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490: Uncovering Your Why and Bringing it to Work with Justin Jones-Fosu

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Justin Jones-Fosu explains how to lead a more enriching work life by aligning your now with your why.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get into your “achieve more” zone
  2. 12 questions for uncovering your why
  3. How to turn any job into meaningful work

About Justin

Justin is on a mission to help professionals and workplaces to Work like they mean it!  He is a meaningful work speaker and social entrepreneur who speaks 60-70 times per year to companies, organizations and associations in the US and internationally.  His latest book Your WHY Matters NOW: How Some Achieve More and Others Don’t challenges the reader to merge their purpose and productivity to get more out of work and life.

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

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Justin Jones-Fosu Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Justin, thanks for joining here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Justin Jones-Fosu
It’s great to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Justin, my mental picture of you comes from maybe the day after I met you in which you were dancing around in a blue boxing robe. Can you explain this situation to our listeners?

Justin Jones-Fosu
What happens with Pete and Justin stays with Pete and Justin except on this podcast. But, no, so when I first started speaking, one of the things for me, I was doing a presentation about fighting for your life. And so, a great way to illustrate that was with I had a boxing robe that was created for me, a genuine one, from like the boxing people themselves, and had like TBA, which stood for Think, Believe, Act, and had the boxing gloves.

And so, like that was my little thing where I’d come in to the Rocky music, and it was a really cool experience. So, that’s probably what happened. I ended up speaking at that organization and somebody stole it, I have no idea where it went, but I never replaced it. So, that’s my boxing robe story.

Pete Mockaitis
That was not cool. And you know what, that’s going to be on eBay somewhere, you’re going to bump into like, “What the heck, guys?”

Justin Jones-Fosu
Right. If I ever get famous, like that’s what’s going to happen, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so lately you’ve been doing a lot of work and research and speaking associated with the idea of meaningful work and how that comes about. And you have an interesting perspective when it comes to your why and your now. Can you sort of unpack this idea for us?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, probably about, I don’t know how long now, about eight years ago I started digging into kind of your why and purpose, and I’ve been studying purpose for a while, something that was very meaningful for me. And as I’ve started travelling around, I was doing some speaking, and I started hearing these rumblings of kind of the why and purpose and I started meeting people who knew their why but weren’t doing anything about it.

And so, I was like, “All right.” I initially went into… because all my focus back in the day was all about action in terms of, “How do you actualize leadership?” I do action-based leadership. And it shifted because I started asking the questions of people who knew their why but weren’t doing anything about it. And then I realized there was a whole another group of people. And there’s a whole group of people, there were what I call now people. And the now people, these were kind of people who were doing a lot of good stuff just in the wrong places, and they were connected to their whys.

And so, that for me became the kind of the contribution to the conversation is that I want to help people to achieve more, right? And so, people achieve when they know their why because they’re able to kind of move forward. People are also able to achieve when they’re engaged in now and they’re super productive but maybe in the wrong places. But the true sweet spot of what I call the achieve more zone is where people connect their why and their now. And those things, together, when they’re operating in congruency, that allows people to achieve more.

And if anyone is like me, I’ve gone through my phases of what I call purpose and productivity seesaw, where I get into my zone of purpose, “Oh, I’ve got to be purposeful. I have to do things that mean something to me,” and I become a little less productive because it’s all about purposeful and meaning. And then I jump to the other side, “I need to be productive and I need to get things done now.” And then I start losing purpose and the things that were meaningful.

I was like, “What if we didn’t have to go through that seesaw? What if we could actually bridge the two together to achieve more?” And that’s where the why and the now came together.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you maybe tell us some stories, some examples, paint a picture of an articulation of a why, and sort of, “We got the why without the now.” And then, “We got the now without the why.” Sort of what does that look and feel like in practice?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, many times I hear of so many, even my audiences, the people that engage in terms of like why. So, some people with the why and without the now can be two different ways, so I created a whole quadrant around it but I’ll talk about one of the, say, the wanderers, right? And so, in my WHY matters quadrant, one of the things, if you have a little why little now, the wanderers are the kind of people that they don’t know their why, they’re not practicing, they’re not passionate about it, they’re not giving it their all. If I had to give them a TV show, I’ll call them The Walking Dead.

But the next group of people, the thinkers, these are the kind of people that they know their why. These are the kind of people that they read the books on purpose, they read the books on why. And I’ll give you a great example, I was that person who was super purpose-oriented, I was reading books on it, even wrote a book that dealt with purpose and values. But as I was dealing with that, I wasn’t productive, like I wasn’t getting a lot of things done, I wasn’t accomplishing as much as I could. I felt super content but I wasn’t progressing forward.

And so, that was a time in my life where I was like super focused on purpose and I thought about my career, and I was super reflective. And so, those are the type of people that they get in to reflection mode, and the quadrant is the thinkers, right? So, these are people that they’re just thinking, they’re thinking, they’re thinking, but for whatever reason, whether the fear of success, fear of failure, or they’re simply just following the herd of society that they just get stuck just thinking about their why but it doesn’t translate to create action, to accomplishing more, to being productive, to doing productive behaviors, or what I call being on 10, which we can talk about later. And so, that’s the why people.

Then the other group of people, which I’ve also been as well, are those who have a high now but a low why. And in my quadrant, those are misplaced. And the misplaced are the kind of people that, like I mentioned, they’re doing a lot of great stuff just in the wrong places. And so, for me, I had those moments where I would read books, like Getting Things Done, and Eat That Frog, and a whole bunch of productivity books, and I was just being super productive but I wasn’t checking it according to my why. I wasn’t making sure that I was doing things on purpose.

So, I’ll give you a great example. So, I used to be a radio show host, right? And part of the radio show host, just three years, Listen up with Justin Jones-Fosu, we had a real great time, an FM radio station, MPR affiliate. And as I was doing the radio show for three years, I found myself in a misplaced quadrant because I was doing it and people were like, “This is awesome. You’re killing it, Justin. You’re reaching thousands of people in the Baltimore area and surrounding,” but it wasn’t connected to my why. I was doing it because it was a good thing to do and it felt like the right thing to do, like the right progression and be productive. I have a radio show host where thousands of people listen to you every week but it wasn’t according to my why.

And when I really sat down and thought through, “Why was I doing what I was doing? What was the purpose behind it? What was the intent?” I realized that the radio show wasn’t the right conduit for me, that I was actually productive but zapping me of aspects of purpose and meaning for me. And so, I decided to give up the radio show after three years, and everybody was like, “Why? Why would you do that?” But it’s because I wanted to have greater why alignment, and so I ended up pursuing and diving into things in terms of speaking and writing that were much more in line with my why but I was also able to get more time and be super productive to what really mattered to me.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, and what do you call it, I guess in your ideal quadrant where you got it both going on?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yes, the pursuer quadrant. And it’s those who understand clarity, connection, and consistency which are the components of the why and having a strong why. And those people who are engaged and on 10 behaviors which when people are maximizing kind of the effort, their intensity, how hard they go. And so, if I had to summarize why, the definition of why, it’s simply purpose, what motivates you, what drives you, the intent behind what you do. And the now is passion. When we talk about passion, we’re talking about not what you do but how you do it, the effort, the intensity with what you give and it’s a concept that I call being on 10.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s interesting here because I can see where you’re going. So, we got the thinkers who are doing a fine job of doing that internal reflection and zooming in on, “Well, what am I all about? What’s behind this? What are my values? What really lights me up? What doesn’t light me up?” And so, they’re having some good time where they’re articulating some of that stuff but in the process, they’re not making stuff happen so they aren’t generating a bunch of to-do’s slayed behind them in their wake.

And so, at the same time though, you can go in the other direction, in which you’re not doing any of that reflection, you’re rocking and rolling in terms of just dominating hundreds of emails and all these things.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Zero box.

Pete Mockaitis
But what is it really doing for you in terms of connecting? So, I hear what you’re saying that it can only be possible to have one and not the other. So, let’s talk a bit about arriving at a good articulation of your why. And we talked about this a couple of times in the show. So, you mentioned clarity, connection and consistency. How do we get at that clarity? And maybe, for starters, you can articulate for us your why and maybe some whys of other folks that you’ve interacted with that just inspired the crap out of you.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yes. So, my why is to inspire people, to achieve actionable results by challenging the boundaries of what they believe are possible. And it took me a long time to really begin to articulate and get to that why because, for me, I looked back at my life, and so I did kind of a reflection in terms of, “What has been the core messaging throughout my life? What’s been part of that journey of my life?”

And my story is one where I had a lot of obstacles, extensive homelessness, we were poor initially in terms of financially but rich in spirit, had hand-me-downs at Salvation Army. I mean, all the stuff and had to really kind of overcome the boundaries that were there, single mom with two rambunctious boys. I mean, a lot of things, grew up in the hood initially. So, a lot of things that were boundaries for me and I realized that my own life was one of challenging the boundaries of what I believed were possible.

But that also translates into kind of what I do, what I call my intentional hobby, where my intentional hobby is I like trekking and climbing mountains and I like challenging the boundaries. I remember one story where me and my buddy, Marlon Barton, we do a thing called the birthday challenge. And so, we went skiing for the first time and failed. I’ve never been skiing before. A great place to go skiing for the first time. And I remember we were climbing, snowshoeing on this mountain, and literally sometimes all we could do is take 20 steps and stop for like three minutes because we were at a high altitude but we continued to climb.

And so, for me, that became my why. And so, that’s just symbolic of the nature, for me, is I’m always challenging the boundaries of what I believe are possible for being, coming from single home, from being poor financially, to being a black male in society, a lot of different things. And so, just challenging those boundaries has become a component of my journey with others.

And so, it’s not something that I have to think about doing, I just do it, right? And sometimes I have to control myself in doing it because I can come off so hard, like, “Hey, are you challenging your boundaries?” And people are like, “Justin, I just said hi, right?” And so, for me, that became, and as I reflected, that became crystal clear for my why. So, to start off, that’s my why and that’s kind of how I came about it. And it took me really about a month to really kind of think through and process and reflect, and I asked myself several different questions in order to get there, to get to that why.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And it’s very helpful. And could you share some other folks you know and their whys articulated?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Absolutely. So, other people I’ve met, I met this young lady actually about a month ago, and she talked about, you know, we went through, because she was struggling with how does she identified her why. And we started kind of going through life and questions, and I have this thing called the 12 uncovering questions that help people to kind of think through their why and develop their why statement, and we started going through some of these questions. And we came to her why, dealt with both helping fixing things but also centered around technology.

And so, she started thinking through like, “What does this look like for me in my everyday life?” And so, we started talking about like, “How do you interact with your friends?” “I always have to fix it. I always have to be a fixer.” And so, part of her why statement became, in terms of fixing things, but it also looked at how does technology help people in their lives to fix things. And so she does like A/V and IT stuff and so she’s always thinking through of connecting people to technology in ways that can help them fix some of the aspects and challenges in their lives. And so, that’s her why statement.

Other people have developed why statements because, again, this is not what you do but kind of the overall umbrella of how you do something or kind of the lens in what you look through things. So, I met another gentleman, and one of the things around his why just dealt with helping people to develop a greater sense of grit because he had to work his butt off and ended up going to the military.

And one really amazing person that I encountered, Summer Owens, and she has a great story in terms of she was a teen mom and ended up going to The University of Memphis, and her story of all that she encountered. And, actually, the way she became a teen mom that was with a sexual assault, and her why is built on what’s called so-what in terms of her resilience. And so, she became Miss University of Memphis and is now even like the national president of The University of Memphis Alumni, and just really doing a great job. And her why centers around so-what in resilience. So, “So, what you went through that? How are you going to continue to go up?”

So, she helps people to become so-what in their lives. And so, like those are people’s whys, and everybody gets to their whys differently. But, for me, in the book, some people had struggled with their why. I created these 12 questions just to help people to start thinking and processing how they approach their why.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and I would definitely want to hit those in just a moment. But, first, you mentioned that it’s not even about what you’re doing in a moment, but bringing that lens and that perspective to whatever you’re doing. So, can you share how once you have that why, how you bring it to a job that might not have anything to do with technology or whatever the case may be, but it infuses it with something magical?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, one of the things that I found as I was really kind of discovering why is like some people, I feel, have stated their whys as what they do, right? And so, “My why is to help people to being a trainer.” And I’m saying, “Well, no, not necessarily. Your why could be helping people but it may not be as a trainer because that should be the thing that you do in all aspects of your life. And if you’re helping people, you’re engaging with your friends, you’re helping them to solve their problems and bring solutions.”

And so, for me, part of my why just permeated through not just what I did but like all the aspects of what I do should be my why. And so, with my family, I’m challenging the boundaries of what they believe are possible and so we’re doing things that we’ve never done. So, at work, you may have nothing to do, like this person who loves fixing things and love that kind of infusion with technology, she was able to find a job which is great in terms of ways that integrate with what she did, but she still would be helping to fix things as part of her why in her job.

And so, it could’ve been aspects of problems and bringing solutions to those problems. So, whatever those things are, it’s very important that we don’t finetune because we may change what we do but why we do it is something that really is consistent. And so, I’m very fortunate, I love speaking, and so people bring me in and speak all the good stuff. But even with my friends, I’m challenging the boundaries of what they believe are possible.

So, like when everybody has a birthday whether on LinkedIn and even some Facebook, I sometimes send what I call the birthday challenge. This is what I do every year, which is one thing that you’ve never done that you’ve always wanted to do or that you haven’t done in a long time, and that’s to challenge you to stay in what I call the learning-based mindset.

And so, it’s one of the things I just naturally do. It has nothing to do with my job or my work, but it just permeates through all that I do. And so, some people that’s helping to fix things, for other people it’s developing greater sense of resilience, for some people it’s helping to connect people to deeper sense of family, or belonging in a family, or could be within the context of corporate America, or it could be at home, whatever those things are, it permeates that. Even if you changed job titles, why you do something, the meaning, the intent, the purpose behind it stays the same.

And so, that’s where I come to the why, not just what you do, really, it’s not what you do, but the umbrella, the lens in which you do almost all aspects of your life. Even at the gym, I’m challenging boundaries of what I believe are possible. Sometimes that’s not whys because I think I can do more than I can do but I’m still challenging those boundaries, and that’s why my birthday challenge this year is actually competing in a men’s physique competition. Don’t judge me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. These photos, bust.

Justin Jones-Fosu
I’d take my shirt off, like, “No.” My wife is going to kill me. But all aspects of my life are centered around challenging the boundaries of what I believe are possible and achieving actionable results in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I had a buddy who participated in a men’s physique contest, I don’t know if he wants me to say his name or not, but it was impressive, like, wow, check that out.

Justin Jones-Fosu
I hope mine will be too.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. I was at a wedding and he was missing the wedding because he had already signed up for this thing. And so, I kept kind of asking him for the updates, like, “Yeah, so how did it go?” And then I had the distinct privilege of being able to show the first photos of him in the men’s physique contest to his girlfriend, I mean, that was at the wedding. And I was like, “Oh, it’s so good when you have something. Well, so, hey, this actually kind of connects to my purpose, I guess.”

Justin Jones-Fosu
It’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve chewed on this in terms of this is my purpose just for like work or more broadly, and you gave me some good stuff to chew on, and I think it’s not just work, but I don’t know if it’s yet all-encompassing, some are work in progress but it’s to discover, develop, and disseminate knowledge that transforms the experience of being alive.

Justin Jones-Fosu
That’s powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And it really does genuinely light me up, like when I have conversations with you, like I’m discovering stuff, like, “Ooh, that’s really cool. You know, it’s like I’m developing it. Okay, we’re working this episode, we’re making it sharp, we’re polishing it, we’re cutting some parts, we’re trying to get some good teasers, and we’re distributing it, like, ‘Hey, many thousands of folks are checking out the episode and they say good things.’” And so, that’s a thrill and then it also shows up in other sort of trainings and speaking and coaching and whatnot that I’m doing as well as even just conversation with folks about a product. it’s like, “Oh, hey, I got this Bluetooth meat thermometer. It’s amazing, you know. It’s pouring my life with all the low-fat chicken breast so I’m ready for a physique contest, Justin.

Justin Jones-Fosu
See? We’ll be competing together it sounds like. And How to be Awesome at Your Physique will be your next podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you have to be really extreme, but even in that moment, I was so delighted to be able to, I guess, disseminate the knowledge, “Hey, there’s a photo of your man on his bodybuilding contest thing.” You know, it was a thrill for me and it transformed her experience of being alive because she was like, “Oh, my gosh.”

Justin Jones-Fosu
See? And your why is permeating all aspects. There was no podcast for that, there was no speaking engagement for that. It was just you being you.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. I dig it. So, I feel like I’m getting pretty close of finetuning it and so very cool. Let’s hear about these uncovering questions. Do tell. What do they uncover and how do we do them?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, I’ll go through the 12, there’s some that mean more than others in how people interpret it and so some may seem redundant but they’re really trying to piece together, it’s almost like when you put your fingerprint, when you do the fingerprint scan, that it’s like, okay, you still put your fingerprint down but it gets at it a different way.

And so, these 12 questions are, the first is, “Why are you here?” And for some people they’re like, “Why am I here?” Like, existentially, “Whoa!” Second is, “What major life experiences have you faced both positive and negative?” Third is, “What interested you growing up?” Fourth, “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” Fifth, “What interests and intrigues you in life?” Sixth, “What do you wish was better in the world?”

Seven, “Have you ever had a moment when you felt like you came alive? What were you doing and why did that make you feel amazing?” Eight, “What impact do you have on others/society? What impact do you want to have on others/society?” Nine, “When have you felt inspired, hopeful, full of learning and growing?” Ten, “What excites you?” Eleven, “What do you believe about the world? What do you think the world should be like?” And twelve, “How are others better after time with you or by what you do?”

And so, asking these questions and, yeah, I’ve sometimes done workshops with these and we’ve kind of gone through aspects of the book and, man, to see people really diving in and engaging childhood, and engaging the journey of their lives, and asking questions, like, “What’s been a consistent theme over the course of my life, from childhood to adolescent to adulthood, that really helps me identifying, have a clearer why of like purpose and what I provide and bring to society, and really the impact and the legacy that I want to leave, an imprint on this world?” And people wrestle with that.

And so, this is one of the things I tell people often, especially my perfectionist people, like, “I need to write the perfect statement,” and I’m like, “It’s not about getting the perfect statement. It’s about taking that true genuine time to reflect. And then I also, like I did something, or I encourage people to do the same thing, I sent it to my three top family members and friends, and I was like, “Hey, this is what I’m really identifying with my why and my why statement. And, externally, do you think it reflects me?” And some people are like, “Justin, I’ve never even heard you say that phrase, right? Like, that came out of nowhere. So, I don’t think that’s true or remains to who you were.” I felt like I was just trying too had to come up with something that sounded really cool.

But, really, identifying like what meant something to me and people talked about challenging them, I’m always challenging. I talk about boundaries. I talk about how you challenge those boundaries and what’s possible. So, like these key themes and phrases came from my childhood and adolescence and adulthood and from me. And when people start asking themselves those questions and start reflecting, it’s not that they’ll get their immediate why statement there, but it’s them now being open to hearing and experience and not for themselves but also their closer friends and family members, what this really looks like and how they can live it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really dig what you’re saying here. And we also interviewed David Mead on the podcast who worked with Simon Sinek with Find Your Why and that book. And there are some nice overlaps, but he was all about, “Hey, have a partner and have them kind of carefully observe as you share sort of life stories with them, and they can kind of identify some themes from those.” And I thought, “Well that’s a good approach, yes.”

But what I love about your questions is we can get started right away in terms of right now, don’t have to find a partner, you don’t need training, facilitation, or have any interest in this, and so you can really get the wheels turning immediately which is cool. And, yeah, I kind of want to just be alone and think about this right now. Go away, Justin.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Right. I’m sorry. I’ll leave you alone. And that’s what a lot of people like to do. I mean, I figure from a great perspective, just having time to reflect, and I love that method in terms of having a partner to observe. But just sometimes you having time to reflect and just to sit back and engage and to think is really emotional for some people.

Some people in my workshops and trainings have been like many tears because people go through some really painful experiences. One of the things I talk about, both positive and negative, and I went through experiences of abuse and abandonment and a lot of different things that I had to really kind of wrestle with. And so, there’s actually a part in the book where I tell people, like, “Hey, if you need a moment, put the book down and come back to it when you’re okay. And if it really gets serious for you, please seek help and get counseling to process some of these things,” because some people actually dredge up things that’s challenging for them, and they’ve put away in a nice box what’s been a part of their story.

And so, I think it’s helpful for people to take that time, like you just said, and like, “Justin, get away,” and just to reflect, and then maybe bring on a partner and/or have three to five friends or family members to look at and engage in your stories and what you shared.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, let’s say we have even a rough nascent preliminary draft sense of the why before a perfect articulation or a decent articulation. So, with that in mind, how do we, sort of day-to-day, enjoy kind of more passion of your job based upon having this?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah, so there’s a couple of different ways to approach that, right? And so, when you know your why, I mean, it allows you to better engage. One of the things is there’s a lot of work going around meaning, right? So, I talk a lot about meaning as part of the one of the definitions of why that’s meaningful. And so, I challenge the notion of meaning and so I’m like really developing this movement around helping people to work meaningfully, not to have meaningful work but work meaningfully because, often, I found that we’ve created almost this meaningful workspace where it’s external focus on meaning, it’s like the external loci.

Stephen Covey talks about internal locus of control, and we got deeper into that. But, this internal loci, it’s not about finding meaning in your work, it’s about bringing meaning to your work. It’s not about doing work that you love, it’s about loving the work that you do because one is external, one is internal. And there’s actually some really cool research that shows there’s a group of hospital cleaners, and one of the things that they found was that there’s two different groups of hospital cleaners. There’s one group of hospital cleaners that came to the hospital, they cleaned the hospital, and they left the hospital. It makes sense because they were hospital cleaners, right?

But there’s another group of hospital cleaners that they engaged with the nurses to find out when is the best time to actually come into the room, they would talk with visitors and family members, say, “Hello, is there anything I could get for you?” They saw themselves as extensions of the mission of the hospital. Now, these groups were both doing the exact same work, but one brought meaning with them while other were potentially finding meaning in their work.

And so, I think when you talk about passion and engaging at work, it first starts with us showing up and choosing each and every day to bring our meaning with us. No matter what you identify as your why statement, even if you don’t have a why statement yet, it’s that we can show up and bring that meaning, and there’s ways to do that, right?

So, a lot of our research stems in job crafting, and there’s really three ways that you can have job crafting or crafted jobs that’s meaningful for you. It’s identifying task crafting, relational crafting, and mental crafting. And so, what task crafting is simply adding a component of your job that is meaningful for you. So, for some people, what they do is repetitive, it’s not sexy, they’re like, “Oh, I want to do something else.” But that task crafting is saying, “Well, I love helping people. So, could I potentially be one of the leads for volunteering? Could I start a volunteering? Could we do something as relates to a breast cancer awareness or do one of the walks?” Whatever that could be that they may start that or be a part of the lead. And so, that small aspect of task crafting shifts how they bring themselves to work.

The second, around relational crafting, is simply enjoying friends or the people that are there so the relationships access thing. In my presentation, I talk about Cool Hand Luke, , right? If you’ve ever seen that movie, it’s one of my favorite movies of Paul Newman, and one of the things he says, the statement, “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” right? It came from that movie. And one of the things with the relational crafting is he created these games with the people he was with.

And so, they were doing like mundane things, they’re supposed to be in prison, but they had so much fun doing it with each other, right? And so, they created this relational component, and so developing strong sense of belonging and relationships, whether that’s going happy hour, whether that’s engaging and going out to lunch with one person a week, whatever that thing may be, that you come to work, and even if your work is not sexy, you don’t really find it really awesome, that you can still be awesome at your job by the relationships that you create.

But the third aspect is the mental crafting and it’s all about how do you see the work that you do. And so some of the things in my research, and I was looking at people who do repetitive jobs, and also one of the articles like “Meaningful Work in Meaningless Places” and so it talked about like even a janitor that saw themselves in an educational institution, and that janitor saw themselves helping people to learn more effectively and learn better because they created an environment where people could bring their best selves to learn.

And they ask themselves, “If I did not clean, if I didn’t do what I did today, what would this place be and how would people respond? And would they be their best selves in their learning?” And so, like that’s a great example of how do we bring what we do. And so, that’s just some of the research that dives into how can you bring that passion, how do you bring that meaning, and it’s not simply just waiting for meaning to fall on your lap.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. And I’m thinking now with regard to the task component, so the folks who were cleaning the hospital sort of just did little extra touches with regard to checking with the nurses, like, “When is the best time to do this cleaning?”

So, you’re doing a task that you’re not feeling, and you could just sort of invent whatever it may be. And so, what are some of the little tweaks, kind of like the hospital cleaner asking about what times they could clean that would be best for the patient, might help give a boost to the meaning when we’re doing some task crafting?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, there are so many different opportunities or examples of task crafting that are there. So, one I mentioned before was just in terms of changing or adding a little component of something that’s meaningful for you. So, for some people, like we mentioned, is helping people. So, it could mean getting involved and engaged with community service aspect. For some people, they love creating presentations so they may volunteer to do the presentations or even just create them in PowerPoint, or Keynote, or Prezi if you still use it. But it’s like they ask how they can best engage in the things that are meaningful for them. So, that’s another example.

For some other people, I’ll give you my example. For me, when I was working for a financial service company, I wasn’t happy in my job. So, really, a lot of this movement came from me. I wasn’t being awesome at my job nor was I happy at my job. And I started asking for little different things, and so they allowed me to be a part of the learning management system in what we called My Learning. And I was able to also engage, I was really passionate about diversity equity inclusion, and so they included me as part of their implementing new diversity strategies within the company. So, my manager allowed me to be a part of that team, and it impacted my overall work.

And what’s beautiful about that, and a book called The Progress Principle, one of the things that they found when they interviewed 12,000 workers is that when people felt like they were making progress, even if it was incremental, towards something that was meaningful to them that they felt better, healthier and happier about what they called the IWL, or inner work life.

And so, like all of those components is like we all can find, we just have to stop, press pause, reflect, and ask, “What are some of the tasks that are meaningful for me?” And that’s why I love what Google used to do, they moved away from that according to recent conversations, but they used to have like this 20% rule where they challenged and encouraged people to work on tasks or things 20% of the time that were meaningful to them, that they love.

So, some of the things that we experience and have now came from that 20%, right? And so, people would do that and they would come away with great things, some things failed and worked, but those were ways that I saw companies help to implement aspects of task crafting. So, as individuals, we have to ask and press pause and reflect and ask, “What makes me smile at work? Like, what are some of the things I really just enjoy doing? Is it the interactions I have with people?”

I met a lady at the Charlotte Airport, she would sing all the time, right? She’d sell like the candy and the mints which I eat a lot of, the mints not the candy, and, remember, I’ve been working out. But she would sing all the time, and I loved it, right? So, she created this little way to bring a different component of her tasks and she loved singing, and she applied that.

So, in all the different walks of life, I think there’s opportunities for us to identify the task that make us smile, some things that we really enjoy, and find out, one, “Can we get involved in that that exists already at our job or commuting or doing other things online and/or create it?” So, maybe there’s not a social committee. Hopefully you don’t do it like The Office did, but maybe there’s opportunity for you to coordinate happy hours if you really like bringing people together, or to get people involved and create a bowling night, or whatever that thing may be, I think there’s opportunities to craft that in our tasks.

So, there’s an opposite of that, I want to help people be mindful of, that sometimes, one, people have to get buy-in from their leadership and management. Two, add that to their work, and I’ve seen in some of the research that people have gone to the opposite side, and they’ve spent too much time on the thing that they’re crafting and not enough time on their job, and so it doesn’t allow their management leadership to support some of their task crafting. So, that’s some of the risks of task crafting is that you have to get, one, buy-in but then, two, you have to make sure that it doesn’t negatively impact your job where you’re spending too much time on what you enjoy. But just occasionally implementing some of those components into your everyday work.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, I think the other component of just the now, is the companion to the why, right? So, yes, it’s great in terms of bringing meaning with you, but how do you bring that meaning, right? What does it mean to be what I call on 10, right? Now, to kind of illustrate the on 10, at least through air, it’s almost like this. Have you ever been to a place where people have been dancing? And, Pete, you know this too well, right? It’s like they’re using two different types of dances, aren’t they, Pete, right?

There’s like one type of dancer that’s like cool, comic-like, like boom, boom, boom, hey. “They’re not going to see me sweat, right?” And they have this other type of dancer, like, “Woo, woo, woo, brr,” right? And the first type of dancer there’s so concerned, they’re consumed about people watching them that they either remix it, they make it slower, like, “They’re not going to see me sweat, yeah, right?” But this other type of dancer that they came with like three undershirts because they’re going to sweat on every single one. Like, they came ready to get everything they had on the dancefloor of their lives. And I’ve seen you dance, Pete, that is you.

I mean, they came ready. And that’s the question mark for us in real life, is like, “Which type of dancer are we?” Not in real life because we all need to know that. But are we the dancer number one who they’re so concerned about people watching them, looking at them, that they don’t give their all, they don’t give what their 10 is? Or are they dancer number two where they’re willing even if people put them on IG or people put them on Snap or LinkedIn, Live, or whatever that may be, that they’re willing to give everything that they have.

I often find it’s people have to answer that question for themselves, “Are they on 10? Are they maximizing? Like, what are their on-10 behaviors? What are the things that they do that communicates their excellence, their best, right?” Now, one of the challenges I find with people that engage or don’t engage with fully being on 10 is that they suffer from what I call on-10 comparisons where one of the things that they consistently compare themselves to other people. So, it’s almost like somebody else doing a podcast that would compare themselves to how awesome your podcast is, and they wouldn’t give their best because they’re like, “I’ll never measure up to Pete.”

But you only have two different capacities. What they’re able to and what you’re able to do is different and there may be different parts of their lives, and so like, “How do you look at just your own reflection, do your own reflection, and identify your own self, for what is my best?

And so, while having your why and bringing meaning is super important, also how important your now is is amazing. So, even for the listeners, I simply ask you, if you had to rate yourself on a scale from one to 10, with one being the lowest and 10 being the highest, how passionately are you currently living your why, right, whether that’s professionally and/or personally? What does that look like? What would you rate yourself?

And even a deeper question sometimes is, “How would the people around you rate you?” If we went and did an informal 360 at your office, or even if you’re telecommuting and different things like that, it’s the people that you support or work with or other team members, how would they rate you? And then, on the other side, because all my conversations are not just professional but also personal, like what would family members say?

And so, those are ways that we can ask, “What are our on-10 behaviors? How would I currently rate myself? And what does it look like for me to truly be on 10 to fully engage?” And so, in the book and other places, I talk about just ways to challenge our cruise control, but also what I call the principle of the frog, step, seed, and smile which are ways to be on 10 to have a high now and to engage in the true now.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
One of my favorite quotes is “Anything can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.” It’s unknown. I guess that’s probably intentional, all right, as a quote, like, “Yeah, let me put my credit for the quote.” That’s one of the most powerful quotes that I love as a social entrepreneur. One of the things that matters to me is the impact that we’re having on people. And it’s something that’s super powerful.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
Woo, I love some of the research around the herd theory. And the herd theory simply, it looked at a group of creatures, and what it notices is that when this group of creatures saw impending danger was coming that they all begin going the exact same way. And I sometimes illustrate that in our presentations where I like have people get up and have them walk around the room. And normally about 80% to 90% of time, people go the same way.

And you see that play out and there’s some studies, I don’t know the official name but I’m going to call them unofficially the elevator studies. You can probably find it on YouTube where they did a study where people would get on elevators and like everybody would be faced the wrong way in the elevator. And they would study what the person who got on the elevator would do, right?

Often you would see this person would turn around and face the back of the elevator like these other people, and that’s just another example of the herd theory and why that’s important to me.

But what I love about the herd theory and what that communicates is often, experientially, we just simply follow the herd, we follow the path of least resistance. We do what everybody else does at our company. We do all the same things and we sometimes don’t ask, “What does this mean to me?”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Justin Jones-Fosu
My favorite book still is Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute. Amazing power book that helps you to better reflect and to see, “Am I projecting negativity on others based upon me not taking responsibility for my own life?” And so, that book, when I did my MBA, that transformed the way I look at life. And so, yeah, that’s one of my favorite books.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Situational Leadership II by Ken Blanchard. A great tool. It focuses on the different components on how do you, one, serve and lead others? But then also, two, where can you ask for help?

I found people that just go to their leadership without using those terminology and being able to say, “Hey, like on this specific task or this role, I need some help, I need some support. I need to know if I’m going in the right direction. I need to know if I’m failing or falling short of this.” And it’s just been a helpful way for people to, one, communicate where they are on a task or a role, but, two, to get support and direction in that same process.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Ooh, a really good habit is what I call #extravagantappreciation. I’ve been on a mission lately and part of my research in terms of how we can be more productive is how do we show extravagant appreciation on other people. It actually falls into my principle the frog, step, seed and smile. It’s what I call #imoa or an intentional moment of appreciation where we go out of our way to celebrate people around us. And I think in this beautiful world of technology, we got to go back to old school, Pete, like back to handwritten thank you notes.

And so, one of the things that I’ve been really developing a strong habit of is, twofold, I’m writing handwritten thank you notes to people and so people can do that right in their office. I challenge people to do at least two, one professionally, and one personally. And let them know the impact that they’ve had on you at work and/or the person at home.

So, my bigger habit is I encourage everyone who stays at hotels. Often, we don’t appreciate and value as much people who are housekeeping or janitors, custodial staff members. Like, I try my best to go out of my way to show them extravagant appreciation.

And, Pete, you would not imagine the smiles that come out of people’s faces. So, that’s one thing that I do, and I encourage everyone who stays at hotel, please leave a tip for your housekeeper, but not just leave a tip but, you know those little pads of paper and a pen? Write them a handwritten thank you note on your last day of your stay and let them know how grateful you are that they’re doing an amazing work. And just don’t leave the note, please leave a tip as well. But that’s one of the habits I think I’m valuing the most because it’s one that’s inspiring other people.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences and they re-tweet it a lot?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah, one of the things that I talk about in challenging the herd and identifying and embracing our uniqueness that this is a quote I share, it’s, “Don’t be just like anyone. Be better for everyone by being the only you.” Again, it’s, “Don’t be just like anyone. Be better for everyone by being the only you.” And that’s one of the most recorded, re-tweeted, and even in an organization, they made a big banner, I had no idea, somebody showed it to me. They put a big banner and put that in the hallway just to speak to unique-ability.

And the last, I know you just asked for one, but I have to an overachiever, I’m sorry about that, sometimes I underachieve there, is, “There are people who would love to have our bad days.” And so, it’s just a perspective, a challenge of kind of when we engage our day could be super easy to focus on things that are negative and all the things that are going wrong, but sometimes in that process and think through, like, “Man, there’s somebody who would love to switch box with me right now. Oh, I hate this situation. I hate my job. I hate my manager.” Whatever. I have a job that I can hate, right? I have a job that I can not like my manager, and other people would love to be in that position.

I know it seems at times trivial that it doesn’t mean to make people’s challenges small, but it is about, “How do we change and reflect in a unique and different way?” And so, identifying that there are people who would love to have my bad days is one of those things that helps me and in my work and in my personal life to have just a changed of perspective.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
They can go right to the website JustinInspires.com where they can find information about Your WHY Matters NOW: How Some Achieve More and Others Don’t. Or, if they want to do the old-fashioned way, they can give me a call at 704-750-5574, but JustinInspires.com is plenty. You can see the videos and see my crazy high energy. I don’t use the boxing robe anymore but I still do dance in the presentations, and so, yeah, that’s where they can get in touch with me.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yes. My challenge is stop asking if the glass is half empty or half full and let’s fill the stupid glass back up, right?

And so, like that’s the thing, it’s, “How do we take action? What is one thing that we can do to move forward?” Like, even from this podcast or all the podcasts you listen with Pete, is what one thing can you take away from this that you can apply and to fill the glass back up? Now, this is not a call to go to your nearest bar, if you’re over 21, and tell your bartender, “Fill the glass up. Fill the glass up,” right?
But this is a clarion call to fill our own glasses up with continuous learning, continuous growing, listening to podcasts like this one right now that will help you to grow and develop professionally but also you get some nuggets to grow personally as well.

So, don’t ask if the glass is half empty or half full, take action and fill the glass back up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Justin, this has been a treat. Thank you and keep on inspiring.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Thank you so much, Pete.

481: Easy Ways to Have More Fun at Work with Drew Tarvin

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Drew Tarvin says: "Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun? You're going to pick fun pretty much all the time."

Drew Tarvin shares how to bring more humor and fun into the workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The power of humor on your work-life productivity
  2. How to craft good work humor that considers medium, audience, and purpose
  3. The 3 specific situations when NOT to use humor at work

About Drew

Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first humor engineer, teaching people how to get better results while having more fun. Combining his background as a project manager at Procter & Gamble with his experience as a stand-up comedian, he reverse-engineers the skill of humor in a way that is practical, actionable, and gets results in the workplace. Through his company, Humor That Works, Drew has worked with more than 35,000 people at over 250 organizations, including Microsoft, the FBI, and the International Association of Canine Professionals. He is a bestselling author; has been featured in The Wall Street JournalForbes, and Fast Company; and his TEDx talk has been viewed more than four million times. He loves the color orange, is obsessed with chocolate, and can solve a Rubiks Cube (but it takes like 7 minutes).

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Drew Tarvin Interview Transcript

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

Drew Tarvin
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me on such a nicely-titled podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yes, I like the direct approach. I want to hear all sorts of things from you. But, first, I want to hear about how you’re left-handed except when it comes to shooting pool. What’s the story here?

Drew Tarvin
You know, I don’t know. Growing up, everything would go left-handed, which is not so great when you’re doing handwriting. And then I tried shooting pool and I could not shoot left-handed. It was just weird and awkward. So, then I switched to the right side and it worked, which is bizarre. So, everything, I write left-handed, I throw a baseball left-handed, I cut paper with left-handed scissors and all that, but shooting pool, it’s on the right side. I don’t know what that says about me. I don’t know what that means for coordination but that’s just a fun fact.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I wonder about like darts or bowling.

Drew Tarvin
Darts, yeah. You think of like the pool hall game, it’s mostly, yeah, darts is still left-handed. I try to act like I’m ambidextrous, that I can use right-handed, and, in fact, my handwriting is almost as good with my right hand as it is with my left hand, but that’s just because my left-handed writing is so terrible that whatever the right hand does isn’t that bad in comparison.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, handwriting was, I believe, my worst subject in my entire academic career.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, and people are like, “You’re going to need this for your entire rest of your life.” And now our computers are like, “No, no, actually.” I mean, I sign things but, aside from that, I don’t really do much handwriting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to dig into your career. You are a humor engineer – intriguing – and you’ve studied humor in the workplace for many years. Can you share with us what’s perhaps one of the most fascinating and surprising discoveries you’ve made as you’ve dug into this topic?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I think that it’s a surprise for many people especially when they hear my background. So, they maybe see me speak, and like, “How did you get into this?” I’m like, “Well, I got a degree in computer science and engineering.” And they’re like, “That doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t seem like the background and then get into standup comedy and do speaking and all that for a living.”

But I think that’s part of what led me to one of the biggest realizations, is that humor is a skill. I think a lot of times we think of humor, making people laugh, being jovial in certain ways is kind of something that you’re born naturally able to do, and if you can do it, great, but if you can’t, you’re kind of out of luck. But that’s a big learning, is that it’s something that we can learn, that there’s an art and science to using humor, which means that we can teach this, the humor side, the science part of it, while also allowing people to practice the art side of it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, I want to dig into the art and science and the skill-building, how we can all have more of it but I want to hear a little bit about the why first. So, you make an argument that humor is not just kind of, “Oh, nice to have. It’d be a little bit more fun if we could have it.” But, rather, like a must-have or a critical source of advantage. Can you share some of these benefits with us?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. And so, part of it comes from the realization that 83% of Americans are stressed out at work, that 55% are unsatisfied with their jobs, and that 47% struggle to stay happy. And so, it leads to this recognition that with 70% of the workforce being disengaged, it costs the US economy an estimated $500 billion in lost productivity every year.

If you do that math on that based on the number of people working and the estimated cost, that costs a $4,638 per disengaged employee. And so, to me, as an engineer looking at all that, what it’s saying is that the current way of working isn’t actually working. And, for me, I discovered that humor was a way for me to stay more engaged in my work. And when I use it, other people actually got into it as well. And so, there’s all these benefits to it that have been backed by research, case studies, real-world examples, so evidence-based examples of why humor is valuable.

So, it leads to things like an increase in productivity, a decrease in stress, an increase in happiness. At a company level, when organizations embrace it, you see an increase in positive workplace culture, an increase in engagement, a decrease in turnover, an increase in profit. There’s all these different benefits that are factually based that speak to the value of using humor in the workplace, and that’s why I say it’s a must-have.

And the way that we work today, where work-life balance is no longer is a thing, and it’s more about work-life integration, and the challenges that we have day-to-day of always feeling like this need to do more with less-type thing, humor is a skill that can help us with all of those, the changes that are happening in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m intrigued in that world of do more with less. Some might say, “Hey, Drew, we can’t burn all this time just joking around and being goofy. We got to produce some stuff.” So, how do you think about that?

Drew Tarvin
I would say, yeah, that’s 100% right. And if you were working with robots or cyborgs, yes, agree. But even something like, imagine running your phone down and being like, “All right. I need to be efficient with my phones so I refuse to charge it,” you would be great for about 24, maybe if you have a newer phone, maybe 48 hours, and then the phone is going to be burned out, it’s going to be dead, and it’s not going to work at all.

And that’s one of the things that I joke about is that, as an engineer, I’ve done a lot of research on productivity. I’m a huge fan of getting things done and thinking about that mentality and all that. But I’ve learned that it is very difficult to be productive if you are dead, or if you feel like you’re dead too, if you’re sick, if you’re tired, if you’re burned out, if you’re stressed out, if you’re worn out.

And so, recognizing that this was a huge aha for me in the workplace is that there’s a difference between being efficient and being effective. And you can be efficient with things like computers. You don’t need to motivate a computer to work, you don’t need to convince it to turn on, it doesn’t need a cup of coffee before it starts in the morning, right? But you can’t be efficient with humans because they have emotions and feelings, and because they have to eat and sleep, and because they get sick and tired. And so, instead of being efficient, we have to be effective and recognizing that humor is a way that we can be more effective.

So, you’re absolutely right. Maybe it’s not the most efficient thing in the moment, but it is long term more effective. And when you think about it, what’s efficient longer term, you explaining something once where people actually kind of get it, they remember it a little bit more, they understand it, or you having to explain it eight times down the road because you’re trying to do it as efficiently as possible?

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve heard, and maybe you can unpack this for me, Mr. Humor Engineer, that when we have recently laughed, our brain state, the neurochemical, biochemical situation is that you are more receptive to receive and hear and absorb information. Can you unpack that a bit?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot of both physiological and psychological benefits of using humor. And part of that receptivity is you can kind of explain it more simply with a dumb question. And the dumb question is, “Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun?” It’s a dumb question, right? But you’re going to pick fun pretty much all the time. So, that means if you were to make your content a little bit more fun, do you think people would be a little bit more open to wanting to hear it?

And I see this all the time as a speaker. So, I speak to a lot of maybe sometimes dry or more conservative organizations, so engineering groups and accounting firms and things like that, and so they’re used to a certain type of speaker. And so, I might go up towards the end of the day, a lot of the times I’m a closing keynote speaker, they’ve had a lot of content, a lot of great content, but it’s been on the drier side.

So, when I first go up, you’ll see a lot of people kind of on their phones or looking through their notebook or whatever, and then I say a line and it makes a couple of people laugh, and you’ll see people look up from their phones and be like, “Wait, I want to laugh. Why did that guy laugh? Oh, I’m going to listen to this guy to see why he made people laugh. Oh, okay.”

As a great speaker named Tami Evans says, “Once you give people laughing, you get them listening. And once you get them listening, you get them learning, you get them taking action, whatever it is, because you’re making that process a little bit more fun.” And, yeah, there’s some science in some of this stuff too in terms of showing that getting people to laugh makes them less defensive, you’ve kind of lower their defenses, or they’re a little bit more likely to see things from a different angle, because part of humor is also changing perspective.

So, if you get people to look at things a different way. So, for example, maybe a silly example is I don’t like mint chocolate. Are you a mint chocolate fan?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I do. I very much like them.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, you’re a mint chocolate? Okay. See, I’ve never been eating chocolate, and then like, “You know what would great with this? Toothpaste, right?” And so, that’s not necessarily going to convince you to be like, “Oh, I don’t like mint chocolate anymore,” but it’s expressing that rather than me just saying, “Oh, I don’t like mint chocolate and it’s dumb,” right, it’s just giving you a slightly different angle that you now laugh about, and you’re like, “All right, well, I can at least kind of see that perspective,” right? So, it’s lowering your defenses because humor started it.

And that’s kind of one of the many benefits to using humor in the workplace is that, one, it gets people listening because they want to laugh, and then, two, once they’re listening, it helps them understand something a little bit more and maybe changes their perspective around it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, Drew, I have to ask, what’s that line, not that it’s the end-all-be-all and applicable to all circumstances, but we want to hear it? I think one of my favorite humor moves, I saw that to start a speech was this speaker was being introduced and they were sharing all of the great accolades, like, “Featured in the Wall Street Journal,” and all these things. And he just said, “Oh, my, that’s impressive.” I thought that was awesome because, like, anytime you’re being introduced you can pull that schtick a little bit because they know you wrote the bio and it’s being read about you, and for you to pretend that you’re surprised and like, “Hmm?” it just made me chuckle. So, what was your line?

Drew Tarvin
So, I have in my bio, in my introduction, one of the ones that I like, and it’s maybe not necessarily super hilarious, but like I give my client list as Microsoft, the FBI, the International Association of Canine Professionals is kind of my comic trip which, because it’s one of the most interesting groups that I’ve ever presented for.

And, of course, kind of my joke about it is that, and it’s kind of I had that split second when I first got the emails, it’s like, “Is this an association for dogs who have jobs?” I was like, “Oh, no, it’s an association for people who are dog trainers.” And that’s one of the things that I love about speaking is that I get to work with all of these different groups that, “Oh, yeah, of course, canine professionals, one, have a title like Canine Professionals, and, two, they have a conference where they get together and get to know each other a little bit better.”

And so, yeah, anytime you can kind of incorporate those types of things it helps. The other thing that I’ve started doing is in the bottom of my bio, I include that I love the color orange, which is kind of a random aside, and I love chocolate. Because what I found is when I spoke in Europe for the first time, I shared, “Oh, he’s obsessed with chocolate,” I started getting chocolate as my speaker gift because sometimes people are like, oh, not that I’m expecting a speaker gift, but if people are going to be like, “Hey, here’s a bottle of wine,” or, “Here’s X, Y, or Z,” I love chocolate so I’d rather inform them to say, “Hey, here’s something that you can get me that if you present me with a box of chocolates, I’m going to be delighted by.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. Well, so there we go. We got some good benefits, and it’s possible for anyone to learn this art and skill. So, I guess, where do we start or how would you orient us to sort of the components of what makes humor work?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I think that the starting point is probably around the definition of humor and making sure that we’re kind of aligned on that because I think we have a certain mindset when it comes to what we think of with humor. And that definition is really important. I kind of relate it to—so I was recently in the UK, and it took me going to the UK for the very first time to realize that I don’t speak English, right? I speak American because British English is different than American English. There are certain words that they say versus what we say.

Like, we say in the US, we say elevator, they say lift, right? We say fries, they say chips, and chips is something different for us. We say, for the most part, we say like bathroom, they say toilets, right, or the loo. And so, when you’re out in the public, I think that that’s more accurate because if you are out in the public and you say, “Hey, where’s the bathroom?” there’s typically no bath in that room. And as an engineer, I’m like, “Okay, that’s more specific, that’s accurate.” So, I was like, “I’m going to start using that in my language.” I’m going to start asking, “Where are the toilets?” or refer to them as toilets.

So, I’m in a Starbucks here in New York City, and I go up to a barista, and I’m like, “Excuse me, where are the toilets?” And she was confused, she was like, “Ah, in the bathroom?” Right? And so, there’s just that idea that language and how we think about it is important. We want to make sure that we’re on the same page with language. And so, when it comes to defining humor, to make sure that we know what we’re talking about, humor is more broad than comedy, right?

Humor is defined as a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement. And so, so often people think laughter, they think standup comedy. They hear humor in the workplace and, suddenly, they’re like, “Oh, does that mean that I have to like start telling jokes? Does that mean that I have to try to become the class clown or a jester?” And that’s not at all what we’re talking about. Instead we’re talking about this broader definition where maybe it’s not about making the workplace funny, but about making it a little bit more fun.

Because the bar for comedy at work is much, much lower than, yeah, if you were trying to get up on stage and rock it at a standup comedy club or get a Netflix comedy special, the level of “funny” that you need to be is pretty high. You need to be getting four to seven laughs per minute, they need to be good laughs, solid chuckles, really kind of cohesive ideas, things that you’ve probably practiced many, many, many times before, versus if you’re just trying to get a little bit more humor into a meeting. Simply having an image behind you that isn’t just a wall full of text but is kind of an interesting image that you’re speaking to might be a simple way of getting a laugh.

Or, like you said, in your bio, having a quick line about, like, “Oh, that sounds impressive.” That’s not necessarily the funniest joke ever written, but it is something different, and in that context, it makes things a lot more interesting. And so, I think understanding that definition and recognizing when we’re talking humor in the workplace, we don’t mean about making the workplace funny, but more about making it more fun, I think, is a good starting point for people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. Well, that’s great. That’s really reduces some of the pressure and lowers the bar and it’s true, I have seen certain contexts where someone tells a joke, there’s a whole lot of laughter, I’m thinking, “Boy, you know, if that person were not…whoever they were, or wherever we were, there wouldn’t be nearly that kind of response.” So, that’s great. Okay, so it’s not too hard. So, how shall we proceed?

Drew Tarvin
Yes, so the way that we kind of frame using and getting intentional about using humor in the workplace is around what we call a humor map. And the humor map stands for your medium, your audience, and your purpose. So, your medium is how are you going to execute that humor? Is it in an email? Is it in a phone call? Is it in a one-on-one situation? Because we know that your medium impacts your message.

Something like sarcasm or satire, you’ve maybe sent a text that’s meant to be a joke before, and you learned from the other person that they took it the wrong way, or they read into it a little bit more. So, sarcasm and satire are very difficult to do, say, in a text form because people, they can’t see that you are joking, they can’t see the paralanguage of the body language and the tone of voice and everything that  you’re saying it with, and so your medium impacts it, right? So, understanding what that’s going to be – email, phone call, one-on-one, live video, or life, or video version, or whatever it is.

Pete Mockaitis
I have to chime in. Have you seen the Key & Peele sketch where they’re texting and have completely different interpretations of what’s going on?

Drew Tarvin
Exactly, yeah. And that’s a great – and Key & Peele, one, fantastic, a great place to kind of share things. And also, they’re sometimes a little bit not safe for work with language, but the other thing about understanding kind of what we can talk about this with the map is recognizing humor in the workplace, you don’t always have to be the creator of humor. But, instead, you can be the shepherd of humor, right? You can share funny things out.

So, if you wanted to make that point about the importance of medium, you can then share the Key & Peele sketch, right, share a link to it on YouTube or Comedy Central or wherever it resides, and then be like, “All right. You know, this is kind of a funny reminder how someone says something in text might be taken a different way.” And there you didn’t create the humor but you’re now leveraging it in this way to still get a specific kind of result. That’s it.

I forgot about that sketch. That’s a great sketch and really demonstrates that idea.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, we think about the medium and note that some things work well or not so well for them, such as, “Do we have the facial expressions and the gestures and the tone of voice or do we not?” Anything else to consider with regard to the medium?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah. Well, I think, and this is where things like memes or GIFs or things like that can help because they introduce a visual element to your message, and you’re seeing emojis come up even more. I was just reading an article recently that emojis are coming up in court cases as well, and judges don’t necessarily know what to do with them. But the whole point of emojis are to help you better convey a message because you can’t visually be there.

Now, does that mean you should, in a very formal email to all of your clients and your boss and all that, include a bunch of emojis after every sentence to make sure that they know what message you’re sharing? No, but in a more conversational kind of text, you might. If you’re making a joke, you might put a smiley face at the end of it, or you might put, kind of the wry kind of dry winky face or something. So, emojis can be part of the communication.

But a big thing is kind of really with GIFs and memes, you might also express humor maybe in that way. So, it’s really just understanding the medium and how it might be received, and recognizing that the safest is kind of in person. Because if someone does take something the wrong way, you can kind of react to that more in the moment, you can react to it. In text, it might be a little bit easier just to link to things, to reference other things as opposed. If you’re not a great joke writer, then maybe you’re not going to write your own jokes but, again, you can, as so and so said, boom, quote someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay. So, we got the medium. And how about the audience?

Drew Tarvin
So, the audience is, who is the audience? What do they know? What do they need? What do they expect? Because part of using humor is not to replace the work, right? To borrow kind of from Office Space, if your boss is like, “Hey, do you have those TPS reports?” You don’t want to like make a quick joke, and then when they say, “No, seriously, do you have them?” you don’t want to be like, “Well, got to go. See you later.” Right?

So, it doesn’t replace the work. You still have to actually do the work. And so, you still have to deliver on what the person needs, but you might do it in a way that they don’t quite expect, right, that’s bringing some of the humor, some of the fun element to it. So, that’s what you need to understand about your audience, is, “Okay, what does this person need and then how can I do it in a way that deliver against it whether maybe not quite expecting it? Oh, they know they need this information, they’re going to hear a presentation about it, they know they’re going to see some slides, oh, but if I make those slides a little bit more interesting, now they’re going to be leaning forward a little bit more because they’re like, ‘Okay, how does this picture of a dog relate to what I’m going to talk about?’” And then you can think of connect how that interesting picture of a dog leads to what you’re talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And can you provide some more examples here?

Drew Tarvin
Another example, say, you want to build rapport with someone, and they need to get to know you a little bit more, right? So, they ask you a question. Think of maybe stereotypical networking questions of like, “What do you do?” So you could answer like, “What do you do?” with, for me, I could say, “Oh, I’m a speaker or I’m a trainer. But what I most I identify with is I’m a humor engineer. So, I used to be a computer science engineer, I used to solve problems in the workplace using things like technologies and computer-to-technology and computers. Now, I solve problems in the workplace using humor, so in that way I feel like I’m a humor engineer.”

And so, when people ask, “What do you do?” I say, “Oh, I’m a humor engineer.” That’s delivering kind of what they need in a way that they don’t expect it, and it usually leads to more questions. Because it’s a made-up term, they’re like, “Okay, what does that mean?” And that allows me to say, “Oh, well, I do a lot of speaking and training on the value of using humor to get better results.”

And so, it’s just something that stands out a little bit more, something that is a little bit more interesting. And then I might go into a story, right? So, stories, when people ask those questions like that, a story, or facts told in story form are 20 times more likely to be remembered than facts told in bullet point form. And so, if you’re at a networking event, if you want to stand out, rather than just being like, “Oh, yeah, I’m a speaker. I train on this,” giving a little bit more background, one, helps you remember things, but, two, it also builds connections.

So, I say, “I’ve always been an engineer. I’ve always been obsessed with efficiency ever since I can remember, really since before I can remember because I was born three weeks early, so apparently a human in the womb. I was like I don’t need a full nine months, I’m ready to go right now. So, then I went to The Ohio State University, got a degree in computer science and engineering. And after I graduated, I started working at Procter & Gamble, and that’s where I realized there was this difference between being efficient and effective.”

And, now, in that conversation, I’ve now answered the question, I’m getting to the point of, “Okay, how did I get to humor engineering?” And in that story, one, it’s a little bit more interesting than just kind of sharing “humor engineer,” or even just sharing “speaker-trainer,” but it also gives people a connecting point. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, you’re trying to find ways to build rapport with that person. And in that story, I’ve now told them, “Oh, I’m an engineer.” If they’re an engineer as well, they’re like, “Oh, okay, I’m mechanical,” or, “I’m in civil engineering.” Now, we have a connection over engineering.

Or, I say, “I went to The Ohio State University.” They might be like, “Oh, I grew up in Ohio as well. What do you think of like Cincinnati versus Cleveland, or Greger’s ice cream versus Jeni’s Ice Cream?” Or, if they’re not from there, they might be like, “Why do you guys say The Ohio State University?” And the answer, “I don’t know. I just know that if we don’t say The Ohio State, then we get our degree taken away, I think,” right?

Or if it’s like, “Oh, I work at P&G.” “Oh, I used to know someone that worked at P&G.” There’s all these small things that they can now connect to that build rapport that they’re getting from me, that they won’t even get if I just said, “Oh, I’m a speaker-trainer.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. And then did we hit the purpose part here?

Drew Tarvin
Yes. And then the last piece, well, the other thing that I would say about the audience piece is that your relationship to that person matters as well because a joke that you would say with someone that you’ve known for 10 years is very different than something that you might say with someone that you’ve met for the very first time.

And so, understanding what is your relationship with this person, and recognizing that when you’re first meeting someone, or if you’re doing it in front of a large group of people, if you’re using humor in front of a large group of people, you’re probably going to be a little bit more broad, a little bit more, safer kind of with your humor versus someone that you know very, very well, where it’s like, “Oh, okay, this person likes this type of humor. I know that I can say this, and I know that they know that I’m joking, that we have that rapport, we have that relationship kind of built up.” So, that relationship piece with the audience is really important as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Drew Tarvin
And then the last piece, yeah, is the purpose. And this is the most important one, and this is, “Why do you want to use humor?” Because, humor, for the sake of humor is fine, I guess. But as an engineer, what I love about it is that we can use it for a specific result. And so, we kind of frame this around it’s my general belief that there are five skills at work. No matter who you are or what you do, it kind of comes down to five things.

Any thoughts on from your perspective? What do you think is included in kind of—if you have a job, what types of things are you doing?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thinking, communicating, creating stuff.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. Right. So, you have to be able to think, right? You’re creating strategic plans, you’re being critical, you’re also being creative kind of in that thinking mode. Like, you said, communicating. You articulate the intelligence that you have. You’re sharing the ideas that are in your head. Actually, creating stuff, right, so in a way I would call it, kind of execution, you’re actually completing tasks, you’re getting things done for sure. Any others come to mind?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think about how you do it with regard to just your own self-management, care, and energy, and attentiveness.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, right. Kind of a component, a little bit of that, the thinking side of things, of actually creating the plan of, “Okay, what do I actually need to work on? How do I prioritize these things? And how do I actually get it done? What’s my motivation for it?” And then I would add also like you have to be able to connect with people, right? You have to understand emotional intelligence.

We recognize that emotional intelligence is one of the strongest predictors of career success. People who, I think it’s something like 90% of top performers have high EQ, high emotional intelligence. Where less than 20% of low performers do, so it is one of those skills that does tend to stand out. Because we work with humans, we have to be able to connect with them on a human level and understand how they work.

And then you also have to be able to lead. You have to be able to influence people to some type of goal to kind of move them in. In every job is what we would say is those five things of executing, actually completing tasks, thinking, right, strategically creating a plan, critically and creatively, communicating, connecting, and leading. And so, every job kind of comes to some percentage of those five things.

And so, what we say is using humor in the workplace isn’t going to change those five, right? They’re all still going to exist. It’s simply how you do those five, kind of what you’re talking about, the motivation and things like that. So, humor can be a how across those five. And so, the purpose piece is maybe you want to use humor as a way to increase your execution, right, to execute faster. So, you might use humor as a way to increase your efficiency.

And so, one way to do that, one strategy is to play-work, is to find ways to add gamification in your work so that it’s more enjoyable. Back to that question of, “Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun?” Well, if you make your work a little bit more fun, you’re more willing to engage, and you’re more willing to do it.

And so, this might be something as simple as listening to music while you’re doing kind of a mundane task. One of the things that I like to do is I’ll start to read emails in a different accent in my head. This is way to kind of stay engaged with emails that I’m going through. You might decide to do a task with a friend and compete with them. Be like, “Hey, we both got to do our expense reports right now, so let’s set a timer and see who can get through the most expense reports in 15 minutes.”

And, again, it’s not the funniest thing, it’s not a Netflix comedy special, but it’s making the work a little bit more fun, changing your perspective around it so that you’re a little bit more engaged with it and willing to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, I would love it if you could share all the more of these. I do this when I am, I guess, proofreading. I’ve written something and I find, boy, when you read it out loud you just find stuff that reading it in your head doesn’t. So, I don’t know what character I’m assuming when I read things out loud but it’s kind of almost like a very earnest broadcaster who’s also talking very fast because it’s like, “Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first humor engineer teaching people how to get better results while having more fun.”

And so, I don’t know, I guess, and again, it doesn’t make me sort of laugh out loud, like, “This is ridiculously hilarious.” But if it gets the job done, I am proofreading by reading aloud, and I’m having a little bit more fun with it than if I were just reading the words like a school child is reading a book aloud.

Drew Tarvin
Exactly. And I think that’s exactly that makes it a little bit more interesting. And this is where I encourage in a lot of ways, you know, bringing things that are an outside passion in your work as well. Or maybe, yeah, if you were a kid and you always wanted to grow up to be a broadcaster, absolutely, proofread things kind of as a broadcaster. If you love doing accents for whatever reason, read it in a different accent and see what it would kind of sound like. Whatever it is, it’s just small tweaks.

And this is a form of humor called self-enhancing humor. And it’s kind of epitomized by, there’s a great quote from Kurt Vonnegut that said “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration.” I, myself, prefer to laugh because there’s less cleaning up to do afterwards.

And so, it’s this idea of, hey, you have to do the proofreading anyway. You could choose to say, “Hey, this is annoying and I hate it. Ugh, God, this is just the worst.” Or I can be like, “All right. I’m going to do it anyway. Yeah, let me put on a broadcaster voice to make it a little bit more fun. Or let me try to be an auctioneer and see how fast I can get through it. Or let me try some of these accents that I think are kind of fun. Or let me do it to music.”

In fact, I’ve just started doing this, because I have a bit of a nasal voice, getting over a sore throat, so it’s a little bit deeper now. And at times it is a little bit monotone. And so, someone was saying, “Oh, when you’re practicing your speeches, practice it to inspirational music.” Like, put on an inspirational instrumental behind you, and that’s going to automatically, kind of, you’re going to start to add musicality almost to your voice.

So, these are just small things that you can do to make the process a little bit more fun. And the other beautiful thing about these as examples is that no one can stop you from doing them. So there’s all these benefits to humor in the workplace, but not everyone was using humor. And so, I wanted to understand why.

And the number one reason why people don’t use humor, at least according to the survey that we ran through our site, was that they didn’t think their boss or coworkers would approve, right? They didn’t see that as a culture in the workplace. And the reality is that 98% of CEOs prefer job candidates with a sense of humor and 81% of employees said that a fun workplace would make them more productive.

Most people want it but they haven’t necessarily created a culture of it and so people think that it’s not welcome. And a lot of times it’s just because people haven’t tried, so a lot of times you can start out and it’s usually received pretty well. But even if you’re in an organization where like, “No, my manager has like explicitly told me no fun whatsoever. If you’re laughing it means you’re not working hard enough. They call it work because it’s work not because it’s play, and it has to feel like it.”

Like if you work in an environment like that, well, maybe consider kind of why you’re continuing to go to that, but also recognize that no one can control how you think. No one can stop you from if you’re proofreading these things to yourself, changing the voice in which you do them. If you have a commute that you have to go through, no one can stop you from listening to a comedy podcast, or making it a regular thing of, “Hey, every day or every Monday or whatever, I’m going to make sure that I’m listening to the Awesome at Your Job podcast because it puts me in a good mood, and I have a good time, and I’m going to relieve some stress to show up more presence for my family when I get there,” right? No one can stop you from doing that in your car.

And so, these are all things that you could choose to do no matter the work environment, and that’s why it’s a starting kind of first strategy that we share is that it is something that you are entirely in control of.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear when it comes to we’re worried about it may be unwelcome, what are some of the easiest little baby steps for, “Okay, I’m entering a meeting, I’m doing a presentation, like, here are some safe things you can do that will make it a little bit more fun and have extremely low risk of folks flipping out about it”?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah. Well, I think going back to if you’re clear on the map piece, because I think that when people tend to get in trouble with humor in the workplace, it’s usually one of two reasons. One, it’s inappropriate humor. So, it is important to understand there is a difference, say, bad humor and inappropriate humor.

Pete Mockaitis
The joke which is not funny versus, “What? Why are you discussing these lewd sexual acts?” Not the place.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So, a bad joke, yeah. And they’ve done studies where if you share a joke that is appropriate but people don’t laugh, there’s no real negative gain to a person, there’s no like perception change or anything like that, especially if it’s a positive-inclusive and a positive-inclusive joke that doesn’t get a laugh just becomes a positive-inclusive statement, so it tends to be okay.

However, an inappropriate joke, even if it’s successful, even if it makes people laugh, can have a negative impact on people’s perception of your competency in the workplace. It doesn’t affect their confidence in you, but it does affect their perception of your competence, right? And so, inappropriate humor is typically inappropriate for one of three reasons.

One, it’s an inappropriate topic, exactly what you were talking about. Using humor is not an excuse to talk about sex or drugs or rock and roll in the workplace. It’s not going to be, “Hey, this is typically a taboo subject, but because I’m saying a joke about it, it’s okay.” That’s not true. It could be inappropriate because it has an inappropriate target. So, some humor has a target that is someone else. And so, if you’re using humor as a way to make fun of someone, or if it’s a racist joke, or a sexist joke, right, that’s still very much inappropriate in general, but particularly in the workplace.

And then the third time is that it could in an inappropriate time, right? So, humor is just one tool of many tools that we can use in the workplace, and it’s not to say it’s always going to be the best tool to use so you do have to recognize that there might be inappropriate times. So, if you’re firing someone, that’s not the time to like bust out your “Frozen” parody and be like, “I’ve got to let you go, let you go. I’m not going to pay you back anymore,” right? Like, I can’t sing at all. But it’s not like, “Oh, this is going to make it more fun.” That’s an inappropriate time.

So, I think understanding that is one way to make sure that we keep things appropriate and that we don’t run into trouble, to make sure it’s more positive-inclusive. And then I think the other thing is going back to the map piece and specific to that purpose piece, that it’s not just, “Hey, I want to be fun to be just so I’m seen as funny.”

So, sometimes people ask me about, “Okay, but what about Michael Scott in The Office? He was always trying to have fun.” And the problem is that Michael Scott, you know, he’s a fictional character, his primary motivation of humor seems to be validation, right? He just wanted to be liked by everyone, and he wanted everyone to see him as a funny person, and that’s not a great starting reason for using humor. You want to be more specific about it, like, “Okay, I want to use humor in this meeting to keep people engaged in the content and help them understand it better.” That’s going to change the type of humor you use over, “I want people to see me as really funny.”
And so, some simple ways around to do that is I’m a big believer in if you’re doing presentations, rather than having a wall-full of texts, do include more images because the images themselves can be part of the punchline and you don’t have to be the one that created the humor. If you go to, like, Flickr.com and do a Creative Commons search for, hey, if you’re talking about new initiatives in the workplace around stress management, go in and do some searching for stress. Or if you recognize, “Oh, yeah,” and smiling is something that can kind of help in the workplace, find a picture of a dog that’s smiling and it makes people laugh.

Or, in my TEDx Talk, I share a picture of – I say that I work with some pretty conservative organizations and will admit that sometimes when I’m talking about the benefits of humor, they are a little bit skeptical. And when I say skeptical, as I click to the next slide, and it’s a dog that kind of looks skeptical. And so, people are now laughing, and goes, “Oh, yeah, that is kind of funny. That dog kind of looks like it has that expression that it is a skeptical-looking dog.” And so now they’re laughing, and it’s just an additional kind of punchline, and I didn’t have to put the word skeptical behind me. I didn’t need to put all the research and everything there. It was just kind of one way to keep it, and make it a little bit more engaging. So, I think images can be a great way to do that.

I think activities is another way to incorporate some humor in a way that everyone is included. And so, another form of humor, so we talked about self-enhancing humor. Another form of humor is affiliative humor, and this is positive-inclusive where everyone is part of the end group of that humor. So, I think of kind of Ellen DeGeneres.

And so, when you’re starting a meeting, as a project manager, I used to start meetings with a simple question that people could answer pretty quickly to go around the room, if it’s a group of like eight people or so, to be like, “All right. Just before we get started, I want to…” and I’ve set this up before but, like, “We’re doing these questions as a way to get to know each other a little bit better, remind ourselves that we work with fellow humans and not just resources. So, today’s question is, very quickly, go around the table and reply with the first thing you remember buying with your own money.” Or something that you think is, “What’s something that you think is true for you that you don’t think is true for anyone else in the room?” Or just these kinds of specific questions that get people to kind of share a little bit more about them because it goes back to this resource piece.

Like, as a project manager, I labeled people as resources, and most workplaces label people as resources. And, over time, you start to forget that the other person on the other side of an email, or the other side of a phone call, or the other side of a conference desk, is a fellow human being with human lives and human emotions and, maybe, just maybe, the reason that they’re email is late to you is not because they secretly hate you, but because they have a sick kid at home.

And that’s part of what humor is doing, is it’s reminding us kind of our humanity in the workplace, and saying, “Hey, we’re all in this together as people.” And so, small things that we can do that can remind people, that can be a great way to kind of introduce humor in a safer and easier way.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve also talked a bit about how to use humor to diffuse conflict. How does that work? Can you give us a demonstration?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, so a lot of times it’s just kind of becoming a reminder of that situation of kind of what the situation is and creating a pattern to interrupt. Because so often our conflict is we get so kind of narrowed in on a focus, or a problem that is coming up, or a conversation that’s happening, and we need to be just kind of interrupted from that to kind of take a break and step back. And sometimes just observing, kind of giving an observation or sharing an observation about the room can help or the situation.

For example, I was at a meeting at P&G and it was getting pretty intense, we were a little bit behind on a project and so there are some kind of blame, kind of calling out and blaming people and things like that. And my manager, at one point, was like, “All right. Everyone, listen. We need to remember that at the end of the day, we sell soap.” And that wasn’t to discount P&G’s mission, it wasn’t to say what we were working on wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things, but it was to remind us, “Hey, we’re in this very intense argument about selling soap. This isn’t World War II, this isn’t the Civil War. We can take a step back, we can take a breath,” and that was enough to make us laugh and for us to kind of recharge.

And so, sometimes it’s like to say, okay, you use a comment, or get people to take a break, and then say, “Okay, maybe let’s take five. Let’s take five minutes, let’s relieve some stress, let’s use some humor, whether it’s watching comedy video, or do a quick activity, or everyone just go for a walk and then come back,” because you need that kind of space between the stimulus and the action that you create, and humor can help you create that space.

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

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, so I would say there’s two quick things that I would say. One, kind of given the audience that I know is listening, recognizing that there is a difference sometimes in how humor is received between men and women. So, in one study they found that when men use humor, now, I’m going to mess up the percentages but they’re kind of close. When men use humor, it was met with a positive response 80% of the time, I think. When women use humor, it was met with a positive response 20% of the time.

In that same study they found that 90% of the humor that men use was off-the-cup humor, kind of conversationally in the moment, and 70% of the humor that women use was self-defeating humor or self-deprecating humor. And so, that brings me to a third style of humor. So, we have affiliative humor, we have self-enhancing humor, there is a self-defeating humor. And self-defeating humor is where you kind of poke fun at yourself. It’s a negative form of humor that you poke fun at yourself which can be great in a high-status position but it’s not great, one, if you’re low-status position.

And so, there’s obviously some challenges certainly with women in the workplace in terms of how status is sometimes perceived that something that we, as a society, need to work on, but it’s something that people should be conscious of. And, two, self-defeating humor works when it is used sparingly. Like, if you constantly always use it, so the women that were using self-defeating humor 70% of the time, the problem is that people stop laughing at it, because they’re like, “Ah, does this person have kind of self-esteem issues or is this a pity party? I don’t think that I should laugh.”

And so, recognizing just the style of humor that you’re using and who you are, how it’s perceived, it is an important thing to keep in mind. So, that’s just one thing that I want to say. So, stick to typically more affiliative and self-enhancing humor is going to be a little bit more helpful for you.

And the last thing that I’ll say before we get to the five questions is if people are feeling a little bit overwhelmed, like this seems like a lot, it seems like there’s a lot to go into, the last strategy, so we have 10 humor strategies that we talk about in the book, the last bonus strategy is to simply practice or strive for one smile per hour. Just try to think about one thing that you can do each hour of the day that brings a smile to your face or the face of someone else and that gets to a starting point, right?

Just think about, “Okay, I’m going into this meeting. How can I elicit one smile?” Or, “I’m getting ready to have my commute home, what’s one thing that I can do to make myself smile?” And that starts to help you develop your humor habit, then you can get into some of the more complex details stuff that we talked about a little bit later and that we talked about today, but it really starts with kind of that choice and choosing to kind of practice one thing each hour.

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

Drew Tarvin
Sure. So, a favorite quote I would say, I heard this many, many years ago, and it’s a cliché but it’s the best career advice that I’ve ever been given, which is that, “It is better to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.”

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

Drew Tarvin
So, there’s a great humor and problem-solving study that, they took three groups of kids. One group of kids watched a comedy video, one group of kids watched a math video, one group of kids watched no video whatsoever. They then had to do a pretty known problem called the candlestick problem, and the kids who watched a comedy video were nearly four times more likely to solve the problem than the kids who watched the math video or no video at all. So, it just kind of showed that, one, comedy is a way to warm up the brain. It helps you see different solutions and different ideas, and it introduced me to the candlestick problem which I think is kind of a fun problem.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Drew Tarvin
Favorite book? My favorite book of all time is The Complete Anthology of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Drew Tarvin
Evernote. One of the big things for being a humorist is to keep a humor notebook. Anytime you’re going throughout the world, and something kind of piques your curiosity, write that down in a notebook somewhere. And I personally use Evernote so that it’s always on me whether I’m on my computer or on my phone.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Drew Tarvin
Favorite habit? I would say if I can complete it in five minutes, I actually do the task rather than putting it on the to-do list or waiting to save it to do it later.

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

Drew Tarvin
The one smile per hour, I think, is sometimes popular and I think the idea that, again, that humor isn’t about making the workplace funny. It’s about making the workplace more fun.

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

Drew Tarvin
If they want to learn more about humor in the workplace, they can go to HumorThatWorks.com. We’ve got plenty of free blog articles and resources there, free newsletter they can sign up for, also access to the book, the online course, some of the workshops that we offer. If they want to connect with me, if they like puns, I like tweeting out puns and things like that, so if they want to connect with me on social media, if they have specific questions, they can find me @drewtarvin on any of the social media.

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

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I would say just start, right? You choose every single day how you’re going to do your work, so why not choose to be more productive, less stressed and happier, why not choose to get better results and have more fun, why not choose humor that works?

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Drew, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck and laughter in all you’re up to.

Drew Tarvin
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me.

476: How to Create Courageous Change with Ryan Berman

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Ryan Berman says: "Either you drive change or change drives you."

Ryan Berman offers his tips and tricks for building your courage muscle to make exciting changes.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three elements of the courage equation
  2. One simple trick to boost your courage
  3. How to convince your boss to make a courageous change

About Ryan:

Ryan Berman is the founder of Courageous, a change consultancy that develops Courage Brands® and trains companies how to operationalize courage through Courage Bootcamp.

He has spent a career developing meaningful stories for household brands—like Caesars Entertainment, Major League Baseball, New Era, Subway, and UNICEF—and he believes that courage is the ultimate competitive advantage for any willing business, being or brand.

Ryan Berman used the courage methodology detailed in the book to launch his own Courage Brand called Sock Problems, a charitable sock company that socks different problems in the world.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsors!

Ryan Berman Interview Transcript

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

Ryan Berman
Thanks, man. Thanks for having me. How is it going?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s going well. It’s going well. Well, we’re going to talk about courage a lot. And I want to start us off by hearing about a time that you had to dig deep to find some professional courage. What happened?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, I think that’s a really fair question and a good place to start. I actually talk about, right now, being like I’m in it. The irony here is when you write a book about courage, you kind of have to live it. So, I’m in it right now. I actually, I don’t know how much of my story that you know, but I was running a 70-person creative agency and, to be very honest, I felt the bigger we got the less happy I became.

And I got further and further away from the things that I was most passionate about, which was doing the work. And so, the irony here is that I wrote this book to position that company, and they pretty much gave me the courage to fire myself and to start over. And so, I’m in it right now where I’m actually back.

I’m passionate about what I’m doing but you go from having all these resources to a startup. And when I described Courageous, which is more of like Special Forces, like reinvention company, where we help companies reinvent themselves. I’m back. I feel like I’m back living the premise of the book and it’s terrifying. As it is, I’m also much happier.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s cool. So, then the courage there was, “Are you going to take that leap and to part from reliable income and all that sort of thing?”

Ryan Berman
Yeah, but it’s more than that. I never thought I’d be a guy with a method, and here I am. You go through this thousand-day listening tour, and I still can’t explain why people at Apple and Google and Method and Dominos let me into their lives. It wasn’t like I paid them, and it wasn’t like they were clients. And the leaders of these companies let me in, and I was fascinated by how some of the biggest companies on the planet are also the ones that are the most agile, which doesn’t seem to make sense.

And so, the more I got to dissect those companies, and realized how important being aligned with the values of the company and the leaders were. And when I really look back at like the problems that we had setup in my last company, it just set me up to be ineffective at the level that I wanted to be effective. And it doesn’t mean like my way was the right way all the time, or my two partners who was there, their way or the highway. In order for me to scale and change, and I think if we’re not working on our tomorrow, if we’re not working on sustained relevance, what are do you really working on?

And so, when I looked at it, it was like, “Okay, how do I setup a company, really, to be calculated with our courage, but help us stay ahead of the curve with everybody else?” And when I really looked at that method, it made it easy for me to leave, or easier. It’s never easy but easier to leave, because I just wasn’t aligned with who I was and what my values were.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. And so, can you tell us, if we’re kind of zooming into the typical “professional” who is working a job, how is courage helpful for them? Like, where are some of the key ways that we can chicken out to our detriment?

Ryan Berman
So, first of all, I think we have the wrong idea, or some people have the wrong idea of what courage is. So, I always wondered if it makes more sense to share, when you look at the dictionary definition of courage, the dictionary definition is the ability to do something that  And imagine devoting a hearty amount of your time exploring the topic that’s going into a book, and you’re vehemently disagreeing with the dictionary. By the way, not a good place to be. Like, the last thing I want to do is to be on the wrong side of the dictionary.

But when I looked at that definition, I didn’t see any utilitarian value to it. I’m like, “How does being frightened really help me in the  So, a lot of my early research was just seeing if I can come up with a definition that can help people incorporate, unlock their courage, and do it in a calculated fashion.

And you go up through these interviews. I call the interview process the 3Bs. There was the brave, which are like Navy Seals and tornado chasers, firefighters, the ER operating chiefs. It’s like I was really fascinated by that process. They didn’t know who was coming through the door but, yet, their job is to save lives.

Then there was the bullish. So, leaders at those companies I mentioned. And then the brainiac was the third B, so just clinical psychologists, Cambridge PhDs, immunologists, just to study our brain and the way that we’re wired. And I came out the other side with this definition of courage that I think plays well for corporate which is quite out rad. It’s just it’s knowledge plus faith plus action

And, look, in business, you’re never going to have every snippet of knowledge you need to make a call. And, by the way, data is not knowledge. Data is a means to knowledge but it still takes those synthesizers to look at the data to get to your knowledge. And you can wait and hope to collect all the knowledge in the world but you’re probably going to get passed from a competitor

And when I talk about faith, we’re not talking about religion. We’re talking about inner belief. Like, what do you feel? Like, what do you really feel? The more your knowledge goes up, hopefully, your faith is going up. And then comes the hard

Two or three in any direction is not courage. So, if I listen to this, and I’m in a workplace setting, and you’re working on something that needs courage, and I do think courage is a journey word, meaning you need it for these tough decisions. Think about it this way. Like, do you have the knowledge to make a call? Do you feel it’s right? And then you take an

So, knowledge and faith with no action is paralysis. You know what you should do, you feel it’s right, and for whatever reason you can’t pull the trigger. Faith and action with no knowledge is reckless. So, I think if some people think that jumping without a parachute, that’s one of my six courage myths, by the way. I think that’s that definition, faith and

And then knowledge and action without faith. Like, if you’re on the inside and you’re going through the motions and you’re working on a project, and you don’t feel like any friction whatsoever, or any little voice inside going, “This is a little crazy.” My sense is, it’s knowledge plus action without faith is status quo. You’re working on safe. And when your idea hits the market, and you’re not there to defend it, it’s just going to blend in with a thousand of other messages or

So, it has to be all three – knowledge plus faith plus action equals courage. And that’s how you know you’re

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what’s intriguing there is like it’s almost like if there’s not a degree of, “I don’t know about this,” then there’s less, I don’t know, juice, opportunity, differentiation, power in that thing that you’re up to.

Ryan Berman
Yeah, it’s like if you don’t feel just that little voice going, “This is a little crazy. This is crazy. Oh, my gosh, we’re going to get fired if we do this.” These are on emotional datapoints actually but you’re actually on the right path to doing something courageous, that’s going to break through.

And I come out of the courageous idea space. So, I always say, “You’re not trying to make a courageous idea that when people see it the first time, they’re like, “Wow!” You want to create this idea when someone sees it at the eighth time, like, “Gosh, I wish I did that.” And that’s sort of the tell of a courageous concept.

Pete Mockaitis
So, can you just give us examples here of some courageous concepts that kind of fit this?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, for your listeners out West, one of the things we helped is Harrah’s, which is a casino. You think, “Oh, casino. Where is this going?” And all of our research showed that people look at it as a destination. But what if we can actually turn that destination into a real destination – a city?

And so, we actually came up with a concept of Funner, California, and how awesome would it be if we made a real-life city. And the good news about Harrah’s in southern California is it’s on sacred land, so we actually went to the Council of the Tribe with the leadership team at Harrah’s, and that just tells you the level of trust we have with the leadership team, and convinced them to change the property to Funner, California. So, literally, the proximity of the property is now a real legal city called Funner.

And once we got the smiles on the face of the team, well, if you’re going to have a city, you have to have a mayor, right, because what city doesn’t have a mayor? So, who would be the perfect mayor of Funner, California? Our first mayor was Mayor Hoff, Mayor David Hasselhoff.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Ryan Berman
Yeah. And so, next thing you know our commercials were with Mr. Hasselhoff, I mean, Mayor Hoff, who, of course, had keys to the city and rules to his city. And the irony here is not only did it move the needle for their business, but when you talk about holistic change, this was an example of once we got it right on the outside, we then started to talk about, “Well, what about behind the curtain of the company, the employees? How would the employees of Funner behave if there were burrows? What should a pit boss look like in Funner, California?” You know what’s not Funner? A pit boss with a suit with his arms crossed trying to take your money.

So, we started to like take this concept of Funner and really blow it out inside and outside. And I think that’s the big idea here, it’s like, “How do you come up with ideas? There is no curtain anywhere.” If there’s a curtain between internal and external, you’ve got a problem. And I think Funner was a great example of them having the courage to go, “We are a destination. Let’s do it for Funner.” And once that was their marketing communication, then we started to work inside to make the organization more fun in all directions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, yes. And it is kind of different, so I hear what you’re saying with regard to that faith bit. But, at the same time, that there is distinction there which is kind of meaningfully unique in terms of the innovation and being appealing to folks, like, “Oh, I don’t want to go to the one that’s less fun.”

Ryan Berman
Right, right, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I want the one that’s funner.”

Ryan Berman
“Yeah, let’s go to Funner.” Yeah, I think we actually call out, we sign off, like, “It’s not a word, it’s a place.” And to some people, like, “Funner is not a word.” And so, you know, the big insight for me also, and permission to give a quick shameless plug on the book, but the true insight was every single time in my career where we have presented the most courageous idea, and our partners chose them, the return on courage was higher, and their staffs were happier.

And every time, you know, because sometimes you’d present multiple ideas, every time we’d present the safer idea, or our partners went with the safer idea, the return on courage wasn’t even half. And, by the way, our staff was less than happy. They knew it wasn’t going to work at the level it could. So, you have this really courageous idea that makes sense for the business, by the way. Next thing you know, you’re talking about like peer through reinvention.

We weren’t just reinventing their communication. We were reinventing their culture. We’re reinventing new innovation opportunities for them. Yeah, go for it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you say you’re comparing a return on courage for values. What’s the numerator, denominator here on this formula?

Ryan Berman
For return on courage?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Ryan Berman
Well, again, it’s less algebraic than the first time around. But I think the number one is in involving relevant business that’s sidestepping stasis or death. The return on courage is like you’re back into a relevant position. You’re building internal believers and external believers, and you’re building your courage muscle which breeds more courage, which keeps you ahead of your competition, ultimately try reinvention. So, helping these companies reinvent themselves and stay relevant.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I think you said that when you took the bolder path, the return on courage was like more than double that of the safer path. What is the number we’re talking about?

Ryan Berman
Yeah. I don’t have like the actual EBITDA number for here but, to me, almost every single time we’ve actually have a client pick the courageous idea, and obviously we’re playing off, “Here’s how you maximize your ROI,” but I don’t have like lock-me-down number on, “Oh, every time we do this, it’ll be 8x or 4x or 10x.” I wish I had more time. Maybe that’s something we can explore.

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s more than double, you said.

Ryan Berman
Oh, yeah, there’s no question. Yeah, there’s no question.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, so that’s encouraging right there. I think that’s a shot in the arm, a boost to the faith right there in terms of thinking, “Oh, okay. Well, this might be a little nuts, but Ryan said that when you do something that’s a little nuts, that makes sense and there’s a lot of energy behind it. More often than not, it’s at least twice as effective.” So, that’s pretty cool.

You made a reference to some myths when it comes to courage. Could you share a couple of those? Like, what’s the most pervasive or damaging and how should we think about these courage myths correctly?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, so there’s six courage myths that were sort of uncovered in the interview process, and some of them were obvious, like courage jumping out of a plane sans parachute, or courage is activated on impulse. I think courage can’t be taught, and I think those are critical. But when I really think of what’s the most debilitating one, I think it’s that courage describes other people, or courage doesn’t have a role

And I truly believe if that’s what you think, then of course it doesn’t have a role in our daily life. But if you look at courage like a muscle, and you can start to build that muscle and train for it, then you start to look for courageous opportunities inside your organization. We’re just not built that way. When you talk to leaders of companies, they see courage as a peripheral thing

And so, to me, that’s just an opportunity waiting to be unlocked. And if you can get your whole organization prepped and trained to look for courageous opportunities, I do believe those start to appear. And, again, if courage breeds courage, then you’re looking for those moments where we can be courageous to push forward those ideas that really change the game for your

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. Well, let’s hear some more myths.

Ryan Berman
You know, again, I think courage is a solo risky journey. I don’t think it’s a solo. I definitely think it’s a journey but I don’t think it’s as risky as people think and I certainly  Again, especially in a corporate setting, we’re all dealing with stuff on our own, our demons on the inside, but to me that’s part of the problems. Like, how do we get out of our own way and properly communicate what we’re afraid of?

There’s a famous proverb that fear and courage are brothers, that you actually can’t get to the courageous choice without first channeling it through fear. But most of us, we suppress those things that we’re afraid of versus  And so, part of this is like, “Let’s look out what we’re afraid of. Let’s actually talk about what those fears look like. Is there a product fear we’ve got? What’s the perception fear? Which is what I would call like the marketing fear. What personal fears are you bringing to the job?” Like, “Hey, if I pick this idea, am I going to be on an island all by myself? Am I going to get fired?” We don’t talk about this stuff.

And so, as leaders, my hope is that people will empower their teams to bring this to the forefront and like I always say FOMF, Fear Of Missing Fear. Like, if you don’t have a fear, go find one and smoke out that fear, and then start to

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, let’s get to a little bit of the how of fear. So, let’s say you’ve zeroed in on a fear, how do you go about doing the shrinking of it?

Ryan Berman
Yes. So, like I mentioned a little bit earlier, I never thought I’d be a guy with a method, and here I am. So, what I wanted to do was almost take the courage out of courage and give people the tools they need to make faster decision-making but do so in a calculated way.

So, if your audience has an opportunity and the book, Return on Courage, the back half of the book is the how. Like, how do you actually know the knowledge to follow, how to build internal and external faith, and then where to take action. And the back of the book is basically the five steps to becoming what I call a courage brand. And there’s a price. There’s a price to becoming a courage brand. And price is an acronym. It stands for Prioritize, Rally, Identify, Commit,

And Prioritize is prioritize through value. So, it’s almost going all the way back to the beginning and really looking at the  And, unfortunately, most of us have, like the values are on a wall somewhere, they’re collecting dust in an employee manual, but they’re not really being operationalized and activated.

Or maybe a company has nine values or 11 values, and I can just speak for myself. Like, I can barely remember four. So, if I’m the leader of a company, and I’ve got a thousand people working for me, how do I make this clean and simple, have less values, have each value be more valuable? And then, how am I rewarding my staff on these values?

And when I say core values, they’re not eyerolls, they’re the exceptional role. Again, this is just for me going out and seeing how these companies, the most relevant companies in the world are operating. Now, are all of them like playing by these rules? No. Amazon, I think, has 16 values. That’s unfathomable to me. But, obviously, it’s working for them.

So, it talks about, “What are the values of a company?” and then, let’s say you’re just on the team, like, “Do you actually mirror those values? Are you a believer of those values?” Which brings us to the second step, which is rally,  And I think organizations even make believers or fake believers. And the funny thing about fake believers is they’re hidden in the organization. They don’t exactly wear a T-shirt that says, “Fake believer.” They don a smile and collect the paycheck but deep down, like conviction is dropped, there’s the eyerolls and productivity isn’t what it could be.

And so, I really do believe that belief is the ultimate currency in an organization. So, when people believe, they’re in, and when people don’t believe, they’re out, and that comes straight down to leadership. So, that leadership team is responsible for creating believers, which starts with the values. And then, again, are you making believers? Are you caring about your team? I think there’s four ways

And so, respecting makes believers, caring makes believers, I would say repeating makes believers, which is really annoying sometimes for the leadership team but you need to be playing on the same playbook and say the same thing over and over again. And then seeing is believing. So, if you say something, and your staff doesn’t see something, that’s a problem, right? If you say something,

And, again, these two steps are organizational health steps. It’s as simple as galvanizing your people and creating conviction. And the number one problem that I see today is this misalignment between leadership and the next-generation workforce where the leadership team can’t wrap their heads around why you don’t want to stick around for  And the next generation is like, “I don’t need a watch. I have a watch on my phone. Like, I need skills. I need to be challenged.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s my thing. It’s like, “Because you’re going to fire me as soon as there’s a downturn.”

Ryan Berman
Right. And so, there’s this recalibration that’s needed. Both sides need to understand each other and that means talking about it. Like you said, “Hey, if I speak up, am I going to get fired?” Okay, that’s a personal fear that needs to be discussed. It should be discussed. We don’t discuss it. So, again, I think these two steps are just about organizational health, it’s about finding people with conviction that have the right intention, that are on the metaphor of co-rocket ship.

And then we move into the I, which is identify fears, so you have to do that. And the way I try to break down fears is looking at industry fears, what’s the industry fear for your vertical, like what could take down the entire industry. Are you the

And I imagine going to an offsite and thinking through these things. By the way, this concept only came up because I was so frustrated with SWOT. You know, remember the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats? And the more times I did that, my strength ended up on my opportunity, and my weakness ended up on my opportunity, and my weakness also ended up on my threats. And so, I just wanted to come up with a better way to SWOT, which has somehow survived as the standard for the last six decades.

And so, I think an art of fear is a better way to SWOT where you can get really clear about what could take your vertical down or where’s the problems with your product, which is product fears, or service fears, and I guess that perception fears which is marketing. And, again, if you don’t know what can take you down, you can’t put a plan in place and you’re reacting. Usually, it’s a little too late by the time the thing comes to get you. So, the idea is to smoke out what could take your business down and take your vertical down, and then you have a decision to make on if you want to double-down and

The C is “Commit to a purpose.” Again, I think this is a hard thing for current leadership teams to recognize but the next-generation workforce believes that we have an obligation as a business to be purpose-driven, to make the world better,  And so, I think there’s a study where 50% of millennials felt that way, that the point of this was to make the world better not just to make money.

So, if I’m a leader, you can even roll your eyes at that or just sort of accept the obligation that comes with being a business leader. And so, that means committing to an authentic purpose, a truthful purpose. Simon Sinek has spent so much of his career playing in this space. I agree with him that we got to find our why. I think the only sort of addon is, now, I think you need to have a rally cry in that why. What’s the rally cry? Why and how are people

You look at a company like SpaceX, and there’s not a ton of proof that they’re going to be successful on their rally cry purpose, which is life on another planet. But if you work there, you’re committed. You’ll give 20 hours a day to push that boulder up the mountain on what you’re trying to achieve. And I know not every company can be SpaceX, but you’ve got to find that rally cry.

You look at Method Soap, that soap company, and their rally cry and their why was the people against dirty. And what I love about it is they had a clear enemy that they chose to take down which was dirty. Are you for clean or are you for dirty? The people against dirty. By the way, I think they have a 100 million annual sales as a target, and it’s soap, it’s a commodity. So, what I love about it is it doesn’t matter if you’re a commodity or a rocket ship. You can find a purpose and get clear on that purpose and galvanize people behind it.

And then, finally, we get down to E of PRICE which is execute your action. So, knowledge, faith and action, right? It’s go time on the execute  And, again, it just depends on what type of action you’re jumping into. But the book talks about, it’s a little bit of a choose your own adventure on, “Are you reinventing your product? Are you reinventing your story? Or are you reinventing like a new offering?”

And, again, this is the hard part. The hard part is you know what you’re doing and you feel it’s right. Now you have

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I want to zero in on some of the values pieces here because I think you’re right that a lot of organizations, they have values, maybe there’s nine, maybe there’s 16, but they’re not really alive in the sense that they’re sort of hanging out on some materials, in a file cabinet, or on some walls. So, could you maybe give us some examples of company, value, and how that gets lived for real? Because I think a lot of listeners might find themselves as like, “I don’t think I can recite our company values and I don’t think any of them are leaping to mind as I look at how we do business.”

Ryan Berman
Yeah, again, I think this goes all the way back to the basics, right? You would think that we would honor the values of the company. And the problem I think is many companies are honoring the founder’s values which may not mirror what the next generation demands, or what you demand of that next-generation workforce because, to me, that’s what values were made for. They’re supposed to be guardrails to help you make decisions. It’s to drive behavior. And if you have multiple offices and thousands of people, they all should be playing on the

So, one company that comes to mind is Zappos. They do have 10 values but their number one value is, “Deliver wow through service.” The way that comes to life, I mean, from the second you walk into their office, yes, it is wall art, but I just love this idea that they have on the wall, “We’re a service company that happens to sell blank.”

Which I love that fact. And you can go in there and what they’re selling, they see themselves as a customer service company first. It doesn’t matter what your title is, you’re the first one that you’re at the office, you’re working the call center. Their CEO, Tony Hsieh, still works the call center during the holidays and people are sort of floored when he tells them, “By the way, I’m Tony Hsieh, I’m the CEO.” It’s like he’s taking calls so they don’t believe him.

And so, he is operationalizing the values. They also have a reward system. It’s almost like when you go to like one of those game rooms where you get your tickets and you can turn your tickets in for different rewards. They basically have that where other people can give you points on service and you can redeem those points for schwag. So, there’s actual science in Jonah Berger’s book Contagious that says, “We cannot imitate things we don’t see.” Which is why it’s “Monkey see, monkey do,” not “Monkey hear, monkey do.”

And so, Tony, recognizing that, he visualized this everywhere. You see it everywhere. Everywhere you go in that office, you can’t not see something on the wall reminding you of how you’re supposed to behave. I think the military also does a really good job of this. So, the Army does a really good job of this. And leadership is their acronym, and the recognize that everybody coming in through their system is coming from different walks of life, right?

So, the Army officer has a massive advantage that they get 16 weeks of bootcamp here. They really get to train their people. And most of us in the workforce, we get like 48 hours and then we get the metaphorical weapon to go out into the workplace and try to do our job. But if you’ve ever studied Fort Knox, you’ll see, again, written on the walls, it’s leadership. It’s all those values. You get it on the dog tags. They ingrain it in you. They’re training their people.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I see there that we skipped the E and the A. We got loyalty, duty, respect, and selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage, and these things mean something for real to them.

Ryan Berman
Yeah, it’s everything to them. By the way, you talk to people that are Army infantry men, they talk about how those values play off the field as much as on the field for them. So, they’re making it real. They’re operationalizing their values.

And so, a lot of the work I’m doing now is you kind of have to go back to the beginning, and go, “Hey, the way you communicate to your team, the way you’re driving behavior, it’s like Pavlov are you actually rewarding your team off of the values. And often I’ll get from a leadership team, like, “Are we talking about internal values or external values?” And my response is, “Well, that’s exactly the problem. There’s plenty of words for us to choose from. Let’s figure out the ones that work for both and stand there.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And I think it gets you thinking right there because when these things are real, it stirs the heart, you know. And when they’re not, it’s sort of like, “Sure,” and they’re just trudging along.

Ryan Berman
Yeah, you can see why value. That’s where the eyeroll comes from versus, “Are you really using them to create the desired results for your company and your people.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Well, so I’d love to hear, when it comes to sort of individuals, would you recommend any sort of small practices or daily activities to help boost the courageousness or courage, if you will?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, I think it starts by recognizing that it can be for you. So, let’s assume we’re past that willingness part. Look, I think, by far, the hardest part of this is the action part. It’s hard. You know what to do. Sometime you feel it’s right. It’s just articulating like, “Okay, we’ve got to experiment, we’ve  And so, I love that word, by the way, in the corporate setting of experimenting. It’s like, “How do you help people just experiment?” Well, that means you’ve got to create a process and a budget for that.

So, let’s say I’m at a company and you’re responsible for budgeting. I would actually create an experimental budget. Like, just throw it away. It’s a failed budget. It can work but you’re literally creating little experiments to learn something new. Or, let’s say you’re not. This isn’t about work, and say this is at home, that I would create

So, one of my favorite things that I like to do is I set different calendar just for myself. I block off time for myself. Sometimes it’s monthly, sometimes it’s quarterly where I’ll send myself actionable messages. So, you can actually go in and you can custom your labels and your alarms, so I actually see things that I need to see in my alarms when they go off that basically . And I think this is a great use for me in controlling technology versus technology controlling me.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give some examples for alarms and labels that you use in there?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, so one of the things that I had to get over when I was writing the book was, okay, we have this thing called our central nervous system that calls all the shots. And let’s break that down for one sec. So, central, the core of you. System, an operating system and computer, basically a computer. Nervous, don’t say that. Don’t think that. Don’t try that. Like, we’re rooted, we have archaic systems that are basically rooted in nervousness and it’s hard to shake that.

So, one of the ideas I’ve come up with was, “Oh, that’s interesting. I wonder if I can develop a central courage system to combat the realities of our central nervous system?” So, PRICE, that five-step process is basically building your central courage system. But when I first came up with the idea, I felt like an impostor talking about this thing.

And so, for me, the way I got over it was by every morning my alarm went off, I saw, “Build strong central courage systems.” And by the 12th time I saw it, or the 18th time I saw it, or the 36th time I saw it, it was building that muscle for me that I needed to see to keep me on my path for writing the book. And so now, I say, yeah, I help companies or leaders build strong central courage systems. It’s second nature for me. But when I first said it, it was hard for me to say. I’m building that muscle.

And so, I think that’s creating these ritualized triggers and using your alarms to do that. So, if you wanted to write that blog, or start that podcast, I would literally schedule time on your calendar, maybe it’s once a week where you’re like, “Today is the day.” And you see that every week at the same time and start to ritualize that process so you can build that muscle. And that makes it easier to do it again and

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. Very good. And I also want to get your take, we talked about this sort of a whole organization level. If an employee finds themselves in the midst of their organization, they want to do some courageous changes, but they get resistance from teammates and bosses. Do you have any tips on how they can get more influential persuasive and get things moving even though their kind of authority is limited?

Ryan Berman
And, again, I feel this is going to sound like a promotion for the book, but I think whether it’s my book or someone else’s book, just by giving something tangible to somebody, when you gift knowledge, so when someone gives them, “Hey, do you have a minute? I thought about you while I was reading this book. Can we talk about it when you’re done with it?” Gifting knowledge is an easy way to

A hard way to start a conversation is, “Do you have five minutes?” When they don’t have five minutes, they’re not sure what you really want. And so, what I’ve learned is just by gifting knowledge and gifting the book to someone is an easy way to talk about the process of

Another is, and a lot of this statistics are in the book. Statistics are tough because people don’t think that statistics have anything to do with them. They think statistics are for other people, right? But if you actually look at the statistics, you’ve got a 52% of the Fortune 500s since 2000 that are gone. That number is going to hold. John Chambers predicts that 40% of all companies will be .

You’re going to have 9,000 brands that carousels on and off the Fortune 500 over the next six decades. I can do this for a while. The life expectancy of a Fortune 500 brand 50 years ago is 75 years. So, once you made it onto the list, you can coast for a while. Today, it’s anywhere between 12 and 15 years. So, the numbers are there. Like, this is the problem. We have to shake the leaders of the company and go, “Look, if we don’t change, someone is going to change us whether we like it or not.” And I think even you drive change or change drives you, and if you’re not careful,

So, there are house-on-fire moments. It’s just how do you shake the leaders? And, again, a lot of this content, I just mention this in the book, I talk about like, “What’s going on and why is this happening? Why is this business apocalypse really happening?” And my hope is to do that is to help companies start to deal with this and have the conversation that it’s possible for them to change.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that really hammers it home with regard to you just don’t have the option to coast anymore. You’ve got take a moment to rejuvenate for you and rest and all that stuff, but you just can’t keep doing what you’ve been doing for years at a time because the outside world will not do the same.

Ryan Berman
No, and that’s the thing. You got this iterative strategy and, actually, you will get caught, and incremental growth has nothing on exponential growth. And somewhere, there’s probably five guys in a garage that are trying to figure out a way to take you down. That’s not on your radar yet, and they’re working 19 hours a day to figure out a way to disrupt your category. So, it’s a very real thing and it’s happening all over the country and beyond.

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

Ryan Berman
No, man, just obviously I love talking about this stuff. I really do enjoy helping companies reinvent. I think courage is a competitive advantage for anyone that chooses to learn how to do it. And I think you can unlock it in your teams. And a lot of my time right now is being able to go inspire groups and speak in different companies and try to get them to see that courage is for them. And, hopefully, once they do, then we can start working on a plan for tomorrow.

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

Ryan Berman
Yeah, my favorite quote is by a German philosopher named Arthur Schopenhauer who said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it’s ridicule. Second, it’s wild. It’s violently opposed. And, third, it’s accepted as being self-evident.” So, I just love that because I think that is the process of courage. That is the friction that comes with this lot of change where, first, it’s like, “Really? Like, no, this is a silly idea.” Two, “Absolutely not.” And then, third, “Well, anyone could’ve come up with a Google, right?” Like, there’s no period for joy to celebrate. It’s just sort of, “Oh.” By the way, this quote is like evidently 250 years old and still remains true today.

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

Ryan Berman
Being able to sit with Steve Wilhite, who was hired by Steve Jobs to run marketing, was probably my favorite interview. And I love all my children equally, but to be able to sit with Steve and hear his story of how he was hired and what sort of test Steve Jobs gave him to make sure he wasn’t just a yes man so he would actually stand up to him, was pretty fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

 Berman
I would say Essentialism is right there by Greg McKeown in just helping you decide what is essential because once you know that, you’ve got the clarity you need to stay on the path of what you follow and leave everything else by the wayside.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Ryan Berman
Today it’s Slack and Zoom because my company Courageous is virtual, so thank goodness for those tools because it allows us to stay connected in real time and see each other.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ryan Berman
Right now, it’s the one I explained where I’m setting my alarm with different labels to remind myself of what’s important, so these triggers. And so, even for me, after studying these for three years, I want to see those triggers.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they repeat it back to you often?

Ryan Berman
You know what, a lot of people seem to be resonating with the knowledge plus faith plus action equals courage, which is cool. It’s like, “What do I think about this? How does it make me feel? And what am I going to do about it?”

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

Ryan Berman
Well, they’ll learn more about the book, I would go to ReturnOnCourage.com. And if you wanted to get to know my consulting practice a little more, I’d go to CourageBrands.com. And you could probably find me through the ReturnOnCourage.com website.

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

Ryan Berman
If you’re unhappy, you’ve got take your life into your control. And I really do think that’s sort of the aha moment for me, is that it didn’t matter we were getting bigger, I was getting less happy. And so, same thing, either you drive change or change drives you. And if it’s your life, then how are you to take it by being in the driver’s seat of it and make the most of it, and have the courage to drive where you want?

And, again, maybe internally, change starts with one, it starts with you and then find somebody else that’s your real raft mate who can help you make change and then go get another and another and another. And if you like challenges, I’d recommend that.

Pete Mockaitis
Ryan, thanks for taking the time and keep up the good work.

Ryan Berman
Thanks, Pete. Appreciate you having me on.

468: Upgrading Your Confidence and Courage at Work with Bill Treasurer

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Bill Treasurer says: "Boredome is a clue that it's time to move back out into discomfort."

Bill Treasurer shares practical wisdom for conquering fear, taking risks, and finding your courage.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key first step to finding courage
  2. Approaches for taking on more wise risks
  3. How to fill up each of the Three Buckets of Courage

About Bill:

In the past two decades, thousands of executives across the globe have attended Bill’s keynotes and workshops. Benefiting from the concepts first introduced in Bill’s bestselling books, participants come away with stronger leadership skills, improved team performance, and more career backbone.

Among others, Bill has led workshops for NASA, Accenture, Lenovo, CNN, Hugo Boss, SPANX, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bill’s insights about courage and risk-taking have been featured in over 100 newspapers and magazines, including the Washington Post, NY Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Boston Herald, and more.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Bill Treasurer Interview Transcript

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

Bill Treasurer
Pete, I’m really delighted to be here and I’m looking forward to our time together.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. And I want to go back in time a little bit to hear the story of you were invited to join the Metropolitan Opera in New York when you were 11 for singing. That’s impressive. What’s the story here?

Bill Treasurer
You know, I don’t know that I’ve ever spoken to anybody else about this. I mean, my mom knows it. But when I was 11 years old, I had a buddy who was already in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera and he was a good singer, and he and I would sing like John Denver songs together and such. And he said, “You know, you ought to come with me down to the Met because they’re looking to put people in their chorus for a Russian play that was going to be on Broadway or at the Met.” And so, I was like, “All right. Why not?”

So, I took the train down and I did a test run with the person playing piano there with him and the other people in the chorus, and got word, afterwards they called and said that they wanted me to be in the chorus. And then it became a decision, like, “Do I want this as my track? Do I want to sort of pursue singing operatically or do I want to go outside and play baseball with my buddies, and stickball and run around in the dirt like we had been doing up until that point?” So, I had a decision to make and, ultimately, I decided that the showbiz life, at least the operatic showbiz life, probably isn’t for me. So, I declined the opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, imagine you must be pretty darn good at singing. I imagine they’re pretty selective even amongst 11-year-olds.

Bill Treasurer
I got some girlfriends in college.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you also play the guitar, that seems to be key?

Bill Treasurer
No, it’s interesting, I would sing when other people were playing guitar, but what’s really kind of, it truly is interesting, is that by the time I was 11 and a little bit later, I literally would sing John Denver songs with my buddies, and the most popular John Denver song that we would sing back then was the sing-a-long “Country Roads,” right? “Take me home, country roads, to the place I belong, West Virginia.”

And then, fast forward a little bit later, it’s actually where I ended up going to college. And I’m not from West Virginia, I’m from the suburbs of New York, but somehow singing that song so many times ended up plopping me into West Virginia. And, in fact, the very first football game at West Virginia University that I attended that fall, it was the opening of a new stadium. And who comes ala helicopter, lands at the stadium, and sings “Country Roads” but John Denver. So, it’s a nice sort of closure to the story.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s quite poetic. It’s all meant to be. Well, so I want to talk a little bit about courage with you. And you’ve been working with this for a long time so much so that you’ve updated your book Courage Goes to Work after over 10 years. So, tell us, what do we need to know about courage going to work?

Bill Treasurer
Well, you know, the interesting thing is if you look at courage and you start studying it, as I did when I started writing the book, and I’ve started birthing my own business, and then it gave birth to the book, is this idea that courage is a virtue. And I’m not the first one to say that. In fact, if you rewind far enough, Aristotle called courage the first virtue because it makes all the other virtues

And throughout history, other great giants have talked about courage as being one of the premier, if not the premier of virtues. In fact, the Catholic Church calls it one of the four cardinal virtues. So, outside of work, courage has always been a preeminent virtue. And my question became, “Why would it be any different in the workplace?” Because a lot of workplaces are bastions of fear, but fear is the primary means of motivating people to get things done, sadly still, even in the 21st

And so, that becomes the right opportunity for the demonstration of  So, my whole contemplation in the book Courage Goes to Work was, “How do we take courage and apply it in the workplace not just outside as a virtue, but as the premier virtue of business and leadership?” So, if you think about it, Pete, to be a great business developer or salespeople, salesperson, means to knock on hundreds of doors in the face of rejection over and over again. That takes courage.

To be an innovator means to draw outside of the lines, experiment, make some mistakes, forward falling, to be an innovator. The greatest innovations almost always start out as blasphemy to what was before. So, to be an innovator takes courage. And then, finally, to be a leader means to render bold decisions that some people are going to disagree with and you’ve got to withstand the turbulence of that disagreement. Leadership takes courage. So, courage is essential to so many of the operating systems that make organizational life work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, certainly. So, it’s critical. And then, tell us, why is it often missing?

Bill Treasurer
I think that for many of the reasons it’s missing outside in the world and so much of it has to do with fear and what do we do when we face, or fail to face, more accurately, fearful situations. What’s interesting in the things that I’ve learned and research about courage is that courage isn’
t the absence of  In fact, John McCain wrote a book called Why Courage Matters. It became an international bestseller.

And in the book, he says, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s acting despite the fact that you’re afraid.” So, if you think about that, it means that courage is fear-full, not fearless. You’ll see these bumper stickers on the back of trucks “No Fear. No Fear.” You know, no brains. That’s not courage. Courage, in fact, is fear-full but it’s acting despite the fact that you’re afraid, and moving through it with that

So, I think a lot of people walk away when they’re fearful, they get paralyzed, or they fight, flight or freeze. But what my work is suggesting, and a few others like John McCain, is that if you work through your fear, that’s the discovery of courage. In fact, you can’t be courageous unless the presence of fear is there. But the trick is to not run away from it, it’s learn how to contend

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what are your top tips for learning how to contend with it?

Bill Treasurer
Well, the first thing is, know what you want. I know that you’re based in Chicago. There’s a playwright in Chicago, his name is Ambrose Redmoon. He’s got another one of these quotes, he says, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s the decision that you’ve got something more important than fear to get done.” So, the first thing is what I call the contemplation of the holy question. The four most important words that you’ll ever learn in the English language, “What do you want?” What do you want?

If you can answer that with precision, and it may start with first identifying what you don’t want, but figuring out the condition that you want, that you don’t yet have, in other words, identify a worthwhile goal, then that sublimates fear when the goal becomes more

And so, the first thing you’ve got to do is decide is, “What is that thing that is so important, that I don’t yet have, that courage will become the activation that will sort of help me take the steps forward to get that condition that I don’t have.” So,

So, it’s critically important that you have a goal that is really compelling that motivates you to move forward, and courage becomes the activation that sort of helps you close the gap between where you are today and that important goal that you want to get to. So, the first thing to do to activate your own courage is have a worthwhile goal to put your mojo, your courage mojo, to work

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure. So, once you got a worthwhile goal, what’s next?

Bill Treasurer
Well, the other thing is it helps to understand what I call the theory of least regrets. Understand that any risk, any big move that you’re considering comes with two risks. There’s the risk of action, but then there’s also the risk of inaction. And sometimes the risk of inaction is more dangerous but it happens over a lengthy period of time so it’s harder to

So, one key question to ask yourself is, “What will I regret the least? Taking this risk, doing this courageous thing, and maybe wiping out, or not taking this risk, and never knowing if I could’ve been successful had I done  You know, a lot of bar stools are warmed by the seat of a person, right now, everywhere in the country, who’s staring at the TV screen and yelling at the bartender, talking about how they could’ve been a contender, but they didn’t. They didn’t contend.

So, the idea is that the risk we regret the most are very often the ones that we didn’t  So, as you’re getting ready for a risk, to contemplate, “What is the thing that I will regret the least, maybe wiping out and trying it, or not wiping out but not trying it and never knowing if I could’ve been successful?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So, we got the theory of least regret. And what next?

Bill Treasurer
Sometimes it’s good to objectify the subject of experience of a risk. So, a lot of times we’ll do this  We’ll do the pro and con list, and, “Hey, here’s the credit column. I might get this if I do this thing, and here’s the debit column,” and whichever one has the most on it we sort of go with.

But a better way to do it is what I call the worst-case grid. And you simply draw an X-axis and Y-axis and a scale ranging from 1 to 10 on both axes, and then say, “If this big move, this giant leap that I’m considering, doesn’t work out, what is the degree of badness? On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is

So, for example, I decided at one point to leave Accenture. Accenture is a great company. I had a six-figure job, I was well networked. If I had stayed there long enough, I would’ve moved into a senior executive, at the time partner role. But there was something unsatisfying about the experience of staying there. So, I decided to leave and start my own business, Giant Leap Consulting.

The degree of badness, had it not worked out for me, it’s not going to be death, right? For most people, whatever the big bad move, the big scary thing that you’re considering doing, that’s requiring courage, generally, is not going to be death. And death would be a

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I guess I’m thinking my scale is bigger. I’m just thinking like the annihilation of humanity because it’s just your death, right? You’re just one life. I mean, if you’re working in a field like military, law enforcement, even food service, or transportation, you know, you can kill hundreds or thousands with your poor decisions.

Bill Treasurer
You know, I suppose if your big risk is that you’re going to put a new drug on the market that hasn’t been well-tested, I think that could be the case. Actually, it’s my understanding, this may be mythology, but it’s my understanding that Jonas Salk, who gave us the polio vaccine, that he first injected it to himself and to his own children, right? So, had that not worked out, people wouldn’t call him the hero that he ultimately became for helping eradicate polio largely.
So, the degree of badness in my case, had I left Accenture and had it not worked out, my wipeout would’ve been I would’ve had to have lived with my in-laws, right? So, my wife and I. I wouldn’t be in a soup kitchen, but if my business hadn’t worked out, for a little period of time, we would’ve had to go and live with my in-laws, and that’s not a 10, right? Like, that’s probably a 7.

So, as you consider the big bold move that you’re thinking about, first of all, identify what is the degree of badness. In my case, it was a 7, having to potentially live at my in-laws’ house. But then you also have to factor in the  And so, I looked at it, and said, “Okay, had I left Accenture and my business didn’t work out, the truth is I had worked with other entrepreneurs, I had taken night classes at Emory University, I already had a graduate degree, I had been in the workforce for over 10 years. All of those things lowered my metaphor to go high dive,” so I was able to look at it and say, “You know, the probability is probably a 2 or 3.”

So, then you just times your degree of badness, in this case 7, times your probability grid 3, and then you come up with a numeric value. For me, if it’s going to be below 50, as a numeric, as a number, I’m probably going to do the thing. If it’s above 50, I’m going to be at least more hesitant and more calculated, but probably I may not even do whatever the thing is. But the cool thing about the worst-case grid is it gives people an actual way of rationalizing and objectifying a subject of experience of taking a

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I suppose is there a corresponding sort of positive tone that you’re bouncing that against?

Bill Treasurer
Thank you for saying that. So, oftentimes, in my workshop, so in my courageous leadership workshop, I’ll have participants think about what is the next courageous move that they might be wanting to take. A good way to think about is to ask yourself, “Where am I playing it too safe in my career?” And that starts to point in the direction of their next courageous move. And then, after they do that, I’ll have them work through the worst-case grid. Most people like it because it’s a way to be very thoughtful and objective about it.

But then I’ll make sure that they close it by doing the other. Let’s flip it upside down and say, “Hey, what if this actually works out? What if I start my own business and I get to work with really cool clients and talk to really cool podcasters like Pete, and get to write books and such? That would be ideal. That’s—What’s the best case?” And that becomes, on a scale of 1 to 10, a 10 is sort of the life of my own design. What’s the probability? Same thing, I’ve got to put it through a probability factor and say, “You know, how much do I believe in myself?” So, it’s worthwhile to do it as a positive instead of worst 0-case grid, a best-case

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. So, I want to hear about a term you use, “comfeartable.” What does that mean and how should we think about it?

Bill Treasurer
So, I talk about it in the book that I think that sometimes we get into a low-level condition of dissatisfaction, a sort of a low-level dissatisfaction and, over time, we become tolerant of it. And, frankly, I think that many people get a low-level toleration of living in a constant state of fear and we become used to it, and we become a bit numb to it, we become comfortable with our fear, what I call

And when you’re a leader of people who have sort of grown apathetic and are no longer challenging themselves, and no longer willing to experience discomfort, then stagnation happens, and individual and organizational growth is thwarted. So, this idea that one of the enemies of management, in my opinion, is being “comfeartable” and having a number of employees around you who may have grown comfortable being in a low-level fear situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, if you find yourself in such a spot, how do you shake it up?

Bill Treasurer
Well, I think that leaders can do a couple of things to sort of shake it up. The first thing is they’ve got to jump first. They’ve got to be role models of courageous behavior themselves. They’ve got to show their workforce that they can be the first one up and off whatever high-dive platform they’re asking other people to jump off of. So, being a role model, and ask yourself as a leader, “When’s the last time you had sweaty palms and did something that was exciting and scary at the same

The second thing is that you’ve got to create safety as a leader. Create safety. Physical safety, of course, right? We all want to work in a work environment where we don’t think that our lives are going to be threatened. But we also, as leaders, have to create psychological safety where people feel that they can voice their true opinions about things without you chopping their head

The third thing is a leader has to help people learn how to harness fear. So, the whole discussion that you and I had about moving through fear instead of running away from it, and learning to become comfortable with  Ginni Rometty is the CEO of IBM. She has a wonderful quote that she said at Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit. She said, “Comfort and growth don’t co-exist.”

So, you, as a leader, have to ensure that people recognize that, “Look, discomfort is part of it. It’s part of how we grow and progress, so learning and acquiring new skills and taking on new challenges that, in fact, make us uncomfortable is how you’re going to grow as an individual but how the organization is going to grow

And then the fourth thing, as a leader, to be modulating between comfort and discomfort. You’ve got to nudge people out into discomfort where they start getting their own sweaty palms, but you’ve got to let them stay there long enough to acquire new skills and then, as they start to acquire those skills and become too comfortable with them, you’ve got to move them back out into

As it relates to modulating discomfort, if you’re up for it, Pete, I can share with you a story about how that worked in my own life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Yeah.

Bill Treasurer
And it becomes actually the genesis of my business, and it became the genesis of my exploration into the whole idea of courage and why I think courage is so important. But if you rewind far enough back in my own career, before all of it, like I was not a great athlete growing up. I wasn’t a great runner. I’m not very tall. I’m 5’7 1/2”. I’m not built for football. But I found springboard diving. Some friends were jumping around the pool one day, doing back dives and back jumps, and girls were looking at them, and I thought, “Whew, figure I’ll try that.”

And I did a back dive, and I pulled my leg around, and I did a back somersault, and none of my friends could do it. So, I got good on the low board as a one-meter springboard diver. Fast forward, colleges started to dangle scholarships in front of me. I grew up in Westchester, New York and I won the Westchester County diving championships three times, so colleges took an interest in me. But all those college coaches would say, “Bill, you’re a great low-board diver. We’re very interested in you. We do have some scholarship money, but tell us about your high-board list of dives.” I never bothered to learn high-board list of dives because I was, and am, petrified of heights.

So, I had a coach who said, “Look, do you want to try to get a scholarship?” I’m like, “Yeah, sure.” So, he would take me down to Iona College in New Rochelle, New York.

Pete Mockaitis
I have been there. I had spoken there.

Bill Treasurer
Had you been there? Have you?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s lovely. The gals.

Bill Treasurer
Yeah, you’re right. It is the gals.They’ve got a lot of Irish there in that part of New York. And so, Iona, to this day, it’s the only place that I know of that has a diving board, even to this day, built on a hydraulic lift. So, he could take the diving board and move it from one meter to one and a half meter. Now, I’m really uncomfortable, and I’m doing screaming belly whoppers, and I don’t want to go to practice, and I’m upset with him for making me do this. I’d get welts on the back of my legs.

But after a hundred dives, my heart starts to stop racing, and after 200 dives and 50 practices, it starts to get better. After like 300 dives, I started to get, oh, bored. Boredom’s a great clue. Boredom is a clue that it’s time to move people back out into discomfort. And what do you think my coach did at that point?

Pete Mockaitis
He gives the handy hydraulic lift to increase the height.

Bill Treasurer
You are a smart podcaster, my friend. Exactly. He moved it to two meters, and now I’m back to the heart racing, I’m upset with him, welts on my legs, etc. But through this process of modulating between comfort and discomfort, he would push me out into discomfort long enough where I could acquire new skills. And once I acquired the skills, I’d settle to that place, and I’d start to, eventually, become even bored, and that became the clue to move it

So, the long arc of the story is I ended up getting a full scholarship to West Virginia University. But, after that, I became a world-class high-diver and a member of the U.S. High-Diving Team, diving from heights that scaled to over 100 feet, travelling at speeds in excess of 50 miles an hour, into a small pool that was 10 feet deep, and I’m a high diver who, I already told you, is afraid of heights. So, this was the discovery of my courage.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog. Well, that is a nice metaphor there because you can see kind of very mathematically, as well as viscerally, “Oh, a little bit higher. Ooh, I feel that. A little higher. Oh, I feel that more.” And so, that’s there. And I suppose you could think about your own courage challenges in that kind of a way with regard to what’s a tiny step versus a big step, and all the steps in between? And maybe you can give us an example there. So, let’s say not sales because I think it’s almost too easy. I want to make you work for it, Bill. Let’s say in the workplace, it’s a common thing that people fear. And what would be the equivalent of the one meter, the one and a half meters, and then the 30 meters?

Bill Treasurer
Yeah, so good question and you’re right, by the way, this metaphor. It actually became the metaphor in my business Giant Leap Consulting. But now the whole business is about, “What high-dive are you facing and how can we help you take whatever personal or professional high-dive will move you forward?” And so, an example that I can think of is I did a 360-degree feedback with a group of leaders that I was working for. It was a cohort of about 25 people. And one of these leaders got some terribly harsh feedback, that he was a hothead, that he was ill-tempered, that he was dictatorial, like really scathing stuff.

And it slapped him upside the head as a 360-degree feedback will sometimes do with some people. And some people reject the feedback, they’re like, “Well, this is a bad time,” or, “You don’t understand I inherited the worst team,” and come up with excuses. But this leader really took it to heart. There’s an old saying that Gandhi said, he said, “The truth only hurts if it should.” And it did hurt him.

And it became, “What are we going to do? You just got all of this feedback about your leadership. You want to be a better leader. The company is investing in you, putting you in this leadership program. You’re managing huge consequential projects, some of it $50 to $100 million worth of project revenue that you’re managing. What are you going to do?”

And so, working, we decided with his boss that this person would get sort of extra attention, and we did a lot of one-on-one coaching together. And what it came down to was he was so fixated on production that he wasn’t making one-on-one time with his own direct reports, not about giving them direction for their jobs, but he wasn’t making any relationship-building time at all.

He was atypical, and I don’t mean to be stereotypical, but he was sort of engineering minded. It was all about production, it was all about the work schedule, it was all about the work breakdown structure, it was all about the P&L, and it had very little to do with the building strong relationships and interpersonal chemistry of his team so that he would have some goodwill and loyalty around him. He didn’t. He had people who wanted to go work for other people.

So, he had to sort of take emotional risks of being willing to focus on his own people and treating them in a more respectful and humane way, and worry less about production, and worry more about investing in emotional relationship. I know that sounds squishy but here’s how I know that it worked. It’s about five years later, I was leading a similar leadership program, in fact it’s the very same leadership program, but it was a different cohort going through it. And three of those people, out of the 25, were people who reported to him now.

And to a person, they were telling me what a great leader he was, what a great mentor, how much he developed them, how much he was so interested in his fair treatment of them. It was like an entirely different person. But the courage for him was the willingness to be uncomfortable in terms of not being fixated on P&L and production, that stuff was always going to be there, but to invest the time in the development and the attention-giving of his own people and building relationships with them. And it made all the difference. It made him whole. It made him sort of more emotionally-attuned and aware.

Pete Mockaitis
And the fear there it could show up in terms of, “Oh, my gosh, if I spent this time talking about this mushy relationship stuff, it’s like we’re not spending time making it happen, churning out production,” so it’s kind of scary. Or, “Boy, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Are they going to cry even if I really start listening to what’s going on with their lives? And I don’t know what to do with that.” So, that can be fearful there.

Bill Treasurer
Exactly. If I invested time, and I become interested in this person’s career and what they want to get out of their career, and what they want to get out of my time being their leader, and, hey, maybe even what’s going on in their own life if they want to share any of that. I might actually have to care about this person. They’re no longer just a “resource.” It’s a human being that I’m in relationship with, and now I care about, oh, man, if I care about them, I’m going to be obliged to them in a different way than I am if I’m just their “boss.” So, you’re right, it comes with a certain risk.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s hard to fire them, too, when you care.

Bill Treasurer
It’s hard to be hard, right. It’s hard to be tough. But I think what it does is it changes the equation. So many people in leadership roles it’s all about results, right? Like, if you don’t get results, you’re not going to stay a leader. We see it with professional coaches, for example. If you have enough of a losing streak, you’re going to get replaced. So, I get it, results matter.

But I think that we have to put the equation and make sure that it’s the treatment of people as the means to the ends of getting the result. But too many people, like this person, focused on the result, the result, the result, the ends, “Give me the ends. Give me the golden egg. Give me the golden egg. Give me the golden egg,” and cutting open that goose to get the golden egg instead of the treatment of people which is the means to getting the better production.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And when you treat them you want to be clear that they don’t feel like they are means to the end alone, and that’s sort of like what they are to you. But, yeah, understood in terms of people are that which make it happen, so folks need to be treated well in order to see that occur. Now, I want to make sure we have a moment to talk about you’ve got a concept called three buckets of courage, and I know those are pretty interesting. Can you tell us about this?

Bill Treasurer
Sure. I think that when we think of courage as this big ambiguous topic, and we think, “Oh, man, courage. That’s huge. That’s for heroes. That’s for people with the machine guns charging up the hill in the theater of war. That’s for the person standing on the moon. That’s the person saving somebody’s life, or running into a burning building.” And that’s true. Courage has its place for heroics. But I believe that there’s a more tempered everyday experience of courage that’s accessible to all of us, and it helps to break down the idea of courage so that it’s not so ambiguous. And I break it down into three different behavioral buckets that I call the three buckets of

The first bucket of courage is the courage to try something you’ve not done before. It’s the courage of first attempts. It’s the courage of action. It’s the courage of initiative to cross this threshold and do this thing that other people may be doing, but for you it’s the first time. And because it’s the first time, there’s a degree of unknown across the threshold. So, I call this

You can think of the first time you drove a car, for example, when other people are on the road driving a car. But, for you, it was a petrifying experience. Or, the first time you moved into management, and you now had direct reports reporting to you, and it’s a foreign experience to you. You can draw from the experiences of others, but for you it’s the first time.

That’s different than the second bucket of courage. The second bucket of courage is the courage of vulnerability, emotional exposure, the courage of relationships, and I call this trust courage. It’s the courage entrust others and assume some degree of risk that they may betray you. Because when you entrust somebody, there’s always a chance that they could betray you, and then your judgment gets

So, for example, in the workplace, delegating a consequential, meaningful, substantial task to somebody, without pulling it back from them, and without hovering over them like a helicopter parent, but building up their skills and entrusting them so that they can be self-sufficient and self-reliant to do this task. There’s always a chance that they mess up and it becomes a reflection on your judgment. But this is the courage it takes to build relationships. And I find that the higher you go up in the organization, the less often you see the trust courage that’d be because I think that we become jaded over time because of betrayal.

The third bucket of courage is the one that we often think of when we talk about courage in the workplace. We think of the person with the shaky voice, standing up to authority, or getting the direct message when it’s really hard for them to do so. We call this the courage of the truthteller and the bucket, as the third bucket of courage, is tell courage. It’s the voice of assertiveness and truth-telling. We want people and we want leaders, especially, to be honest. But, as you know, Pete, we do a lot of socially-appropriate

When your spouse says, “Do I look fat in this dress?” Honesty, we say we want it but it’s kind of hard to give. Somebody raises their hand at a townhall meeting, “Are there going to be more layoffs?” And we’re told we’re not allowed to say. Honesty is a hard thing, so it takes courage to be the honest truthteller, knowing that the risk you assume is if you tell the truth, you might be excluded from the group and no longer belong.

So, each one of these buckets – try, trust, and tell – has some risks attached to it which is why it involves courage.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I like that because they really are different phenomenon in terms of you may well find that you are ready to try anything, but you really are slow to trust. Or, you’ve got the audacity to sort of tell people what you think, no problem, but you’re worried about kind of doing something totally different outside of your world. So, I think that’s a really handy way to think about it in terms of what they share is this notion of courage and breaking out of the comfort to do something. But they all also have their own sort of nuances or flavors. So, tell me, do you have any pro tips in terms of each of these three? Like, if you want to be more courageous in each of the three buckets, what should you do?

Bill Treasurer
Yeah, that’s a good question, and you’re very perceptive. You’re right that each one of these, you can see the distinction between them, but you also see the reinforcement. And you’re also right that we tend to be stronger in one of those buckets than the others, and that’s great. That’s the area where you could give people mentorship, for example. But if your bucket is low in any of those areas, you’re likely to give people advice that comes from fear because your own bucket isn’t full in that particular  And each one has strengths and weaknesses.

So, in terms of advice, whatever advice that I would give people, would be to start small, right? Like, no high-diver goes up and does a 100-foot jump one time without doing a thousand jumps from one foot. So, I call these leadups, so start  So, for example, if you wanted to demonstrate try courage. A small way to do that, so doing something that breaks routine, breaks habit, a willingness to go to a different restaurant at lunch. Don’t go to the same haunt that you go to all the time. Take a different route to work. Break up your routines in small ways and it would give yourself mental permission to do so in larger more substantial

Trust. When it comes to trust courage, one thing you can do is sort of fill in the blank to this question, “I will trust you when…” When is it? What is the criteria with which you give a person  Some people are like, “I’ll trust you right off the bat. I always presume trust. And then if you screw up, then I will have a hard time trusting you.” Other people are like, “I will trust you after you prove to me you can be trusted.” And they’re sort of they’ll prove it, people need evidence.

But at least be conscious to know what is the criteria with which you will give people trust or withhold trust because it allows you to understand, “Is your standard too high? And would you maybe need to lower that standard so that you can build relationships quicker with

And then, for tell courage, to have the courage or voice or assertiveness, one thing I often suggest for people in lower-level positions who are struggling with a boss who might be dominant, is to go to your boss, or maybe even during your annual review, and say, “Boss, I just need to know. Do you need me to sort of agree with everything that you say? Do you need me to be a yes person? Do you need me to be a brownnoser?” And I’m telling you, 95% of bosses are going to be like, “No, I don’t want you to. Do not. You absolutely need to push

Pete Mockaitis
Bill, thank you so much for asking. Yes, please. Not all of these disagreements and critical thinking I have to do everywhere, it’d be so refreshing if you can just tell me what I want to hear constantly. Ah, that’d be nice.

Bill Treasurer
Right. So, this tip is all about establishing a ground rule with your boss that you won’t be a butt-kisser, and a brownnoser, and a yes person, because they don’t want you to be. They’ve, in fact, clarified that but then you’ve got to go a step further and say, “Great, boss. I’ll tell you what, I will honor this commitment. Can you do me a favor? Give me some coaching right now. When I need to disagree with you, how can I do that in a way that would be receptive to your

And then that person will give them advice, “Listen, don’t do it when I’m getting ready to walk into the board meeting. Don’t do it when you see 50 items in my inbox,” and they’ll give you some coaching so that when you fast forward six months from now, and you actually have to disagree with your boss, you can say, “Hey, boss, remember when we agreed during my performance review that you didn’t want me to be a yes person, and you gave me some coaching on how to give you feedback that you might need to hear, I’ve got some things to say to you right now that will honor the commitment that we made to each other.” So, it’s basically setting a ground rule where you’ve got permission to tell the truth to your

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

Bill Treasurer
I think, for the listener, there are a couple of good old tiny questions to ask yourself, “When’s the last time you did something for the first time?” It’s a good question and it’ll allow you to think, “Hey, am I extending myself enough?” The other one, of course, is, “Where am I playing it too safe?” So, sometimes it’s like the thought experiments, there’s a few key questions like that that can help your listeners orient themselves to are they extending themselves enough.

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

Bill Treasurer
Well, I do like that quote from Gandhi, right, “The truth only hurts if it should.” I like that because it keeps me accountable to giving harder messages that I might need to deliver to my clients and/or to myself, right? Like, sometimes somebody will give me feedback, and my instant response is wanting to defend myself or to find something wrong with that person who gave me that feedback. But if I just sort of sit with that quote from Gandhi, “Yeah, you know, that hurt. Why did that hurt?” And then I start to think about, “What is the truth of what they said and why does it hurt me?” So, I like that quote. That’s a good quote for me.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Bill Treasurer
I’ll tell you one of my favorite books of all time. So, I do a lot of leadership development, designing, developing, and delivering comprehensive leadership programs. Some of them are two years long, these leadership programs. And I think that a lot of people in the practice of leadership development deify leadership too much. They put it on a pedestal. And I think it’s really important that practitioners of leadership development also be heads up about the dangers of leadership put in the wrong hands.

And one of my favorite books on this is by Stanley Milgram who did the famous Milgram studies, the shock studies, I’m sure you’re familiar with them. And he wrote a book called Obedience to Authority, and it shows you how willing people are to capitulate to authority figures with very small actual authority over them. They’re willing to sort of cede control to a person who tells them to do something if they’re wearing a lab coat, and don’t actually have leadership authority over them. It’s just a fascinating book about how quickly people will capitulate to authority figures.

And a quote in there about the banality of evil, or the topic of the banality of evil, that evil often is not acting courageously. And it’s sort of a yawn, it’s the sin of omission, right, that they don’t do the things they ought to do because somebody’s telling them not do it. They’re just following orders from somebody who doesn’t actually have any control over them.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Bill Treasurer
Well, I was going to say the worst-case grid. I also like the five Ps. And the five Ps allow you to contemplate, “Should I, shouldn’t I take this risk?” And, again, rather than a pro and con list, it looks at five different things. The first is passion, “Am I passionate about it? Does it give me energy to think about this? Does it give me positive energy to think about this big bold move that I’m contemplating this courageous action?” So, passion is the

The second P is purpose, “If I take this risk, is it going to move me forward? That a big bold move shouldn’t be about compensation, what will this risk get me?” It should be about destination, “Where will this risk carry me or take

Then the third P is principles, “If by doing this thing, am I embodying or upholding some principles or virtues that I hold dear and say that I’m all about? If I take this risk, is it, in fact, a demonstration of this principle put to

The fourth P is prerogative, “Am I going to take this because other people are telling me to, because my dad was a dentist and he wants me to become a dentist? Or am I going to take this risk because I’ve thought about it, and it moves my life forward, it’s an exercise of my own free will, this decision, should I, shouldn’t I get off this

And then the fifth P is profit, “Do I stand to get something? If I do this thing, what is the potential or reward for my life that could be redeeming somehow?” So, if I put something through the five Ps – passion, purpose, principles, prerogative, and profit – I’m in a much higher probability of having a successful outcome to this courage action than if I don’t, or that if I only put it through a pro and con

And notice, by the way, Pete, that I put profit last. If you put that first, it skews your thinking on everything and you make the risk all about, “What can I gain?” and you start chasing the shiny

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

Bill Treasurer
I guess one nugget is it’s a quick story from a person that I got to work with on four occasions. She actually wrote the foreword to the original version of “Courage Goes to Work,” and her name is Sara Blakely, the founder of SPANX. And Sara tells the story of when she was a little kid, her dad used to sit down at the dinner table with her and her brother, she was about 10 or 11 years old, her brother was a little younger. Her dad used to ask her a simple question at the end of every week, he’d say, “Okay, kids, what have you failed at this week? What have you failed at this week?”

And she learned at an early age that if you’re not extending yourself, even occasionally to the point of failure, then it’s going to be hard for you to be successful. And I think that’s sort of a good golden nugget again about the importance, the wiliness to move and to discomfort because that’s where the growth happens.

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

Bill Treasurer
I’d point them to a couple of the websites. One is BillTreasurer.com, another is GiantLeapConsulting.com. And since we’re talking about Courage Goes to Work, guess where they can go to find that?

Pete Mockaitis
CourageGoestoWork.com.

Bill Treasurer
You are a smart man, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, Bill, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you all the best and much courageous adventures in your future.

Bill Treasurer
Awesome. Well, thanks so much for having me on. I hope that your readers drew some value from it and I really enjoyed talking to you.

465: The Cure for Impostor Syndrome: How to Feel Less Like a Fraud and Appreciate Your Successes with Dr. Valerie Young

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Valerie Young says: "We think we're supposed to excel at everything but we're not going to."

Valerie Young sheds light on the impostor syndrome and shows the healthy way out.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Just how prevalent impostor syndrome is
  2. The 5 impostor syndrome archetypes
  3. How to strategically shift your thinking from impostor to non-impostor

About Valerie 

Dr. Valerie Young is an internationally-known expert on impostor syndrome and author of award-winning book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It (Crown Business/Random House), now available in five languages.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Valerie Young Interview Transcript

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

Valerie Young
I’m really excited, Pete. Thanks for asking me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited too. And so, we’re going to talk about impostor syndrome, which is a hot topic for listeners. But I want to start with hearing a little bit about your personal history and I guess origin story for how you and the impostor syndrome topic got to be well-acquainted.

Valerie Young
Well, very, very well-acquainted. I didn’t even know there was a name for these feelings until I was in a doctoral program when I was about 21 years old at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and someone brought in a paper by Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes. Those are the two psychologists who first coined the term the impostor phenomenon, as it is more accurately known in the world of psychology.

And she started reading from this study, and going, “Oh, my gosh, listen to this, everybody. They found that all these intelligent, capable, competent people feel like they’re fooling folks and they’re going to be found out.” I was just nodding my head like a bobblehead doll.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting.

Valerie Young
I was like, “Oh, my God, that’s me. There’s a name for this? Other people feel this way?” So, it’s tremendously liberating just to know that there was a name.

Pete Mockaitis
And then you found a posse of impostors. Tell us about that.

Valerie Young
Well, I did. Now, I’ve gone on to speak to many tens of thousands of graduate students and, yeah, it turns out it’s really epidemic amongst, especially, graduate students for a host of reasons. But, basically, looked around the room, while I was nodding my head like a bobblehead doll, and all the other graduate students were nodding their head.

So, I often tell the story, Pete, that we decide to get together after class for a little impostor support group, and we would talk about being intellectual frauds and how we’re fooling all of our professors, and everything went great for about three weeks. And then I started to get this nagging sense that even though the other students were all saying they were an impostor, like I knew I was the only real impostor. So, clearly, they were phony impostors and I was like a super impostor.

Pete Mockaitis
An impostor amongst impostors.

Valerie Young
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And they were probably thinking the same thing, like, “Ha, ha, ha, this is really kind of a funny joke that we’re saying but I don’t think they mean it.”

Valerie Young
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. So, you mentioned then, I guess, a little bit of the definition for impostor phenomenon or impostor syndrome. Can we hear, I guess, the official or, since you’ve done decades of research on this, your definition for what we call impostor syndrome if you were to give like a quick dictionary sentence or two?

Valerie Young
Sure. Well, I think, as it’s commonly understood, Pete, is this sense, this feeling experienced by countless millions of people around the world, across culturally, across industries, this sense that, “I’m in over my head and I’m going to be found out.” And what really makes impostor syndrome very specific is that there’s concrete clear evidence of one’s accomplishments or capabilities and, yet, people who felt like impostors tend to dismiss them, minimize them, or chalk them up to external factors like luck, timing, computer error, personality, and those kinds of things. But the overwhelming fear then, really, is that you’re going to be found out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the fear, it’s a fear you’re going to be found out as opposed to, I guess, low self-esteem, it’s just like, “I’m not really very smart or good or anything.” But I guess impostor syndrome has that extra dose of there’s an outcome that you’re dreading and think really could happen to you.

Valerie Young
Yeah, there’s definitely an outcome. But I think, additionally, Pete, now there are some studies, let me be clear, some studies on impostor phenomenon have connected, found a connection between self-esteem and impostor feelings. Other studies have not found a connection, which tells me, it’s possible to have healthy self-esteem and still have impostor feelings.

How I look at it is self-esteem, think of it as kind of a global sense we have about ourselves kind of across the board. But impostor feelings are very specific to achievement areas, work, school, business, career. You don’t feel like an impostor when you’re walking the dog or emptying the dishwasher, right? But you do at a job interview, or going to your first pitch when you start your new business, or when you’re being challenged on your work, things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, just to make it clear, you shared a couple of words, thoughts, phrases, internal sub-talk, bits you might have in terms of, “Oh, they’re going to find me out.” But just to make this really real and resonant and connected for people, can we hear some kind of recurring words and phrases internally that impostors say to themselves all the time and so we can maybe recognize ourselves within that?

Valerie Young
Well, I think, clearly, it’s the “I’m going to be found out, that I’m in over my head. I don’t know what I’m doing. Everyone else is smarter than me. If I was really competent, I wouldn’t need any help. If was really competent I’d feel confident.” It’s interesting, like the fact that you even struggle with impostor feelings or confidence, in the mind of the person who feels like an impostor, just kind of proves that they must be an impostor, “Because if I was really competent, I wouldn’t feel this way.”

The sense that, “I should know 150%. This shouldn’t be this hard. If I was really competent, I should be able to kind of hit the ground running and figure this out and master it very quickly.” So, the voices kind of vary depending on how the person is judging or measuring their own competence.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s an interesting notion right there, it’s like it’s sort of related to a catch 22 or is it the opposite? But it’s sort of just like, “If I am feeling unconfident, or if I’m having a hard time, I’m struggling, there’s difficulty, then that means I’m no good.” And so, could you share the truth of the matter? What does it mean when we struggle and are feeling unconfident? If it does not mean that we’re frauds, what does it mean?

Valerie Young
I think it probably means we’re in the middle of a normal learning curve.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there you go.

Valerie Young
You know, where we started something new or unfamiliar. But the problem is that how we view that. The non-impostor, if you will, says, “Well, gee, I’ll figure it out as I go along,” or, “Well, I’ve only been here a week. I can’t possibly know everything there is to know about this job,” right? But the non-impostor walks in and expects themselves to hit the ground running and to pick things up incredibly quickly. So, it’s a difference between how you frame that situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, let’s talk about non-impostors for a moment. And, first, so can you share with us what’s the data suggest in terms of the proportion of people, professionals if you have it, who experience this impostor syndrome?

Valerie Young
You know, Pete, there’s this percentage that’s been thrown around since the 1980s, I believe, late ‘70s, early ‘80s from Gail Matthews, where it kind of originated, is that up to 70% of high-achieving people have experienced these feelings to varying degrees at one time or another, which is pretty high, which means we’re actually in the majority, which of course begs the question, “What’s up with the other 30? Why aren’t we studying them? Why aren’t we writing dissertations about them?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, 70% that is striking. Well, Gail Matthews, I’ve cited a paper of hers about goal setting in dozen of keynote speeches, so I feel like I should give her a high five or a hug.

Valerie Young
Oh, wow, that’s very cool.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’ve never met her in person but I can see the bar chart slide in my mind’s eye, but back to the number at hand. Seventy percent are saying that they experience it and 30% don’t. Can we just get a glimpse of their world for a moment? Like, I don’t know, is that dangerous in its own right if you don’t have any impostor syndrome? Are these the folks who have exaggerated views of their own competence and end up singing terribly on American Idol and feeling very foolish? Or what’s the non-impostor life like?

Valerie Young
You know, it’s interesting you say that because that’s definitely some portion of that 30% have, as you say, the opposite problem, which is irrational self-confidence syndrome, that their sense of their knowledge and abilities far exceeds their actual knowledge and abilities, which was actually a phenomenon that became documented by Professor Dunning at Cornell. It’s now known as the Dunning-Krueger Effect that did find through multiple consistent studies, that found that the people who have the lowest expectations for how they’re going to perform on an exam, for example, performed the best, and the people who were quite certain that they were going to ace it, often performed the worst. So, we often don’t see our own limitations.

But here’s the thing, and that’s why I don’t buy into this notion of we should embrace our impostor syndrome because it keeps us humble, because I think it’s a false choice, Pete. It’s like the choices between, “I’m going to be an arrogant kind of smartest guy in the room person who really isn’t that competent, or an impostor,” I mean, you know, most are going to go, “Oh, I’ll keep the impostor syndrome.” But I think that there’s a whole middle ground of people I describe as kind of non-impostors who are part of that 30% who just have a very different way of viewing the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s intriguing. And so, they might view the world in that they have exaggerated views of themselves. Or, do you think they’re just super healthy with regard to their acknowledging, “Yeah, so I am in the middle of a normal learning curve”? Do you think that’s more the picture there?

Valerie Young
Absolutely. I always tell people that the only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor. Let’s separate out the arrogant people who really are not competent, let’s kind of put them in a different box right now. What I’m talking about is people who don’t feel like impostors in a healthy kind of way. They’re more intelligent, capable, competent, qualified than the rest of us. The only difference between them and us is in the exact same situation that triggers an impostor response in us, they are thinking different thoughts. That’s it. Which I think is incredibly good news because it means all we have to do is learn how to think like non-impostors.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, I was going to get to it later but I can’t resist. All right. How do we do that? What are the key ways we need to adjust our thinking?

Valerie Young
Well, there’s three kind of categories of things that non-impostors think differently about, Pete. First of all, they think differently about competence.

Pete Mockaitis
Competence.

Valerie Young
Competence, yeah.
People who feel like impostors tend to fall into different kind of mindsets about how they measure our competence, right? We hold ourselves to these unrealistically high, unsustainably high standards that no human could consistently hit. So, you might be a perfectionist, for example, in your kind of mental rulebook, 99 out of 100 will be unacceptable. Forgetting to make some minor point in an otherwise flawless presentation, you’ll beat yourself up endlessly.

But the non-impostor, they still can set high standards for themselves, and they have a healthy drive to excel, but they don’t feel shame when they fall short as long as they tried their best. Other people who feel like impostors, their definition of impostor syndrome, and this is five of them, I’m happy to go through them or not.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do them all, yeah.

Valerie Young
But the second one is kind of the knowledge version of the perfectionist, the person I think of as kind of the expert. That doesn’t mean they are an expert. It means that they think they have to know 150% before they speak up, raise their hand, start their business, go after a promotion, and they’re just endlessly searching for that, like waiting to wake up one day and think, “Now, I’m an expert.” So, they never feel like they know enough.

Then there’s the person I describe as the natural genius. Again, it’s not that they’re a genius. It’s that they’ve somehow got it into their head that, “If I was really intelligent, capable, competent, this wouldn’t be this hard.” So, the fact that they struggle to understand something, or master something, in their mind kind of proves they’re an impostor because they’re defining competence as being about ease and speed. They look at other people, and they think, “Oh, that looks so easy.” And then they try it, and it’s hard. But they don’t understand that that other person worked their ass off to get good, or they might be naturally good at something, which we all are.

Then there’s the soloist, as it sounds, who thinks it only counts if they do it all by themselves. So, they’re going to feel shame if they have to ask for help, they don’t give themselves credit if it’s a team effort, and then, of course, the superwoman/superman/super student who expects themselves to excel across multiple roles they play in their life.

So, non-impostors think differently about competence in that they realize that not everything can or needs to be perfect. Sometimes you just have to kind of jump in and figure it out, or like just don’t persevere over the routine tasks. Obviously, if you’re flying a plane or you’re performing surgery, please be a perfectionist. But the mantra I hear from a lot of very successful multimillionaire entrepreneurs is, “Half ass is better than no ass.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Valerie Young
And they don’t mean do a bad job. But they’re not letting perfectionism hold them back. It’s like they know the first version is never going to be as good as the tenth version. So, kind of get it out the door and you can course correct as you go along. So, they’re looking at it very differently.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, so there you have it. We have sort of five archetypes.

Valerie Young
Yeah, kind of competence types really.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so, let’s see. We got the knowledge, we got the natural genius, we got the soloist, we got the super students.

Valerie Young
Superwoman/Superman.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And what’s the fifth one?

Valerie Young
The perfectionist, the expert, the natural genius.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, perfectionist. Okay, got it. Interesting. So, each of these, they have sort of a lie that they’re clinging to and you sort of need to see the light based upon sort of where you fall in. And so, is there any kind of bridge you recommend that we cross in order to pull that off successfully or consistently?

Valerie Young
Yeah, I think it goes back to learning to think like a non-impostor. Like, when you’re having this moment where you’re holding yourself to these unrealistic unsustainable standards, to kind of step back and say, “How would a non-impostor think and feel and act in this same situation?”
And it’s not just competence that they think differently about. People who don’t feel like impostors also look at failure, mistakes, and criticisms differently and they have a different response to fear.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s cover each of these contrasts or distinctions then. So, how do we think like non-impostors in each of those contexts?

Valerie Young
Well, people who feel like impostors, experience shame when they fail, right? Nobody likes to fail and make a mistake, or have an off day, or have to struggle to master something, or have to ask for help. But when these things happen to non-impostors, they don’t experience shame. Impostors feel shame, and that’s a key difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, can we define shame here?

Valerie Young
I cannot give you a psychological version of that, a definition of shame.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess it’s different than, “Aw, shucks, that didn’t work out the way I wanted to.”

Valerie Young
Oh, no, no, it’s personal, by beating yourself up, embarrassment, humiliation.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m stupid. How could I have been so foolish, etc.?”

Valerie Young
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Valerie Young
It’s the difference between non-impostors, they recognize they have setbacks, they have failures, and I just want to be clear with people. It’s not that they’re okay with it. They can be crushingly disappointed. Think about sports, right? Intellectually we all know one team is going to win and one team is going to lose. One team is going to be crying in their towel on the sidelines at the end of the championship. But they don’t go home and hang up their uniform and quit, right? They go watch the game tape, they get more coaching, they get back in there, and they say, “We’ll get them next time.”

So, it’s really how you handle failures and setbacks that matter. And, again, you can be crushingly disappointed if you fail or fall short, but not ashamed. The only time you feel ashamed is if you didn’t try, or maybe you procrastinated to the very last minute, it didn’t really reflect your best effort, yeah, then shame is called for. But, otherwise, there’s no shame.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got it. And how about the next one?

Valerie Young
Well, let me just add one more to that because criticism is something that is really problematic for people with impostor syndrome. It wounds and crushes our soul, right? So, if you’re in a job and your boss tells you four things you did outstanding, right? You’re having your performance review, four things you’re outstanding, one thing you need to work on. What do you obsess over and feel horrible about, right?

It’s the equivalent of wanting to win an Oscar every time you make a film. But people who feel like impostors becomes over-personalized. So, if someone says, “That report was inadequate,” what we hear is, “I’m inadequate.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Valerie Young
And non-impostors not only see constructive feedback and criticism as invaluable, but they seek it out. They might pay coaches ridiculously good money, as I have in the past, to give them really direct honest feedback about how they can perform. Or even if someone says they did an outstanding job, the non-impostor will say, “Thank you so much. What’s one thing I could’ve done even better?”

Pete Mockaitis
There’s some distinction there between your performance and your, I guess, worthiness or goodness as a fundamental human being.

Valerie Young
Oh, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha. Cool.

Valerie Young
And to see yourself as kind of this work in progress, you’re always going to be getting better. And the last thing that non-impostors think differently about is fear. When I’m speaking to a large audience, Pete, I’ll often say, “How many of you would like to feel confident 24/7?” And lots of people raise their hand. And my response is always, “Good luck with that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, you know, it’s so funny. In almost, as you say that, I imagine a life that’s a little bit less exciting in terms of like if I always felt confident, I think I’d get bored. Like, a little bit of, “Oh, boy, can I handle this?” makes things kind of exciting for me.

Valerie Young
Well, yeah, and it’s normal, it’s realistic. Denzel Washington, before he walked on stage to be in a Broadway show in “Fences,” he said, “Well, you’re standing in the wings, if you don’t have that what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here moment, it’s time to hang it up.”

Pete Mockaitis
So, then how do the non-impostors handle a fear? They just sort of, like Denzel Washington say, “Yup, that’s there and it’s all good.”

Valerie Young
Absolutely. Some incredibly successful performers, artists, entertainers, singers, have terrible stage fright, but they don’t lean into the fear. I always recommend people understand that your body doesn’t know the difference between fear and excitement. You have sweaty palms, nervous stomach, dry throat. So, are you’re walking on stage, or into the job interview, or up to the podium, or whatever it might be, you just have to keep telling yourself, “I’m excited, I’m excited,” then you have to keep going regardless of how you feel.

Because what everyone is waiting for, Pete, is to feel more confident. And then it’s like, “Well, when I feel more confident, then I’ll do it.” No, it doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to do the thing, you’re like, “Maybe I can’t perform on Broadway, but I’m going to give it my best shot,” right? Put yourself out there and do it, learn from it, try again, and keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. That’s well-put. So, we’re waiting to feel more confident before we do it but that is just backwards. You’ve got to do it and then you’ll feel more confident.

Valerie Young
Absolutely. Or to really change your thoughts, start thinking like a non-impostor even though you don’t believe the new thought yet. Somebody said to me, I was speaking at a group, and she raised her hand, she said, “Well, this is great, Valerie. But what if you tell yourself all this stuff and you still don’t believe it?” And my response is, “No, trust me, you won’t believe it. You believe the old thoughts, the old impostor rulebook but you have to keep telling yourself.”

But if you just can say to yourself, “Aren’t I entitled to make a mistake once in a while? Aren’t I entitled to have an off day?” That’s the way non-impostors think. You may not 100% believe it that day, but over time you start thinking, “Yeah, I am entitled as the next person to get it wrong, have an off day, not know the answer.”

Pete Mockaitis
And you also have a strategy you recommend when it comes to reframing. Can we hear about this?

Valerie Young
Well, that really is the process of thinking like a non-impostor is to step back and to say, “Okay,” become consciously aware of the conversation going on in your head when you’re having a very normal impostor moment, and then try to reframe it the way you imagine a non-impostor would. I’ll share one of my favorite reframes was Daniel Boone, the wilderness explorer, who said, “I was never lost but I was bewildered once for three days.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good, yeah. And even if you’re successful, like you can frame that like an impostor or a non-impostor. Can you give us an example of that?

Valerie Young
I’m not sure what you’re asking. Say more about that.

Pete Mockaitis
So, Daniel Boone got lost and he reframed that as he was bewildered, which is cool. But sometimes an impostor can even frame a success or a good result or a victory in a non-affirming way about themselves. whereas the non-impostor would do so differently.

Valerie Young
Right. So, the impostor, I think this is what you’re getting at, might say, “Well, it’s only because I had help,” or, “It’s just, yeah, they say they love my presentation, but it’s just because they like me or was a good audience,” right? And those two things might be true, but you’re not including yourself in that equation.

And I think non-impostors make an effort to celebrate successes so that it becomes, whether it’s a conscious desire or not, but it kind of consciously wedge it in your mind and makes that connection between your efforts and outcome, and that you need to reward yourself. If we spent nearly enough time rewarding ourselves in positive ways for the little and big wins, there’ll be less for an impostor about.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, we had BJ Fogg on the show earlier who’s amazing and he was talking about how important it is to celebrate because he’s talking about the context of making habits, saying that emotions build habits, and most people are very bad at celebrating themselves, even if it’s just a little, “Nice job, Valerie,” like internally for three seconds. Most of us struggle with that.

Valerie Young
Absolutely. And I think it’s really important. As you said, even from small things, for folks who are familiar with making a list of things they’re grateful for to just step back at the end of a project and say, “I’m really happy that I did these three things,” or, “I did a good job,” or, “Good for you for trying,” regardless of the outcome. And I think that’s important, too, to not just celebrate the wins. It’s like, “Did you give it your best shot?”

You know, I got my book deal with Random House. I had a great agent, she took me around New York, we had two days of interview schedule with some of the biggest publishing houses in the industry. And I was pretty nervous for the first one. And the irony was not lost on me, Pete, pitching this book, right?

Pete Mockaitis
I have a log here. I can give you the top publishers.

Valerie Young
Right, exactly, looking at the skyline of Manhattan, sitting in these beautiful conference rooms. But I decided, no matter what, this when the iPhone just came out, I was going to get myself an iPhone for just kind of being in the running, right?

When my book came out, I’d already decided I was going to buy this painting. Again, a friend of mine said, “What if you buy this painting and then the book is a flop? It’s going to remind you of that all the time.” I said, “To the contrary, the picture is going to remind me that I gave it my best shot, and after that the outcome is out of my control.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That is good. Oh, we’re having so much fun here. I had lots of stuff I wanted to make sure we covered. So, I’m curious, for the hardcore impostors, whoever are like, “Okay, Valerie is saying some really encouraging things. But, no, I seriously don’t belong in my role.” Like, I guess at times our doubts about our capabilities are accurate.

Valerie Young
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how can we kind of get nuanced and appropriately distinguished? Like, what sort of just an impostory thought we should discard, like, “Oh, that’s silly,” versus what’s like, “Yeah, you’re right. I am kind of outmatched here, and I got to take some steps to get where I need to be”?

Valerie Young
Oh, well, you just said it right there. The reality is you may be in a situation, as we all probably have been at one time, where we’re really out of our element, or thrown into something where we’re really over our head. But, again, it goes back to the difference between saying, “I’m an impostor. They’re going to find out,” versus saying, “What an amazing learning opportunity. Let me marshal whatever resources there are available to me whether it’s time or brain power. Or, how can I grow into this position and recognize that I’m in the middle of a really, you know, I’m in a learning curve?”

Think about it. There are CEOs that go from the CEO of an insurance company to a manufacturing company. They have zero experience in manufacturing but they look at that, and, again, they’re scared by the way. There was a study out of the UK that found 80% of CEOs and 81% of managing directors sometimes feel out of their depth.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s encouraging. Thank you.

Valerie Young
But I think I look at it as a normal response to being in new situations. In a rapidly-changing world, whether technology-wise, or advancements, or just trends where you’re never going to know it all, and you’re never going to do everything perfectly yourself, and you don’t need to. There are other people who can, you know. We think we’re supposed to excel at everything but we’re not going to excel at everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, I was going to ask, so we had that 70% figure that’s been thrown around, and not that we need to slice and dice it 50 different ways as scientists sometimes like to do. But you shared an interesting stat there with 80% of CEOs feel out of their depth at times. Do we see the proportion of folks who feel impostory vary by either gender, industry, seniority, functional area? It sounds like the more senior people felt it even more than the 70%.

Valerie Young
Yeah, I do think the higher up you are, you go, the more susceptible you are. There’s more scrutiny, there’s farther to fall. If you’re in a highly-educated environment, like academia, or in certain scientific fields. Somebody said to me recently, Pete, I was speaking at a university, I think it was Michigan State, and she said, “This is crazy. I shouldn’t feel like an impostor. I have a PhD.” I said, “No, you feel like an impostor because you have a PhD because now people look at you a certain way.”

You’re right. Certain fields, creative fields, writing, acting, music, even producing. Chuck Lorre, producer of Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, other shows, have talked about feeling like a fraud when he walks out on a set. When you’re in a creative field, you’re only as good as your last book, your last performance. You’re being judged by subjective standards, by people whose job title is professional critic. People in medicine, technology, areas that are rapidly advancing and very information-dense, they also tend to be more susceptible.

Pete Mockaitis
And you wrote your book specifically for women. How do you think about gender in this?

Valerie Young
Women, as a group, tend to be, you know, we’re kind of generalizing here, right, they tend to be more susceptible for a host of reasons. But there are plenty of men who feel like impostors. And that’s one reason, honestly, I absolutely hate the title of my book. I hate it. I didn’t want it. I argued against it. Clearly, I lost the battle. And I hate it for a few reasons. It does leave men out, and men almost are always at my talks and when I speak in organizations, so it leaves men out, but also even women who, by any measure, are successful, we don’t often resonate with that term. So, you can have a junior in college in an engineering program, and she really could benefit from the book, but she’s not going to see herself in that title.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Valerie Young
When, what is her name, Sandberg, why am I forgetting her? Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook. Is that her name? Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Valerie Young
When she was asked a question by a reporter once, and the question was something like, “Do you consider yourself successful?” And she hesitated before she answered in the affirmative, but she hesitated, which I really get because success can also separate us from other people. So, I think it’s important to say here that sometimes we might hesitate in the face of achieving greater levels of success, and we think it’s confidence, and it could be, but it can also be other factors. Like, in varying iterations, success can separate us from other people. And if relationships are important to you, then that might kind of hold you back even on a very unconscious level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so let’s talk about sort of the long term here. I think we have a lot of great respect in terms of in the heat of the moment, reframing and thinking about things differently. When it comes to building your career, day after day, month after month, year after year, how do you think about this differently at all?

Valerie Young
Do you mean me or how would someone…?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s say those who experience impostor syndrome who are looking to grow their careers over the long term, do you have any pro tips from all your research here?

Valerie Young
Well, I think in some ways the answer is right in the question, that it’s always a long game, and the more you can see yourself as a work in progress and understand that you don’t need to know it all and have done it all. One thing that I think holds people back from becoming even more successful is we make this assumption that we have to know or already basically done that previous job before.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

Valerie Young
Again, a mind shift. Let me give you an example. There was a guy in my town here in Massachusetts who he was on the town select board for 12 years. He ran for reelection and he lost. Well, for a lot of people who feel like impostors that would just be devastating to lose this election. The next day this guy went out, he submitted the papers in Boston at the state house to run for state rep, which is like a statewide level. He was on the town level. He went to the next level.

And his quote was, “It was the next natural step.” And so, the message there is sometimes shooting higher after a setback is the next natural step. But that’s not going to be intuitive to people who feel like impostors.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And then when it comes even taking on specific challenges or opportunities that you don’t quite think you’re ready for, how do you evaluate those decisions?

Valerie Young
Well, I think it’s important to talk it through with people, but I would say there’s very few instances where I will tell somebody, “No, you really can’t do it.” I would say, “Jump in, trust that you can figure it out as you go along. Figure out who your support network is and how you’re going to learn and grow into this new role and just give it your best shot. But put your hat into the ring and understand that you’re being hired based on your capacity and your potential.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Valerie, I’d love to get, maybe before we shift gears into your favorite things, maybe. Could you share with us a couple quotations or stories from some of your most super-accomplished impostors?
Valerie Young
Oh, yeah. Yeah, there’s a guy at Stanford University, he said, “If I can get a PhD in astrophysics from Caltech, anybody can,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
“Because I’m a moron.”

Valerie Young
Right. Exactly. I had to point out to him that most of us can’t even balance our checkbook, so I don’t think so.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s awesome. More please.

Valerie Young
A famous quote, right? Jodie Foster did an interview on 60 Minutes many, many years ago, which she had gotten the Academy Awards for “The Accused.” Now, when she was at Yale University, she took time out of acting to go to Yale. She felt like an impostor when she got accepted into Yale, and she felt like an impostor when she got the Academy Award. And the quote was something to the effect of, “I kept waiting for them to come, knock on the door and take the Oscar back and say, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to Meryl Streep.’”

Which is fascinating because Meryl Streep, years later, did an interview with Ken Burns, and he asked her, “Do you think you’ll always act?” And her response was, “Well, I always think, ‘Who would want to see me act and what do I know about acting?’” It’s like the most Academy Award nominated actor of all times, right? If that doesn’t make you realize this is irrational, nothing will.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Thank you. Well, any final thoughts about impostor syndrome before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Valerie Young
I will say two seeds I want to plant. One is that when you think about it, Pete, there’s a certain amount of arrogance to the impostor syndrome because what we’re really saying is, “Other people are so stupid, they don’t realize we’re inept.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. It’s like you’re a master conman.

Valerie Young
Right. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re able to pull the wool over everybody’s eyes.

Valerie Young
Right. So, imagine if you would introduce me, Pete, “Valerie Young, internationally-recognized expert,” and I was like, “Oh, brother. Come on, Pete. I mean, have you ever had an expert on your show before? Seriously?”

Pete Mockaitis
One person in Canada recognizes me, that’s all that means.

Valerie Young
Well, no, it’s more about kind of insulting you. Like, “Do you got a house much or what, Pete? You picked me.” It assumes that whether it’s professors, or managers, or people who hired or promoted you, or clients, or customers are so inept that they don’t recognize you’re incompetent, which is very arrogant. The other thing I think people need to realize is that this is not all about them, that everyone loses when bright people play small.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Valerie Young
Somebody out there could be benefiting from your full range of knowledge and skills and potential. But when we hold back, there’s a consequence that go far beyond us.

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

Valerie Young
You know, this is not about impostor syndrome, but this is a quote that I’ve loved for many, many years, and it’s by the actor Will Smith who said, “Being realistic is the most commonly-travelled road to mediocrity.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. There it goes. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Valerie Young
I’m a big fan of Carol Dweck’s work. She wrote a book called “Mindset.” Honestly, I used to read her stuff in the academic literature, she’s in psychology, but people in academia write in such dense convoluted jargony ways that it’s not always easy to see the raw power in the findings. So, I read her stuff for many years.

Now, when she wrote her book “Mindset,” which is much more written in very accessible kind of way, it was like very conforming because she was doing all this quantitative research that confirmed everything I’ve been saying for the last 20 years about how people who don’t think like impostors, and impostors for that matter, how they think differently about competence basically.

So, it was very confirming. If you’re a parent, I think you’ll really enjoy her book. Let me give you one little, if I have a minute.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Valerie Young
One, I think her best exercises is to think about that typical kind of dinnertime conversation with school-age kids, which is, “What did you learn in school today?” to which they say, “Nothing,” which we did too, right, or, “I don’t remember.”

And Dweck said, “Wouldn’t it be more interesting if once a week, a couple times a month, you say, ‘Let’s all go around the table and talk about something that was difficult, challenging, or we failed at, and how we dealt with it. I’ll start.’” Because what you want to teach is resiliency.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Valerie Young
I was going to go back to kind of normalizing self-doubt, reframing and kind of keep going regardless.

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

Valerie Young
Gosh, I don’t know. I hope it’s what I shared that the only way to stop feeling like an impostor is stop thinking like an impostor. Remember, nothing else. And if you truly understood you are entitled to make a mistake, be wrong, have an off day, there’ll be nothing to feel like an impostor about.

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

Valerie Young
It’s so easy. Just go to ImpostorSyndrome.com.

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

Valerie Young
Just don’t play small. Look for an opportunity. Well, let me say this. We’re all going to have an opportunity to feel stupid sometime in the next 24-48 hours, so step up, seize the opportunity, and just keep saying to yourself, “Somebody is going to get that cool job, somebody is going to do that cool thing, it might as well be me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Valerie, this has been a lot of fun. Thank you so much. And good luck in all of your adventures.

Valerie Young
Thank you so much, Pete, for having me. Great job.