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805: How to Boost Your Confidence and Advocate for Yourself with Kelli Thompson

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Kelli Thompson shares strategies for overcoming impostor syndrome and asking for what you need.

You’ll Learn:

  1. When self-doubt can be helpful 
  2. The exercises to boost your confidence
  3. What not do when advocating for yourself 

About Kelli

Kelli Thompson is a women’s leadership coach and speaker who helps women advance to the rooms where decisions are made. She has coached and trained hundreds of women to trust themselves, lead with more confidence, and create a career they love. She is the founder of the Clarity & Confidence Women’s Leadership Program, and a Stevie Award winner for Women in Business—Coach of the Year. She is the author of Closing The Confidence Gap: Boost Your Peace, Your Potential & Your Paycheck, releasing fall of 2022.

 Resources Mentioned

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Kelli Thompson Interview Transcript

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

Kelli Thompson
Thank you so much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to chat with you and hear your wisdom. And I thought, for starters, could you share with us a wild tale of salary negotiation, something that was funny or dramatic? You’ve seen a lot of this stuff and so I just imagine you’ve got some cool stories here.

Kelli Thompson
Oh, my gosh, I have to just pick one? I think sometimes the wildest tales of salary negotiations was when I was sitting on the other side as an HR person, and people would come in and they would put down this salary that was just wildly above the range for the job. Like, a quick Google search could’ve told you, “Hey, this is kind of the range for this job.”

And lots of times they would get defensive on why they wanted that number, and they would give you really un-work-related reasons, like, “I want my partner to stay home, and so I need to make this much money,” or, “I have plans to buy this house, and so I need to make this much money.” And just keeping a straight face in those moments, and I get it, lots of times we want to make a certain salary so that we can have things in life that we want.

But to use it as a negotiating tool of saying, “You need to pay me this much so that I can do that,” without even having any reference of, “Hey, this is kind of the range,” those were always really entertaining, and just moments where I really just had to stay cool and calm and just practice that poker face.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, it’s really interesting. And we had a great chat with Steve Dalton about negotiation sorts of matters, and he said sometimes if you share those things…I’m thinking about sort of when you’re starting a new job. When you share some of those things that could be helpful in terms of understanding your goals and how they might be able to say, “Well, you know what, we don’t actually have the ability to meet that salary number but we do have some cool benefits associated with interest-free loan for a down payment or whatever.” But saying, “I need this money because of this now, so make it happen, Buster,” ain’t going to cut it.

Kelli Thompson
No, no, not going to cut it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good to know. Well, so we’re going to talk a lot about confidence, particularly within your book Closing the Confidence Gap, confidence and advocacy in particular, as well in the zone of asking for more money. So, could you kick us off by sharing perhaps one of the most surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made when it comes to professionals and getting more confident?

Kelli Thompson
Yeah, I think one of the most fascinating things I’d found about really helping with confidence, and maybe it’s one of the simplest, is actually how I open the book. I think, a lot of times, we think that we will get more confident if we follow a certain set of rules. So, for instance, in my own life, my rules were, “Okay, you need to go to college. You should get this type of degree. You should find this type of job because, you know, it’s stable, it’s going to pay well, and you have promotion opportunity, and you have benefits.”

And my family origin was, “Hey, get married young so that you can have kids when you’re young and you have energy, and then you should go get a graduate degree,” like, there’s all these rules. That’s just my family’s rules. And when I talked with, especially women, that’s the majority of my clientele, they come to me saying, “Why do I not feel more confident because I literally followed all the rules, I took all the career advice I was supposed to? I followed this path but why do I feel so blech?”

And I think one of the things and one of the most surprising discoveries that they have is there’s no “Happy when…”, there’s no “I’ll feel confident when…” They think it’s going to be on the other side of a promotion or a title or a salary boost, and what they find is there’s just nothing there. And so, a lot of the things, what they actually find helped them close the confidence gap and become more confident is to live a life that’s actually aligned with their values, and stopping and asking, “What do I really want? What do I truly enjoy? And how do I say no to everything that isn’t that?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, interesting. So, there’s almost an invisible script or an implied assumption, implicit and are operating mental frames, to say, “If I follow these rules, the result will be confidence, success, money,” any number of things. And people seem to discover again and again, that just doesn’t quite come to pass that way.

Kelli Thompson
Absolutely. And I think that’s just common because in the world of work, there’s just so much advice. There are so many well-intentioned, “Hey, you should do this, you should try this.” I know, even as an entrepreneur, I still get a lot of well-intentioned advice. And so, one of the things I really encourage my clients to do is really to stop, check in with your gut, “Do I even agree with that advice? Is this someone I should be taking advice from? Does this even align with my values? Does this even support what I want to do with my life? Does this even make me happy?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you for that. And now could you share the main message or thesis or core idea behind your book Closing the Confidence Gap?

Kelli Thompson
The central question behind the book is, “What would you do if you had a little more confidence?” And it really encourages to ask the readers to slow down and think about that, “What would I do if I had a little more confidence? Would I run for office? Would I ask for a raise? Would I try to set stronger boundaries at home? Would I go for the promotion? Would I quit my job?”

I’ve asked over 500 women this question, and the answers are just all over the board. But the central question of the book is, “What would you do if you had a little more confidence?” And then the book just unravels some tools, stories, lots of stories, strategies, frameworks to help you put into place some things, some actual tips that you can do, and do that thing that you said you would do if you had a little more confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And this might be a basic question, but how would we define confidence and the opposite of confidence? Because, in a way, it’s a big word that can encompass a lot of stuff.

Kelli Thompson
I have a line in the book that says, “A confident woman trusts herself. Her body is trustworthy.” And so, I really define confidence as trusting myself, like trusting my gut, my inner knowing, my nudges, and taking action on that because the actions of confidence come first, the feelings come second. And I think we can all put ourselves there where we felt nervous about doing something.

Maybe we’re going to hop on a podcast, or we’re going to give a presentation and you feel all the butterflies and got the splotchy neck and the sweaty palms, and you get into action, and when you’re done, you have the feelings of confidence. So, it’s getting into action that produces it. The opposite of confidence, a lot of people think that it’s doubt, but I think that there’s always a healthy level of doubt that comes along with confidence. And so, I like to think of confidence as a verb, and so to me the opposite of confidence would be stalling, inaction, and just being frozen.

Pete Mockaitis
When you said confidence is a verb, I was thinking of a confidence man, a con man, a flimflammer.

Kelli Thompson
That’s awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Not that kind of confidence verb. Okay, that’s cool. As opposed to just sort of hanging back, which makes sense. It’s not so much that we’re terrified necessarily, though we might be. It could just be, “Nah, I don’t quite know about that. Maybe a little later.” So, stalling, being in a state of not doing action. Okay. Well, so let’s say we want more confidence, how do we go get it?

Kelli Thompson
So, the first place I like to have my clients start is, especially when they come to me…I work with primarily women in my private coaching practice, and when they come to me and their confidence is totally shot, they’re also usually dealing with a lot of burnout. They’re overworked, they’re exhausted, they’re not even doing work they love. They may be doing work that was delegated to them, and they just said yes because it was the “right” thing to do – and I’m putting right in quotation marks – and they just don’t feel good about themselves and their abilities anymore.

And this might seem overly simple but sometimes when someone has come to me in that sort of state, I know I’ve been there in my personal life, the first place I have them start is to write down everything they don’t want. You might be surprised on how long that list of things becomes of everything that people don’t want because they said yes to it four years ago and we just keep doing it because we don’t want to go, we don’t want to set a boundary, we don’t want to say no.

Or, we said yes to be nice, we said yes to keep a relationship that maybe isn’t serving us any longer because a lot of times when women come to me, and I say, if I would try to work on confidence and build their confidence, they are just so overwhelmed, they don’t even know what they do want. So, we always start with, “Let’s make a list of everything you don’t want, and start saying no to some of those things.” Because when we can start to clear out the things we don’t want, it removes all that noise and that interference to help us get more clear about what we actually do want, what do we value, and how we say yes to the right things in alignment with those values.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s handy. And then, I’m curious, when you’re in sort of the heat of things, like a big presentation is coming up, you’re about to ask for more money, or a high-stakes something, and you’re feeling all sorts of doubt, anxiety, do you have any tips for what you do acutely then and there?

Kelli Thompson
In the moment. Great. Yes, so all the time, I am speaking, and I’ve been a corporate trainer, I’ve been a public speaker for almost 15 years, and I still get nervous, so I just want to normalize that. But what I have them do in the moment, is I like to just encourage them to not only just use their thoughts, but I want them to use their body.

So, some things that they can do in their body. If you ever see me before a presentation, I will be standing in the corridor, doing four-count breathing. Breathing in for four counts, breathing out for four counts, and doing that over and over again because what that does is it can calm down our nervous system, get more oxygen to the brain, and kind of get us out of that fight or flight mode that likes to hijack us. Actually, the Navy Seals use that when they need to calm themselves down.

Another tip in the moment that I always encourage my clients to do, and I always do, is to always have ice water. Ice water can also just calm down the body. So, I really encourage clients to prepare, like, “Let’s have a plan for breathing, let’s have a plan for ice water. Let’s get our body regulated because then my next tips are going to help you a lot more.”

The next one is just to notice it. I think sometimes we get nervous and we get flushed, and we feel all this doubt, and then we start to shame ourselves, and, “Oh, I shouldn’t feel this way,” but I have yet to meet a person who has shamed themselves into a higher level of confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
“Stop feeling that way.” “Oh, okay. That worked.”

Kelli Thompson
I know, right? Because if you say, “Stop it. Stop it,” like, it just gets worse. So, let’s just notice it, and just notice it with a ton of compassion, and then let’s just give it a name, “You know what, this is doubt. This is doubt that comes with speaking up. This is imposter syndrome. This is nerves. This is anxiety.” Naming our emotions doesn’t give them power. It actually clarifies our language so we can have more resilience in the moment, and go, “Oh, yeah, this is just that doubt that comes.”

Then I want you to normalize it. Like, I think the statistic is 90% of people are scared of public speaking, 70% of people have experienced imposter syndrome. It is just so normal to feel doubt and nerves. In fact, I always joke with my clients that, “If you never felt doubt, we would probably be having a conversation about you being on the sociopathic spectrum.”

Like, doubt is a normal and healthy human emotion. It keeps us humble. It keeps us curious. It keeps us connected. So, let’s get back into our bodies. Let’s notice it with a ton of compassion. Let’s give it a name. Let’s just normalize it. This is normal. It’s normal. It’s normal. You can do great things while also feeling doubt. And then just reframe it.

One of my favorite reframes is, “I feel a lot of doubt, and this is good because it means I’m stretching my comfort zone today. I’m getting out of my comfort zone. This is where the learning is happening right now. This means I’m taking a brave next step, doing something that was on my goal sheet two weeks ago.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Kelli, there’s so much good stuff here I want to dig into. And I was really connecting with the notion of not shaming the emotion, and when you said, “This is normal, this is normal, this is normal,” that actually felt soothing as you were saying it, as opposed to, “I shouldn’t feel this way. I should be stronger.” The should statements – I’ve been listening to a lot of Dr. David Burns lately, hope we get him on the show later – in terms of they really do contribute to not the feelings that you’re going for.

Either the world should be different and you feel angry and frustrated that it’s not, or you should be different and then you feel sort of smaller or lame or inadequate because not only are you feeling the thing you don’t want to feel, but you are doubly cursing yourself because you shouldn’t feel that way, versus “This is normal, this is normal, this is normal” just has a calming effect right there.

Kelli Thompson
Yes, I’ve nothing to say to that than yes, it does.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then I want to talk about ice water. No joke, I was dorking out and reading all about the mammalian dive reflex which is so wild that if you put your face in cold water, you will literally have a bodily reflex that lowers your heart rate. I have tested this in my office with a heart rate monitor, because that’s what I do for fun, and it’s handy. So, that’s one approach is dunking your face in cold water. I have a feeling you have a different view when you said ice water. What’s your ice water approach?

Kelli Thompson
So, my ice water approach is, and if you are watching us on video right now, you would see me holding up ice water. Like, I always have ice water every time. I’m even talking to you on a podcast because, again, I want to normalize, normalize, normalize. I get nervous and I feel doubt even before I hop on podcasts, I have ice water. As you said, it feels like it slows the heart rate down because I get warm, I get flushed. I’ll just be honest. I start pitting out in my clothes.

And so, when I have ice water, whether I’m going on stage to speak, whether I’m going to be doing a webinar or a podcast, or speaking in front of a room, I always have ice water because it just helps bring that body temperature down a little bit and just slows everything down. And you have the proof, I’ve never done this on my iWatch, but now I’m going to try. I’m going to actually watch my heart rate on my iWatch and have a little fun with your experiment.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. And, in addition to the cooling, I think it also – is the word somatic awareness – it’s just a sensation that it’s a little jolt, like, “Oh,” and just sort of brings you into your body in terms of, “Oh, this is a thing that I’m feeling now,” as oppose to, you’re projecting all these worst-case scenarios or whatever that could be unfolding from your mind.

Kelli Thompson
Absolutely. And you used the word somatic awareness, so I’m going to go there because I actually talk a lot about somatic awareness in my book. In fact, one of the things that I talk about when it relates to confidence is I say that a lot of leadership development is what I call neck-up leadership development. And I know this because I design and develop leadership training programs for decades, and everything is, “How do we build more confidence?” And it’s all in our brains and our thoughts and thinking differently.

And when we teach leadership, it’s like, “How do we teach how to give feedback, performance reviews, ROI, look at the PowerPoint deck, the financial statement?” But one of the things that we don’t pay enough attention to that I talk about a lot in the book, and I talk about a lot with my clients because it’s worked for me too, is dropping below our neck and asking ourselves, “How am I feeling in my body? What is my body doing? What can I do with my body to…?” sometimes rev ourselves up.

I’m taking this podcast standing up because I know I sound different. I feel different when I’m talking and presenting when I’m standing up versus sitting down. How do those emotions actually feel in my body? And how can I just feel them, just as you’ve said, instead of constantly ruminating around what I’m making this feeling mean? Like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m not qualified. I’m going to fail, blah, blah, blah.”

No, I can just feel that in my body. I can breathe through that emotion. I can name that emotion. I can drink my ice water. I can change my posture to make me feel a different way. So, thank you for bringing that up because really getting in tune with our bodies is not something we talk about in the workplace, and it is so important when it comes to just changing our level of awareness and, I think, ultimately, boosting our confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You also mentioned imposter syndrome a couple times. Tell us, what precisely is imposter syndrome? Is that any different than regular old doubt? Is there a different approach we should take when we’ve got it? Can you unpack that?

Kelli Thompson
Yeah. So, I was speaking at a women’s leadership conference, and I actually asked that question of the audience, and one of the women just blew everyone away. She said, and I think she defines it best, she said, “You know what, doubt is just kind of an emotion that we feel. An imposter syndrome is self-sabotage.”

And how it’s actually defined, it was coined in 1978 by two researchers, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, and this study was done on women. It is a belief that despite a woman’s accomplishments, her credentials, her success, her accolades, she still feels like she’s going to be found out at any moment, or that she doesn’t belong in the room, or that she wasn’t worthy of what she’s accomplished, and all of this has been a source of luck.

And so, that causes women, and now the most recent studies, I think, have really broadened that to say, actually, 70% of people feel imposter syndrome, especially if you’ve experienced racial discrimination, if you work in a very gender-dominated industry where there are certain gender norms, or you work in a field like academia where brilliance is prized, that levels of imposter syndrome are really high.

And just because of this belief of being found out, or that “I’m not qualified,” or, “All my success has been luck,” it this consistent kind of self-sabotage to say, “Well, I’m not going to apply for the promotion. I’m not going to ask for what I deserve. I’m going to hold back,” and sometimes it can cause individuals to play small.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if we find ourselves doing some of that sabotage, entertaining some of those beliefs, what should we do?

Kelli Thompson
A lot of the techniques that I use are very similar to what I just already described in terms of let’s just notice it with a ton of compassion, “You know what, this is imposter syndrome. This is just what this is. It’s just I’m not going to shame myself out of this,” and giving it a name. But what I really encourage my clients to do is I like to think of imposter syndrome as like kind of an umbrella emotion.

Underneath imposter syndrome you might feel doubt, worry, insecurity, overwhelm, excitement, and really getting granular about that. But I want to normalize it but one of the things that I also talk about is I believe that I don’t even like to use the word fix imposter syndrome because I don’t think people need to be fixed.

But one of the things that I want folks to be aware of is that let’s also make sure that we are not working for an organization who does not have diversity in the room because imposter syndrome is more prevalent when people have not seen themselves in the highest levels of leadership. So, if you’re working for an organization that continues to have all white men in the senior leadership team, notice that maybe that imposter syndrome is not your fault, and it could be because, gosh, I literally cannot see myself in those rooms where the decisions are made.

So, I really encourage a both-and approach for imposter syndrome. One, if you are a leader of an organization, how are you creating a diverse workforce and psychologically safe environments where people feel seen? They watch people like themselves get promoted, speak up, make decisions while also knowing that imposter syndrome is a very real feeling. And I can also use some of the same techniques I provided earlier in the podcast to help me move through those feelings – because that’s what it is, it’s a feeling – and take action.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s shift gears a little bit and say that we’ve done a lot of the internal work in terms of the breathing, the ice water, thinking this is normal, this is normal, getting clear on what you want and what you don’t want, and these sorts of things. And then the time comes, we are about to advocate for ourselves. What are the best practices in executing that well?

Kelli Thompson
So, in advocating for yourself, I think it really depends on what you are advocating for. So, let’s just use the example of a salary ask. And so, if we are advocating for ourselves in terms of a salary ask, I really like for folks to, and this is coming from my HR perspective, come with the data. There is so much available data out there right now so that you can look at your job, and say, “Hey, what are the ranges that this should pay?”

So many states are requiring now jobs to put the salary ranges on the job posting so that we can kind of get a sense of what it’s paid. So, Glassdoor.com, PayScale.com, you can Google your state, BLS Wage System, and that will actually give you…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I’ve spent a lot of fun time there, actually, the website.

Kelli Thompson
That’ll give you hard data. So, find your data. And so, I think if you’re going to advocate for yourself, finding the data is always a great place to start. And then I think when we’re going to advocate for ourselves, I think step two, it’s really important to own what’s unique about you. Like, own your unique talents.

So, if you’re advocating for a raise, you’re advocating for a salary, maybe you’re advocating for a promotion, or you should be the person they pick for that project, own what is unique about you. Like, what is the thing that only you can bring to the table? Because I think that really helps reduce some compare and despair.

And then list that out to say, “Because I am able to do these things, here are the results I’ve been able to accomplish for the organization.” I can’t stress enough, as someone who’s been an HR leader in excellent times and has been an HR leader in the 2008 recession in banking, nothing is more important than to be able to communicate your talents and how that has correlated into results for the organization. Organizations and leaders love results.

And I think the third step really is working through that doubt, the imposter syndrome, just noticing that those feelings are normal, “This is normal, this is normal, this is normal,” and just reframing your mindset, like, “I am worthy of making this ask. This feels uncomfortable because I’m stretching my comfort zone.”

And then I just really encourage folks, when they’re advocating, I love to write things down first. In fact, there’s some neuroscience that shows that when we kind of go to the act of writing, it’s like pre-gaming. It’s like imagining in our heads so that way we can actually get to the thing, our brain is like, “Oh, we’ve done this before. I know my script. I have it written down. I’ve practiced it,” and then make your ask with confidence.

So, I think just to sum that all up, it’s really knowing your data, knowing the facts, owning who you are and how your unique talents have contributed towards results, and then taking action, knowing that the actions of confidence will probably come first and the feelings will come second, but being clear about your ask, practicing it, so you can make that clear ask, and ask for what you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And when making the actual ask, are there any key words, phrases, choice gems of verbiage you’d recommend we do or don’t say?

Kelli Thompson
Oh, I love how you said don’t say because lots of times, and, again, I’m talking with women who may have been conditioned, through no fault of their own, that they shouldn’t ask, it looks greedy, “You shouldn’t talk about money,” there can be messages. So, what I hear sometimes is tentative thinking, like, “I was kind of thinking that…” or, “Would you be able to blank? But if you can’t, that’s okay.” So, I would avoid that, “So, if you can’t, that’s okay.”

I even really encourage them to notice, like when you go in and say, “Hey, I’ve been taking a look at the salary data. And based on my unique skills of X and Y, I’ve been able to deliver A, B, and C this year, so I’d like us to take a look at my salary, and I think a salary of $100,000 is fair.” And what they do is there’s that silence that happens, and a lot of us aren’t okay with the silence.

So, what they shouldn’t do is jump to fill that silence because I think sometimes what happens is they fill the silence, and like, “But if you can’t, that’s okay.” So, I really encourage them to avoid doing that and just allow the silence to be, because lots of times the other person just needs time to process that. So, make the clear ask and allow for the silence.

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

Kelli Thompson
I think the biggest thing when it comes to advocating, boosting your confidence, all the salary-ask conversation, it’s just to be clear. People are horrible guessers and so I think it’s really important to be clear about what you don’t want when it comes to building your confidence, and then ultimately clear on what you do want. I think it’s important to be clear on what you’re advocating for and making clear asks. So, I often say that success loves clarity because our world is noisy. So, the more clear you can be, I think the more successful you can be.

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

Kelli Thompson
So, there are so many but the one I think I absolutely have to go with is the Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote. It informs really my entire business mission, and that is, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”

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

Kelli Thompson
Well, right now, it should definitely be the confidence gap. That is a real study that was done by Wharton who studied the gender-based differences in confidence and how well people performed versus how well they advocated. And, as it showed, men tended to advocate a little better even though women tended to perform a little better. So, that’s the research right now that I’m obsessed with and it’s featured in my book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Kelli Thompson
My favorite book, the one that I have read three times, I’ve taken the online course, and I give it away to everybody I can, is The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown.

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

Kelli Thompson
Calendly. I literally cannot live without Calendly. I don’t know where it was for the early majority of my life.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Kelli Thompson
I love getting up and working out in the morning. If I don’t get up and work out, especially lift weights in the morning, like, I am just unfit for human consumption.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve all consumed you.

Kelli Thompson
It just makes me a nicer person, right? It goes back to the whole body thing you talked about, the somatic awareness. When I get into my body, I just feel better, I have more confidence.

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

Kelli Thompson
One of the things that has been highlighted in my book, because there’s been a group of readers who’ve had early access to it, and it’s a quote that I didn’t even think of when I wrote it, but it’s the number one highlight in my book. And it says, “A woman does not need to have a title to be a leader. She is any woman who wields influence.”

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

Kelli Thompson
Come visit me at KelliRaeThompson.com. You can learn more about my book and there’s lots of free downloads on my site, including a salary negotiation tool.

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

Kelli Thompson
Yeah, let’s just practice some compassion. I love the tip that you said, in your next moment where you’re feeling doubt, let’s just all, together, say, “This is normal, this is normal, this is normal, this is normal.” And then, remember, take your bravest next step, the actions of confidence come first, the feelings will come second.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kelli, this has been a treat. I wish you much confidence and success in the weeks ahead.

Kelli Thompson
Thank you so much for having me.

797: How to Find and Do Your Great Work with Amanda Crowell

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Amanda Crowell shares practical wisdom on how to make time and space for the work that matters most to you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get clarity on the work that fulfills you most 
  2. How to say no to the commitments eating up your time
  3. How to stop procrastination from sabotaging your goals

About Amanda

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist, speaker, author, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda’s TEDx talk: Three Reasons You Aren’t Doing What You Say You Will Do has received 1.5 million views and has been featured on TED’s Ideas blog and TED Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPRAl JazeeraThe Wall Street JournalQuartz, and Thrive Global. 

Amanda lives in New Jersey with her husband, two adorable kids, and a remarkable Newfiepoo named Ruthie. 

Resources Mentioned

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Amanda Crowell Interview Transcript

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

Amanda Crowell
Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m excited as well. I really want to dig into your book Great Work, but, first, I need to hear about clown school in Spain. What’s the story here?

Amanda Crowell
That’s funny. Well, I had finished my master’s degree, this was in between my master’s and my Ph.D., and I had had kind of a rough couple years, which I think probably everyone listening can relate to, and I felt like I wanted to go somewhere where I couldn’t talk to anyone and no one could really talk to me. So, I went to Spain, I went to an island off the coast of Spain. Tenerife, it’s actually off the coast of Africa but it’s a Spanish island, and I did language school for about, I don’t know, maybe it was three weeks of language school.

And then I planted myself in Santiago de Compostela, which is just a little part of Spain above Portugal, and was looking for things to do. So, I saw that one of the local theater companies was offering a clown school, and I thought that would be fun, not really realizing that my maybe minimal understanding of Spanish would sort of get in the way.

And I found that it both did and also didn’t because clowning is very…it can be very physical but there was one experience where I didn’t realize it but we were playing a game where the person who’s the focus of the game stands in front of the room, and everybody else in the class stands on the other side, and as long as you’re funny, they will stand still, but if you stop being funny, they will move forward, like rush you, like an army.

Like, somehow, my mind knew this because I started telling the story of Finding Nemo the movie, which had come out that summer. And they had this very perplexed look on their face the whole time, and then finally they got it together and started rushing me. And later, they told me in our conversational Spanish-English thing that we would do that I was repeating the same thing that the person who came before me had done but I had no idea he also told the Nemo story.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, what are the odds?

Amanda Crowell
Well, apparently my brain totally heard it, I was like, “Oh, we’re talking about Nemo, so I’ll just tell that story too,” which they did find funny for at least a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, did you have any clown performances afterwards?

Amanda Crowell
We had a clown performance at the end of the two weeks of clown school, and then the person who was running it invited a friend of mine, and I had to go to a clowning performance, like on the coast, which is like 45 minutes, I guess, west of Santiago de Compostela so we got on a car and went there. and I didn’t perform but I was part of the troupe that was like sort of hanging around backstage and stuff, so that was fun.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you put your clown skills to work in future times?

Amanda Crowell
Well, as a mother, my clown skills are required every day, and as a professor, I think my students do find me to be engaging and funny, and I’m quick on my feet. And the main rule of clowning, much like improv, is that you have to just do what you are invited to do. If you’ve been invited to walk around on your hands then, to the best of your ability, you have to. In improv, they call that “Yes, and.” It’s basically the same in clowning. It just tends to be a little bit more physical. And being forced to do something just because you’ve been asked to do it, because that’s the rule, is very freeing. It creates a different kind of habit of participation that I found very useful in all of life.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Never would’ve guessed. Okay, clown takeaways. Powerful. All right.

Amanda Crowell
Powerful clown takeaways, yes. I guess we’re done here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m curious to hear some powerful takeaways from your book Great Work: Do What Matters Most Without Sacrificing Everything Else. Can you start us off with any particularly surprising or fascinating or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made along the way as you put this together?

Amanda Crowell
Well, I think that the cornerstone, like the piece of insight or the foundation of the book as a whole is a little bit in reaction to what I would call sort of high-performance productivity hacks, which I, like everyone sort of, love. Like, tell me exactly how Steve Jobs was able to do that. Tell me what Tim Ferriss does in his 4-Hour Workweek.

But there’s a way that that kind of high-performance productivity stuff keeps you always racing against the clock. You could be more productive, more productive, more productive. And that’s how I lived my life and had a couple of sort of full-body rebellions and sort of mental health concerns, feeling anxious. I wasn’t feeling satisfied.

And it wasn’t really until I realized that there’s another way to be powerfully productive that I took on. And then what surprised me, this is the big surprise, is that doing it that other way, that not high-powered doing more like really striving to be busy, striving for more accomplishments, that when you let that go and you do it this other way, then you actually gain access to what you want the most, which is your great work, which is the work you’re being called to do, the work that requires your full capacity in order to break through the human condition and put that work out there – the art, the scientific discoveries, the businesses you want to build. There’s a way to do those things much more quickly, much more powerfully, much more successfully for most people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, what is that way?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, that way is what’s outlined in the book. So, it’s got the different pieces of it. On the one hand, it’s about doing much, much less. The sort of high-performance productivity idea is you can do so much more and you won’t be super-stressed, sort of like the promise of it. And, actually, the number one step of this other way is to do tons less, to back out, say no, protect your time so that you are creating space for resilience, because you have to protect your resilience, which is your number one resource, and create a vacuum of space into which your great work can build, and bloom, and like take up space in your life.

People, I find, try to squeeze their great work into the margins of their life, but it’s their most important work. It’s the work that they want to be known for, it’s the work they want to create their legacy, and yet they’re like, “Well, I’m trying to do it on Saturday mornings, and if I had an hour after work, I’d try to do a little of it then,” and that’s very backwards. That’s prioritizing the expectations of others and not being strategic about your time so that you create actual time and actual resilience in yourself to do that work.

And then there’s just figuring out where your great work is, which is a certain amount of visioning, and believing what you hear, and trying to understand the voices in your head and differentiating them from each other. And, honestly, I already said it but I’m going to say it again, like really believing what you hear.

I find that a lot of very creative, innovative people will tell you that the thing they want the most is just not possible for them, “I’ve already got a family so I really can’t be an entrepreneur,” or, “I’m a lawyer, I can’t be an artist, I can’t write a book,” or whatever. And really learning to believe the voice that’s calling you from the inside is a big part of figuring out where your great work is. Often, people know what it is. They just refuse to believe it. They refuse to give it any credence.

Once you know where your great work is, then it’s the steps to turning it into reality. And that piece of it is about understanding the relationship of the ideas, like you feel like, “I want to change the face of medicine,” and you have an hour. How do you change the face of medicine in an hour? And so, there’s filling the space between those two so that you understand what a vision is, and then there’s other levels. Accessible aspiration that you can do in a year, what you can do in 90 days, what you can do this week, and what you can do today.

And then you know that your efforts are accumulating towards your great work, so there’s that practical kind of time management piece of it. And then the last piece is really developing self-expertise, which is also about allowing the productivity advice that you hear to be relevant or not, and putting together your own elixir of what really works for you. And that’s where a lot of the mindset stuff comes in as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, starting with zeroing in on what is the great work and the calling and the vision and stuff, how do we arrive at that and get real clarity on, “This is the thing, and this is not the thing”?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah. And there will be multiple things. So, sometimes it’s like, “Well, I love all of these things,” and it’s not a matter of denying parts of yourself. It’s a matter of prioritizing and choosing, and giving one of those things enough time to actually grow into something. So, I think I mentioned, like, sometimes people don’t know what their great work is, and they are really uncertain that they have great work inside of them, “Some people have great work but I’m just not one of them. I’m all over the place, and I’m kind of lazy, this isn’t resonating with me.”

But I have found that in every conversation, truly with people who want to talk it through and figure it out, that great work is in all of us. So, sometimes it’s a matter of doing some sort of searching. So, you can do sort of auditing of your prior experiences, “What’s always true?” One really key indicator that something is part of your great work is when other people do it, you feel really jealous.

So, I remember there is this story of, this is really resonating with the whole clown thing, one of my bosses in the past was Little Mikey on Sesame Street. So, you know how they have kids on Sesame Street who talk to Kermit the Frog. So, my boss was Little Mikey talking about what is love with Kermit the Frog in the ‘70s, which means that the puppeteer doing Kermit the Frog was Jim Henson himself. And I literally could not handle that that had happened to him.

And that feeling of just waves of whatever you want to call it, envy or jealousy or just, “Why didn’t it happen to me?” or like yearning is a real indication that there’s something in that that you really want for yourself. So, looking at the things that you’ve been envious about over time, childhood dreams, like re-invigorating, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” or, “I’ve always wanted to be a musician,” or, “I’ve always wanted to cure cancer,” or, “I’ve just always wanted to be a businessman,” like the Warren Buffett of the future.

Those give you the clues. And sometimes you can’t nail it down before you get into action. It’s often the case that taking steps in the direction of what you think you might want quickly clarifies, “I do not want this,” or, “Wow, this is amazing. I light right up. I start to feel satisfied again. I feel excited. I want to find the time to do it. I’m not watching as much Netflix or playing as many video games because I’m called, I’m drawn to do this other thing.”

Once you know what it is, then you have to protect that time, and that’s where saying no and doing less starts to become the game because if you’re good at what you do, people want you to do it for them, and you should. There are lots of opportunities. If it’s a great opportunity that takes you in the direction that you want to go in, I’m all for it, but there’s lots of sort of random one-offs.

In the book, we talk about how to evaluate whether an idea is a good one, whether it moves you towards your great work. And it really just comes down to, like, “Can you see the connection between what you’re doing and your great work, like as you’ve defined it?” And the example we use is, like, building a pergola in your backyard, because this actually happened to us.

We just decided we wanted a pergola in our backyard, which is actually something you can buy off the internet and they send you all the wood, and they say, “Oh, you can do it in a weekend,” but, of course, that’s not true. It’s going to be many weekends of trying to put up this wooden grape arbor thing in your backyard.

And it’s like, whether or not building a pergola in your backyard is your great work depends on how it fits into this larger system of the things you spend your time doing. So, if you’re in the middle of flipping your house and you want to get big return on investment, you feel like you’re going to get more money for your house, then building a pergola is a great use of your time because you can see the connection.

But if it just feels interesting but, really, you don’t spend that much time in the backyard and you only thought it was cool once, then no matter how compelling it is in that moment, you can step in and say, “I need to protect my time so that I have the time to do what I’m really here to do.” It’s a skill. It’s a skill that’s developed over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, could you share an example of a client or someone who found themselves overwhelmed with all the stuff and then trimmed it down and pursued great work to cool results?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah, so many. And I’d say that that’s one of the strengths of the book is that it’s just filled with case studies. So, people find themselves in all kinds of situations. Like, we come to our great work when, like today, it’s always just today, and every day is filled with things. So, sometimes people find themselves really stretched very thin around expectations that people have, like they’ve got children. I’m not saying expectations as though those things don’t matter, because they do. You do have to take care of your children.

If you’re in the sandwich generation, where you have both children and parents who need care, that’s a real thing. It takes a lot of time to do that. If you also have a business, and your husband has a business and he wants your help with it, so that’s the example that’s in the introduction of the book, actually. It’s a woman who was in that exact situation. She had heard me speak, and she stayed on the Zoom length until people had left, and then was just like, “I’m hearing everything you’re saying, and you’re absolutely right, but I can’t.”

I think she wanted me to convince her that she could but she was maxed out. She was taking care of her mom. She was helping her husband because he wasn’t very good with the books of his business. She had a coaching business of her own, and that’s what she wasn’t getting to. She wasn’t writing the books she wanted to write and she wasn’t creating the program that she wanted to create, which is like, “I just can’t get to it.” And I’m like, “Of course, you can’t get to it because you’re doing all of these things.”

So, she is an example of somebody who knew what they wanted but couldn’t get to it. That’s very common. And so, that, over the course of a couple of years, talking to her and encouraging her to piecemeal, bit by bit, release herself from all this overcommitment, so, like, she found someone at her church to take her mother a couple of days a week and that released her from it.

And then there was a really big conversation with her husband where she said, “You have to find someone else to do your books because I can’t get to what I need to get to,” and he was very disappointed and felt kind of betrayed, but that was her reality, that she was never going to get to what mattered to her until she was able to put some of his own burden back on him because she had accepted it all, and now she needed to give some of it back. And so, in bits and pieces like that.

A lot of what I do is very, like, as long as you’re doing something today that aligns to what you wanted to do this week, which aligns to what you wanted to do in 90 days, you’re doing it. Because the other thing that I think, for her in particular was really powerful, was knowing she was done because she never ever felt done, just this endless to-do list. And it was the feeling of, like just, “What am I striving for? Like, I’m exhausted. I never exercise. I don’t eat well.”

And so, once you’ve done the things aligned to your great work, and you’ve met the expectations that you’ve drastically pared back, your life changes even before you’re doing the great work. You feel so much better. And I talked a little bit about resilience being your number one resource, this is where that kicks in.

When you start feeling better, the things that are hard – innovation and creativity, problem-solving, collaboration – all the things that are the skills of the 21st century economy, you’re better able to do them when you’re not exhausted, hungry, in pain, and just maxed out and brain dead. So, for her, doing all of those things made it possible to start actually making progress, and she has gotten very far, I would say, in the time since we worked together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have any pro tips on how one goes about exiting burdens, and reducing the load, and saying no and these sorts of things?

Amanda Crowell
I do, yes. Some of it is making a list of the things you’ve agreed to do, the projects, is what David Allen would call them in Getting Things Done, like anything that requires more than one step is a project. So, what projects do you have ongoing? And if you’re, walking your sister’s dog, and you’re planning the school party for your kids, and you’re the person who does birthdays at work, and you sing in the choir, those are all commitments.

And then looking at that list of commitments, some of them will be the obvious elephants in the room, like, “I don’t want to do it. It doesn’t make me happy to do it. I’m just doing it out of obligation. And the person that I’m feeling obligated to is not that really important, it’s not my mother. It’s the woman at church who handed it off to me and refuses to take it back every time I try to give it to her.” Those are the sort of topline things that can create instant relief and make you feel tons better right away.

So, in that case, it’s about having the difficult conversations. And sometimes if you have a coach, going through that, and a roleplaying thing can be really helpful, but, really, it’s about the rubber hits the road. You open your mouth, and say, “I’m really sorry. I know I said I would do it but I can’t.” And what’s interesting about those kinds of conversations is that they cause a lot of edge ahead of time. But the minute they’re done, the relief and the joy and the happiness that you don’t have to do it anymore is so awesome, it sort of drives you forward into the other things. So, that’s one. That’s like literally saying no to things that you’ve committed to, backing out of them.

That’s the hardest and so that’s where we always start. But there are other things that don’t require so much overt acknowledging of what you’re doing. I like to call it doing B-minus work, which is where…like, I was in consulting for a number of years before I started back as a professor at a university, which is what I do now in addition to the coaching and consulting and speaking stuff that I do. But when I was in consulting, which is a very billable hours kind of environment, it was very overwhelming the number of tasks that you had to do, and you felt you had to do all of them really well.

And I noticed that there were a lot of those tasks that, if you look at them in smaller pieces, there were parts of them that you could do just good enough. Now, those particulars are very particular for the job. Every job has them. This is what I’ve learned in coaching all these people over all these years, is, for example, hospice nurses.

They travel around, they get out of their car, they go into the house, they meet with their client, they come back out, they have to write up notes in between…they’re supposed to do it in between the clients but they all do it at night at home because they need to get off to the next client. They’re probably driving their car.

So, the typical advice given to them is to, “Do your notes before you leave the house,” but if you go into that and think, “Which exact pieces of the notes do I need to do, because when I try to think of it later, I’d forgotten a lot of it?” you can figure out that, “There’s just three fields that I should fill in. And then when I come back to do it at night, it’s much faster.”

So, things like that, where you don’t have to do it in this full-trotted, full-throated way, “I’m going to do all my notes as fast as I can, and somehow be this superhuman.” “I’m just going to do just these three because those strategically are the ones that matter.” Every job has little pockets where these things matter and these things matter less.

In consulting, one of the things I noticed was these emails that we would send, we would have these big group meetings, and we would send agendas ahead of time, and we would send notes afterwards. The agendas mattered a lot. People came, we had better meetings when the agendas were good and they got them on time.

Nobody, not a single person, ever opened the notes documents that came afterwards. And so, I started writing those as B-minus work, where it was a description of who was there, because you need that for contract work, and how long it was, the location, and then three bullet points of the topics that were covered, and not a single person noticed it didn’t impact the workflow, “My boss didn’t care.”

And so, instead of 30 minutes, it was 5 minutes, and 25 minutes of my time is back. So, there’s bits and pieces of your workflow, when you look at it in smaller pieces, that can release you from this overwhelming feeling without actually changing anything, or nobody even notices that you’re doing something differently but you experience it really differently, and it can be very helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. All right. Well, you have a fun turn of a phrase, you mentioned three horsemen of the goalpocalypse. What’s the story here?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah. So, I think at one point in this interview, I said something about overcoming the human condition to do your great work. That’s really what I was talking about. We have these things that, when we get tired, we get exhausted, when we get nervous or fearful, they kick in and they’re protective. So, procrastination is one of those horsemen, like, “I want to do it but I don’t want to do it,” “I want to do it, I totally forgot I wanted to do it.”

Perfectionism is one of those, “I’m going to do it perfectly and I’m going to take forever, and I’m never really going to get it out the door because it’s never good enough.” And then overworking is one of those. So, overworking, procrastination, and perfectionism, so like, “I’m going to work myself until I’m a little nub of a person, a little pile of ashes,” and that keeps you from doing your great work, too, because, “I’m so busy. Now is not the time. I have to wait until all these things line up.” These are like sort of things we do to self-sabotage our goals. That’s why they’re the three horsemen of the goalpocalypse.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, is the thought then if we have trimmed out the other stuff and we have a good vacuum to work with, those just disappear? Or, are there particular prescriptions for them?

Amanda Crowell
A lot of it is mindset work, like reframing your thoughts about things. The ability to do that mindset work is much more possible when you’re not maxed out and totally out of resilience, and burned out, or overworking, that kind. So, for example, procrastination, I have this TED Talk, you can put a link to it in your show notes or whatever, and it’s very popular. It has like, I don’t know, maybe close to 2 million views now.

And I think the reason that it’s so powerful, it’s about procrastination, really, and it talks about what the source of procrastination is, which is this thing called defensive failure. And defensive failure is the idea of how, as humans, we defend ourselves against real failure by failing ahead of time, by procrastinating. So, like, why do we procrastinate? Is it just a strategy? It’s a defense mechanism, but what’s underneath it?

And that’s what the TED Talk is about, and it’s the three mindsets that stop you from doing what you say you will do. So, one is, “I don’t believe I can. Like, other people are athletic but I’m not, so no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to be a runner,” for example. And so, you set these exercise goals, you don’t do anything about them because in your own heart and mind, you think you cannot, that there was something granted at birth, you didn’t get it, and all you’re ever going to do is fail at this, and you’re just not up for that. So, that’s one, “I can’t. I cannot. Like, I literally cannot.”

Then there’s, “People like me don’t do things like this,” which is the belonging one, which is like, “If I do this thing, what does it mean about me? And if it’s in conflict with my identity in some way…” My favorite example of this one was when I was learning how to sell my coaching, I was like, “I’m a heart-centered helper type. I’m never going to be pushy.”

So, the thing I wanted to do and how I saw myself clashed. And when that happens, it triggers defensive failure because we never want to be in conflict with ourselves. Our brain really does not allow for it, so you need to resolve that, you need to say, “Oh, there’s room in my identity to be a heart-centered salesperson,” for example.

The solution for the first reason we procrastinate, “I think I can’t,” is to learn all about the brain and understand that everything through effort, over time, with help, anything is possible. Immediately people are like, “You can’t be Einstein.” Fine. Anything normal is possible with effort, over time, with help. Those are the three things. If you’re willing to do those three things, you’re good. So, that’s the resolution to the first.

And then the second is, like, make room in your identity, like resolve it, go meet people, talk to people, read the magazines. Like, learn more about the thing that feels so counter to who you are and find a place for yourself in it, and then procrastination, it does give way. And the final one is, “I don’t want to do it. I just think I should want to do it.”

And this is where everyone tells you, “Oh, you should just…” The world tells you, “You should want to lose weight,” but, actually, you’re like fine with how you look, so you make these goals, “I’m going to go keto,” but you don’t actually care about it. You don’t really want to do it. It just feels like you have to say it because the world says you have to. That’s never going to work because actual real change is very difficult, and if you really don’t want to do it, you’re not going to do it.

So, a lot of that is letting go, like, if you’re happy with how you look, like, let it go. Until the doctor tells you that you are not going to live if you don’t change your behavior, it’s like, follow your own body, whatever. But if you do want to do it but you don’t want to do it, but you do want to do it, like, if you’re stuck in that whole thing, then it’s about building intrinsic interest for it. Find something that interests you. Connect it to your long-term hopes and dreams. Find a way to have actual interests, curiosity, connection, build it up intentionally. Like, go do that work, and that will help the procrastination to go away.

So, those three things are why we procrastinate, so that’s like the resolution, depending on which one it is, for that horseman of the goalpocalypse. And there are similar thoughts and stuff all outlined in the book for the others as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, how does one intentionally build interest and curiosity? I think some folks think, “Hey, you got it or you don’t. Either this thing is interesting to you or it’s not.” If you want more interest and curiosity, how do you build that up?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah. Well, I think, as humans, we can kind of be interested in anything. Think about this. When was the last time you watched a movie that was totally outside of your interest but the story was so good and the characters were so real? And I’m experiencing that right now with the book Ready Player One which is about virtual reality video games, and I’m the last person to play a virtual reality video game. But the story is so compelling that I’m like, “Okay, teach me about this so that I can follow this story.”

When you find an angle on something, you can get excited about it. So, the TED Talk is all built around the fact that I was never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever going to exercise, and then I had these two kids and my body was all messed up, and so I decided I better put all my money where my mouth is and figure out how to exercise. And then I did, and I did triathlon and half marathon. That’s like the structure of the TED Talk.

And I remember having the exact same question that you just posed, which is like, “If I don’t like exercise, I just don’t like it.” But I found that thinking about exercise through a scientific lens was an angle in on it for me. And I found out by reading Runners Magazine, and seeing what kinds of interesting things do these people talk about, and I was like, “Oh, well, that’s interesting.”

I learned all kinds of things about the blood vessels in your fingers, like way out in your extremities, the only way to get them to grow is to do intense cardiovascular fitness stuff, and my fingers were always cold, so I was like, “Well, okay, let’s do a six-mile run. Because if that actually grows blood vessels out into the tips of my fingers, like, okay, I’m interested. Tell me more.”

So, it doesn’t always have to be the big doorway people walk through to be interested in something. I don’t have to watch sports, thank God, because I don’t like them. I didn’t have to watch sports, I didn’t have to be competitive, which I’m not, but, like, all the main things that sort of describe athletic people didn’t work for me. But the science of fitness, the physiology of it, the communities that build up around the little group of people I rode my bike with and the little group of people I learned swimming from, like those things, the sort of tangential parts really worked for me, and I developed quite a lot of interest in exercise.

And the same thing happened with nutrition. When I had an autoimmune flareup thing and I needed to discover how to manage my inflammation naturally, and I suddenly had tons of interests and curiosity and talking to people. So, I think believing that you can find something interesting is sort of step one, and then go talk to the people, read the magazines, see what they’re talking about. Something will catch your eye. If it doesn’t, you always have in your back pocket the connection to your long-term hopes and dreams.

So, my favorite example of this is taxes. There are very few people who are going to be super interested in the tax code, and all of them have already become CPAs. The rest of us are not going to be, like, “Ooh, tell me about this particular deduction and the changes between 2020 and 2021.” None of us feel that way. But we can draw a really clear kind of bright line, “Like, a bright line between doing my taxes and keeping my expenses updated and whatever to my long-term hopes and dreams.”

And really building that out can be enough to help with interest and curiosity, like, “I want to have a stable-enough financial system in place for my business, that if I grow quickly, it won’t overwhelm me, or I won’t find myself in a pickle, or I won’t get audited and freak out. Like, those kinds of bright lines, “Now, I’m going to sit down and do this even without the usual interest and curiosity,” because you can’t build it intrinsically.

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

Amanda Crowell
Only that there’s a journal, the Great Work Journals, there’s three of them. One is like The Great Work Journal, and sort of life-based, and then there’s one for entrepreneurs, and there’s one for students. And it can be a really good way to kind of coach yourself through the process of getting started, staying at it, not procrastinating, helps you build a good gratitude practice.

And those are really, I think, great ways to start once you’ve read the book, and you’re like, “How do I do this?” Get the journal and try to follow it because the people who love it, report that it can be very transformational. So, I just want to make sure I mention that.

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

Amanda Crowell
I like the quote, and I’m not entirely sure who said it, maybe Albert Einstein, that’s like in my brain somewhere, but it’s “Ninety percent of success is showing up.”

It’s like do find that if you just show up and then show up again, you don’t get nowhere. You get somewhere. And then that somewhere can hit the hockey puck or the hockey stick, I guess they call, the exponential curve, and there is no way to hit that if you’re not showing up. And I think it takes the drama out of like, “I need to show up and do big things.” No. Just show up.

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

Amanda Crowell
Yeah. So, the one I talk about the most that I think had the biggest impact on me, and my clients and the schools that I worked with when I was a consultant, is the notion of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. It’s so fundamental and it gets oversimplified, I think, in the media, into this like, “If you think you can, you can.” And it’s really not about that.

It’s really much more the opposite of that, is much truer, which is if you think you can’t, you won’t. Like, your literal brain will shut you down. If you’re like, “I’m never going to get this math homework done,” your brain is going to reduce all the activation. All the problem-solving centers are going to shut down, like, like you’re not going to do it.

But if you believe that you can, then you get into all the stuff we know about cognitive neuroscience. Like, what does it actually take to learn? What are the skills and strategies? And if you are willing to put in effort, over time, and get help, new strategies, new ideas, new ways, different ways to engage with it, you can learn almost anything.

And it’s incredibly freeing. It takes us all out of this prison of our own making, of like, “I need to do what I’m already good at,” and instead places us in a place of possibility that feels uniquely human, and I think helps us heed the call of our great work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Amanda Crowell
Well, this has nothing to do with cognitive neuroscience, my favorite book is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

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

Amanda Crowell
Yeah, what I really like is the DONE app.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s a good one.

Amanda Crowell
It is a good one. I like it and it’s pretty and I feel like looking at it, and I’m so happy to see streaks. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Amanda Crowell
I like time blocking but not in a super intense way, just like blocking the mornings for creative work, and then blocking time around meetings to return to the ideas. Like, that’s very helpful for me. I use my calendar, like I’m dogmatic about it. I can’t imagine not having a very seriously organized calendar for time blocking.

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

Amanda Crowell
Well, I think that the idea that there is another way. Like, you don’t have to hustle and grind to do great work. That’s what people seem to come back and say, “Okay, I need to know how to do that. I’ve tried the other way. It didn’t work for me.”

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

Amanda Crowell
I would point them to AmandaCrowell.com. I have a podcast called Unleashing Your Great Work, and you can find a link to that on the website, and also all the buy links to the book. I really think the book is probably the best place to start to really get a sense of who I am, and then listen to the podcast to hear other people talking about their great work so that you can build the courage to actually pursue your own, which is really what it’s all about.

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

Amanda Crowell
I would say it’s, believe what you’re hearing on the inside. If there’s a piece of your job that you’re sort of want to do more of, listen to that and ask for the opportunity to do more of it. if there’s a part of your job that is not really hitting on all cylinders for you, begin the conversation about offboarding that part of it or replacing it with something that’s more your jam, because the more closely aligned you are with your jam, or your great work, the better the work you’ll do and the more valuable you’ll be to the company as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Amanda, thank you. I’ve enjoyed this chat and wish you much luck with all your great work.

Amanda Crowell
Thank you so much.

794: How to Get Comfortable with Discomfort with Sterling Hawkins

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Sterling Hawkins shows you how to turn discomfort into fuel for transformative change.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we need to hunt discomfort   
  2. Why you need your own “street gang”
  3. What to do when you feel like quitting

About Sterling

Sterling Hawkins is an internationally recognized entrepreneur, motivational leader, and public speaker. His 2019 TED Talk, “Discomfort is Necessary for Innovation,” has been viewed more than 100,000 times. 

Sterling serves as CEO and founder of the Sterling Hawkins Group, a research, training and development company focused on human and organizational growth. He has been seen in publications like Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, The New York Times and Forbes. Based in Colorado, Sterling is a proud uncle of three and a passionate adventurer that can often be found skydiving, climbing mountains, shark diving or even trekking the Sahara. 

Resources Mentioned

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Sterling Hawkins Interview Transcript

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

Sterling Hawkins
Thanks for having me on, Pete. Good to see you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you, too. Well, I’m fired up to talk about your book Hunting Discomfort: How to Get Breakthrough Results in Life and Business No Matter What.  But it looks like you’ve been doing some discomfort hunting yourself with skydiving, shark diving, mountain climbing. Can you open us up with a thrilling tale? I’m wondering how close you come to dying, basically.

Sterling Hawkins
Probably too close. I think one of my favorite stories is, a couple of years ago, my sister wanted to go skydiving for her birthday. And, of course, everybody guilt-trips me, and they’re like, “Sterling, you’re the No Matter What guy, you have to do it,” which I’ve got a lot to say about. It’s a separate subject. But, anyways, we go skydiving. And have you ever been skydiving before, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
I have. I loved it.

Sterling Hawkins
It was terrifying. Not so much the skydiving part but like the 15 things you have to sign, saying if you hit the ground wrong, it’s not their fault. Did you do this?

Pete Mockaitis
I signed some sort of release. I don’t remember the details.

Sterling Hawkins
Yeah, there were so many of them, like it just got me more and more hyped up, and we’re getting on a plane, and it’s a rickety old plane that I’m sure is not really built for much flying, at least not these days. And we get up there and once we jumped out of the plane, it was just bliss, one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

The discomfort leading up to it, though, was a challenge. It was a hard part. And some research I’ve found, after the fact, I realized I was in more danger driving there, a bee sting, a lightning strike, than actually jumping out of a plane. And I realized in that jump that we’re not always properly oriented to discomfort. And when we can line ourselves up in a way to use it, great results come, incredible skydiving jumps and also in our life and business.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s talk about hunting discomfort. And, first things first, the goal of hunting discomfort is not so much to kill it but rather to seek it out. Is that fair to say?

Sterling Hawkins
Well, it’s funny, the thing that I get from most people is, “Sterling, you got to look at my bank account, my business, my relationships, like all these things. I don’t need to hunt discomfort. I’m surrounded by it.” And my answer, Pete, is always the same, it’s, “Oh, you mean you’re living with discomfort. You’re not hunting it.” Because when we hunt it, we maybe aren’t killing it, per se, but we’re free from it forever.

Not circumstantially free, not based on the amount of money in your bank account, or a special job, or certain relationships, but based only within yourself. And it’s the only kind of true freedom there is. We just have to hunt the discomfort that’s in the way of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Intriguing. Well, so, tell us, in the course of putting together these thoughts, any particularly shocking discoveries you’ve made along the way?

Sterling Hawkins
Yes. So, I’ve been doing this in some shape or form for about a decade, and I came across this research just a couple of years ago, in writing my book actually. I was looking at all kinds of research, and I found something out of the University of Michigan that blew me away. Now, they were studying discomfort of varying sorts: physical discomfort, like somebody broke a limb; emotional discomfort, somebody lost a job, or perhaps broke up with a loved one; mental discomfort. Like, they were looking at all these kinds of discomfort as they were analyzing somebody’s brain and body.

And what they found is that it didn’t matter what kind of discomfort somebody was going through. Our brain and body process them almost identically, so much so you can take acetaminophen for emotional pain, believe it or not. Crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
And it helps?

Sterling Hawkins
Supposedly. Now, that’s not like a bio-hack from Sterling, by the way. I’m not a doctor. Like, all the disclaimers, I’m not suggesting you do that. But the powerful piece is if you take the next step, you say, “You know what, if how we meet discomfort is the same anywhere, how we can deal with it, we can grow our capacity to deal with it everywhere.” It turns out it’s a muscle we can build. You go to the gym to build your biceps, and you want to grow your resiliency, your ability to create breakout growth, well, you hunt discomfort. There’s just no other way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I think about the gym metaphor, you have some sort of a program. You have a stress, and then you have rest, and then you have adaptation. Tell us, how do we think about programmatizing our discomfort hunt versus the folks who say, “Hey, I’ve got all kinds of discomfort foisted upon me. Like, here’s your barbell. Ahh”?

Sterling Hawkins
Right. Yeah. Well, mostly what people are doing with discomfort is they’re avoiding it or they’re surviving it. They’re not using it as a feedback mechanism to change, to adjust, and to grow. And I think that’s one of the major missteps that many of us make, is when we externalize the problem, and say, “Well, we didn’t achieve our goal. We didn’t achieve X because we didn’t have enough money, we didn’t have enough time,” “I’m not old enough,” “I’m too old,” “I don’t have the right partner,” “I don’t have the right leadership.”

We rob ourselves of the ability to take that discomfort, that feedback, even that potentially failure, and use it to change and grow ourselves. And so, exactly as you pointed out, when you look at discomfort through the lens of, “Hey, this is here to help me. This is a feedback mechanism. I can use this to not just change how I act but change who I am and adjust who I am based on the results that I want to achieve.” Then it becomes hugely powerful.

Now, there is such a thing as too much discomfort, and there’s a framework that is best to work through because, I don’t know, one of the things that used to scare me most is public speaking. And if you were to throw me onto a stage back in the day without any framework or structure or support system, I’d probably would’ve collapsed.

But when you want to have a commitment of, “I want to achieve this. I want to be successful in my public speaking,” for example, and you’ve got people around you that are going to support you on that journey, and especially pick you up when you fall down, then it becomes much more feasible to move through and improve. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sure. Okay. Could you bring it to light with a few examples in terms of instead of avoiding or just enduring hunting and how that’s been helpful for real-life folks who went out and made that mindset shift and saw cool results?

Sterling Hawkins
Absolutely. One of my favorite stories is from our No Matter What community. The No Matter What community is a group of people that we put together that have joined us on declaring big goals, big visions for themselves, for their communities, their family, their business, and they’re willing to move through the discomfort to achieve it.

And this one gentleman joined us a couple of years ago upon losing his really nice somewhat cushy corporate job during the beginning of the pandemic. It was a tough time for many, myself included, and especially him. He’s got his family to support. Now, what he could’ve done is just applied for another job and try to make ends meet but he didn’t just do that.

He was walking through some side neighborhood in the suburbs of New York, and he stumbled into a tattoo parlor. And one of the important things in the No Matter What system, the framework that we teach people to grow through is get a tattoo, commit so deeply, there’s no going back. Now, I don’t mean that literally, but Emmanuel took it as such, walked into a tattoo parlor, got the name of the business he wanted to start tattooed on his left bicep.

I don’t know how he explained that to his wife when he got home, but it left him working towards building his own business in a way that he probably, otherwise, would’ve shied away from. Been worried about, waiting for the right time to make sure his bank account was properly padded before he started it.

And today, he just texted me a couple of weeks ago, and he says, “Sterling, I can’t thank you enough. I’m a testimonial for life, but, really, what I have here is an eight-figure business in a matter of 18 months.” So, when you go into that discomfort and you commit to things on the other side, it produces remarkable results, things that we can’t even see from where we sit today.

Pete Mockaitis
Impressive. All right. So, then what are the steps here in terms of making that happen?

Sterling Hawkins
Yeah. So, the first, I think, is one of the more challenging, which is you’ve got to be willing to see reality clearly. Not the reality that we necessarily see with our two eyes, although that’s important, but we’ve got to be willing to question our values, ethics, beliefs, ways of thinking, being, and acting that might not be perfectly correlated with reality. It’s just like my experience with skydiving.

The chances of me dying were very, very slim but my experience of fear and failure were massive. And as we can come to terms or reconcile what’s actually dangerous from what is merely discomfort, we can change one of three things: either ourselves, how we see others, and how we see the world. And when we change that view, the perspective, those beliefs, it will naturally change our actions and then give rise to new results. So, that’s the first step.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And could you share an example of that in practice in terms of someone who made the shift and it was cool?

Sterling Hawkins
Yeah. Well, I think a personal story might fit in well here because it’s been dramatic for me, Emmanuel and for many, but I was serious. Like, one of the things that scared me most was speaking in public. And it wasn’t just speaking in public, it was a lot of self-doubt and fear of exposure, two of the major discomforts that stop many of us as humans, me especially.

And I had this discomfort, in a large part, to do with the fact that I’ve been hugely successful early in my career. My father and I started this company, sold it to a group in Silicon Valley where we raised over $550 million in part of this collective in what was kind of the Apple Pay, before Apple Pay, multibillion-dollar valuation, like, “I think I’ve got it made.” It wasn’t discomfort at all. There’s all comfort in certainty.

And I really thought I had it all figured out until the housing market collapsed and the investment dried up. And it was like playing out a sad country song of a story where, no longer do I have a job. Eventually, I ran out of cash. I go from this big, beautiful penthouse in downtown San Francisco to my parents’ house. And it even got so bad, my girlfriend broke up with me. It was like one thing after another. And I was suffering from a lot of self-doubt, a lot of fear of exposure, people seeing me for what I really was, which I thought was not nearly enough, especially having all that success early on.

And what I did is applied to speak at this conference in Singapore because I remembered this thing my mom said to me when I was a kid, she said, “The way out is through.” And I thought, “Okay. Well, if I want to change the situation, I want to transform my business and my life, I need to go through the things that scare me most.”

So, I applied to speak at this conference in Singapore, and practiced incessantly. My poor sister, I dragged her into it and practiced in front of her probably hundreds if not thousands of times, and as part of that process, had to give up some of the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs I had about myself and what I was capable of.

And, eventually, I did go on to the stage, I gave the speech. Good thing I practiced because I think I blacked out, and I get off the stage, and the conference director. I think I bombed, Pete, so I’m, like, covering my eyes, tried to just sneak out of the room, and he catches up with me, and he goes, “Sterling, that’s the best talk I’ve seen in my 17 years of doing this.”

To this day, I don’t think he was in the same talk I was in. I think it was just like a nice thing he wanted to say to me. And he did go on to put me in touch with all of his conference director friends, and I was like, “Ah, my mom was right. The way out is through,” and the way through is giving up some of the things that you hold true about yourself. Whether they’re true or not, if you can let go of them, there’s new things that can arise on the other side.

Pete Mockaitis
And how do you articulate, when you talk about engaging what’s true and real, how would you articulate your belief prior versus post in that moment?

Sterling Hawkins
So, prior, it was, “I am incapable of speaking in public.” And I had that all too common feeling that anybody that’s afraid of speaking in public probably knows, where you get really hot, the world starts to spin, and I thought that’s just the way that it was. I thought I was that way and there was no other option for me. I was just one of the many that would rather be giving the eulogy than in the coffin. Thank you, Seinfeld, for that reference.

And in going through that thing, and standing on the stage, like, yes, I experienced some of the feelings of self-doubt and worry and fear and all the things that I was expecting. But I proved to myself, importantly proved to myself that they didn’t have to stop me from giving a successful speech. So, afterwards, sure, I might continue to be scared.

In fact, I continued to be scared for some time afterwards, but I started to let go of that belief that I was a certain way, I was afraid to speak in public, and started to embrace the idea that I can, not only can I speak in public, but I do and I do it successfully.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Thank you. Okay, that’s our first step.

Sterling Hawkins
Of course. That’s the first step.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s our second step?

Sterling Hawkins
The second, we pointed to a little bit with that story of Emmanuel but self-doubt does get in the way of many of us. And when we commit with that second step of getting a tattoo, commit so deeply there’s on going back, it calls us forward through any discomfort, through any fear that might be in the way. Now, I’m not suggesting you have to get a real tattoo, like Emmanuel, although that’s an option. A surprising number of people from the No Matter What community have done that. But you do need something that’s going to call you forward when everything inside you is telling you to stop.

And you can do that in a couple of different ways. Like, sure, you could get a physical tattoo, but you might just tell a friend or a significant other. You might commit to them, and say, “Hey, I’m going to do X by certain amount of time that goes by,” and then have them call you on it. You could sign a legal agreement, you could put an amount of money on the line that’s meaningful to you, that’s going to bring you forward. You’re looking for ways to put yourself on the line that are going to, again, kind of call you into action when it doesn’t feel so good, where the commitment is stronger than the feelings.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me more about signing a legal agreement. When it comes to the money game, I’ve heard of what’s like Stake8.com that facilitates that. And so, with a legal agreement, I guess in the course of doing business, like, sure, I’ve actually committed to a client or a partner, or to whomever, a particular result by a particular time. So, there’s that. I guess I’m wondering if it’s a goal that doesn’t so much…when I signed a legal agreement to complete a marathon, for example. Have you seen that go down and how did it work?

Sterling Hawkins
It wouldn’t necessarily be a legal agreement, but you could formalize a commitment to somebody that was important to you. And you could take it up a notch by, I don’t know, posting it on Facebook and sharing with everybody you know on social media that, “Hey, I’m committed to running this marathon.” And then those mornings when you just don’t feel like getting up and training, that idea that everybody is expecting you to run this race is going to be a tattoo of sorts that’s going to help you move forward. It’s not going to feel good but it is going to help support you into moving into action.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Beautiful.

Sterling Hawkins
So, legal agreements are great for business purposes but I think it’s really the commitment that we make inside of ourselves that’s more important, and it’s the action of sharing it with others where it becomes much more powerful, whether it’s on a legal document or written down somewhere. I do suggest that, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. I’m thinking about the research on commitment devices and the legendary Ulysses or Odysseus, like, “I want to hear the siren song but I hear that’s dangerous, so strap me up so there’s no way out.”

Sterling Hawkins
Right, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, “Burn the boat, like we can’t retreat. There’s nothing else.” Any other creative ways to lock that commitment in hard?

Sterling Hawkins
You can do it with consequence. If you do do something, you get a certain reward, or if you don’t do something, you lose something. One of my friends, he had some trouble making it to the gym every morning, so he committed with consequence, and said, “Every morning, of the five days a week that I’m committed to going to the gym, if I don’t, I’m going to donate $100 to my favorite charity.”

Now, sure, a couple mornings he didn’t make it, but that $100 going out of his bank account starts to weigh on you the more often you miss on that commitment, and it did really work. He lost something like 25 pounds from that alone.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. And I am such a master of rationalizing, I’m like, “You know what, maybe I did need to do some more support of that charity,” like after the fact.

Sterling Hawkins
Well, I had another friend, a mentor of mine actually, his name is Kirkland Tibbels, phenomenal guy, runs a group called Influential U. But he, when looking at commitments, suffered from some of the same things, so he said, “I’m going to donate to the political party that I hate every time I don’t fulfill on my commitments,” so you can work it that way too.

Pete Mockaitis
I was also thinking about just straight up torching the money, although I guess that’s technically illegal in the United States. Fun fact, that’s against the law. But I think it may be effective.

Sterling Hawkins
It could be. You could give it to a friend or you could give it to somebody that you don’t really want to give it to, but you are looking for ways that are going to call you into action, to your point. Like, you don’t want it to be something that you really want to give money to all the time, at least in the amounts that you’re going to be giving it. You want it to weigh heavily enough on you that you’re going to do the action. The point is not to make the payoff.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. I’m also thinking about how we had Maneesh Sethi on the show, and he created a device called the Pavlok. Have you heard of this?

Sterling Hawkins
I have. It shocks you when you don’t do whatever the thing is, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Of course, you still have to push the button to do the shock. So, I guess you give permission to a friend or a family member to engage.

Sterling Hawkins
That reminds of the original Ghostbusters, the very beginning, where he’s shocking the woman when they’re reading cards. Do you remember that?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’m afraid I don’t. Refresh all of our memories, Sterling.

Sterling Hawkins
Old Ghostbusters reference, yeah. Well, in the beginning of Ghostbusters, they’re, I think, working on mindreading or something crazy like that. And he’s showing the backside of a card and asking this woman to guess what it is. And every time she gets it wrong, he shocks her. Supposedly, that’s supposed to be some negative reinforcement to make her better at mindreading but it doesn’t work that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, duly noted for the aspiring mind-readers.

Sterling Hawkins
Right. Right. Exactly. It is tough to make a commitment like that. And I think that self-accountability is fantastic to maintain the status quo. If you’re reliable to write one blog a week, or to make five cold calls, or to run two miles every single day, you probably don’t need to commit to somebody or something that you’re going to continue to do that.

But if you’re looking to grow in any kind of meaningful way, you need outside accountability, you need an outside commitment to call you forward because everything inside of you is going to tell you, “Stop. This doesn’t make sense,” you’re going to rationalize your way out of it. You really need people on your side to help. And that’s the third step of the No Matter What system, which is I call it build a street gang, not because I look anything like somebody that belongs in a gang, by the way. I think the best I did was Boy Scouts when I was 15.

But I call it building street gang for a reason. I’m not talking about a personal board of directors, I’m not talking about friends or spouse, although your street gang can be comprised of those people. But you’re looking for people that can go toe-to-toe with you and are really going to hold you accountable for what you said you were going to do.

Now, that’s the most important function of your street gang, being that accountability partner. Research shows that when you’re personally accountable to somebody on a specific day and time for a specific thing, you’re not 70%, 80%, 90% more likely to achieve your goal. You’re 95% more likely to achieve it. It’s almost like if we actually want to achieve anything, we better be personally accountable because it’s going to help us there.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to building the street gang, how do you recommend doing the recruiting?

Sterling Hawkins
Well, you’re looking for people that have four main functions. One is the accountability. You need somebody that’s going to be strong enough, again, to go toe-to-toe with you, especially when it doesn’t feel good. You want this person to be more committed to your growth and your success and your vision than they are to your feelings.

That’s not to say that you’re going to achieve everything every time but they are going to take a really hard look with you as to why you didn’t achieve what it was that you said. Was it an action? Did you take no actions? Was there a mistake? Did you account for something wrong? Did you maybe see reality incorrectly? And they’re going to work with you to figure out how to achieve that thing at a very, very heavy accountability level. So, that’s one.

The second piece is you need some kind of inspiration, somebody or something that’s going to light the fire in you about why you’re here, what your purpose is. To quote Simon Sinek, like, “What is your why? And how are they going to bring you through that or light that fire in you?” You then need some level of mentorship, somebody that’s got some expertise in the area that you’re looking to grow in, and they can teach you the specifics or specialized knowledge of how to achieve whatever that might be. They might also put you in touch with people. Like, there’s somebody that’s in the role, going the direction of what you want to be yourself.

And the fourth, which I find highly underrated in a lot of business cultures, but I do see it in the most high-performing, is love, not in a romantic sense. Like, I’m not talking about find yourself a romantic partner, especially if you have one, fantastic. But at a human level, somebody that’s really going to love and support you through any downfalls that you might have.

Now, many people have those four roles kind of revolving in and around their life but it’s a matter of sitting down with them, maybe having coffee, a Zoom meeting, whatever it is, and formalizing that role, and asking them, “Hey, here’s what you meant to me, here’s the role in my street gang that I’d like you to play, and here’s what that might look like over time.” And when you sit down and formalize it like that, people can kind of rise to the occasion of the role that they’re supporting you in.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you share with someone their role as your lover, what are some of the sort of actions? Like, what is that person doing in terms of like regular conversations and as the process unfolds?

Sterling Hawkins
So, it could be as simple and straightforward as some encouragement to point out the successes that you’ve had even if you haven’t arrived where you want to arrive yet. They could be looking at what you’ve already achieved in your life, what you’ve already achieved on this particular trajectory. They’re going to remind you of all the great things about you that you have, that they accept, including the failures, and help you kind of come to terms with, “Oh, yeah, this failure, this misstep, or maybe just not having achieved the level of growth that I want to, it is okay.”

Now, that could be over coffee, it could be a lunch, or it could just be kind of sitting down with a friend on the couch. It’s more like the feeling of acceptance that you’re looking to throw out in the situation. And that could look a little bit differently depending on the people having those conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. So, after we’ve got the street gang, what’s next?

Sterling Hawkins
Well, of course, we all run into problems, obstacles, limits, challenges, like they are real. Sometimes there’s just not enough money or there’s not enough time. We do have to deal with the hard limits of the situations and circumstances that we’re in, and we need that four step, which I call flip it. and it’s looking for, “How can we use those obstacles, those roadblocks, those barriers? How can we use those things as the pathway to even greater results?”

It’s a very stock philosophy, the obstacle is the way. And as we can think differently about some of the things that maybe we’re sweeping under the rug, we’re embarrassed about, we try to get rid of those proverbial warts, the more we can embrace them and look to them as the source of our strength, it actually becomes the reason for your success, not the reason inhibiting you from achieving it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s go to some examples, like, “Hey, I don’t have enough time but, actually, that’s an enabler of success. So, I don’t have enough money but, actually, that’s handy. My boss is a jerk but, actually, that’s useful.” Can you give us some examples of how this plays out in practice?

Sterling Hawkins
Yes. So, I was lucky enough to give a TEDx Talk a couple of years ago with a gentleman whose name was William Hung from American Idol fame, if you remember him at all.

Pete Mockaitis
Was he also in “Arrested Development: Hung Jury”?

Sterling Hawkins
He’s not. No, this is the guy that sang Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” so badly that he became world famous.

Pete Mockaitis
Ah, yes. Uh-huh.

Sterling Hawkins
Yeah. So, with the rest of the world, I had seen him on TV, in the news networks, and everybody making fun of him as like not a great singer, which I guess, subjectively, he’s not. But in getting to know him a little bit, I started to see the human side of it and how challenging and hard that must’ve been when he had what felt like the entire world kind of breathing down on him, of, “You’re not a good singer. You messed up. You’re embarrassed. Like, what are you going to do with your life?”

And for a while, he said it was debilitating. He wasn’t sure where to go or what to do because he felt that he was really expressing his heart and what mattered to him. And maybe he wasn’t the greatest singer in the world but singing was important to him. And what he did is he embraced that “failure” that he had, and he said, “Okay. Well, this is how I sing. This is how I sing. Everybody in the world knows me. Why don’t I make the most of this?”

And so, he started singing and capitalizing on the fact that nobody thought he was a good singer. And not only did he create his own record deal, but he ended up on a stage in Vegas singing Ricky Martin. He has made countless dollars from all the records that he’s sold and all the places around the world that he’s traveled to and singing from the very thing that everybody told him he would fail at. So, I always find that a great example of the obstacle being the way.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. And I couldn’t resist Googling while we’re talking about this. He was, indeed, in “Arrested Development” as a leader of the band.

Sterling Hawkins
Was he, really?

Pete Mockaitis
Hung Jury, which appears in mock trial.

Sterling Hawkins
I did not know. See, he’s ridden this thing in all the different ways he possibly could. I didn’t even know that, but that’s just another example of using this thing in all these different places.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. I dig that. And, certainly, I guess, what is that they say, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”? He managed to take that, “Okay, I’ve got some notoriety.” Well, that is, in some ways, can be transformed into a positive asset. Any other examples that maybe the everyday professional can get behind?

Sterling Hawkins
Yeah. So, I’ll give you a business example, and this is going to be like a big case study, but I think everybody will be able to personalize it for themselves. And it’s from the famous Richard Branson, Virgin fame. And in the ‘90s, he was CEO of Virgin Atlantic, the transatlantic airliner. And one of the things he was committed to doing in the early ‘90s was retrofitting all of his jets with the latest and greatest entertainment system. It was something like a £10-million proposition.

And anybody that recalls the early ‘90s, it was a tough economic time. And so, Richard, he wasn’t quite as famous as he is now, but a lot of people knew him for the showmanship, the success he’d had, everything else, and he was calling banks, he was calling lenders, he was even calling in favors, and he just couldn’t find the £10 million that were required to retrofit his planes, so he’s got a hard problem. Like, something that he literally cannot solve, at least in its current form.

But what he did is one of my favorite ways to flip it, which is he created himself a bigger problem. You’re thinking like, “I thought you’re crazy, Sterling. Now, I’m sure of it.” But hear me out. He said, “If I can’t find £10 million to retrofit my planes, what if I buy all new planes, a £4-billion proposition?”

So, he called Airbus up, and he said, “Listen, if I buy an entirely new fleet of planes from you, will you throw in the entertainment system and give me the financing necessary to buy them?” They said yes. Airbus, same thing. Virgin ended up with an entirely new fleet of planes, the cheapest planes that they’ve ever bought in the history of the company with the latest and greatest entertainment systems on board.

It was only because he couldn’t achieve his goal in the original way that he thought, that he started creating a bigger problem, and that solved not only getting all the latest and greatest entertainment, but gave him the newest jets they’ve ever bought at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. All right.

Sterling Hawkins
It blows me away, I’m like, “That is so smart.” Most of us aren’t buying new fleets of planes, but we’re confronted with budget issues all the time. I know I am, personally and professionally. And it helps sometimes to say, “Okay, if this were an order of magnitude bigger, how would I solve it then?” It opens up some new ways to achieve that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then what’s the next step?

Sterling Hawkins
So, the next and final step is to deal with the fact that no matter how much we plan, prepare, or predict, tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us at any level. And I think we lose sight of that with all the stock predictions, and weather predictions, and road conditions, and news, and everything else telling us what tomorrow is going to bring. Tomorrow is not promised, and we have to deal with that uncertainty in a very specific way.

The fifth step I call it surrender, not in terms of giving up. I’m not saying sit on the couch and watch Netflix and order a pizza, though there might be a time and place for that. I’m talking about actively and intentionally accepting what is exactly how it is. Carl Jung, arguably, like the father of modern psychology, he had this great quote that really stuck with me, he said, “We cannot change anything until we accept it.”

Condemnation about not having enough time, or enough money, or enough resources, condemnation about any of those things doesn’t liberate. It oppresses. And when we can surrender our view, the things that we’re upset about, resentful of, holding against other people, when we surrender those things, it frees us to achieve something brand new. And if we don’t surrender, it works the other way. It becomes an anchor holding us back.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, I’m curious, in the middle of all this, when the rubber meets the road and we just sure feel like quitting, how do you power through?

Sterling Hawkins
Well, so you’ve got a couple of components. You’ve got your commitments that are calling you forward when you want to give up. You’ve got your street gang that’s building your courage, your confidence, and your accountability. You’ve got some of these different ways to flip it and think about it. But that acceptance piece, for me, is the most challenging.

And I find one of the greatest ways to accept is what’s called the sacred pause, by really slowing down, by maybe turning off your phone or your computer for a couple of minutes, even better for a couple of hours, by not bringing that phone in bed with you, by really slowing down and intentionally start to accept what is.

And it’s not necessarily a fast process, but when you have some kind of practice where you’re intentionally doing that over time, it’s going to allow you to let go of that discomfort, the things that maybe you’ve been holding onto, or better said, holding you back, and let you rise in a new way.

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

Sterling Hawkins
I think that’s it. This system is designed to move you through growth. I’ve always been inspired by movies like Star Wars and so on, where you’ve got these heroes moving through these incredible journeys. And I think this is almost a system to move ourselves through that journey. It helps us step into the unknown, unknown of ourselves, unknown of our world, and realize something new for ourselves, realize something new about ourselves or about others or about the world that we can bring back. And that’s a true gift to the world, and that’s what I think real growth is.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Well, now can we hear a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Sterling Hawkins
It’s that quote I heard from my mom. It’s actually Robert Frost, “The way out is through.” The way out is through, to me, means you go through the things that you’re fearful of, scared of, and what you’re looking for is on the other side.

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

Sterling Hawkins
I found a study from Yale University, and it turns out, when you’re uncomfortable, you’re four times better at learning. You learn four times faster. It’s like a bio-hack to being better.

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing. So, when you say uncomfortable, there’s a variety of ways. So, if I’m just like cold, if I’m wearing a hair shirt, is there a precise form of discomfort we’re talking about?

Sterling Hawkins
No, we’re talking about what that University of Michigan study, like discomfort is discomfort – physical, mental, emotional, arguably, spiritual. So, as long as you’re in some level of discomfort that’s not debilitating, but has you kind of sit up and take notice, it could be a cold room, it could be sitting on a bed of nails, if you’re into that kind of thing, any kind of discomfort will trigger that kind of superpower of being four times better, faster, and smarter.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. All right. And how about a favorite book?

Sterling Hawkins
I have many of them. But as I was thinking about this, I think it’s got to be The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger.

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

Sterling Hawkins
This is probably an overused answer but I’m in love with Keynote, not only for giving presentations but I use it to map out some of my ideas, and kind of draw different maps of how some of these things are working inside of myself and inside of companies. And I find it something that I’m on, like, half my day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Sterling Hawkins
So, one of my, like, only habits is that every day I get up and I commit to doing at least one thing no matter what. My days look very different. I’m on the road a lot, giving keynotes, workshops, different places around the world, and every day I get up and it could be something different, it could be I’m going to call my mom today no matter what, or I’m going to meditate today no matter what.

It doesn’t really matter what it is but I find that when I’ve got one thing that I’ll do every day, regardless of the circumstances, it builds my capacity to get things done even when the world is thrown into chaos; COVID, you know. So, it’s something I use and I recommend it to a lot of people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect, resonate, gets highlighted a lot?

Sterling Hawkins
I think it’s that research from Carl Jung, “We cannot change anything until we accept it.” And like I said in the beginning, discomfort is not the point. I’m not suggesting everybody live a super uncomfortable life. But when you move into that discomfort, and as Carl Jung suggests, you accept it exactly how it is, that’s where growth comes from, and you grow your ability to deal with different kinds of discomforts, it’s not set, and it grows over time along with you.

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

Sterling Hawkins
Best thing to learn everything about me, the No Matter What community, my book, all that stuff at SterlingHawkins.com. All my social media is there. And one of the really cool things we started doing is sharing commitments of folks from the community up online, so you can check out what everybody else is up to, get inspired, and maybe even submit something yourself.

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

Sterling Hawkins
Final challenge, is find something that you’re uncomfortable with every single day and at least take a micro dose of it. Every time you do, it’s going to make you a little bit stronger and it’s going to grow that discomfort muscle for you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Sterling, thanks. It’s been a treat. I wish you much fun on the hunt.

Sterling Hawkins
Thank you, Pete. it’s been a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.

793: The Six Mind Shifts for Thriving at Work with Aliza Knox

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Aliza Knox breaks down the six critical shifts that help turn around an unpleasant work situation.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to stay enthusiastic in the face of work hardships 
  2. What to do when you feel stagnant
  3. How to engineer serendipity for your career 

About Aliza

Aliza built and led APAC businesses for Google, Twitter and Cloudflare. She is a BCG advisor, Forbes columnist, and board director. Called a “Kick Ass Woman Slaying the World of Tech”, Aliza wrote Don’t Quit Your Day Job, outlining 6 mindshifts you need to rise & thrive at work as part of  her commitment to empowering the next generation of leaders. She’s in the Top 100 Women in Tech, Singapore and was named IT Woman of the Year Asia, 2020. 

Resources Mentioned

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Aliza Knox Interview Transcript

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

Aliza Knox
Pete, thanks for having me on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate you’re waking up extra early for us in Singapore, and I understand that you celebrated becoming an Australian citizen in an interesting way. What’s the story here?

Aliza Knox
So, I moved to Australia in the late 1980s, loved it, and decided I wanted to become a citizen, I was eligible after a few years, and wanted to celebrate in a big way. As you probably know, converts are always more zealous than people born into things. And so, I went out with three friends to an indigenous Australian restaurant and did what I have called eating the coat of arms.

So, if you don’t know, the coat of arms in Australia has a kangaroo and an emu, so I thought that if I ingested them, I would become even more Australian. So, I started with a salad that had smoked emu on it and followed with a kangaroo steak.

Pete Mockaitis
And are these tasty items?

Aliza Knox
Not bad. Not bad. Not something I eat frequently but kangaroo steaks are generally marinated for a while because it could be a bit tough, but not anything vile to eat.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I’m intrigued. I liked just about every meat I’ve ever had, and I’ve never had those, so I’m intrigued.

Aliza Knox
Well, next time you come down under, you can probably get them.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, I’m excited to chat about some wisdom in your book Don’t Quit Your Day Job: The Six Mind Shifts You Need to Rise and Thrive at Work. Tell me, as you did your research, did you discover anything particularly surprising, counterintuitive, fascinating about people and quitting and their thought processes?

Aliza Knox
The book is written from the viewpoint of somebody who’s worked in corporate for over 40 years and does huge amounts of mentoring, counselling, talking to people who want help, so it’s really anecdotal.

So, there aren’t a lot of statistics but the one thing that I did find in doing a lot of reading is that even during the pandemic and all of this talk of The Great Reset, The Great Resignation, much of the reason for quitting is the same. So, certainly, there have been resignations now because of burnout, or because people have not been allowed to work from home, or it’s become more of a norm, or because, as inflation has come in, people are looking for higher salaries.

But, still, among the top two or three reasons for people leaving their jobs are “My manager isn’t invested in me,” or, “My company doesn’t value me.” And so, those have remained steadfast based on all the research I’d read from a variety of firms, including McKinsey and BCG.

Pete Mockaitis
And your own experience.

Aliza Knox
And my own experience, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds right to me. And so, I’m curious then, if one finds themselves in such a position where one or both of those are true, you’ve got some mind shifts you recommend. How do they go?

Aliza Knox
Okay, let me just back up and tell you the mind shifts are about having a long, healthy, thriving career and not necessarily, despite the title, never quitting a job. It’s some shifts on how to think about your career. I definitely think      that there are times you will want to leave. The title is a bit provocative in a time of   The Great Resignation but, to be clear, it doesn’t mean you should never quit, and I’m sure there are instances when you should.

But what I do think is that sometimes there is a lens through which people can see their career, which they don’t use, and those make up the mind shifts, or that lens is the combination of these mind shifts, and that’s why this book is for everybody, whether they’re in a job now or thinking about getting a job. And Kim Scott, who wrote Radical Candor, actually said on the back of the book, that it proves that mindset, not just passion, drives career success. And so, that’s why I think these mindsets are really important.

So, if you will, what I can do is go through each mindset briefly and give you an example. Will that be helpful?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, please.

Aliza Knox
Okay. It’ll take a little while but we can talk in between. So, the first mind shift is, “Go for both. Your work and your life are on the same team.” And what this means is move past the kind of traditional thinking of, “Oh, it’s my work or my life. I have to make a decision, and if one goes up, the other goes down.” That’s why, in particular, I really hate the term work-life balance because it sounds like a see-saw, like if one’s up, the other has got to be down. And I don’t think that’s the case at all.

I wrote an article in Forbes a couple months ago about a young journalist who graduated from Columbia, in one of the preeminent journalism schools in the US, and did what many people do, went to a small town where she could really cover meaty issues. She went to the South and she was covering things like chemicals in the water, very big deal issues, the kinds of things that get you promoted to larger and larger newspapers, maybe get you a Pulitzer, but that approach takes years of working your way up through smaller-town newspapers.

And she had grown up in New York, was raised by grandparents, and really felt the pull to be back near them, and couldn’t see how that was going to fit with this issue of needing to be in smaller areas and her long-term dream of working for The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times or WaPo. And so, she eventually said, “I can’t make this decision, my career or my life, because my life needs to be in New York.

So, she did what she thought she had to do, gave up on the career part, and said, “Okay, I’m going for my life. I’m moving to New York.” And guess what, after not that long, even though she had taken a job that she thought was really fluffy, writing about the real estate industry, not serious journalism, not award-winning, she actually was able to work her way into a position where she’s now an editor at The Wall Street Journal.

She didn’t have to trade off my life or my work. She actually got both. And by focusing on what was really important to her, she was able to have both things, if you will. So, I think this “Your life and your work are on the same team,” you can do it, you can have it both is really an important lesson.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m curious, in that example, did the being in New York…? I mean, that was good for her life and it ended up being good for her work. I’m curious, is there a connection there in terms of, because of feeling connected and energized or inspired or rejuvenated with her family, that was a career-enabler or did she just kind of get lucky?

Aliza Knox
I don’t think it was either. I think she was observant. We could talk about serendipity later but I think she kept her eyes open for opportunities to move around. I’m sure it helped. I’m sure it helped energize her, that she was with her family, that she was doing something that was very important to her.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. So, what’s the next mind shift?

Aliza Knox
So, just before we move on, I do think it’s important to say in each mind shift in the book, I got four, five power perspectives and then action steps to take from each one. And in this particular one, there is another interesting point, which is that often people obsess about these choices. They ruminate and ruminate and kind of can’t move on, paralysis by analysis, “Which one should I do? How do I do it? What happens if I do each one?”

And I found that, generally, if you take a plunge and move on, that’s helpful, and you are usually not derailed by a single career choice. Whatever she would’ve done, she probably could’ve made it into a good long-term plan. And I have another story about a young woman named Emily Rubin, who, after college, took a job in San Francisco that she wasn’t sure about but it was kind of her only option.

She liked it in the beginning, then was really miserable. I thought she should probably stay a year just because that’s kind of the minimum time to really get to know a company and be able to tell people, “Hey, I did something.” But she was too unhappy, so here’s one where she quit her job. But, in doing so, she found a job she really likes at a mid-size consulting company called Huron, and she would not have been able to get that job without, even though it was limited, the prior experience at the startup.

So, it’s important, she made a decision, she just got on with it. And, while that decision didn’t seem wise in retrospect because you could look at it, and say, “Well, she made a mistake. She didn’t like that job.” But she did need a job, and that job propelled her to Huron. So, I think an action step for this section in this mind shift is if you’re thinking about a choice like this now, think about it as best you can, get some advice – we can talk about personal boards of directors later – get some perspective, and then take a plunge.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool.

Aliza Knox
All right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, tell us about the next mind shift, “Stamina is a muscle. Build yours.”

Aliza Knox
Right. Well, I’m thinking about muscles, in particular. I went away for a few weeks, and, over the last couple of years, I’ve tried to go to a personal trainer in hopes of developing some muscles. And I’m telling you, I’m feeling my muscles right now. So, I think my other muscles, many of them are weaker than my stamina one.

But one of my favorite formulas that I came up with for the book, because I really believe it, is that stamina equals perseverance plus enthusiasm. I think it’s not just gritting it out, it’s not just grinding it out, and it is a superpower because, no matter how much you love your job, how much you love your career, how upbeat you are, how well you perform, I think you’re going to have bad days, tough times, obstacles, and stamina is what gets you through them.

So, an example that I go through, this one, not her real name, is a woman named Barbara who was at a startup, and I met her and she was really disconsolate, she said, “I’ve been head of sales here, and I’m being layered over. They’re bringing somebody in over me, and I’m in my mid-to-late 20s, I’ve done this, I’m going to move on. I have to leave because this is just too demeaning and too demoralizing.”

And I had met her partly because I know the person who was going to be brought in over her. And so, I said to her, “You know, I wonder if you should hang in there. This person who’s coming in is actually a really good guy. He’s well-known for leadership, he’s well-known for investing in people, you might want to give it a shot before you leave because, even though you’ll have a slightly lower title, and you feel like it’s a step down, I think he might actually really help you grow your career faster than you will if you keep jumping to places where you don’t have someone above you to guide you.”

And so, I’m sure not completely due to me, but she must’ve talked to a few people, and she decided to stick it out, she decided to exercise some stamina, hang in there. And, indeed, she was promoted two times working for this gentleman. The second time while on maternity leave, which shouldn’t be something I have to call out but I still think it’s important in this day and age because it doesn’t happen that often.

And, eventually, she left that company and she’s gone on after two jumps to be the CRO at another quite well-known startup, so she’s done really well. And I think by exerting that stamina and getting herself to think about staying, she really had a better outcome than she would’ve if she had quit her job at that time. So, I think this is a great example about using stamina, using patience, and using optimism to hang in there and test out things that you think might have made you want to quit.

Pete Mockaitis
And if we find that our perseverance and enthusiasm muscles are weak, how do we get them stronger?

Aliza Knox
Well, I think one very common step that is talked about a lot, especially if you ever read anything by Arianna Huffington, is to make some time for yourself that includes sleep. Sleep is really important to keeping up your energy and enthusiasm. And, indeed, for those of us who are aging, I keep reading that lack of sleep is one cause, long-term lack of sleep seems to be one cause of dementia. So, I’m sure most of the people listening to your podcast are not worrying about that yet, but it’s starting to be on my list of things to be concerned about. So, I definitely say sleep.

And, for me, personally, I go to the gym or exercise every day. And if you’re a high-energy person but you also need to vege, or remove some of the excess energy, or build up some if you’re a low-energy person, I really do find having one hour for myself every day to workout is important. And I think for people who get energy in other ways, by actually, if you’re more of an introvert, having time for yourself, having an hour every day that you protect and that is something you want to do is really critical to that. And that’s a better tradeoff than doing another hour of work, even in a really driven high-performance culture.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about the third mind shift, “Connection trumps tech savvy even in tech”?

Aliza Knox
Yes, this is really important because I think, again, during the pandemic and working for Silicon Valley firms, we tend to think that tech can solve everything, and I think it solves a lot. I think we have a lot of collaboration tools, we have a lot of devices, things that really help us. I listened to one of your podcasts where there was discussion about equipment to help you even meditate better. And I think there is a lot of technology out there that’s fantastic.

But human relationships are still really critical. And we see this over and over again back to, “How does my manager invest in me thinking about how I relate to people at work?” So, one anecdote about why they’re still important, I tell a story about Suzy Nicoletti, a real person who worked for me at Google and then Twitter, and is now the head of Asia for a startup called Yotpo.

She didn’t get promoted at Google at one stage when she really expected to. She was performing well, she was selling well, her clients liked her, and she sought some advice from a gentleman who she knew from the outside who’s quite a bit more senior, and she said, “I don’t understand this. Here’s all these things about what I’ve been doing. Why would I not get promoted?”

And he said, “Well, you know, I listened to you talk about your job a lot, and I can tell that you’re great about it, and that you really like it, and that your clients like you and you’re enthusiastic but one of the things is you talk about yourself and your clients. You don’t talk about the team. You don’t talk about the support you’re getting.”

“If I were your boss, I might worry even though I know you personally and you’re not like this. I might worry that you’re not really a team player. I might worry about putting you in charge of a bunch of people because you’re not narcissistic but you’re coming across almost as if that might be the case. Why don’t you think a little bit more about in your discussions and in your actions working with a team, like, I know that you’re doing it, but I think that you could emphasize it some more.”

And she went ahead and did that, and she got promoted the next time. And I, actually, since had a chance to talk to her boss at the time, and that was precisely the issue. And so, Suzy was able to get some outside perspective on what was going on. And I think that it’s really important – and we can talk about it later if you like – that you create a personal board of directors, that you have some outside perspective on your career so people can maybe give you insights that you might not be getting directly at work on what’s going on and what you might need to do.

And in that case, what was really important to her, in terms of human relationships, is having a sounding board, an effective sounding board, with people who know you outside of your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And what’s powerful about that story is that that person actually provided some useful actionable wisdom as opposed to, “Oh, that’s bull. I can’t believe they did that to you. You’re so amazing.” That was really cool of him.

Aliza Knox
That’s why, like I think friends are great sounding boards and probably part of your moral support group. And sometimes if your friends are people with lots more experience or really different experience and have great perspective, then they might be on your board of directors. But, you’re absolutely right, I think that, “Yeah, that’s bull,” and “You’re fantastic,” we all need that for moral support, and especially if we’re beginning to get things like impostor syndrome, but they’re not necessarily all that effective in the “Don’t quit your day job,” really understanding how to build your career aspect of life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And can we hear about the next mind shifts?

Aliza Knox
Sure, “You’re in a relationship with your career. Nurture it.” So, what’s interesting to me, most of us probably have been in a relationship with somebody, or want to be in a relationship with somebody, or are thinking about being in a relationship with somebody, and all the reading I’ve ever done about that, I’m certainly no expert, and, again, not a psychologist, but it says, “Don’t put all your expectations on your partner. Don’t expect your spouse, husband, wife, partner, companion, to fulfill all your needs. You’ve got to have outside stuff.”

And I, personally, have been married for almost 30 years, and I have a great husband, but I don’t do everything with him, and I have lots of outside sources of things that keep me interested, and the same for him. But somehow, at least in the time I’ve been working, we’ve come to this point where there’s a lot of expectations that our career will fulfill all our passions. It kind of started out with, “Hey, I’ve got to work to pay the mortgage, or pay the rent, and feed my kids, get some clothes.” Then, careers were supposed to become rewarding and fulfilling, and I think that’s entirely possible.

But then we got to a stage where it’s like career should fulfill all your passions, and I think that’s a really high bar and maybe not possible for everybody. I went out to lunch recently with a professor who’s an avid equestrian, and I guess it’s possible to have a career in horseback riding. I don’t really know. I’ve never investigated it. I think you can be a jockey. I know that there’s a lot of great nonprofits on like riding with the disabled, so maybe there’s a career there, but maybe there aren’t a lot.

And so, what this guy does, he also really likes teaching. He’s got a great career as a professor, he’s picked a career where he has summers off and long winter breaks, and he manages his finances so that he can have a couple horses, and during these long breaks, be places where he’s in a rural area and ride all the time. And then he’s also living somewhere where, early in the morning or late at night, because he’s not required to teach at those hours, he can ride, and he doesn’t have a commute.

So, he’s managed to say, “Okay, there are things I care about,” and, again, back to what you said earlier, Pete, “that give me energy, that also help in the other part of my life,” and so he’s managed his career to do both.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And it is a nice paradigm shift to go away from, “My career needs to be my passion and fill, and tick every one of those boxes to my choice of career can support my passions.” And I think that that’s an important consideration as you’re looking at opportunities, in terms of, “I don’t care to be in the midst of hustle-bustle urgency, and I really don’t think I would flourish in, like, deal environments, either like real estate deals or Wall Street IPO deals.”

Because it seems like whenever you’re connected there, whether you’re doing strategy consulting for the private equity firm who’s doing the deal, or you’re a lawyer who’s supporting it, or you’re the banker who’s got some funds, it’s like nutty. It just seems like there’s no way around it. It’s nutty, late nights, and, “Answer your phone and…” my phone defaults to do not disturb, like always. So, I know I would not flourish in such an environment and so I’ve chosen kind of the opposite of that with regard to we’ve got a media schedule that goes sometime in the distance.

And then the horseback riding is a nice specific example of that, in terms of, “What’s important to you?” “Horseback riding.” “What’s necessary for that?” “We got some money, some time off, some home in a rural area.” And so, I like how that’s nice and concrete. And though if we think about our own emotional, relational needs with friends, hobbies, family, then that can also spark a nice little list of extra considerations that might’ve been totally outside your awareness before having considered this.

Aliza Knox
I think that’s right. There’s another story in the book about a professor named Marla Stone, who didn’t get a job she really wanted. So, she wasn’t doing things around her job, like the equestrian. She had a professorship in Rome, there was a more senior role in that same foundation and she applied for it, didn’t get it, came back to Los Angeles, and thought, “Well, I want to throw myself into something that I care about. I didn’t get that and I’m back to my old job.”

And she started working with the ACLU on the side, and went on their board, eventually became chairman of the Southern California Board of ACLU. The job in Rome came up again, she thought, “Oh, listen, it’s kind of my dream job. I’m going to apply one more time. I really want to do it.” And it turned out that by being on the board of the ACLU, she had more of the skills that they wanted. Originally, she was just a great academic, but they also wanted somebody who understood some aspects of running a business. And because she’d been a Chair, even though it was a nonprofit, she picked up some of the skills along the way.

She didn’t go to the ACLU in order to get this job in Rome. It had nothing to do with it. She did it to just say, “Hey, I want some other stuff out of my career. I didn’t get this one thing I wanted so I’m going to shift gears a little bit and make sure I have something else that’s really interesting to me that fulfills a passion.” And guess what, it came back and actually boosted her into a dream job.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Aliza Knox
Very cool.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Let’s hear about the fifth mind shift.

Aliza Knox
So, back to a word you’ve been using a lot, and one that I like. This one is “Get a move on. Use movement to stay energized and thrive.” And this is about movement keeping you energized, maximizing your value. Movement can be a promotion. It can be moving geographically. It can be moving laterally, which means moving from one role in a company to another to learn something else, like from sales to marketing, or from engineering to sales. It could be job crafting.

And it could, ultimately, be leaving your job, quitting and going to another job. So, I don’t think I’ve used any examples of men so far, so I’ll talk a little bit about a guy who I call Tim Liu in the book. It’s not his real name, but he was working for a company here in Singapore. He really liked the company and he liked his job, and he was doing well at it, but he felt stuck. There were no promotions available. There were no other jobs available. He didn’t want to move, he really wants to be in Singapore, and he really felt stagnated. He felt like he wasn’t learning.

So, he went and talked to other companies, I would call it job dating. He was just trying to see what else is out there, “Is there something else that really gets me going, that I’ll be excited about at another company?” and he didn’t find it. So, he went to his manager, and said, “Listen, I really like my job, I really like the company, but I’m stagnating here. I need to learn more. I need something.”

And, of course, that’s pretty good for a manager to hear, which is, “I can’t find something I prefer. I really want to stay here, but can you help me?” That is a lot better for a manager than to hear a good employee saying, “I feel stuck and I’m going to go,” and trying to save them. So, the manager said, “Yeah, what is it? What do you want to learn?” and they worked together. Tim really wanted to know more about, in his case, government relations and business development.

So, the manager helped him craft, add on some extra tasks, mixed with some different kinds of people in the firm to learn, and it re-energized Tim to hang out for longer. Eventually, there was room for him to get a promotion at that firm, and so he stayed. So, in this case, because he couldn’t get the movement that he wanted, he was able to ask for it, create it himself with the help of his team, and he’s saved, which was great for the firm.

There are lots of other ways to do it. I’ve got a good friend, who also felt like she was stagnating, and she’s moved from one country to another. Another young woman, Ling-Ling, who was in sales but loves social media, and so, even though she was in sales and mostly needed to be on the phone with clients, she spent a lot of time on LinkedIn building her profile, putting up lots of really insightful pithy comments, stories, small videos about what her firm was doing, and, eventually, she was so good at it that she was able to switch into a marketing job at her firm.

So, all those things were creating movement, and all these people are energized and thriving in their new roles. So, some have left, some have not, but, really, interesting ways as they sort of left their roles but none of those have left their firms.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s handy. And the sixth mind shift?

Aliza Knox
Okay, the sixth one, “Distant is the new diverse. Include the international working from home team.” So, this is one of my favorites because when the pandemic started, I bristled a little at the idea that, “Gosh, no one’s ever done this. Nobody’s ever worked from home. Nobody has ever run teams that are dispersed all over the world.” That’s kind of not true.

If you look at people who’ve been building Asia, or Latin America, or Europe, or the US for a headquarters in Korea, France, Brazil, they’ve often been in the situation where they’re trying to deal with a lot of people whom they never get to see in person, except for maybe a couple times a year. So, I call this removing the R from remote to try and make it emote.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Aliza Knox
And one of my favorite statistics from Gallup is that companies with engaged employees are 20% more profitable. If you keep employees close, if you keep them feeling good about the firm and feeling engaged, and it does also go back to having a manager who cares about you but not only, you really have a firm that does better, not just employees who are happy.

So, one of the things I’ve seen over time is that many companies, tech companies, I think, do this a lot, other companies, banks, pharmaceuticals, try to engage their employees by having global townhalls, or monthly or weekly video meetings where everybody can get on, and maybe leadership will talk about examples of great client wins in the firm, or do shoutouts to employees who’ve done great things or gone the extra mile.

And you’ll notice that companies tend to focus on things that happen in headquarters because that’s what the leaders hear first. But if you make the extra effort, as a leader, or even as somebody on the team to make sure this doesn’t happen, if it’s an American company, they might talk about GAP or MasterCard.

But what about if they think about Uniqlo in Japan, or China UnionPay in China where employees are doing something? Or, what about if they don’t just call out that Joe is doing a good job but remember to shout out that Mariabrisa, at Latin America, is doing a great job. So, that really helps bringing in the international or the work-from-home team.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And then, as we think about navigating our own jobs, how do you consider the working remotely versus in the headquarters or at the office in terms of career impact?

Aliza Knox
Yeah, I think that’s really good question. I think there’s a lot of literature that, “Hey, we’ve been really more efficient and effective during the pandemic, and it’s because we don’t have commutes, and we can just keep up all the personal relationships.” So, I’m a little bit skeptical on that. I think we have been efficient, and there probably are better work models. I’m not sure it means we should never meet in person.

I think what happened is that everybody sort of drew down on their social capital during the pandemic, and that the lack of face-to-face time hindered new relationships and, in some cases, weakened existing ones. We’re using these relationships we’ve already built but building new ones remotely is harder. So, I think a really good thing to do now is to focus on building back that social capital, and that could mean a couple things.

It could mean making some effort even if your company is working from home or working remotely to get out there in person if you’re in the same city, or if you travel a little bit, to meet some of the people you work with in person. I think another case, if it’s all remote, I have a good friend, who is in comms at Google, who says, “I don’t take a meeting. I make a friend.” So, just like what you and I did right before the beginning of this podcast, just chat a little bit about things to get to know you. You could do that. One of the things about Zoom, “We all get on it at 6:30, let’s start, let’s not waste any time, business, business, business. It’s 7:00, let’s get off.” Maybe.

But in a real meeting, people come in and not everybody enters at exactly 6:00, and somebody comes in with Doritos and shares them. There’s always that few minutes of kind of idle chitchat or maybe commiserating about the weather that are silly but that kind of start to build relationships. So, maybe you build that into Zoom.

And one strategy for individuals is to maybe build a personal visibility plan that takes into account the challenges of remote or hybrid work, and includes ways to remain visible and connected, like, you might decide to try to do a little more than was asked, or you could plan for some get-togethers with colleagues out of work, even virtual cocktails to help build back up social capital that’s been depleted.

Or, I think something good managers do and can do for their teams is to make sure that they’re talking to other people in the firm about you, and you can repay that favor so that you’ve visible. People know about you even if you’re not seeing them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Okay. Well, so some nice mind shifts that can change the way we think about career decisions and perhaps illuminate optimal paths that were previously just not even in our conscious awareness, so really valuable stuff. Let’s talk about serendipity because these mind shifts feel a bit – what’s the word – not quite the word programmatic. They’re principles to be considered versus serendipity, just kind of seems to happen. So, how do we think about finding and seizing serendipity?

Aliza Knox
So, serendipity, I’ve always thought of it as something originally thought of something that just happens, right? There’s that famous story about Kate Moss, who was an amazing model, being seen in an airport in Florida, someone coming up to her and saying, “Do you want to model? You’re gorgeous,” and then going on to being rich and famous. And I’m still waiting for that, frankly. I’m traveling next week, so if anybody wants to come to Cheney Airport and give me the same opportunity, I’m happy for that.

But I think of serendipity more as opportunity plus action. So, a small personal story, I think I might’ve mentioned to you, Pete, but I am now and what I would consider phase 3.0 of my career. So, if you think of life as software releases or your career, 1.0 for me was consulting and financial services, 2.0 was tech, 3.0 now I sit on boards, I’m writing, speaking, etc. But how did I get from 1.0 to 2.0?

Well, I was working at Visa and I, at that point, was living in the Bay Area and we were working on a deal with Google, which was in some really fairly stages in the early 2000s, and I happened to meet Vint Cerf, who was one of the real founders of the internet. And in this meeting, we discussed a possible joint venture, and I was responsible for what was going on, so I wrote a thank you note and the follow-up steps, and I thought about this, and I thought about it for a couple of weeks.

And I thought, “Wow, I just met this amazing person who knows all about the internet. I’m an internet newbie.” I’m using it for email, but other than that, I don’t know much. I’ve been in financial services for a long time, certainly haven’t mastered it. I’m not sure I’ve ever fully mastered anything, and I like it. But, gosh, there’s a lot going on. We’d already had the first dotcom boom and bust. There’s a lot going on in the world of the internet, and I know nothing about it. And I am curious and I would love to learn. So, would it be appropriate for me to write to this guy I’ve only met once and I met through my job? Is it too audacious?

So, I thought about it for a couple of weeks, and I thought, “Oh, come on, be bold. Take the step.” So, for my personal email, I went back to his work email, which I had, and said, “Hey, Vint, I would love to learn more about what’s going on in the world of the internet. And I know I’m a bit older than the people you’re hiring right now, and I don’t have any particularly relevant experience. Would Google or someone else talk to me?”

And I guess the worst thing that could’ve happened is he could’ve said, “Huh, I’m going to tell Visa that you’re coming after me and it’s so inappropriate,” but I figured he wouldn’t do that. And the second worst that could’ve happened, which would’ve been very disappointing but not life-shattering, would’ve been that he just didn’t write back at all. But you know what, he wrote back, and he said, “Okay, send me your resume. Let’s talk. This might be interesting.”

And that led to my talking to a number of people at Google and eventually going to work there. And it was so serendipitous, and, in fact…so, I wrote him a thank you note at the time, and then, 10 years later when I started at Cloudflare, which is an internet security and performance company and now a number of other things, I was watching some videos to get up to speed on how Cloudflare works, and because it’s built on a back of the structure of the internet, the infrastructure, there were videos with Vint Cerf in them.

And so, I saw him and I wrote him again, and I’m like, “Hey, I don’t know if you remember me, but here I am, 10 years later, still in tech, thanks to you,” and I got another email back. So, I would consider serendipity opportunity plus action. So, how do you seize that? And I’m sure there’s plenty of times, by the way, that I’ve missed it, but there’s been serendipity right in front of me and I haven’t gotten it, but that’s one where I did.

So, I thought, here’s the thing, you’ve got to be open. There is potential around us, make a habit for looking at unexpected opportunities. Listen to the people you meet and the conversations. What do they know that might be of interest to you? Do they know someone where you’ve been thinking about that career? Or, did you just hear that their firm is hiring? And even if it’s audacious, might you ask? Follow up.

If you hear a great talk, or you hear about a career path that you don’t know anything about, be audacious. Like, most of the time it’s not going to hurt you. Usually, the absolute worst thing that’s going to happen is you’re going not get a reply. Most people just aren’t going to go to the effort to write to your boss or tell somebody else…

Pete Mockaitis
“How dare you?”

Aliza Knox
Yeah, you know, “This person had the guts to talk to me.” Make the ask and make it specific. So, it’s not like, “Hey, Vint, do you think I could ever do something in the internet?” I just said, “Do you think I could talk to somebody at Google?” that was brazen but it was something he could do, like he works there, he knows someone there, and it wasn’t a very big deal to him when I think about it. I thought it was a big deal, like, he was working there, he can say to somebody else, “Hey, will you look at this resume and see?”

And then, I think the other really important thing to do is to pay it forward, and I tell people this over and over again. People are going to ask you for the same thing, and they’re going to ask you for inspiration and for advice, and make sure to pay it forward because you can help other people and I think it’s both fulfilling and who knows, I think there is karma in the world and it might come back to help you at some point.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, now let’s hear a bit about your favorite things. Could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Aliza Knox
So, my favorite quote is from Maya Angelou, which is, “My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive, and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

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

Aliza Knox
Yes. So, I talked a little bit about job crafting, and there’s a really cool study by these guys Laker and Patel about how job crafting can make work more satisfying, that they wrote with MIT Sloan. I think they’re professors in England. And then there’s another one that Catalyst did, which is an organization that really promotes women in the workforce, and super relevant to the times we’re in now, and it’s called “The Power of Empathy in Times of Crisis and Beyond.” And, in fact, it was part of what I used when I wrote an article called “Is CEO now Chief Empathy Officer or should it be?”

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite book?

Aliza Knox
So, I know you’re a business podcast but I read fiction all the time, so my favorite book is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, who’s a physician, who’s also an author on the side. I don’t know how you can be that talented. And it’s a book that follows twin brothers born in Addis Ababa, and it’s about the coming of age of one of them and also the coming of age of Ethiopia out of colonialism, and I highly recommend it.

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

Aliza Knox
Yeah, there’s a tool that’s just out in beta that I’d gotten access to called OnLoop, and it’s a mobile-first feedback tool. I’d say it is to team development what Apple Watch is to fitness, so it’s feedback minus the recency bias. It captures in-moment reflections on yourself or feedback for colleagues, and it tags it, and it actually helps you. It compounds over time to reveal people’s superpowers and blind spots. It really helps with writing evaluations, which is something most people hate in performance evaluations, going back, trying to remember what they thought about colleagues or coworkers.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite habit?

Aliza Knox
Going to the gym or playing badminton.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite resonant nugget, something you share that seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Aliza Knox
Yeah, I keep getting quoted back from, “I read your book. I especially love stamina equals perseverance plus enthusiasm.”

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

Aliza Knox
AlizaKnox.com, @AlizaKnox on Twitter, and Aliza Knox on LinkedIn. Fortunately, I have a pretty unusual name, A-L-I-Z-A K-N-O-X.

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

Aliza Knox
Yeah, if you don’t have one, go set up a personal board of directors. There’s a step-by-step on how to do it in my book, and I really think I regret not thinking about it and doing it earlier in my career. It would’ve helped a lot, and I see it helping people whom I mentor.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Aliza, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in this version of things.

Aliza Knox
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been fantastic to be on your show. I’ve not listened to all 700 plus podcasts, but I’m getting through them, and they’re great. I’m honored to be included.

789: How to Beat Stress, Stagnation, and Burnout with Alan Stein Jr.

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Alan Stein Jr. lays out the fundamental shifts that help sustain your game and build resilience in the face of stress, stagnation, and burnout

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to stop stress from overwhelming and controlling you 
  2. How to stay calm and in control in the face of stress
  3. How to identify and remedy stagnation 

About Alan

Alan Stein, Jr. is an experienced keynote speaker and author. At his core, he’s a performance coach with a passion for helping others change behaviors. He spent 15+ years working with the highest performing basketball players on the planet (including NBA superstars Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Kobe Bryant). Through his customized programs, he transfers his unique expertise to maximize both individual and organizational performance. 

Alan is a dynamic storyteller who delivers practical, actionable lessons that can be implemented immediately. He teaches proven principles on how to utilize the same approaches in business that elite athletes use to perform at a world-class level. 

His previous clients include American Express, Pepsi, Sabra, Starbucks, Charles Schwab, and Penn State Football, and many more. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, sponsors!

Alan Stein Jr. Interview Transcript

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
Oh, it’s so great to be with you again. I’ve been looking forward to this.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Well, I’m curious to hear, any particularly interesting new discoveries or lessons learned within the last couple of years or so since we spoke last?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah, I would say a pretty long list of them, to be honest. And most of which, I think, were things that were heightened exponentially over the pandemic. I know, for me, personally, from a book-writing standpoint, I’m always trying to write the book that mirrors what I’m going through in my own life, and I’m always trying to write the book that I need to be reading myself. I find it part liberating and part therapeutic to kind of research and write about the things that I’m struggling with.

So, my most recent book is about stress, stagnation, and burnout because those are three areas that I’ve struggled with for most of my life and career, and I know that a lot of people found those things heightened during the pandemic.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about the book Sustain Your Game. What’s the big idea here?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, the big idea, I think the cornerstone of it is that stress, stagnation, and burnout are things that we have massive control and influence over, fighting against, that they’re not things that happen to us. They are things that we can actually help navigate away from if we handle them correctly. And those were some of the kinds of pivotal moments that I’ve had over the last couple of years because I think I’ve gone through most of my life feeling like stress is something that happens to me and is imposed on me. And I now have a much different perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, what’s the fresh perspective?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, so I’m a big fan of Eckhart Tolle, who’s, I guess for lack of a better term, a modern-day philosopher. And his definition of stress is the one that most resonated with me and kind of shifted my whole perspective. And Eckhart’s definition of stress is the desire for things to be different than they are in the present moment. And there was something about that I found very liberating and empowering because, ultimately, what I took away from that was stress is not caused by outside forces, stress is not caused by events, or circumstances, or what people say, or what people do.

Our stress is caused by our resistance to those things, or our perspective of those things, or how we internalize them. So, once that kind of clicked, and his definition, it’s not what’s going on. It’s my desire for what’s going on to be different is what’s actually stressing me out. And once that clicked with me, literally, I just saw the whole world differently now.

And, by all means, I’m not coming from a place of mastery, and I’m not sitting here pretending like I never feel stressed. But, now, when I do, I have the awareness to recognize that on some level, that’s a choice. And that if I would just stop resisting what is, that most of that stress would dissipate.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is thought-provoking and eye-opening. So, nonetheless, some things we don’t want to be the way they are.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Oh, yeah, I’m glad that you highlighted that because, certainly, I don’t want you or your listeners to think I live in la-la land. And the way that I view it now, I still have my preferences, I still have opinions and ways that I’d like to see the world unfold. I just no longer expect that it’s the world’s job to conspire to make me happy, and it’s not the world or the universe’s job to make sure Alan Stein, Jr. gets all of his preferences.

So, now, when something occurs that’s not to my liking, or is not my preference, I just understand that’s part of the human condition. That’s kind of what we all signed up for to be here and I deal with it appropriately. And what I try to do is be more thoughtful in my response to what’s going on than to the event itself.

And, certainly, over the last couple of years, whether we’re talking about the pandemic or the political divide, there had been some incredibly emotionally charged things that have occurred over the last couple years in particular. And I still have my opinions and my preferences of those things but I no longer allow those things to dictate my perspective, and my mindset, and my attitude, and how I show up. And that, to me, is the big difference.

Before, when something happened that I didn’t like, I always felt like it was happening to me, and I was, in essence, an unconscious victim to the world around me. I now no longer allow myself to be the victim. I’ve taken those proverbial handcuffs off and just said, “Yeah, what just happened is not my preference, it’s not to my liking, but I’m going to be very thoughtful in choosing a response to this situation that actually moves me forward and helps me.” So, it shifted me from being a victim to feeling much more empowered.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really intriguing. And I’m thinking right now about airports when it comes to stress because, you mentioned you’re flying to Nashville shortly, and I’m thinking that you can have stressors big or small in terms of small, like, “Oh, my flight is delayed. That’s inconvenient. I guess I might have to cancel a lunch or dinner. I was planning on meeting someone on the other side, which is a bummer.”

And then I’m thinking of a buddy of mine recently told me a tale about how he was straight-up arrested for mistakenly taking a MacBook Air that looked just like his, and it’s like, “Oh, sorry. Oops,” “No, you’re coming with us,” and he spent a night in jail. So, wild story, and in that instance, he preferred that would be different alright on a whole nother level.

I guess that kind of gets my blood boiling in terms of, like in that instance, like he actually is a victim of an injustice before him. And so, I want your hot take here in terms of if the size of the stress is small versus medium versus big, does that change how you play the game in your mind?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I believe that it does, and one of the interesting parts of that, and just to go on record, it would be my preference that I’m not arrested at the airport, and it’d be my preference that my flights aren’t delayed either. Yeah, so I have nothing but empathy and compassion for him to go through such an ordeal. But the mindset portion of it, what you still need to say is, “Okay, this is…” and that’s an extreme case, “This is less than ideal that I’m being charged with this and I’m going to spend the night in jail.”

Pete Mockaitis
Less than ideal, that’s right.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah, less than ideal. And let me certainly go on record saying there’s nothing easy about any of this. I don’t want to pretend for one second that if either of those scenarios happened to me, that I would just automatically be chipper and smile and act like everything is great. There is a distinction to make and there’s two ways to answer your question.

One is, so once this has already transpired, as awful as that scenario is, once he realizes, “All right, I’m already being charged and I’m going to spend the night in jail,” that now has become reality. That has now become fact. And no matter how angry he gets, ornery he gets, pissed off he gets, it’s not going to change the fact. So, the more upset he gets, all that’s doing is punishing himself. It’s not like, “Hey, if I throw a massive fit, they’re going to let me go home tonight.” It doesn’t change your situation.

So, what you need to try to do is say, “Okay, as awful as this is, what’s a response that can at least make this somewhat palatable or at least make this a little bit better?” Again, spending the night in jail in some random city for an honest mistake is pretty tragic, but you’re only punishing yourself if you choose to let it bend you all out of whack. And that’s just something you keep in the back of your mind.

The other part that I certainly want to make a distinction is I believe in feeling all emotions. I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a good or a bad emotion. I think they’re all part of the human experience. Now, there’s emotions that we would probably prefer to have. I’m sure you and I would prefer to be joyous and elated instead of frustrated or disappointed, but they’re part of our emotional palate for a reason. So there’s nothing wrong with feeling emotions.

And, in fact, if I was arrested and had to spend the night in jail for mistakenly taking someone’s iPad, I would feel a wide range of emotions, from anger to frustration, to disappointment, to… I mean, you fill in the blank. But what we have to learn to do is not let how we feel dictate how we behave. I had a really good friend of mine that’s the mental performance coach for the San Francisco Giants in major league baseball, and he said something that affected me just as profoundly as Eckhart Tolle’s quote, and he said, “Our emotions are designed to inform us. They’re not designed to direct us.”

So, our emotions are kind of a litmus test to how we’re perceiving the world and how we’re feeling, but we have to be very careful in not letting them dictate our behavior or our decisions. So, back to this crazy scenario that your friend experienced, there’s nothing wrong with me being upset, angry, frustrated, disappointed that I’ve been arrested but I don’t want that to be how I behave. I certainly don’t want to be belligerent to the police officer. That could get me in even more trouble, spend multiple nights in jail.

And it’s one of those things that I’ve always believed that if you can kind of control your emotions to the point it doesn’t dictate your behavior and the way you show up, that’s one definition of mental toughness. You’re completely resilient when you say that, “No matter what goes on in the outer world, I’m not going to let it rattle me and dictate my inner world.” And that is not an easy place to get to, and I won’t pretend for one second that if I get arrested on my flight to Nashville tomorrow that I’ll handle it with the stoicism that I’m sharing with you right now, but that would be the goal.

And that’s where I’m trying to work to the point where I would be able to handle just about anything thrown at me with that type of stoic approach. Because, again, acting on your emotions and being belligerent and being upset is only going to make the situation worse. You think temporarily it’s going to make you feel better, but, ultimately, it’s only going to make it worse.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right in terms of if you say, “You know what, I gave that cop a piece of my mind. That felt so good.” Probably not. Regardless of the response, the doing it is not going to produce a catharsis. Well, just not to leave people hanging, there was a, I don’t know if you’d call a happy ending, but he did follow some of these principles in terms of he’s like, “Okay. Well, you know what, what do I have control over? In my mugshot, I’m going to look as friendly and kind and not guilty as possible. That’s what I’m going to do.”

And if they didn’t like that, they’re like, “No, you can’t smile. You can’t smile in your mugshot. Do it again. Do it again.” It’s like, “Okay, when I have an opportunity to make a call, I want to be really friendly and polite and professional,” and he managed to make like seven calls, like multiple lawyers and his wife and such.

And that was helpful because they gave him some good tips, and he said, “You know, I am in a jail cell with these people. But you know what? They have some knowledge, like, hey, so there’s a big bunch of bail companies I could call. Like, who’s best?” Like, “Oh, you should call these guys. They’re way faster than the other ones.”

And so, it still sucked a lot and it was costly with lawyers and all of that, but it didn’t wreck his life. It’s just a few thousand bucks and some crazy inconvenience, and he’s back on his feet.

Alan Stein, Jr.
And, at the very least, he’s got an incredible story to tell now.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And if you did let the emotions not just inform but direct and sort of rage and you’re not thinking clearly in terms of, “Oh, what wisdom might my fellow jail mates might have for me right now?” You’re just like, “This is such bull crap. I can’t believe…” if your brain is there, it’s not doing that helpful thinking for you.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Absolutely. And one other thing I’ve noticed, and I’m glad that it was somewhat of a happy story or happy ending, rather. Let’s use the less severe example that you gave, that your flight is delayed or your flight is canceled. Because of how much travel I do, I get to see this happen pretty regularly, and usually what happens, somebody feels so massively inconvenienced as if the entire airline was conspiring to ruin this one person’s day and, “We decided to delay this flight just because we wanted to make you angry.”

What they end up doing, they let their emotions get the best of them, and then they unload those emotions on someone that has nothing to do with it. Usually, the person that you’re unloading your disapproval on has nothing to do with what it is that you’re angry about. The person that’s working kind of behind the desk, they’re not responsible for your delayed flight. They have nothing to do with that.

So, now you’re unloading on somebody else that can’t…I mean, they’re not responsible for it. And then, if you think of just general human nature, how likely is this person going to be to bend over backwards to try to help you find a resolution when you’ve just unloaded all of your anger and frustration and disappointment on them?

I’ve had plenty of delayed and canceled flights, and I have always found that as disappointing and frustrating as that may be internally, whoever I speak with at the airline, I try and kill them with kindness. And the very first thing I say is, “I know you’re going to have a rough couple of hours dealing with all of these headaches. Just know how much empathy and compassion I have for you.”

“I know this isn’t ideal for any of us and I just really appreciate anything you can do to still get me home or to get me to wherever I’m trying to go,” and offer a genuine and authentic and warm smile, and a little compassion, and usually people will go out of their way to try and find a way to help me out, versus the person that’s just going to be belligerent and screaming curse words and act like the whole world is conspiring against them.

So, it goes back to, “Yeah, I’m frustrated that my flight is delayed, but what’s the thoughtful response that I can make in real time that will increase the chance that I’ll get on the next flight, or that they can book me somewhere else, or maybe they’ll offer me a free hotel room, or whatever?” So, yeah, the ultimate part of this is we only punish ourselves when we allow our emotions to overtake our behavior and the way we treat others. It’s not punishing anybody else. You’re just making your own life more miserable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there’s a huge master key right there is just your mindset, your perspective, your philosophy there. Anything else we can do to build up the mental toughness and resilience in advance, if it’s like exercise, or hydration, or nutrition, or supplements, or meditation? Like, what are some things that could be helpful for building up a capacity to respond in an enlightened fashion to stress beyond just having the ideal mindset?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, two things come to mind. One, and this is kind of an offshoot of mindset, and that is learning how to be in the present moment. A lot of our frustrations and disappointments and anger stems from an attachment to something that happened in the past, and we simply make the assumption that, whatever happened in the past that did not turn out in our favor, is going to happen again right now. So, we just make that assumption, which is usually not very helpful or useful.

And then the other thing we do is we have a preconceived notion or a prediction of the future, which, of course, is always hypothetical, and that’s what increases anxiety. So, we can get kind of depressed and upset about something that happened previously, and then we can start being worrying and anxious about something that may happen in the future. And both of those things are just taking us away from being in the present moment.

Again, using the scenarios that you posed, because they’re pretty real-life scenarios, if you just take a deep breath, and go, “Okay, in this moment, my flight has been delayed two hours. I’m probably going to miss the connection and I’m going to miss my dinner with Pete tonight. That’s not ideal. That’s not my preference. It’s a little bit frustrating but it’s the reality, and I accept it.”

“I’m not going to resist it. I’m not going to draw on something from the past where I had this awful experience. And I’m not going to get anxious about the future and worry, ‘Well, maybe Pete and I won’t be friends ever again. He’s going to be so upset that…’” And I start just kind of creating this false narrative.

When if you just take a deep breath and you stay in the present moment, and you say, “You know what, it’s not that bad. Yes, I would’ve preferred to have caught my flight and had not been delayed, but this is what happened. I’ll make the best of it.” So, being in the present moment is certainly an offshoot of that and a way to help remedy it.

And then kind of more on a tactical and esoteric level, in addition to what you mentioned, making sure you’re feeding your body and moving your body, and getting good quality sleep, because I do believe mind and body are connected, but it’s also paying very close attention to the inputs of our life. We all want to have great outputs. We want to be efficient. We want to be effective. We want to produce. We want to earn. And that stuff is directly related to the inputs in our life.

What you read, watch, and listen to, who you insulate yourself with, and who you invest your time with, what you choose to consume on social media is just as important as what you choose to consume nutritionally. These things have a massive impact on the way we see the world. So, anyone looking to level up their output, they need to directly look on the other side of the curtain at their inputs, and say, “Okay, if I want a more quality output, I need to read, watch, and listen to a higher level of content.” And same thing on social, same thing with the people that you insulate yourself with. So, just have high discernment with where you choose to place your attention.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Okay, so that’s the stress side of things. How about we touch upon the stagnating and the burnout?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Sure. Well, the stagnation part, that’s really where I was kind of leaning towards with this changing of the inputs, because usually the stagnation, which I kind of look at, is just kind of being on that hedonic treadmill. You’re just kind of treading water. You’re expending energy but you’re not really going anywhere in life.

And it’s often just kind of this numb feeling where you’re just towing the line of mediocrity and you’re noticing that your outputs are starting to stagnate. And the best way to jumpstart that and break through that stagnation is changing your inputs. Reaching out to some people that maybe are more accomplished than you are, or have walked the path that you haven’t walked just yet so you can learn from them. And maybe be a mentee to a mentor that’s doing something that you’d like to emulate.

If you find yourself just watching the same old stuff on Netflix and just listening to the same old radio stations or talk radio, see if you can infuse some other things in there, some podcasts or documentaries or books, or just something to kind of jumpstart on the input side, and that’ll help you break through that stagnation.

One of the hardest parts of stagnation is just acknowledging that you’re stagnating. Awareness is always the first step to improvement because you’ll never fix something you’re unaware of, and you’ll never improve something you’re oblivious to. And the reason stagnation can be so tricky is it’s kind of undercover. It’s not proverbial rock bottom. When we hit rock bottom, we usually feel inspired to act and make a change, and that’s the part that’s so slippery and dangerous about stagnation is you’re just kind of towing that line.

So, stress, we really feel in the moment; burnout, we really feel in the long term; stagnation is that tricky mid-term where you can easily fall numb to it and spend months or years in a stagnant place, and not even know it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, just checking in, it’s like, “Hey, am I stagnant? What’s going on?” adjusting the inputs. Any other recommendations there?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, I think it’s important to make sure that you get feedback from the people that know you best, your inner circle, if you will, because often, they’ll be able to spot your stagnation before you spot it. Whether this is like an intimate partner or a spouse, or if you have adult children, or close friends, or colleagues, but, hopefully, you’ve created the type of relationship with them, that you let them know, “Look, I’m always open to your feedback and I always welcome you helping me see my own blind spots.”

I think one of the most important perspectives we can have as human beings is to acknowledge that all of us have blind spots. Now, we can’t see them, hence the reason they’re blind spots, but having the humility to acknowledge, “I know there are things that I don’t know. And when someone cares enough to bring some of those blind spots into a level of awareness and shine a light on them for me, that’s one of the best gifts they can give me.”

So, hopefully, you’ve created the type of relationships, both personally and professionally, where people can say that, “Hey, I just feel like you’ve just been kind of treading water.” And many times, this usually comes from a spouse or somebody that you’re intimate with because they see you, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and see you a lot more than everyone else, but hopefully you’ve got the type of relationship where they can say, “Hey, I just feel like you’re stagnant.” And I try to insulate myself with people in my life that will tell me, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about when it comes to burnout?

Alan Stein, Jr.
So, burnout is an interesting one because I look at stress as a too much issue, stagnation as a too little issue, and those things kind of combine are usually what set you on the path to burnout. While researching the book, I found that burnout is a very specific condition. When the hours that you’re working and the sacrifices that you’re making are no longer in alignment with where you find meaning or purpose or what you find fascinating, or the work you’re putting in is no longer in alignment with your core values or the person that you’re trying to become.

So, it’s that splintering effect of misalignment that causes the issue. It’s not just from working long hours. That can potentially be a problem over time but we probably all know someone that maybe it’s an entrepreneur with a new startup, and they’re working 60-, 70-, 80-hour weeks but they find so much meaning in their work, and they love it so much. They’re most likely not at risk for burnout. So, it’s when you don’t find meaning in your work, or you’re not fascinated by it, or it’s not in alignment.

Another big one, especially for folks at work in organizations, folks get burnout when they don’t feel like their contribution is making a difference. They don’t feel like they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves. They just kind of feel like, “I’m just a number showing up to work. I don’t know that I really matter.” So, when we don’t feel like we matter, or we don’t feel like there’s meaning in our work, that’s when we’re at risk of burnout.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if there we are in the midst of it, what do we do?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah. Well, again, be thankful if you have the awareness to recognize that, and there’s a few things you can do. One, you have to clarify your north star and get crystal clear. Assuming that you found meaning in that work or in that job at some point, and usually that’s the case, is to kind of reverse-engineer and track backwards and deconstruct, and say, “Okay, I’ve been in this job for 10 years. For the first eight years, I really enjoyed working here. I loved my role. I loved the people I was working with but I don’t feel that anymore.” And try to be reflective and introspective to figure out why.

Maybe you’ve been given some different assignments and your role has changed. Maybe a few colleagues have left and you’re now working with new people that you don’t feel as connected with but try to pinpoint what caused the change. And pinpointing at change, again, bringing it to a level of awareness, can allow you to explore some minor pivots, say, within the organization.

Maybe you ask to take on a new role, or report to someone differently, or work in a different department, or maybe you just come to the end of the road with that organization, and you want to look elsewhere. But then you have to ask yourself, “Do I want to do the same type of work for another company? Or, do I want to change industries completely?”

I’m an example of that. I spent 15 years as a basketball performance coach, and I really loved the time that I did that. But, as I was kind of nearing that 15-year mark, I started to feel burnout. I wasn’t enjoying the work I was doing near as much as I had in years prior, so I decided to make the leap completely out of that industry, and jumped into corporate keynote speaking and writing.

So, for me, I made a fairly drastic change but it was absolutely the right choice because it re-lit my fire and got me excited again. So, I think folks just need to be able to look at, “Is this something that requires a couple of minor tweaks that might get me back on course? Or, do I need to try something more drastic?” But at least pulling open the hood and taking a look at everything underneath to figure that out is, I think, a great step.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, you said the word pivot, which got me thinking. You have three steps you lay out in your book – perform, pivot, prevail. How do these work in sequence?

Alan Stein, Jr.
The way that I kind of looked at it was we’re trying to perform in the moment, and the biggest thing that can undermine that is stress, and that’s something that we feel kind of on the daily. In that mid-term, where we feel like we’re stagnating and things are just kind of towing that line, we need to figure out a way to pivot, to try something different, to shake things up.

And then if we are slowly approaching burnout, where there is this misalignment, then the ultimate goal is to prevail, is to be able to overcome that burnout either within your current job and vocation and company that you’re working with, or you might have to prevail by going somewhere else and doing something completely different.

And they’re not 100% sequential. We can toggle in and out of those at different times, into different amounts, but the way I look at it is more from a timeframe standpoint. You have stress kind of in the short term, you have stagnation more in that mid-term, and then burnout is an accumulation of the previous two, and that’s what happens in the long term.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And when professionals are trying to put your wisdom into action, into practice, are there some hiccups, road bumps, mistakes that come up again and again? And how should we navigate that?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I’m trying to think of some of the most common. I mean, the answer to the question is yes. Actually, that would be my answer to just about anything as far as no matter what it is we’re trying to do when we’re trying to implement and initiate change, there are always going to be roadblocks and hiccups and lessons to learn. But I think the key to that is embracing that and acknowledging everything that I’ve shared with you in this lovely conversation, and everything I’ve put in my books, and everything that I say on stage, all of these things are very basic principles, but none of this stuff is easy. None of it is.

And that’s why, with all of this stuff, I’m not speaking from a place of mastery. This is all stuff that I’m continuing to work on and to refine as I’m trying to evolve. And, to me, the goal has never been perfection. The goal has always been progress, consistent incremental progress. And with any of these things that we’ve talked about, can I be a little bit better today than I was yesterday? Can I be a little bit better in 2022 than I was in 2021, whether it’s my ability to manage stress, or avoid stagnation, or beat burnout, or be in the present moment, or have more thoughtful responses when the world doesn’t align to my preferences?

And I’m very proud of the fact that I can say, yes, I do all of those things consistently better today than I have in the past. If you and I reconnect again on your show in a couple more years, I’m hoping I can say with a huge smile that I’m doing an even better job then than I’m doing right now in the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Alan, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear some more of your favorite things?

Alan Stein, Jr.
No, this has been great. I always love your line of questions and the direction in which you navigate things. This has been fun. This is great.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
So, one of my favorite quotes is about as basic and as simple as it gets, and that is, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” And the reason I love that is there’s two types of change that we all experience. There’s the imposed change. A perfect example of that is a two-year global pandemic or potentially an economic recession. Like, there’s things that can happen in the outer world that are imposed on us, and we have to respond to them. And those are obviously uncontrollable.

But the change I’m always referring to is initiated change. It’s the changes that we choose to make. So, it’s being able to have the awareness to say, “I’m not as physically fit as I’d like to be, so I need to make some changes to the way I eat, to my sleep, to my working out, and so forth because I have to acknowledge that, if I don’t change those things, then nothing on my body is going to change.”

And it could be the same thing for mental or emotional fitness, “I need to change the way that I perceive stress when the outside world imposes itself on me, and be much more thoughtful in my response.” So, I‘m a huge fan of leaning into and initiating change to take us closer to becoming the person that we strive to become.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
What I found really interesting, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to botch the numbers on this, but you’ll get the general sentiment. And this speaks directly to what I believe is one of the most dangerous games that any of us can play, and that is the comparison game. I do think, and I’m a huge advocate of social media.

I believe social media can be a great connection tool. It can be a great source of information and learning. It’s a great way to share if you have something of value. But social media, I think, is built to encourage us to play the comparison game, and to see how your life stacks up, usually materialistically, to someone else’s life.

And the problem with playing the comparison game is it usually makes us feel less than. You go on Instagram and you see that somebody has got a nicer house, or a nicer car, or a shinier watch, or a prettier girlfriend, or they go on better vacations, and it starts to make you feel less than. And that’s a dangerous, dangerous slope to tackle.

And there was some research that asked people, and again, this is where I don’t think my numbers are going to be completely exact, but you’ll get the point.
Would I rather make $70,000 a year and everybody else around me makes 50? So, I’m making a little bit more than them, and that makes me feel good but I’m making $70,000 a year. Or, would I rather make $100,000 a year but everyone around me makes $120,000 a year? So, net, I’m making $30,000 more dollars a year in the second scenario but it’s less than what everybody around me makes. And most people always want to feel that they’re winning the comparison game. They would actually rather make less money but make more money than the people in their direct area than the exact opposite of that.

And I just found that study fascinating. That’s kind of a peek behind the curtain into the human condition and the way people view things. And it’s very understandable, and I don’t say that with an ounce of judgment. I just found that study really interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Alan Stein, Jr.
One of my all-time favorites, and I’m sure most of your listeners have already read it because I think he sold over five million copies, is Atomic Habits by my good friend James Clear. Most of what I share when it comes to building habits, I’ve learned from James and his blog and his book and a lot of his work. That’s definitely a go-to.

A secondary one is another book by my friend Phil Jones, who wrote a very short book called Exactly What to Say. It’s more of a guide than a book, and it’s a great reference on kind of how magic words can be, and we have to be very thoughtful and intentional about the words we choose because they change the world around us. And if you’re looking to be more influential and impactful, that you have to be very careful about the words you choose. And I found that book really, really insightful and very, very helpful.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I’m a big fan of the Headspace app for a guided meditation. I know a lot of what we’ve talked about is about being present and being grounded and being mindful. And because I come from a sports background, I’m a huge believer in practice, that you’ve got to practice, especially during the unseen hours.

So, that’s an app and a tool that I use very regularly. It’s a very calm and almost a serene feel of 10-minute guided meditation. And I try and do that at least once a day but I’ll throw that in anytime that I’m feeling a little bit stressed. So, you best believe if my flight to Nashville tomorrow gets delayed, I’ll pop in my earbuds and do a 10-minute meditation to, hopefully, bring me back down.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I’m very fortunate that I have a quote that’s painted in a big 12-foot mural in the Penn State Football Training Center, and it says, “Are the habits you have today on par with the dreams you have for tomorrow?” And that’s a mantra I try and live by. I’m a big believer in habits and the things that we do consistently. And I always want to make sure that the things that I’m doing on a daily basis are in alignment and are in harmony with the person that I’m trying to become.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
They can go to AlanSteinJr.com. I also have a supplemental site StrongerTeam.com, and I’m very easily found on social media @AlanSteinJr. I love interacting with folks, so if you’re on Instagram or LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook, just shoot me a DM. And if you have a question or want to discuss anything that Pete and I talked about, I’m always open for that. And, certainly, if anyone is interested in either book Raise Your Game or Sustain Your Game, they’re easily found on Amazon, Audible, or wherever you like to get your books.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I do. I think at the ground level, the foundation, is showing up at your job emotionally charged and as the best version of yourself. And in order to do that, you have to take a look at your morning and your evening routines, how you’re spending the bookends of your day. So, one of the exercises I always encourage folks to do is a very basic self-audit. You take a piece of paper. You draw a vertical line down the middle.

On the left side, come up with an exhaustive list of all of the things that light you up, that give you energy, that make you smile, that make you feel alive, that add to your confidence. This could be taking a Peloton class or pulling out your yoga mat to do some stretches. It could be a quiet morning reading the paper and drinking some coffee. It could be watching a riveting documentary or taking your dog for a walk. But any of the activities that give you energy and fill you up, then come up with a list of those.

And then on the other side of the paper, on the other side of that right line, write down how you’ve been spending the bookends of your day, your morning and your evening routine. Then you’re going to compare the two sides of the paper. You’re going to compare the two sets of notes. And you’re going to ask yourself one of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself, and that is, “Am I doing the things that I know I need to do to be my best self and to show up as my best self, ready to make a maximum contribution to my job?”

And if you do that with some honesty and some vulnerability, you’ll most likely start to uncover what’s called a performance gap, and that is the gap between what we know we should do to be our best self, and what we actually do on a daily basis. And one of the key tenets of my work is helping folks close that gap and start doing the things they know they need to do.

If you can make the time to heighten your self-care and to sprinkle some of the things from the left side of the paper onto the right side, and even if it’s just 10 to 15 minutes in the morning and evening, doing the things that light you up and fill your bucket, it’ll have a massive impact on how you show up, your energy level, how you feel about yourself, and, absolutely, your ability to make a contribution to your work, to your job, to your organization.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alan, thank you. It’s been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun and sustaining of your game.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Likewise, my friend. This was great. Thank you so much.