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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Alden

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Alden Mills Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alden Mills
That is correct.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alden Mills
That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I like that.

Alden Mills
Respect is what I call – go ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alden Mills
Some of my personal favorite things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have any other favorite habits?

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

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

Alden Mills
Yes. Their limits are up to them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Ellen

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ellen Ruppel Shell Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s a bummer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And do what, specifically?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, the one predictor number one predictor.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis  
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tamara Loehr shares her perspective on work-live blending.

You’ll Learn:

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

About Tamara

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Tamara Loehr Otting Interview Transcript

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

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

Tamara Loehr
Thank you for having me in advance.

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

Tamara Loehr
Wonderful. Thanks for having me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tamara Loehr
It’s a win-win.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

Pete Mockaitis
I like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. How about-?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you.

425: Achieving More by Constantly Embarrassing Yourself with Case Kenny

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Case

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Case Kenny Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case Kenny
Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaits
You’ve hit the gym.

Case Kenny
Yeah, I work out.

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

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

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

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

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

Case Kenny
You get it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case Kenny
Yeah, exactly.

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

Case Kenny
Absolutely. Yup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaits
All right. How about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaits
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

418: Separating Your Self-Worth from Your Productivity with Rahaf Harfoush

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Rahaf Harfoush masterfully unpacks history, psychology, philosophy, and more to discover how we got obsessed with hustling / productivity…and how that obsession often hurts our  creative output.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How productivity and creativity are incompatible
  2. The reverberating negative impact of the 2008 economic recession on how we work
  3. Best practices for optimizing your limited reserve of energy

About Rahaf

Rahaf is a Digital Anthropologist, Best-Selling Author, and Speaker researching the impacts of emerging technologies on our society. She focuses on understanding the deep (and often hidden) behavioral shifts that are taking place within organizations and individuals as global digital infrastructures enable the unprecedented exchange of ideas, information, and opinions. She teaches Innovation and Disruptive Business Models at SciencePo’s Masters of Finance and Economics Program in Paris.

She’s worked with organizations like Starwood Capital Group, Deutsche Bank, Estée Lauder, UNESCO, The OECD, A1, ING Direct, and  more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Rahaf Harfoush Interview Transcript

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

Rahaf Harfoush
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to talk about your stuff, but first I want to hear about something you write that the world doesn’t see. You say that you write fiction secretly. What’s this about?

Rahaf Harfoush
I just love losing myself in a good fiction story, so I’ve just been toying around with thrillers and murder mysteries and just things that I write. Nobody has seen any of this yet, so maybe one day I’ll work up the courage to release that, but it’s a really nice outlet. It’s really complimentary to the nonfiction writing that I do for my regular job. It’s an interesting balance. It stretches my abilities in different ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so murder mystery, that’s intriguing. How do you come up with creative ways for people to die?

Rahaf Harfoush
Let’s just say if anything was ever to happen to my husband and they looked at my Google searches, I think I would be in trouble.

Pete Mockaitis
Although that’s the-

Rahaf Harfoush
I’m always Googling the most random things. It’s always like, “How long does it take for a body to do this?” “What happens if you do that?” My husband always laughs because he goes, “Honestly, you better hope nobody ever looks at your search history.” Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s actually perfect if you really were going to do some malfeasance, then having that as a cover would be great. “Well, I am an amateur novelist. This is all part of the research, detective. Look elsewhere.”

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, that could be the big plan.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, again, I really appreciate you’re up late in France, taking the time to chat. I’m excited to dig into it. One book you’ve got out, it’s no secret, Hustle and Float. There’s so much good stuff in it. Could you share, for starters, perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery that you came about when you were putting the book together?

Rahaf Harfoush
The most fascinating thing that I experienced when writing this book was how there was often a gap in my own behavior and my own knowledge. It was like really frustrating because or I would originally be researching stuff like burnout and the need to meditate and things like that. Then even though I was writing about them rationally, I would be doing behaviors that were the opposite. That was a thing.

The other thing was, this was a book that was written to try to understand why we often act against our own creative performance, against our own creative best interests. I guess what surprised me was that I was surprised by how much these forces were influencing my life and how much they were impacting the way I was approaching my job, my work, my performance, my productivity.

There were moments when I would finish researching something, identify how it was manifesting in my own life and just really be like “Wow, I cannot believe that this narrative that has developed over the last 50 years is the reason why I do X or the reason why I can’t do this, or that.”

That was really interesting. It was almost like peeling back the layers of an OS and kind of looking into the code and realizing there’s all sorts of stuff in there that are determining your decisions that you never knew.

Pete Mockaitis
That is very intriguing. When you talk about the phrase ‘acting against our own creative best interests,’ what exactly do you mean by that and can you give us a rich example?

Rahaf Harfoush
What I found out in my own experience and in talking to hundreds of professional creatives—so strategists, entrepreneurs, leaders, managers, writers, designers, lawyers, accountants—was that people who were high performers or people who identified as high performers had all experienced at least once in their career a time where they were burnt out, where they experienced physical or mental symptoms as a result of overwork.

The thing that really intrigued me about this research was I asked them, “Did you try frameworks? Did you have the knowledge to prevent this?” They all said yes. This was really interesting to me because that meant that the problem wasn’t a lack of knowhow.

It wasn’t like you were going to open the door and be like, “Hey guys, I want to introduce you to this thing called napping, and this thing called vacations. You should really try it one day.” It’s like we all knew what we should be doing and none of us were doing it.

When I started to look to understand why, I realized that our work culture has taken two really big important concepts—productivity and creativity—and we’ve shoved them together to create our modern work culture. The problem is is that these two things are not compatible and when we try to chase our obsession with being productive, we end up hurting our creative performance. We end up getting in our own way.

We end up getting in our own way even when we know better, even when we feel tired, even when we sense burnout coming on, we can’t seem to stop ourselves. This contradiction in behavior from smart, intelligent, ambitious people—I was like, I have to figure out what’s going on. That’s kind of what the general gist of the book is about.

An example would be that you’re working on a client project or you’re writing something or researching something and you keep pushing yourself. Even though you’re tired and even though you know that the best thing you could do for yourself would be to step away, you don’t. You pull an all-nighter. You don’t get sleep. You start skipping meals. Your health starts to suffer.

You do all of these things in pursuit of this productive goal, but in reality every step that you’re taking is actually making it more difficult for you to creatively perform. I’ve seen this across the board. I have seen lawyers, I have seen writers, I experienced this myself firsthand.

I had such a severe round of burnout that I was incapable of doing anything for my job for weeks. My hair fell out. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. It was actually, in all honesty, absolutely terrifying. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. I never want to experience anything like that again.

The fact that it was totally preventable, was the most frustrating thing because even when I was at my worst, even when I was so sick, I was still kind of shaming myself about it. Why weren’t you strong enough? Why can’t you just push through? Why can’t you just hustle harder? Why can’t you just keep getting up in the morning? There was this like never-ending narrative of shame that was pushing me.

That’s when I was like, okay, I need to get to the bottom of this because this way of working is not sustainable and if I want to have a long and fruitful career, I have to find a better way.

Pete Mockaitis
That is powerful. What drama, losing hair, unable to work. Wow. That is primed nicely. Then tell us, when it comes to these narratives or wrong ideas or these behaviors, what’s kind of fundamentally going on inside our brains that causes us to do these things that are working against our own interest?

Rahaf Harfoush
What you realize is that you are this person and you think you’re this rational, intelligent person, but really you are in the middle of this crazy mix of I call them the three forces, which are your systems, your stories and yourself. In other words, the history, how our work culture evolved, how our thinking about idolizing productivity, why work is considered to be morally good, all these things, how those ideas developed.

You have just the history of productivity systems and how businesses evolved. You have the stories that we tell ourselves about success, so all those articles that you see about why you should get up at 4:30 in the morning to get the job done, how we sort of worship productive people, how any magazine cover, business magazine cover, you’ll see the ‘secrets of the highly productive people,’ ‘get more done.’

We have this reinforcing narrative that takes thing like the American dream, if you just work hard enough, you’ll be successful, combined with this obsession of being busy and productive. We have these stories that we tell ourselves about what success looks like in our culture.

Then finally you have ourselves, which is our body, how our brains and bodies are wired. These three forces together mix and they give us a very specific set of beliefs about the role that work plays in our lives, the role that it plays and links to our self-worth, to our identity, to our value in society, to whether or not we’re worthy, whether or not we’re enough, to whether or not we have accomplished our goals and what that means, to our social standing.

You have this really complex emotional relationship that’s been built on years and years and years and years of stories and belief systems and attitudes and reinforced narratives that you see in the media. Then you now have this new era of work, where most of us are being paid to do creative work, knowledge work.

Here we are trying to do a type of work, but we’re forcing ourselves to evaluate our performance based on systems that were designed during the industrial revolution, systems that weren’t designed for the type of work that we’re doing. They weren’t designed for us. Plus, we have this constant narrative that if we’re not always hustling, always pursuing, always chasing, that we’re shameful and that we don’t deserve our own success.

When you look and you see, for example, why is it that most people check email on their vacations or most people don’t even take the full allocation of vacations that they have, it’s not because they don’t want to enjoy their vacation. It’s because we have these deep drivers that are linked to our vulnerabilities and our ego that are convincing us that our work is linked to our worth as a human being.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh my gosh, this is so good, so good. What’s funny, as you were speaking, I was transported to a time I was on a fishing, outdoorsy vacation with my BFF, Connor, and company. We had a fishing guide. We were doing fishing. It was kind of fun to do, hanging out, nice sunny day. Then in the afternoon, I remember Connor, he looked at his phone and his emails and then he said out loud, “Why am I looking at my email?” He was like genuinely bewildered that it just kind of happened to his surprise.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, it’s a powerful motivator.

Pete Mockaitis
It wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t deeply addictedly habitual because some folks – I guess there’s a whole continuum or spectrum of that behavior. But it happened and it surprised him. I was sort of surprised as well. It was like, “Yeah, why do we do that?” It sounds like you’ve actually gotten somewhat to the bottom of the answer, why do we do that?

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah. It’s really sad in a way because we’ve put so much of ourselves, which is now tied up in our jobs. When I was going through my burnout, the thing that kept rattling around in my brain the whole time was, “If I’m a writer that can’t write, what do you do with a writer that can’t write? Who am I if I’m not a writer?” I didn’t realize how much I had absorbed that part of what I do into who I was.

Then you start to understand, okay, now we’re dealing with all of this economic turbulence, we’re dealing with automation, we’re dealing with new industries, we’re dealing with globalization and all of these things are shaking the foundations of what we use to define as work. The definition of what work is, what a jobs is, what a career is, that’s all changing.  But all of that is so linked to how we see ourselves and how we see each other.

Of course we’re going to get a little bit nervous when people start rattling at that foundation. It makes sense that we’re behaving this way.

I’ll tell you a super really quick anecdote. During the 2008 financial crisis, this really crazy thing happened where a lot of people lost their jobs. A lot of people were out of work. There was a lot of panic. But during this time, job satisfaction went up.

Even though during the financial crisis when companies fired people that meant that the rest of the work had to be divided amongst the people that were left. A lot of people suddenly found themselves doing 1.5 jobs, 1.75 jobs, maybe even 2 jobs, but because everyone was so terrified of getting laid off, happiness at work during that time actually increased. Job satisfaction went up because people were just so grateful to have a job.

At the same time, they were too afraid to ask for time off, they were too afraid to ask for extra help. We sort of solidified this traumatic economic experience, but we fused it with this bizarre thread of happiness, which I think kind of scrambled our brains a little bit.

Then when the economy recovered, many companies didn’t hire all those people back because they thought, “Huh, we’re getting by fine without it.” Many people sort of kept the link between their job satisfaction and the overwork they were performing and that overwork became the norm and it also became a reflection of the security that they had during a time of incredible economic turbulence.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating. You’re saying that – and maybe you have some data to back this up – that if you look at workers in say 2000 to 2007, sort of pre-2008 recession, to now, there’s a whole lot more hustling and idolization of the hustle now as compared to a mere 12 years ago.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah. Yeah and it almost acts like – in the book there’s a whole chapter devoted on it in the book, but it’s almost like a form of Stockholm Syndrome. We ended up being exposed to these really unpleasant working conditions. People were working twice as hard for half the pay basically or doing two jobs, getting paid for one job.

I think the Wall Street Journal called them the rise of super jobs, where suddenly everybody was expected to do a lot more than before. But at the same time, because we were so grateful for the opportunity, we were still like yes. It was still seen as a good thing. We almost emotionally imprinted a different norm of work.

I talk a lot about the history of work, but for our generation and for us and all of us now, the 2008 financial crisis was one of the most defining economic moments. Most people in some capacity were touched by it or knew people that were impacted by it. It’s this very important emotional part of our work history.

We sometimes overlook the fact that it kind of changed a bit our approach to how we look at what work norms were and we never really bounced back from that. Even though the economy quote/unquote recovered June of 2009, we still maintained those same behaviors. It’s not like the economy recovered and suddenly companies were like, “You can go back to working one job.” It’s like the economy recovered and they were like, “Yup, this is the new normal,” and we never went back.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating. Let’s talk about identity first because that sounds huge with regard to being a master skeleton key that can unlock a bunch of this stuff.

You reflected, “Hey, what do you do with a writer who can’t write?” I’ve got the tune ‘what do you do with a drunken sailor’ in my head now. That notion that our identity, our worth, our value is wrapped up in our work and what we’re producing, can you deconstruct this for us in terms of if that’s not it, what is, and how do we combat this tendency to identify our very worth with our productivity in our jobs?

Rahaf Harfoush
It’s a really fascinating story because – I went back and I sort of traced the history of work, all the way back, especially in America, going back to the Puritan work ethic. I’ve heard this phrase – I don’t know how familiar you are with the Puritan work ethic – I had heard this phrase so many times over the years, but I never really understood the finer details of what that meant.

What did the Puritans actually mean? Where did this work ethic come from? It turns out that they believed that when you were born that your soul was predetermined, meaning before you were born God had already decided if you were going to go to heaven or not. God already knew. This was already all written. But they didn’t know, so they spent their entire lives looking for signs of which way God had decided, so signs that they were chosen or signs that they were not chosen.

Because of this, they kind of hypothesized that the type of person that God would choose would be somebody who was respectful, industrious, hardworking. These norms emerged where if you were hard working and if you were not lazy, which was also synonymous with being immoral, that if you were hardworking, then it’s clear that you were chosen.

From the very early, early point of work culture history, we started linking work with morality, work as being an indicator of the goodness or badness of your inherent self.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so fascinating because I’m thinking right now from Christian theological perspectives, there’s plenty of occasions when Jesus went away to a deserted place or he was talking about Mary and Martha and how the person doing all the work – he was like, hey, the person not doing the work has actually chosen the better half.

It’s interesting that the Puritanical work culture chose to, I guess preferentially, select the verses that kind of promote the industriousness over the others because even in the scriptures themselves, there’s a pretty good case to be made for rest, silence, rejuvenation, and not just work, work, work, work, work.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah. But you also have a lot of quotes about idle hands do the devil’s work. I think that’s it or something like that. From the very beginning, we started linking our work to our worth as a person. The work that we did was inherently linked to whether or not we were good or not.

That’s a really kind of fundamental building block right there. That also never really went away. We just built more and more and more on top of it. We just added more narratives. Then with the American dream it was – think about it this way – if how hard you work depends on your goodness or badness, then the American dream also says that if you work hard enough, you’ll be successful.

The problem with the American dream ideology is that the flip side was if you’re not successful, you’re not working hard enough. When you couple that with this Puritan ideology, if you’re not working hard enough, it must mean you’re not good enough.

All of the sudden we’re not just talking about a job. We’re talking about the moral sanctity of your soul. We’re talking about your worth as a person. We’re talking about the value that you bring.

We have created a culture now where, again, combined with the economic things that happened in 2008, combined with the way we worship startup entrepreneurs and tech titans and billionaires. All these little signals come together to form this almost concoction that creates this ideal of what we think work should be, the role it should have in our lives and who we are in reaction to what we do.

All of that together forms a really strong bridge between our vulnerabilities, our ego, our weaknesses, our insecurities, and we link all of that, we anchor all of that to our jobs.

This becomes really problematic because if you’re a writer that can’t write, if you get laid off during the recession, if you get fired, if there’s no work, then we have absorbed – we’ve imbued work with so much value that when we take it away, we are just kind of lost. We really take a psychological blow when somebody takes that piece of us away.

That’s why you see so much attitude. For example, think about how we talk about people that are on welfare. Think about how we talk about people sometimes who are unemployed. There’s all these attitudes that we have that if you start picking apart the pieces that make up those attitudes, you can draw a direct trail right back to this idea that your job is linked to your goodness as a person.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s some powerful stuff. So if we’re enmeshed in this and you want to escape and this is also reminding me of there’s an awesome article recently in The Atlantic about what they called ‘workism’ and how that has completely become sort of the new religion for many people.

Okay, if that’s where we are, point of departure, and we want some liberation from that so we can start making some wiser choices, set some prudent boundaries, get some rejuvenation, how do we, I guess, reprogram our brains here?

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, often they say the first step is just recognizing that there’s problem. I think the first step is realizing that these three forces are influencing your life. They influence everybody a little bit differently. It depends on your own history, your background, the values that your parents instilled, the behaviors that you saw your role models.

They can manifest in a lot of different ways in people’s lives, but the first step is to recognize that they are there. The first step is to look at the things that you just assume were to be true about the world, about work, about yourself, and just start to question where those beliefs came from.

[24:00]

In the book, there’s a whole list of questions that you can ask yourselves, things like, “How important is your work ethic and your identity? What does hard work look like for you? Why is it important? Who are your work role models?” And to really just start to understand your own relationship with some of these concepts because the most important thing is getting out of your own head, getting out of your own way.

So many people will try – they’ll be like, “I’m going to wake up at 5:30 AM in the morning. I’m going to do David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I’m going to do inbox zero. I’m going to do-“ They try to do all these frameworks not realizing that the frameworks are just Band-Aids that are trying to address the symptoms.

What we have to do is really address the root cause, which is our fundamental relationship with our beliefs about work. To do that, you have to start by questioning everything you think you know.

Once you start asking yourself these questions, “Where do my beliefs come from? How do they manifest? How much do I like my identity and my job?” at least then you can start to see, the same way that I did, like “Oh, maybe all these articles I read about the top successful tips of entrepreneurs that always push the same type of thing, that’s a certain archetype, that’s a certain mythology that I’ve absorbed, but if I take a step back, that’s not actually linked to what I think a successful life looks like.”

You start trying to break apart, again, going into your OS, going into the programming, the algorithms and starting to say, “Are the assumptions that I used when making these predictions about how I see the world, are they really true or did I just accept them as true because of the media, because of our history, because of our biology?”

Once you do that, then once you see the forces, they can’t influence you that much anymore. Once you see them for what they are, then you can be the one to choose what serves you and you can be the one to choose what you keep and what you leave.

What’s really funny about this is I’ve had a lot of very polarizing reactions about this because so often, people want to pick up this book and they want to see some sort of five-step method, framework, easy acronym, let’s just get the solution right on the way. I’ll have people email me and be like, “You went too much into history. This is too convoluted. You didn’t get to the point. What’s the solution?”

It’s like, I feel like it’s a bit subversive, but it’s like, “Guess what? The only solution is, ironically, we each have to do our own type of emotional labor to figure this out. I can’t do it for you. You’re the only one that can unlock those belief systems, unlock that self talk, unlock all of those. I can’t do that for you and no framework will do that for you.” But there’s an impatience because everyone just wants a quick fix.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, this is so powerful and really potentially super transformative in terms of getting at the root as opposed to – I love GTD and David Allen, episode 15, so—

Rahaf Harfoush
I love him. I love him. I use it. I use OmniFocus. I’m all about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. It’s my favorite, OmniFocus.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, but my point is OmniFocus and Getting Things Done will never fix you if you feel productivity shame about the fact that you don’t think you’re good enough unless you’re constantly busy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, absolutely. Well said in terms of the fundamental psychological belief identity stuff at root, certainly, as opposed to hey, GTD and OmniFocus as a tool in order to organize all the incoming stuff so you can feel good about where it’s going. Those are sort of two different things we’re solving for.

I guess what really gets me going here is as I reflect upon what you’re saying, I recently had a podcast interview with Michael Hyatt, and that will release a little after this one I believe, in which we talked about Elon Musk, who’s Mr. Hustle himself, like sleeping at the Tesla plant and doing all these things. He really does seem to be heroically idolized.

I thought Michael Hyatt did an awesome job. He said, “Well, I guess it depends on your priorities. He’s blown through a couple marriages. He’s had these troubles.” Then you’re right in terms of the hard emotional labor, you’ve got to thing though, it’s like, “Well, would I like to have a life like Elon Musk in terms of those pretty cool entrepreneurial successes, but at those costs, or would I like to have a life that is different and prioritizes things differently?”

Rahaf Harfoush
Okay, but maybe I’ll push back on this a little bit because I don’t think that’s the actual choice. I think forget the personal costs. Put that aside for a second. Let’s just talk about performance. Let’s just talk about being an entrepreneur, you need out make the best possible decisions in order for your company to perform.

I want you to imagine yourself after sleeping on a factory floor. You just spent eight hours. You’re tired. You haven’t slept properly. Think of your state of mind. There’s no way that you’re going to convince me that the you that has had a terrible night’s sleep, that is uncomfortable, maybe has a backache, that crick in the neck, whatever it is that’s going on, you’re not going to tell me that that is the best version of you that’s going to make the best decisions for your business.

The problem is that we have started to talk about overwork as though it’s an admirable trait, when in reality when you look at creative performance from a biological perspective, from a psychological perspective, just all the research says the same thing, that you need to take breaks to let your brain recharge so that you are at peak performance.

You running this marathon, pulling all-nighters, not sleeping, doing all these things, sleeping at the factory, you’re not actually getting closer to peak performance. What you’re doing is getting closer to performative suffering so people can say, “Look how hard he’s working. Look how much he’s suffering,” because if you remember, the harder the work, the more deserving you are.

What he’s doing is he’s just hitting all of these emotional symbols to get us to say, “He’s so hardworking. Look how much he’s suffering for his business,” whereas honestly when I heard that I was like, “Elon, go home, man. Take a shower. Have a meal. Sleep for a couple of hours. Shut your brain off. Let it all settle down and then come back the next day and then you’ll be at the top of your game.”

I know myself when I’ve been overworked, I’m not producing my best work and I’m not making the best decisions. I make more mistakes and the quality of the work that I am producing is subpar.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. All right. It’s like, hey, not only are we talking about outside work; we’re talking about inside work things and performative suffering. What a turn of a phrase. That’s lovely. That’s compelling.

I’m intrigued. You mentioned in the beginning you talked to a lot of high performers who experienced a bout of burnout at some point and they knew the things they should be doing with regard to hey, take a nap, take vacation.

Are there any things that you discovered that we should be doing that are not so obvious? You mentioned some good research and science associated with peak performance and creativity and what it takes. What are some of the key things we should do or not do that can prevent or rejuvenate us from burnout that really pack a wallop?

Rahaf Harfoush
One of the things that I looked at was, again, how historically we’ve devoted a lot of the work systems that we have today, the 40-hour work week, 9 to 5, all that stuff. I think the biggest injury that has been done to us from many of these methodologies is the fact that we are expected as human beings to show up for work in the same way, at the same energy level that is consistent for the entire time that we’re at work, 365 days a year.

That is just not the way human beings are wired. We have ebbs and flows of energy, ebbs and flows of creativity. We have different cycles. We’re productive at different times of the day. We’re more productive at different times of the year sometimes.

One of the things that we have to look at is the way that you’re working, is it designed to maximize your performance? Are you actually creating a way of working that works with your strengths instead of just trying to take yourself and shove yourself in a system that was designed for work that you’re not doing, designed for a way of work and a type of work that no longer really exists for most knowledge workers?

One of the things that I found is really powerful is starting to reframe the way that we even approach performance. Not every task in a job is created equal. A big presentation that you’ve got is going to suck up a lot more energy than just doing some admin and answering emails. Or when you’re travelling, that’s going to take a different type of energy level than when you’re sitting at your desk working.

We have to start to think about how can we conserve and optimize for this type of energy usage. That often depends, like breaking away from this mold of needing to conform to some arbitrary metric like 9 to 5 or that you have to work in the same way from 9 to 5 in the exact same way at the exact same energy level.

If we start to accept that these cycles happen in our creativity, in our performance, in the way that we approach hard tasks, in the emotional response – often creative performance, it requires a lot of emotion. You’re really excited that you have an idea, but then you get kind of frustrated because you hit a block. You get sad because you think you’re not going to solve it. Then you’re elated when you do solve it.

Those emotions also take an energetic toll on you as well. But we don’t really create systems that take all of this into account. We need to design systems that are made specifically for creative performers.

That respect I would honestly challenge you to look at your own natural rhythms. I’m a night owl. I am not productive in the morning. For so many years I killed myself trying to fit into this standard, into this ideal, where I’m raring to go at 8 AM. That was never going to be me. I am honestly at my peak hours between 6 PM and midnight. That is when I do my best work. That is when I do my most writing.

I had to design a business that worked around that. I had to say, okay, there are days when I’m going to manage my energy. I’m going to work on a highly cognitive task in the evening, which means maybe in the morning I’m going to do some lighter stuff.

Once I started paying attention to when I needed to step away, when I needed to replenish, when I needed to downshift to easier tasks, when I needed to really hustle and focus on high cognitive tasks, the craziest thing happened, which is I was better rested, I was happier, and most importantly, my output—which is the thing we’re all obsessed with anyway—my output went through the roof.

That’s when I realized that your output, your creative output, is not linked to how hard you work, how many hours and how many nights you spend and how much you don’t sleep and how many meals that you skip. It’s really based on optimizing to the fullest possible potential this limited reserve of energy that you have, so how you’re going to invest it or you’re going to spend it, how you’re going to replenish it.

Then if you do that in a way that’s designed for you and your body, your performance, your success, your happiness, your relationships, everything will go through the roof.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. And you’re crushing it right now in your peak zone. I guess it’s just after midnight now in France.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. Then I want to hear then, part of it’s just knowing yourself in terms of when you work best, you’re a morning person, you’re a night owl. Are there any kind of universal best practices that are great for allocating and optimizing and being strategically wise with your limited reserve of energy?

Rahaf Harfoush
This is the funny thing, all the solutions that I’m saying, none of them are new. It’s not like somebody’s going to be like, “Oh, I should really take a break,” or “Oh, I should get a good night’s sleep.” None of this advice is new. What’s new is that now we have the ability to start unraveling why we’re not taking this good advice.

You know. Everyone who is listening right now, you know what you have to do, you know what your body needs, you know the conditions that you work best in. you know this. What’s more interesting to me is why you’re not doing it. What is blocking you? What is holding you back from this? Where did these beliefs that you have come from? Is it shame? Is it insecurity? Is it fear? Is it ego? Is it the need for validation?

Because those are the behaviors that are hidden, that work in the background that often sabotage you so that when you’re tired that little voice will say, “Are you kidding? You’re going to take a break? No way. You’ve got to push through. You’ve got to hustle, otherwise you’re weak, otherwise you’ll never succeed.”

For me the best practices are really about having these conversations with your friends, with your teams, with your spouse, with your family about the role that work plays in our lives.

I’ll give you a quick example, which is with my friends. I noticed when I was researching this book that oftentimes when I ask my friends, “Hey, how’s it going?” the response was always some variation of “Oh, I’m so busy. Things at work are crazy right now. Oh man, I’m so overloaded. I haven’t stopped running. I’m on the road nonstop.”

All of these, going back to that term that you love, performative suffering, was basically the same thing. It was just reinforcing verbally to each other in a social context how much we were working, how much we deserved our jobs, and how we were deserving of our success because of how much work we were putting in.

What we said as a group, we actually said we’re going to ban saying “I’m so busy.” Let’s dig deep and try to find something else out use to describe our lives. It really highlighted how much this idea of being hyper busy, hyper productive was a behavior that we were all holding up like it was some sort of positive ideal.

Again, there’s no quick fix here. You already have all the quick fixes. You literally have everything you need at this instant to optimize your creative performance, but what is it that is blocking you from doing that?

Pete Mockaitis
In your research, what have you found to be the most common blockers?

Rahaf Harfoush
Shame and self-worth, thinking that you’re not good enough, thinking that if you rest it means that you’re not strong enough, it means that you’re not worthy enough, feeling the need to be validated, feeling like you don’t know who you are outside of your job. Those are the things that often manifest, especially in high performers because when you’re doing really well at your job, you’re even more tempted to link your job to your identity.

The funny thing is if you just start listening to yourself talk, like there were days where – and I run my own business, so I don’t have a boss telling me when I need to come in or what I need to be doing, and yet there were times when I was like the hardest on myself than any boss I’ve ever had in my life, where I said things to myself about why I couldn’t hack it or why I was feeling tired or how I could have hustled more or how I’m letting good business ideas pass me by or how I was watching an hour of Netflix instead of working on a side hustle.

All of these things that we’re constantly reinforcing these attitudes about my own self-worth, ended up really damaging the work that I wanted to do.

The biggest one is really feeling like you’re not enough, which is why when I work with groups, when I do these workshops and I go into organizations, I work with teams, it’s often saying something as simple as, “You self-worth is not tied to your productivity. Your value as a human being has nothing to do with your output or your job or what you do to pay your rent or what you do to pay your mortgage.”

Every time we have these conversations, the next day or two days later, inevitably, I will get a couple of emails of people saying, “I really needed to hear that. I really needed someone to tell me that this is not the sum of my identity.”

The flipside of that point, which is also interesting, is there are people – if you are not ready to hear this, if you are not ready to tackle some of these forces in your own lives, then much of what I’m saying is going to annoy you. You’re going to feel anger. You’re going to be like, “What is she talking about? She doesn’t know how to hustle!”

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve got to hustle.

Rahaf Harfoush
You’ve got to go get it. I will tell you, that emotive response is also something that I’ve seen. Anger, defensiveness, being very insulted. I’ve had people tell me, “Well, you just don’t have what it takes to succeed. You just don’t know what hard work looks like,” the whole thing.

What fascinated me is not the criticism, so the argument, let’s debate, let’s debate whatever you want, but it always the intensity of the emotion, which gave me the inkling that it had very little to do with me and much more with how they were responding to what they felt was a perceived threat on their identity, their status.

If you feel those emotions, I would encourage you to just sit with them and really try to understand where that resistance came from because when I was working through this stuff through the book, I was really resistant to a lot of it. There were parts of it, took me months to implement, months to wrap my head around, months to really feel it in my gut. I was angry and defensive. I was like, “Well, this can’t be the case. I don’t know about this.”

But once you do that work, once you unravel all of those things, and once you get to the point where you feel like my productivity is not linked out my self-worth, what you might not know is that it’s incredibly freeing. It actually frees you up to take even more risks, to do even more things because you don’t really have anything to lose because you’re already enough. You’re already worth everything.

For me, for example with my fiction, that’s when I started working on fiction stories because why not? If it bombs, it bombs. If it never sees the light of day, that’s okay. I found it incredibly liberating to be so secure in the fact that I was enough and I was worthy. That the work that I was doing, while challenging, while enjoyable, while I really liked it, was not the end all and be all of who I was as a human.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, to the notion of you’re enough and you’re worthy and your value does not come from your work and your productivity, how does one arrive at that place?

Rahaf Harfoush
Well, if that one is me, it’s when you hit rock bottom and you have nothing left. I had an option. It was either, “Okay, well, I guess I’m nothing because I can’t write anymore or I have to rethink the way that I look at myself.” It’s just a matter of really separating it. We have a really hard time doing that. We have to separate who you are, who you are as a human being. Your value and your self-worth as a living, breathing soul is enough in itself.

That could be something as simple as just reminding yourself of that, of recognizing that when you’re at work or when you’re doing really well at work, when you’re doing really poorly at work, that that is just a consequence of the information economy that we live in of jobs and all of that stuff. That is not tied to you. It’s kind of in the same way where – it’s almost the same kind of like Zen approach, where I don’t know if you’ve ever read The Four Agreements? I don’t know if you’ve read that book?

Pete Mockaitis
I have read the Blinkist summary of The Four Agreements.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah. Actually, hilariously, me too. But the thing that I really took from that book was nothing has anything to do with you. If somebody’s angry or somebody is sad or somebody is kind of mean to you, that in reality when you really stop and think about it, it has nothing to do with you. That’s just a reflection of their own inner turmoil and their own inner state.

Once you kind of do that similar separation from your job, you kind of realize that it loses the power to kind of knock you around, for everything to feel so scary all the time, especially if you are somebody that self-identifies as a high performer and you have these big goals and big dreams and big risks that you want to take.

I found it incredibly comforting to separate that because that meant I could be a high performer, I could take risks, I could fail. I could have tons of failures and it doesn’t matter because my failure is not a reflection of my lack of hard work, which is not a reflection of my lack of moralness. That was really key for me. I actually found it made me enjoy my job a lot more because it didn’t feel like it was so personal to what I was doing.

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

Rahaf Harfoush
Just again, don’t pick up this book if you want a quick fix. I don’t want to hear your angry Amazon reviews. If you’re not willing to do the work and to have a complicated nuanced look at our history and how we got here, honestly, this book is not for you.

But if you are really interested about the origin story of how knowledge workers and productive creatives, how we can thrive in this new environment, you have to know where we’ve been and how we got here. Then you can figure out where we’re going.

I just really wanted to put that disclaimer out there because I don’t want anybody to be disappointed. But if you are willing to do the work and if I can support you any way in your own journey as you’re answering these questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I would love to hear from you.

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

Rahaf Harfoush
Ralph Waldo Emerson has this really wonderful quote about how – I’m going to paraphrase here, so please forgive me. He says something like “The implanting of a desire indicates that its resolution is in the constitution of the creature that feels it.”

Basically he says that if you have a desire to do something, if you have a dream to be a writer, to be an entrepreneur, to be a whatever, then just the fact that you have that dream means that there’s something inside you that can fulfill it.

As a writer, it’s a very lonely job sometimes. You’re kind of on your own. You’re facing your own insecurities every time you look at that damn blank page. There’s something really nice to say, “The fact that I really want to be a writer, the fact that this is what I love to do, must mean that something in me can do this.”

I always remind myself that, especially when I’m in that valley of despair. The implanting of that desire means that my ability to fulfill it is in me. I just find that very motivating.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Rahaf Harfoush
My favorite bit of research was they took a person’s phone away, put them in a room and this room only had a device that if you touched it, you would get electrocuted. It turned out that people would rather electrocute themselves than be bored for 15 minutes. I thought that was quite telling about our addiction to information stimulation.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Rahaf Harfoush
A favorite book. My favorite read of last year was Bad Blood about the Theranos scandal.

Pete Mockaitis
I listened to the podcast, The Dropout.

Rahaf Harfoush
Absolutely riveting, like jaw dropping. If you had told me it was fiction, I would have said it sounds too crazy. But I just thought that book was such a wild ride, so many interesting things.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Rahaf Harfoush
This is a little nerdy, but please bear with me. One of my favorite tools when I really want to get in the zone is I go on YouTube and there is an audio file of the sound of idling engines that the Starship Enterprise makes from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I know this is super obscure, but I have literally listened to hundreds of white noise machines and they never seem to work and this noise is just – it’s just magical. It just envelops you in this cocoon of creativity. When I have that on with my noise cancelling headsets, I am in the zone. I am a writing ninja. If it’s your thing and you need something to kid of help you focus, check it out. I know it’s a bit weird, but I really swear by it.

Pete Mockaitis
You mentioned this before we hit record and I loved it. It’s not so nuts because crysknife007, thanks for putting this video up, he put up three of them – or she, I don’t know who crysknife is – their total views are just over five million.

Rahaf Harfoush
I’m not alone. It’s really soothing. It’s really soothing. It’s just humming enough that it blocks out the noise, but not so much that it’s a distraction. I just find I can hear myself think better. A friend recommended it to me and it’s almost like been passed on from writer to writer in secret. I’m letting you guys know on this magical secret tool. If you do use it, send me a Tweet and let me know.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s powerful for me as well is because as I think about – so I’ve watched most of the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, everyone on that crew is a high performer, from Jean-Luc Picard, Geordi La Forge, impressive folks. In a way, it’s kind of nice to have a sound that just reminds you, at least it reminds me, of excellence.

I think the dorkiest book I ever read was entitled Make It So: Leadership Lessons from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s not bad. I think they were trying to just cash in on a built in audience of people who like Star Trek and leadership. Let’s see what we can do with this. But it was a fun read for young Pete at the time. But it’s true; those are some rock stars in their respective domains on the Starship Enterprise.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, and space is kind of like your imagination, sort of like the final frontier. It’s sort of like you’re exploring, you’re out there, you’re taking risks, you don’t know what you’re going to find. I just kind of find it – it gets me right into the zone.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Rahaf Harfoush
A favorite habit is to leave your phone outside of your bedroom and to just not have it anywhere near you when you’re sleeping so that you can just kind of read for 15 – 20 minutes before you go to bed and just have that silence.

I’ve become very intentional about how I use my social media tools and realize how silence is becoming a very rare luxury and how most good creative ideas come from silence and come from periods of silence and to be very protective of that silence in your life. Especially if you’re a strategic thinker or researcher or writer or you need to solve problems or innovate, those moments of silence, cultivating habits where you block off times where you can have that silence, is the best thing you could do.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences?

Rahaf Harfoush
I think it’s that we just have to get a little bit better at remembering why we’re working so hard. Many of us just fill all the efficiencies that we gain from all of these GTD systems, we were supposed to fill with the good things in life, instead we’re just filling them with more work. I think I always like to remember just what’s important. You touched on it with the Elon Musk example.

I think very few people get to their deathbed and say, “Man, I wish I slept at my factory a few more nights.” At the end of the journey, no one gets out alive, it’s like what is the important thing and to always remember your health is the most important thing, that’s a big one, as well as your relationships and nurturing the people that you’re with and loving them and being happy with them for as long as you have them because nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.

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

Rahaf Harfoush
You can find me RahafHarfoush.com or on Twitter or really anywhere. If you just type Rahaf Harfoush, I’m pretty sure I can connect with you on your platform of choice.

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

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, take a look at your work hero, take a look at somebody that you really idolize and admire and challenge yourself to see how much of what you admire about them is their productivity and how much is what you admire about them is their creativity. Then see how you feel about the answers that you get.

Pete Mockaitis
So good. This has been such a treat. Thank you for going deep and staying up past midnight – when you do your best work – in France.

Rahaf Harfoush
Yeah, I’m just getting started.

Pete Mockaitis
This has been a real treat.

Rahaf Harfoush
Same for me. Thank you so much.