those that you mentioned, they seem to fall under the category of I guess maybe sensory, tactile. Could you share a few that are maybe not something that you can see and smell and touch?

Todd Rose
Yeah. We talked to a woman who – probably most things end up manifesting in some ways in having some physical interaction with it, but talked to a woman who was – actually one of my favorite people. She loved music. That seems like, well, of course, … people do, except for she doesn’t like being in front of people. She doesn’t want to be famous. She doesn’t even want to sing. She can’t sing.

She has very specific combination of wanting to be involved in music, but at a production level, like, “I want to be able to take something that someone’s creating and make it better. It’s really weird. It’s very, very specific for her. But combined for her, it was with this but it has to be for somebody else’s benefit. Somebody has to be moved by it, but, again, she doesn’t want to create. That’s not what she does. It’s not what she wants.

She goes on to become – she starts from nothing, absolutely nothing. She ends up becoming Prince’s sound engineer for Purple Rain. She does these spectacularly great things. In the book, her story is laid out in great detail, so I don’t want to steal too much more, but she’s just remarkable.

We have some of the more traditional ones. Talked to a guy who grew up blue-collar town, came from nothing and just scraped by and built up a little mini empire of restaurants and bars and real estate. He was kind of king – big fish, small pond. Now you can imagine, that’s it. That’s great. Everyone is like, “You’ve really made something of yourself.”

But he knew there was this creative motive that he didn’t understand. He knew he had to have something around this creative space, but there was nothing there. He used to have jazz night at this blue collar bar. People are like, “Why are we doing this?” like nobody wants to hear it and he’d make them listen to it. It was bad for the bottom line.

He wakes up one day and says, “Look, I’ve got to figure out what this is.” He actually makes a pretty bold move. He sells everything and he moves to Boston. He’s like, “Look, if I’m going to figure this out, I’ve got to be in the city.”

Anyway, flash forward through some crazy things that he ends up doing. He turns out to become one of the top bespoke tailors in the country. It turns out he has this amazing love for fabric and creating stuff for people and create – it’s remarkable. In fact, it was the first bespoke thing I’d ever bought. I had him create a jacket for me. I’m like he’s very, very good.

These range of things – here’s the thing, nobody can tell you what yours are. They just can’t. There’s no test to take. There’s no – because they come from all kinds of places. Some of them might be innate; some of them might be learned. It doesn’t matter. If they get you out of bed in the morning, you’ve got to understand them.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I’d be curious, what’s yours, Todd?

Todd Rose
I thought a lot about that. I have – I think mine are probably common for a lot of people. But I have for sure the case that I am – I get bored easier than anybody I know. That’s a pretty big one, but I have to have a lot of novelty in my life.

One thing that I realized is that that causes a lot of problems if you’re not careful. Sometimes you’ve got to just keep doing things. You can’t just keep bouncing around because you get bored with something. You have to figure how to harness that.

I absolutely cannot have a boss. I just cannot have somebody telling me what to do. I think that’s – the ability to have control over the choices that I make matters more to me than anything else. I would take so much less money, I would take – to have that kind of autonomy is just so important.

The other thing is that I have this weird mix of what feels like contradictory motives. On the one hand, I need autonomy. I just need it. On the other hand, I deeply, deeply, deeply enjoy collaboration to the point where everything I do, I try to force to say I want to have a partner with it, I want to find someone to work with on these things because it’s just so meaningful to me.

It’s a fun kind of wait, but I want to have – I want complete autonomy, but at the same time I really need other people and I want to work together, so you’ve got to figure that out. Those ones are the big ones for me. I do actually have – I keep saying competition is not a – it’s definitely a motive. I definitely have that kind of streak, and what you do is try to harness it to be compete with yourself rather than other people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay, well now at last, yes, micro-motives, that’s kind of what they look, sound, feel like in practice. How do you folks go about discovering and zeroing in on what they are for them?

Todd Rose
Here’s the thing. We’ve road-tested this not just on dark horses, but frog marched a bunch of our family members and all our friends and “Test this out and see if it really works. Let’s see what happens.” I might give you – it’s incredibly simple. All I want is for people to try it. Just try it a couple times and you’ll be really shocked.

A very easy thing to do is to just think for not very hard, but think a little bit about a couple things that you actually enjoy doing, like really enjoy doing and ask yourself why. The why is everything here. Most of the time when we engage in some kind of activity and we like it, we’re like, “Yes, I really love-“ for example, I really love football. I would say I’m pretty passionate about football.

What we end up doing is attaching – and we call it passion for something – but we attach it to that thing. That’s usually the sort of grain size that we deal with. Oh, I really love football and I like watching TV, whatever. But if you ask yourself why, is it the competition, is it the teamwork, is it the strategy involved, is playing outdoors. There’s a whole range of things for why you might actually like football.

If you start getting a handle on those – that’s really closer to your motives. If you do that a few times, you start to suss out some common themes. What’s really important about that is that once you realize why it is you like these things, that’s portable.

Let’s say for example, actually I can’t play football. I’m just too old now. I’d get hurt in two seconds and I‘d rather have a healthy back and knees than do that. But it’s like if I know why I liked it, I can actually make choices because there are other activities and things I can do that check those boxes.

It sounds really simple. I think you’ll be shocked at how much value it gives you in a hurry about figuring out why you care about the things you care about.

Pete Mockaitis
This is great. Well, thank you Todd. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Todd Rose
Actually, I’ll tell you one thing that I think matters the most to me and if there’s one thing I can get across is this. When we think about the pursuit of fulfillment, it can easily sound like a luxury item. Like, “Okay, after I get all of the things taken care of I need to,” it’s sort of like Maslow’s hierarchy or something, that’s it. Fulfillment is for rich people or for people who have it made, whatever.

I think it’s exactly the opposite. I think this understanding of making choices based on personal fulfillment matters most to people who don’t have a safety net, who really have to hit home runs on choice after choice after choice because there is no backup plan.

Because there, knowing who you are really and being able to make decisions on that puts you in contexts that are going to be engaging, where you’re going to be productive. You can string those together. I think it’s the safest way to a successful life.

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

Todd Rose
Yeah, I love quotes. I’m like a collector of quotes. For me this was actually hard to narrow down, but here’s the one I think is awesome. It’s by Joss Whedon if you know the producer. It’s, “Remember to always be yourself unless you suck.” I like that quote because I think it’s both true and then true. Yeah, we always tell people know who you are, be great, but if there’s some really dark stuff inside, yeah, let’s work on that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s true for competence as well. It’s just like, “No, this is my style. This is how I do my thing.” It’s like, “Well, nobody likes that,” in terms of if it’s like a consumer or kind of commercial application market, it’s like, “That may well be, but it’s not working for the people who buy it, so you’ve got to change it.”

Todd Rose
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite study?

Todd Rose
That’s actually an interesting one. Basically I would pick – I’ll give you a specific one, but I would pick almost any of them in the science I’m a part of because when we get away from group averages and we study you on your own terms, we find remarkable things.

It turns out individuals aren’t snowflakes. You can actually find patterns and it matters. It matters for how we keep you healthy and how you develop and what you can become.

My favorite one of them because this is pretty actionable is the new work out of Israel by Eran Segal on personalized nutrition.

We have the glycemic index, which is supposed to tell us how certain foods elevate our blood sugar. It’s really important for pre-diabetes, diabetes, just health and wellness in general. It turns out the glycemic index, it’s all averages. On average a potato will elevate your blood sugar by a certain amount.

What these folks found is there’s literally nobody that responds the way the glycemic index says you should respond. Nobody. We’re so individual. But importantly, they were able to use the science and some machine learning stuff to be able to create incredibly precise predictions for every single person.

They turned that into an app. I have no commercial interest in it, but I did buy it. It’s called DayTwo. It’s amazing.

One concrete example, for me – they tell you on average that if you want to keep your blood sugar low to eat grapefruit. It’s supposed to be really terrific. For me, it turns out to be the single worst thing I can possibly eat. It elevates my blood sugar more than chocolate cake.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Todd Rose
So what I love about this is it’s an example where understanding individuality, it matters. Your individuality matters and it’s not noise. We can build systems that are responsive to you and to everybody else. We don’t have to choose anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
This is just mind-blowing in terms of its implications over the next century of boy, technological and human progress, just thinking about that. So on maybe more pedestrian question, how does an app figure out how much a grapefruit is spiking your blood sugar?

Todd Rose
You have to send it you get blood work done, gut biome and a bunch of other things, so rather than reduce you to a type, they actually collect a lot of information on you. It’s analyzed and then it’s fed through the app. There’s some crunching done on the backend and the app is just how I interface with it. But it helps me basically, anytime I want to eat, I know exactly what it’s going to do to me.

I think what’s so cool about that is pre-diabetes and diabetes is like a massive problem in the United States. You realize wait a minute, we’re blaming everyone for their poor habits, which maybe that’s true and I’m sure it’s part of it, but actually we’re literally telling them, we’re giving them advice that guarantees, guarantees that we’re not optimizing their nutrition. It’s like it doesn’t have to be that way.

For me, I’m excited about the future. There’s a lot of dangers and challenges in this brave new personalized sort of society, but the idea that we can understand you as an individual and build systems that are responsive to you and get the most out of you is really remarkable.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s wild. DayTwo is generating an individualized profile of you based upon your genetics and your gut biome and your blood stuff.

Todd Rose
Yup and it really doesn’t matter if there’s anybody else like you, you can still have an optimized nutrition. We can do this, by the way, we can do this for cancer treatment. We can do this for how you develop. We can do this for how you best learn. This is the future.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild. Tell me, from the food perspective, is there something you can eat that makes you feel awesome and you wouldn’t even know it had you not done this adventure with DayTwo?

Todd Rose
Yeah, yeah, that’s great. What’s really funny is my wife did it and we just have completely different – like, trying to figure out what we’re going to cook at night now is like, “Huh, which one of us is going to spike our blood sugar?” But what’s really crazy about this, so you can imagine – so rum, it’s sugarcane.

Pete Mockaitis
Delicious.

Todd Rose
Yeah, but it’s sugarcane. You would think that should be – you’re just guaranteeing you’re going to spike your blood sugar. Nope. It doesn’t spike my blood sugar at all. I’m like, made in the shade. This is fantastic. There’s these things like that which I can do. It’s probably not making me healthy, but it doesn’t hurt me as much as I should.

The other thing is – this is kind of crazy – but, I can have soft serve ice cream as long as it’s chocolate and not vanilla. It’s that fine-tuned.

Pete Mockaitis
You would actually feel it in your body?

Todd Rose
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
You will have a different sensation in your head and your feeling of fatigue versus sharpness.

Todd Rose
It’s the fatigue thing that’s so clear. I would have never, honestly, never done it because I don’t really have – I don’t have diabetes or anything like that, but – so I never really appreciated the toll that spiking blood sugar takes on your body. If you understand the sort of science of it, it’s like pretty obvious. It’s a very, very taxing mechanism.

Even people who aren’t even near getting pre-diabetes, it’s like it is what – it drives fatigue, it drives up – it’s just simply optimizing against your own individuality. I just can’t believe how much cleaner my mind feels. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s just like I feel cleaner and clearer and sharper to the point where there’s no chance I would go back. It’s like, I cling to this like I can’t believe. It’s so neat.

Then I think wait a minute, if we’re not careful, we’re going to live in a world where people who can afford get this kind of information and the people that can’t, keep getting the stupid faxed copy of “Here’s the glycemic index. You should eat this.” It doesn’t-

Pete Mockaitis
…. Yeah, that makes it a lot more real when you described Populace at the top of this. I thought, “Okay, that sounds important.” Then it’s like, “Oh, yeah, this is critical. Thank you.”

Todd Rose
It has to be about all of us. It has to. It can, but we’ve got to make good choices.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite book?

Todd Rose
Can I give you two or do I have to really-?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Todd Rose
Okay. One is my sort of nerdy one, but I think it’s really important called The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper. It’s the only philosophy book that I actually like. It really taught me what it means to do science versus not. It really changed how I do my work.

But one of my favorite books of all time is called City of Thieves by David Benioff, who most people would know from Game of Thrones, but it’s a fantastic book, just love it, that fiction book.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Todd Rose
I have – I do two things. I’m trying to sneak in a bunch of extra things. One of the most important things that I ever figured out because I am – I actually have really terrible working memory. If you ask me right now, “Hey, when we get done with this, will you remember to email me blah, blah, blah?” There’s a good chance I’m not going to remember to do that. Organization was really important to me.

One of the things that I do that I always do is spend the first half hour of every day organizing my priorities so that the rest of the day I’m actually doing things that matter to me rather than things that get put on my plate that are first in kind of like “Oh no, this is really pressing.” It’s like sure, but did it matter to me. This helps me stay prioritized and accomplishing things I want to.

The second thing that I do is related to my need for novelty, which is I really, really, really don’t want to become that person that’s so narrow in what I know and do because I just don’t think that’s good. I don’t think – I just think you don’t get any inspiration or new ideas just by doubling down on one narrow piece of the world.

I try once a week, at least once a week, I read or watch something that is absolutely not part of my wheelhouse. That doesn’t mean like high culture and …. Sometimes is just anything, just stay out of the same-

Pete Mockaitis
Like what’s up with this Kardashian’s business? Some people seem – I’m curious how do you get prompted because I think so often it’s like, “That’s not interesting to me therefore I’m not going to engage.” How do you kind of get over that hump?

Todd Rose
I have a really weird way of doing this. I don’t know, I’m probably revealing too much about myself. But I’m trying to use the way that Google and other things, they feed you stuff as a recommendation, which is actually up that – it’s super helpful in one way, but then it kind of narrows your world in a hurry.

So I create alternative – my alter ego kind of stuff, where I’ll go and set up stuff where I’ll look at different sites and set it up so that I know that feeds me things that are very, very different than what I’m actually looking at now, whether it’s political, whether it’s cultural, whether it’s even sports and stuff like that. If I can’t find it on my own, I always go visit my alter ego and get new information.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Tell us, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and folks quote it frequently to you?

Todd Rose
Yeah, it seems a little self-serving for the book, but it really is this idea that the pursuit of fulfillment is actually a reliable path to success. That people come back to “Wow, I can’t believe that,” but it’s true. When you really think about it, it makes a lot of sense.

The other one is the sense of this is not about selfishness. One of the most highlighted things in the book for me is this quote that said, “To build a great … society, we must get the best out of everyone no matter who you are or where you’re starting from.” The idea that the pursuit of fulfillment is something that’s good for the individual, but it leads to a much stronger, more thriving collective.

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

Todd Rose
Sure. They can follow me on Twitter. It’s LToddRose or ToddRose.com.

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

Todd Rose
Yeah. Getting back to the theme here, make choices based on fulfillment, not what you think will get you ahead or you’ll – or what you think other people want and you’ll be in the absolute best position to live a life of success and happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Todd, this has been a lot of fun, eye opening, exciting. I wish you tons of luck in all of the good work you’re doing at Harvard and Populace and books and more.

Todd Rose
Thank you so much for having me.

374: Future-Proofing Your Career through Three Key Skills with Stephen Warley

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Stephen Warley shares the critical skills that keep you valuable in a changing work landscape.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two exercises for increasing self-awareness
  2. Four key questions to ask yourself every single day
  3. Why–and how–to embrace discomfort better

About Stephen

Stephen Warley has been self-employed for more than a decade, and he shares how to build the life skills that matter for the new nature of work. Stephen helps people build self-awareness  and other skills through his writing and coaching work at Life Skills That Matter.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stephen Warley Interview Transcript

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

Stephen Warley
Thank you so much for having me on. I enjoyed meeting you at Podcast Movement.

Pete Mockaitis
Whoohoo!

Stephen Warley
It’s fun geeking out over work stuff because we all do it.

Pete Mockaitis
It is. Totally, totally. And apparently you said I was a bit more wild at Podcast Movement than I am behind the microphone.

Stephen Warley
I know. You’re just so uber professional here on the mic, but let me tell you folks, when you meet Pete in person, he’s the guy you want to go have a beer with, let me tell you.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny, I don’t feel uber professional on the mic. I think I’ve said some things that are pretty zany from time to time. But I guess I am – I really do feel a sense of what a privilege it is to be talking to such brilliant people, who have something to share and what a duty I have to get the goods to show up. I guess that does naturally bring a little bit of business likeness into the equation.

Stephen Warley
But I do like how you just described that too. It’s just showing how much you really care about what it is that you do and the effort that you put behind it and the respect that you have for your listeners, for yourself, and for the people that you bring on the show. I really appreciate that.

Pete Mockaitis
Aw, shucks. Well, thank you. But let’s start with something zany. First of all, I understand you don’t like to use any kind of paper. What’s this about?

Stephen Warley
I do use toilet paper, folks. I tried a bidet. I can’t do it. That’s too far for me.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s the first time bidets have come up on the program. Cutting edge.

Stephen Warley
And toilet paper. Yeah, I think long ago before it was kind of this movement of minimalism, I just don’t like clutter. I like order. I truly believe that a cluttered physical space is a direct connection to my mind, therefore my mind is cluttered.

One thing I always tell people to declutter any space in your life is you’ve got to get rid of that paper first. And it’s never been easier to do that because we can automate and digitize like everything now.

Now once in a while, I will say this, I do like sending cards still because nobody does that anymore, so when you do send somebody a card in the mail, it’s a big deal. They text you about it. They call you about it. They even put it on social media

Pete Mockaitis
The paper, it’s not so much that you don’t like writing on paper, you just hate the clutter that paper contributes into your visual field.

Stephen Warley
Absolutely. I write very minimally on paper. Even when I journal I prefer doing an electronic note on my phone or a spreadsheet – we can talk about that, yes, journaling on spreadsheets, it’s possible – or a Word document. Because it’s also because of, again, the searchability of digital versions of your thoughts and your writing can help you see things in many different ways as opposed to having it all written in a journal.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool.

Stephen Warley
There’s like an …. There’s people who are like, “I love my journal.” Well, good. Journaling is a super important life skill. Keep writing. Get it out of your head. No matter how or where, you want to put it on a screen or on a piece of paper.

Pete Mockaitis
Noted, thank you. Well so let’s talk about – you’ve got your company. It’s called Life Skills That Matter. We like skills that matter over here. What are you all about there?

Stephen Warley
Well, I am trying to help people understand that work as they know it is fundamentally changing because I think we all start hearing about “Is automation, AI, going to take all of our jobs? There’s just even written recently Verizon is offering their entire workforce, 44,000 employees, a buyout package. I just got a text from a friend who works at Red Hat and he’s like, “Oh, they just got bought by IBM. I just got laid off.”

And even in a good economy, we’re seeing these shifts. The work in the way that we were taught by our parents or even sometimes still to this day, it’s changing. We can get into how I think it’s changing, but I want to let people know is that you can do something about it. You can survive and thrive in this emerging new economy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, now we talked about work changing. I know we could wax – I don’t know if it’s poetic – but we can talk about trends and the robots and artificial intelligence, but maybe could you share – you’ve got a ton of numbers, stats on your website, which I dig.

Could you give some of the most hard hitting evidence that says “Oh no, for real, it’s happening now and so here’s the proof in terms of X percent of this or Y percent of that” or kind of what is the transformation and just how fast is it coming here?

Stephen Warley
The one that blows my mind – there’s two that I’m going to give you. The one that blows my mind was from the US Census Bureau, so pretty conservative, the US Census Bureau. They’re not going to say crazy stuff.

2013, they came out with a stat that said that as of that year 65% of the children born in 2013 would be doing work that had not yet been invented. Let that soak in people. That has never happened before in human history. That is how fast our economy is changing, that people born right now will be doing work that has not yet been imagined or invented.

Pete Mockaitis
That is wild. Yeah, the Census Bureau is not a fantastical sci-fi kind of a place. It’s sort of hard demographics that they see. 65% that’s a good, just about two-thirds majority. Okay.

Stephen Warley
I’ve got one more from the US Census Bureau.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s take it.

Stephen Warley
If I can because, again, just again to that point we’re making because it’s a lot of gravitas there, the US Census Bureau, that in 2016 to 2017, single founder or solopreneur businesses, that means there’s a business and there’s only one person running it, those making over a hundred thousand dollars increased by about 5% and the same is true for those making over a million dollars. Again, this has not happened before at that rate.

Pete Mockaitis
In one year, that number of sort of solo – solopreneur is what you’re saying here?

Stephen Warley
Like you and I. We’re running our own business. We have no employees. Maybe you do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve got full time contracts, so ….

Stephen Warley
That’s a little different.

Pete Mockaitis
It is. Yeah, it is.

Stephen Warley
We have teams. We can get into all of that. But this is a solopreneur business. There’s only that. They are recognized as a single-founder business. The rate of those businesses that are making more money over hundred thousand dollars and a million dollars is going up significantly.

Again, something we haven’t seen before and is increasing because of automation. A lot of times we see the downside of automation, but the upside of automation, it’s never been easier to work for yourself and to make more money.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay. That’s your take is that many more people are going to find themselves in a self-employment situation at least for a portion of their careers is one of your contentions.

Stephen Warley
Posits. Let’s couch that a little bit because I’m not as crazy as you might read on my website. So here’s the deal.

I think we have all been educated in a system that taught us to be employees for the most part, myself included. I believe there’s a much greater population of people that have the capabilities to work for themselves but they were taught that they couldn’t. They were taught they didn’t have what it took. Their self-confidence to a certain extent was systematically eroded to make sure that they continue to be employees.

I’m saying to people, you might have the capability. I was that person. I never thought I’d ever work for myself. Then economic reality, getting laid off Election Day 2000. By the way my entrepreneur birthday is coming up November 7th. I’m excited to celebrate that. I’m going to be 18 in entrepreneur years.

Pete Mockaitis
….

Stephen Warley
So that’s what I want to put out there to folks that this could be an option for you. Again, because things have changed so much in terms of the work that we can be doing, that we can have these single-founder businesses and we have technology to help us run those businesses now and there’s just so many more infrastructure growing every day, co-working spaces and communities popping up all over the place, especially in the last ten years to help this new growing workforce.

It’s estimated, depending on where you look, but about a third of the American workforce right now is considered to be self-employed in some shape or form. In the next decade that is supposed to be just over 50%. We are trending towards a majority independent workforce and we have not necessarily on a mass scale been taught how to thrive in that. That’s what I’m trying to help people understand and to do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. You’ve identified a number of particularly essential skills, life skills that matter, if you will, in this context that I think would be great to kind of dig into a bit. These are helpful if you do find yourself in a self-employed situation, even if you don’t. I think you can’t lose by digging into some of your deep expertise in these particular skills. Can you lay them out for us?

Stephen Warley
Yeah, I just want to make one other note about self-employment. Even if you are going to be conventionally employed, continue to be a W-2 employee, you’re going to function much more like a self-employed person. I call it the decision shift.

Incrementally, maybe you even notice this over the last five years, you’re being asked to do more work or be responsible over different aspects of your work. Even telecommuting, you’re going to work from home. Where are you going to work? How are you going to organize your work day? That is also a shift.

It’s almost like there’s a blurring of the lines between what it means to be a freelancer or a consultant or a full-time employed person. That’s the reality that all of us need to get ready for. That’s a lot of these skills that I’ve identified. I think a lot of times first people are like, “Oh my gosh, this is happening. What do I do about it?”

The first thing I tell people is do the work that you want to do, not do the work that you’re supposed to do. I think a lot of us haven’t really understood, like, “What do I really want to do with my life?” The skill that I often tell people is this most important life skill that is going to teach you about yourself and about your potential, your possibles, what you really want to do. It’s self-awareness. And again, Pete, the most important skill in my book and not taught to us. It’s kind of crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well that showed up again and again actually in terms of high-performers in corporate environments. That’s one of the top things they’ve got going for them is self-awareness. Tell us, how do you define it and can you paint a picture of what it looks like when you’ve got it versus you don’t?

Stephen Warley
Sure, that’s great. Self-awareness is the ability to observe your actions without judgment and to see the consequences of those actions to then decide “Do I want to keep having those results or should I start changing some of my behaviors and habits?”

Let me repeat that. Self-awareness is not self-judgment. It’s not about judging yourself. It’s about looking at yourself almost as if you’re hovering over yourself from a third-party perspective, an outer body experience.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m seeing the UFOs right now.

Stephen Warley
Right. It’s like somebody is watching – Pete’s watching himself right now, which is very hard to do. It’s very hard to – a big part of self-awareness is about getting really honest with yourself and to say, “You know what, Stephen, if I continue – if I go out every night and I’m getting these results and this is how it’s impacting my work.”

It’s not about beating yourself up that you’re doing that. It’s about asking yourself, “All right, I have this goal of making X amount of dollars or taking this big trip or having a family or buying a house or whatever it is, so is going out every night is that helping me or is not helping me?” That’s the type of kind of observation I would want people to practice self-awareness with.

Getting good at self-awareness – I have two exercises for people. One, is to start bringing awareness in your day-to-day life as we all do this, bring just self-awareness to when you just react, when you just react, whether you just get super excited or you get super angry, you get super frustrated, just notice when you have an instant reaction and you didn’t really think about it.

Because a lot of times those instant reactions aren’t very helpful. They kind of cause miscommunication. If you can start bringing awareness that you’re doing it.

Then the next step after that is understanding what’s the trigger. Where is that coming from? Why am I doing that? Those are the types of questions we want to be asking ourselves. I see this pattern of behavior in myself, why do I keep doing it? Where does it come from?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really connecting for me right now because I notice – for example, there’s – so right near where I live there is this graphics shops. It’s kind of independent. I was pretty excited to see that it was going to start to open. You see people bringing in the copy machines and building some shelves. It was looking pretty good.

I was like, “Oh yeah, this is going to be great. Maybe I’ll use that as a sort of mailbox that I can have publicists and sort of a public address to go to. Or maybe that will serve as a UPS drop-off spot, so I won’t have to truck it so far or pay the pickup fee when I’m sending stuff via UPS.” I sort of started to imagine how wonderful this graphics shop will be in our life.

I even said “When are you going to open?” They’re like, “Oh yeah, maybe next week.” I was like, “Oh cool.” I got excited. But that was more than a month ago and it’s not open. When I pass this graphics shop, I have a reaction. I’m just angry. Not like enraged, you know? I don’t scream or huff and puff, but I’m irritated. I’m like, “It’s still not open. What’s the deal? How come it’s not open?” I don’t care for that. I don’t really need that irritation in my life.

Stephen Warley
So why are you irritated?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah. I haven’t quite gotten to the very bottom of it. I think part of it is – at the very surface level, it’s just sort of like, “Oh, people should live up to their word. He told me it would be here next week and it’s not there,” but more than that I think it’s that I – I think the truth is I just sort of feel kind of overwhelmed maybe too often in terms of all this stuff.

It’s partially my own doing. I get so excited by all these ideas and I chase after them. It’s like, oops, didn’t set aside some time for this or that. Then I view that this graphic shop is kind of an opportunity to have that kind of just little extra bit of time, whether it’s – because I’ve walked to a UPS drop off spot several times over the last few months, so I just sort of imagine that this graphic shop represents to me maybe a half hour a month that is reclaimed for me.

Stephen Warley
This is what I’m hearing from Pete – because this by the way is an amazing example of self-awareness. And I’ll tell you how if I wasn’t here how he could get to where I’m probably going to hopefully bring him a little bit more quickly. This is not about that graphic shop.

Pete Mockaitis
….

Stephen Warley
It is not. It’s not even about the drop off at UPS. What Pete is – kind of now that he’s gotten a little bit more honest with himself, he already kind of started to say. He’s like, he’s feeling overwhelmed and he might need to look at all of his work activities and be like, “Okay, it’s really not about the UPS store. Like I’m doing a lot of stuff. What do I really need to be doing here and maybe what do I need to be doing less of or what I can I automate, what can I delegate?”

That’s something, Pete, that’s a whole other probably episode. People never stop to reflect once a month, once a quarter, even if you’re working at your job of “What are my work activities?” And then saying to yourself, “Which one should I eliminate?” because there’s stuff that we’re always accumulating or people are asking us to do and all of the sudden you’re like, “Why am I even doing that anymore?”

Maybe your boss, your manager, your team says, “I don’t even know. Stop doing it.” Or even you have to do that to yourself when you’re working on your own like Pete and I are.

Number two, can I automate stuff because there’s all kinds of tools that are pretty low cost or free that can automate a lot of what you do now.

Number three, what can I delegate? Even if you’re the low man or woman on the totem pole there, you’re kind of way down on the food chain, you could be surprised. There’s lot of opportunities to delegate stuff that you really shouldn’t be doing to other people.

Finally, you schedule what’s left. That’s the stuff that you should be really focused on doing. And you will feel such relief if you can do that. That’s kind of a very strategic self-awareness exercise that you can turn into a regular part of your work life.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. So we jumped right to some strategies associated with how does one handle overwhelm, which is great. I guess I kind of want to dig into some of the broader perspective in terms of I love what you said that when you see a reaction, it’s like it’s just there, then that is sort of fertile ground for digging in and gaining insights and getting somewhere.

So how do we go from the place of “I’m irritated that this graphic shop hasn’t opened yet,” to the self-awareness, insight that’s really going to be helpful and transformational? Are there kind of key questions that you dig into?

Stephen Warley
Absolutely. The most important and the most effective self-awareness practice that I’ve come across is journaling. It’s writing. I know you hear that word. There’s baggage with it. When you say meditation, the walls go up. Hear me out.

There’s lots of different ways to journal. You can do a free write. Some people like that. Sometimes people want prompts. Sometimes – actually I do an Excel spreadsheet sometimes when I’m feeling really negative and I’m aware that I am. I actually kind of put all these different thoughts into a spreadsheet.

I say, “What time of day did they occur? Who are they about? Who was I with? Where did they occur? What was it about? What do I think the trigger might be?” Then I go back a week later to look at those thoughts and you can start to see patterns and trends. That’s the true gift of having a writing habit every single day is that you get to communicate with your subconscious mind, your inner voice.

Because we try to think our way out of everything. We overuse our rational mind and we do not use our subconscious mind, our gut enough. We really need to use both parts of our brain because oftentimes your subconscious knows what you really want before your conscious mind does. The conscious mind is kind of like the one who’s going to get the job done. The subconscious mind is your motivation, your purpose, what gets you really excited.

When you’re writing, I often recommend looking back after a week, after a month to look for those patterns and trends, especially if you’re somebody like, “I want a big career change, but I have no idea what I want to do.” Start journaling about it. It’s a way to start communicating with that subconscious, so you can start to uncover things.

What it does, it allows you to see your thoughts from a different perspective almost as if somebody else was going to give you this information. So it’s kind of like you’re coaching yourself. Does that make sense, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes, thank you. All right, that’s a self-awareness side of things. What’s the next skill?

Stephen Warley
By the way, I have a daily growth journal. This will be a little segue into the next important skill that we’re going to talk about. Four questions you want to ask yourself every single day, especially if you really want to make a big change in your life or you feel like you need some more focus.

Number one, what did I learn about myself today? Pete might have journal about his frustration with this graphic store not opening up and what that was all about.

Number two, did I learn something new today in terms of helping me learn my work better, get better at my craft or get better at whatever my profession might be?

Number three, did I meet somebody new to you? This is something that we’re going to talk about as the next most important skill.

Finally, did I create something today? That’s a lot of things. Especially when we are working in jobs, we are constantly always having to live up to other people’s expectations and we are under this unfair regime of perfectionism that you really need to start thinking about stuff in your own life.

If you really want to learn, you’ve got to learn by doing, not just by listening to other people and reading. You’ve got to see how it feels for yourself. You’ve got to take that imperfect action. You’ve got to do stuff on the side. Or maybe you have a forward-thinking employer that’s going to allow you to get messy from time to time.

But let’s get back to that next most important skill and that’s outreach. You’ve probably seen this quite a bit, Pete, especially on this show or the people that you work with. When do people generally think about reaching out to people?

Pete Mockaitis
When they need something immediately.

Stephen Warley
Yup, when you need something. Guess what? After you’ve been at your job for two – three years, maybe five years, maybe longer and you get laid off or you quit or whatever, all of the sudden you notice that the only people that you really know professionally are the people that you’ve been working with and they’re really not going to be that much of a help to you, maybe a couple of them. Maybe they’ve moved on to somewhere.

The thing that can never stop and it’s never a to-do list item, it’s never part of your job search process or whatever it is that you want to do is you’re always on the outlook to meet new people. Even if you tend to be more introverted, it doesn’t mean that you don’t want to meet people.

I always tell folks, you never want to meet people when you need something because they can smell it a mile away. You want to meet people just like you make friends. You want to be drawn to interests or topics or subjects that really light you up.

I encourage you whether you see something on social media or overhear in conversation out and about, jump in. Let them know why you might be excited about that or an idea that you have because that’s how you build true, genuine connection with people.

That’s really the first step when you want to get a job or you’re building a business that you want to be very clear with your values and your purpose and your mission about who you are and not feel bad about it. Don’t feel like you have to change because you want to attract people that also share that same vision, that same interest, those same values.

Pete Mockaitis
For these people, what are your top tips in terms of finding them and connecting with them in great ways?

Stephen Warley
My unconventional advice is this. I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all way to reach out. I actually have a whole worksheet that I use in my 30-day accelerator to help people understand how do they like to reach out to people.

The questions that you want to ask yourself. Do I like to meet people online or offline more? Do I like to meet people in large groups like, go to conferences or like smaller, intimate groups or do I like one-on-one interactions? How frequently do I like to interact with people? You know maybe it’s like once or twice a week, but maybe it’s like five times a day. Even in social media, start bringing attention to which social medial platform do you like more than others and really get better and give yourself over to that.

So I think broadly speaking, that is what I would recommend to people is to actually make the best use of who you are as an individual human. Bring awareness that you already have a habit for interacting and engaging people. But just start calling yourself out. Do some journaling about how do you do it, how can you make it better, and how can you bring awareness to make sure that you’re doing it all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Yes. So you mentioned several different formats. Maybe could you mention some perhaps overlooked or unconventional formats because I think sometimes we think, oh mixer, cocktail party, business cards, that is – networking. We just sort of paint a picture as to what that word sparks for people. You’re saying, “Oh no, hey, you’ve got the online thing as well. You’ve got the kind of small group thing.” What are some of your favorite approaches or manifestations where this comes into play?

Stephen Warley
Your everyday life. Don’t be afraid. I do this all the time at my co-working space, in lines at grocery stores. I live in Boston; I could be on the T. If I overhear a conversation that is super interesting to me, I chime in and I jump right in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met people that way. Sometimes it goes nowhere and sometimes it really could lead to an opportunity or they give me another idea about somebody that I could meet.

I think one of the unfortunate things that we do is we compartmentalize a lot of these different activities. What I’m always telling people, the folks that I work with is, how to start integrating that just in your daily life. Like, there’s opportunities to meet people all the time, just start being more open to them. Right now we’re so closed off.

Yesterday, I treated myself – it was Halloween – after work I went and got a beer at a local coffee shop slash brewery. I generally don’t have my computer or my phone, but I was actually working on a presentation. But I couldn’t believe these four women sat next to me, who were in their early 20s. They all got there. They all said hello to each other and for the next 90 minutes they just looked at their phones and their computers the entire time and didn’t talk to one another.

Pete Mockaitis
Are you sure they weren’t choosing to have a productive work session inspired by shared culpability?

Stephen Warley
They were wearing costumes, which made it – I wanted to take a picture of it. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, talk to each other.” And not saying that – I’m being unfair because there were plenty of other great conversations going on throughout the space.

But a lot of times I think we – all of us even if somebody’s an extrovert like myself, if you didn’t guess that already, a lot of times it’s like kind of that home base, that safe, that security blanket where you whip out your phone because nobody’s talking to you. You almost feel like you go back to middle school sometimes. You feel like, “Oh, other people are talking to everybody and I’m talking to nobody,” so now we have a phone so we can look like we’re doing something.

Instead of picking up our head, kind of – don’t be creepy, but you can be listening on other things and jump in, jump into a conversation. Go for it. I challenge you next time in the next 48 hours if you hear somebody say something that really energizes you, really sparks you or you feel like you have something to add to that conversation, jump in.

Pete Mockaitis
What I dug about what you said there in terms of compartmentalizing, ….

Stephen Warley
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed with Halloween we took precious baby Jonathan for his first trick-or-treating experience.

Stephen Warley
What did he go as?

Pete Mockaitis
He was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Michelangelo, to be precise. It was so cool, I hadn’t chatted with my neighbors much at all in the year that I’ve lived here, but then in the context of Halloween and trick-or-treating, suddenly that’s just normal. Yes, you show up at someone’s home and you talk to them for a moment and take their candy. They were so cool. I was like my neighbors are awesome. It was like, how come we never talk to each other?

Stephen Warley
Or now, you can call yourself out, how many times did you pass each other, but you guys, you were both so busy with your lives that you couldn’t even just do, “Hey, how’s it going? How is your day today?”

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. Yeah. A lot of times we’re in motion, but you can at least say hello. It was ….

Stephen Warley
I’m in Boston. I make it when I walk to my co-working unit, it’s about a two-minute walk, I look people in the eye and I smile at them because people don’t do it. We are so closed off from each other. I know that sounds like really timeless advice, but be aware of that. Realize that in our modern, fast-pace life, we’re losing that.

We’re not doing that and that is a simple thing that you can be doing all the time to kind of be practicing your outreach muscles, so that way you’re always meeting new people, building up that community, building up your network. That way when you do need people, you have that to fall back on. You’ve been developing and nurturing it all along.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. You’ve got another key skill about embracing discomfort.

Stephen Warley
Yeah, here’s the deal folks. Work is changing in such a way that it is changing faster than ever before. Remember US Census Bureau stat about babies born in 2013, how they’re going to be working on something that has not yet been invented. You’re no longer going to be hired just to do something and be trained to do something and do it over and over again.

A lot of times people – I don’t know if you get this Pete – but a lot of times people ask “What skill can I learn that I can have for the next ten years?” I’m like, “There isn’t any. They’re gone. Done. Over.” “Not even coding, Stephen?” I’m like, “Yeah, it’s changing all the time.” The timeless skills are these life skills that I’ve identified like self-awareness, purging, even letting go. We haven’t talked about that. But also – reaching out.

But also one of them is embracing discomfort. I think a lot of times we want everything so secure I think that’s why a lot of us don’t consider the option of having a side hustle or maybe considering other forms of work like freelance, consulting or working for ourselves as a single founder because we are so afraid of losing everything, having that security lost.

I will tell you as somebody who’s worked for himself for 18 years, the idea of having all of my money come from one entity and that they can lay me off at any time or fire me, that freaks me out. That does not sound like security to me. I love having multiple income streams. That’s where I think more and more of us need to start thinking about. Even if you have a primary job, you might want to have a backup plan. You might want to start playing around with something.

Or if you have a job where you feel like you’re not growing or you’re not – maybe you’re just not happy but it’s decent money and this is what you’ve got to do for the next six months or a year, outside of work you can start challenging yourself. You can be learning new skills. You can be doing experiments. You can be taking imperfect action. You can do messy things.

It’s that creation habit once again. What are those four questions that you’re asking yourself? Maybe you want to learn how to cook. A lot of times it doesn’t have to be a direct professional skill that you’re going to figure out how to monetize.

Sometimes we need to be doing other types of skills that we’re not exactly sure if it’s going to make us money or not, but we just enjoy them. It actually helps us learn about ourselves, reconnects with our self.

I love gardening. I don’t make any money off of that, but I tell you one thing, if you are a gardener like weeding, planting, doing all that stuff when you’re working through a lot of mental stuff that I’m going through all the time because of the work that I do, it helps me process that so much more quickly.

And that’s the other thing. Humans were not designed to sit in front of a freaking screen on our butts for eight hours a day. You have to move a lot more. I see that as a future work trend of how do we start evolving so we are moving more again. We’re not just trapped in cubes.

Pete Mockaitis
It seems like the cool theme there when it comes to that embracing that discomfort is that it is sort of the meta skill or the uber skill in terms of if you get comfortable being uncomfortable, then you are more agile and ready to learn the next thing when you need to learn it.

Stephen Warley
That’s why I tell people even if you want to work – and there’s nothing wrong with working for somebody else, nothing. I have had a lot of great experiences. I think it’s still a great way. I think looking at a job as a paid apprenticeship if you can look at it that way. There’s different seasons to your career. Sometimes you might work for somebody else; sometimes you might work on your own.

But I do believe that if everybody, honestly, I really mean this, Pete, if everybody could give themselves the chance of working for themselves for just one year, just one year of your entire career, that is going to teach you – I think it is the most elaborate, effective, intense way to really learn about yourself, your potential and your opportunities. It really gets you out of your comfort zones in lots of different ways.
You’ll never look at your money, your time, your energy, your connections, your self the same way again after that year. And that’s why I guide people through a 30-day accelerate to really give them that intense experience of what could this look like, what does it feel like even after just 30 days?

Also, this is a great study from the University of California at Berkley. It was from 1979 to I believe 2015 or ’16. They tracked 2,500 – no, I’ll get the exact – I believe it was 5,000 adults. Adults that tried to work for themselves, yet failed and then they went back to the job market.

Guess what? They earned on average 10% more in income than their peers who had the exact same characteristics, exact same skillset. The one difference is one tried to start a business and failed and one didn’t. The one that failed got rewarded. Isn’t that amazing?

Pete Mockaitis
That is fascinating. I hadn’t heard that one. Thank you.

Stephen Warley
The reason behind that is employers feel like you’re no longer just in your little silo of your skill. You have a greater understanding of the entire context of the business so that way you can talk to a greater number of people within the company, so that’s going to be better for the business.

Number two, it shows that you’re a little bit more of a risk taker, that you want to learn, that you have curiosity, that you have initiative. You’re not just going to wait to be told what to do. Guess what? The future of work is not about sitting around and waiting to be told what to do. People are going to hire you because things are changing so fast that you better be ready with some ideas. You better be ready with some experiments to find an answer to a new challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
Another driver I think that might be behind that 10% bump if you have a year of self-employment could just be even from the negotiating, making an offer side of things.

Stephen Warley
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s kind of like they’re thinking, “Now this is a person who is totally cool, not accepting something that doesn’t work for them and doing it their own way, so maybe I had a range in my head, I’m just going to error toward the higher end of that range because I might be told no.”

Stephen Warley
But again, they did something that was really uncomfortable I think and negotiations is very uncomfortable for most people, but when you work for yourself, you really understand the value of every single minute of your day in a way that you don’t as an employee. I’m serious. I didn’t realize it either. And the value of every single dollar.

That way you are going to become that much more of an effective negotiator if you do go back into the job market for their reason that you just cited.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, now let’s talk about a few of your favorite things. Can you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Stephen Warley
I say a mantra to myself every single morning. Everything is temporary. I’m sure that’s some ancient Chinese wisdom, but it’s very liberating hearing that. Whether something is good or something is bad, everything in your life, no matter what you’re feeling right now, it’s temporary and it will change. You’ve got to get ready for it.

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

Stephen Warley
My own experiments. One reoccurring experiment that I do is I always like to take something out of my life. I like to stop drinking for 30 days. I like to not watch television or video for 30 days or not use a social media platform for 30 days.

Why I like to do this because it’s just clear, it’s focused. It also kind of shows me the role of that thing in my life. Sometimes I realize, whoa, for somebody who I feel like I’m not addicted to these things, there is a little bit of an addiction going on there. I call myself out on that.

But also the effect that it has on the rest of my life. When I stopped watching television for four months once, the first time I did that, I realized that I started waking up an hour earlier every day and I was much more energized because I started going to bed earlier.

Also, they’ve done a lot of studies, that blue light, the screens. You really shouldn’t be looking at any type of screen about an hour before you go to bed because the blue light that it projects out kind of screws with the chemicals in your brain and messes up your melatonin.

To really learn about yourself, kind of another self-awareness exercise, do some experimentation on yourself, just try removing one thing from your life and to see the effects that it has on the rest of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Stephen Warley
First book I read after getting laid off, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, completely changed my mind about money that the middle class does buy a lot of their stuff with debt. You’ve got to stop doing that. You’ve got to buy stuff with assets. Make your money, invest in assets and let those assets buy you your fun stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite tool?

Stephen Warley
My favorite tool – people are going to laugh. I will tell you the great thing about this tool. It’s free. You can use it in every part of your business and you can use it to journal. My favorite tool, Pete, I swear, is a spreadsheet.

Pete Mockaitis
I won’t laugh. I think that’s an excellent tool.

Stephen Warley
A lot of times we overthink because there’s all these little, “Stephen, how come we’re not using this and that?” When I introduce technology to … it really has to save me time, save me money and I’ve got to keep it simple and it has to be really flexible and has to have a lot of uses. I don’t like having different tools to do very specific things across the board. I like a lot of integration. Spreadsheets, let me tell you, as a tool, they are quite amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m right with you there. Do you have a favorite function?

Stephen Warley
Function, what do you mean, in terms-

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about like in a spreadsheet, like sum would be an example of a function or a shortcut.

Stephen Warley
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Anything that – some secret sauce?

Stephen Warley
I can’t say that I do. I mean I’m forever always putting little notes in everything because I think a lot of times we forget about the significance of the data that we’re putting in there, so I always like to deepen it and I always make sure that I put extra information in there in the notes.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Stephen Warley
Oh habits. I’m all about habits. People, your life is the sum of your habits. You want to make a change in your life; you’ve got to focus on your habits.

One of my favorite habits, I actually have turned – the first hour of my day, I call it my robot morning. The first hour of my day is nothing but habits. I don’t make any decisions. I don’t think. I’m on autopilot. The reason why I do this is to conserve my limited willpower energy and to minimize the effects of decision fatigue. That way when I do start working I still have as much of my fresh mind as possible.

I know if you have a crazy life, you have kids and life happens to you. I can’t say that I do my robot morning every single day the same way. But it gives me a lot of freedom now not having to think about what do I have to do. I get up, I pee, I brush my teeth, I floss, I put on SPF moisturizer on my face, I drink an eight-ounce glass of water, I stretch, I meditate for ten minutes, I do a little journaling, eat breakfast, get dressed, head out the door.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate and get quoted back to you frequently?

Stephen Warley
I actually – “it’s possible” is – I know that sounds corny, but it’s something that everybody says, like, “Stephen, I come to you with all this stuff. And it feels so chaotic and I leave feeling like yeah, this is possible. You give me clarity.” That’s something I say all the time.

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

Stephen Warley
If you are thinking – first if you really want to learn about yourself, you’re in the middle of a big transition, go to LifeSkillsThatMatter.com/challenge and I have a free 12-week self-assessment challenge. If you are kind of exploring maybe thinking about working for yourself, I would head over to LifeSkillsThatMatter.com/GetStarted to learn the first five actions to take to start working for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Stephen, this has been a real treat. I wish you tons of luck in all of your adventures.

Stephen Warley
The same to you. And don’t be mad at that graphic designer anymore, okay?

Pete Mockaitis
I won’t.

Stephen Warley
Thank you, Pete.