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709: The Eight Superpowers You Need to Thrive in Change with April Rinne

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April Rinne reveals eight key skills that prepare us to thrive in a world of constant, relentless change.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key mindset shift that helps us thrive in flux 
  2. How to escape the trap of a more mentality
  3. How to re-script your mind to prepare for change 

About April

A World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and ranked one of the “50 Leading Female Futurists” in the world by Forbes, April Rinne is a change navigator: she helps individuals and organizations rethink and reshape their relationship with change, uncertainty, and a world in flux. She is a trusted advisor to well-known startups, companies, financial institutions, nonprofits, and think tanks worldwide, including Airbnb, Nike, Intuit, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, NESTA, Trōv, AnyRoad, and Unsettled, as well as governments ranging from Singapore to South Africa, Canada to Colombia, Italy to India. April is the author of Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change. 

Resources Mentioned

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April Rinne Interview Transcript

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

April Rinne
Thank you so much. I’m delighted to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear about the wisdom you have to share about flux. But, first, I want to hear about your notorious handstands. What is the story here?

April Rinne
Oh, I’ve been outed. So, I have been doing handstands for most of my life. Learned to do them as a child, as a gymnast, and then kept doing them. And then, at a certain point in my life, realized that none of my friends that I was doing them with as a child were doing them anymore, and it became a bit of a, like, signature, I suppose. So, I travel a lot, I work internationally, and back in my 20s, actually, some family members challenged me to take a photo of myself doing handstands when I would go to interesting places. They did not realize how seriously I would take them on that challenge.

And so, here we are years later, have visited more than a hundred countries and have handstands in the most random but also most interesting of places. And so, my goal is to keep doing them when I’m hopefully in triple digits. We’ll see.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. I sort of imagine you, I don’t know, you’re at the Taj Mahal or something doing handstands, and then like you’re gathering a crowd, and so that you are also the tourist attraction. Has that happened?

April Rinne
It’s funny you bring that up. Yes, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids of Giza, the Coliseum in Rome, take your pick of well-known but also really off the beaten path places as well. And what I love is that the vast majority of my handstands over the years have been done when I’ve been traveling on my own. Now, my husband does travel with me and he knows the drill. He’s a wonderful photographer. But most of the time, I actually have to find somebody to take this picture, which means introducing myself to a stranger and trying to explain to them, and often their native language is not English.

So, I’m trying to explain to them in a foreign language that I’m going to stand on my hands and they need to take a picture. And, of course, you get this look of like, “I don’t think I understand what you’re saying at all. And if I do understand what you’re saying, you’re crazy.” And then we sort of go through the paces and they get it, and then, oftentimes, yes, a small crowd gathers, which is just fun in terms of meeting locals. But kids start tumbling and joining in, people start laughing and shouting, it becomes a bit of just like a little celebration, I suppose.

And, for me, it’s not, at that point, about the handstand. It’s about immediately getting to break the ice with people I wouldn’t otherwise get to meet. And it has often led to cups of coffee or tea afterwards, or like, “Tell us about your family,” or, usually, “Where is your husband? Why are you travelling alone?” those sorts of things as well. So, thanks for asking. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s just cool. Well, I don’t have a clever segue but maybe there is one.

April Rinne
Upside-down perspective on the world is what I call it, which leads into how we navigate change.

Pete Mockaitis
You do the work for me. This is perfect. Well, yeah, let’s hear about your book, Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change. What is the big idea behind this book?

April Rinne
Yeah, the big idea is that in a world and a future that is full of change and constant relentless change, that we, as humans, need to radically reshape our relationship to uncertainty to have a healthy and productive outlook.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. So, radically reshape our relationship to uncertainty, I’m sure there’s variability and variation quite a bit from person to person. But if you had to generalize, what would you say is the “typical” relationship to uncertainty? And what is an optimal transformation of it to where are we now and where “should” it be?

April Rinne
Yeah, great question. Well, let’s just pause for a minute and think about change, which includes uncertainty, but just a sense of something what is or was something is becoming something else. Change is messy, it’s complicated. Humans tend to love change we opt into. So, a new relationship, a new job, a new adventure, a new haircut. We tend to really resist change we can’t control. So, the kind of change that blindsides you on a Tuesday afternoon, it goes against your expectations, it disrupts your plans, and it creates an environment of uncertainty.

Now, a change that’s easy for you might be really, really hard for me, and vice versa. We know that more change and uncertainty is around the corner, yet knowing this often freaks us out. So, you sort of get these layers of like it’s complicated and it’s really messy. But when it comes to uncertainty, there’s also this piece, like humans really want to be able to know what’s going to happen. We want things to go our way. We want to command, predict, control, engineer the future. And the last 18 months, but we can come back to this, I didn’t write the book about the last 18 months. The last 18 months, however, have been an incredible kind of wakeup to just how unfit, how outdated that way of seeing the world and our place in it is.

And so, this radical reshaping is like, wow, we have structured, and we can come back to this, part of it is neurobiology, neuroscience, part of it is psychology, part of it is just the human condition, we have in many ways, I think, deluded ourselves into believing that we can predict and control and command the future, and that we can have certainty, and that we can, yeah, predict things and know what’s going to happen. And nothing could be farther from the truth.

And in a world in flux, and when we think about flux as constant relentless change, and before you’ve responded to one change, something else has happened, the list goes on and on and on. And that’s actually what the future looks like. More of that, not less, that there is this kind of, “Oh, this isn’t just a wakeup call. This is also a kind of warmup for what’s ahead. And how can we get ahead of that? Instead of constantly reacting to change that something happens and you’re trying to triage it? How can we reshape our relationship to change from the inside out to be fit for this world in flux which is very different than the kind of world many of us were taught to believe we lived in?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is quite a question, and part of me wonders, “Is that even possible?” I take it you think the answer is yes. Could you share with us an inspiring example or case study of someone who’s just a flux master?

April Rinne
Well, I love that you bring this up because, by and large, humans are really pretty bad at this, and that’s part of why I wrote the book. I like to say that I’ve been working on this book since 2018, so it’s been the better part of three years, like in the writing, but it’s really been more like three decades in the making, in the seeding of these ideas. And a big chunk of that time was spent both as a futurist and a strategist, also just as a human and observing that, on the whole, humans, we can adapt to change pretty well when we’re forced to, when our back is against the wall.

But as a proactive, kind of, “I’m going to lean into change because it’s good for me, or I’m actually going to see a change I don’t want to have happen, I’m going to see that nonetheless as an opportunity for growth and learning and improvement,” we don’t do that naturally. And what was making me and, candidly, continuous to make me very concerned about humans moving forward, both individually and collectively as humanity, is that we are, in many cases, stuck in mindsets and with what I call scripts that are not fit for a world in flux, and we need help.

And so, I can point to individuals that are good at certain of the flux superpowers, let’s say. But on the whole, and at the risk of generalizing, are we really fit? Are our mindsets grooved for a future of constant relentless change? I reckon they are not. But in that is an enormous opportunity for each and every one of us to level up. So, we can come back to some of the examples, but I want to put that out there. Now, you might prove me wrong here, Pete, but I’ve never met anybody who’s like, “Change. Tick that box. I’m good.”

Everyone struggles with some part of it, but we’ve all developed our own unique ways of dealing with it, talking about it, feeling about it, etc. There’s a lot we can learn from one another, but I believe we are very early into this journey into a future full of flux but, as such, we will all have homework to do but we’ve all also been given, I look at it, almost like this gift of growth and improvement by upgrading our mental muscles about change.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, sure. Could we hear an example of someone who has got at least a couple of the superpowers of flux going for them that seems to be doing pretty good when it comes to constant relentless change in their world?

April Rinne
Yeah. An example that I often talk about in regards to flux, and again it’s not all eight superpowers, it’s a couple of them, but it is Airbnb and founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia. And if you go back, and here I’ll tease out a few of the flux superpowers, they built this company that’s home-sharing.

They saw value in empty space in people’s homes that hotels wrote them off as crazy and foolish, said, “This is never going to go anywhere.” Lo and behold, one of the eight flux superpowers is to see what’s invisible. They saw value in what other people couldn’t see. They saw invisible value, basically, and tapped into that and unlocked it, and created a company that is more valuable than the five largest hotel chains combined. That’s a very flux-y way of seeing one’s business model, if you will, to see what’s invisible, find what other people can’t see, and unlock the value that’s in that.

But, at the same time, another one of the flux superpowers is called “Start with trust.” Again, go back to Airbnb, what were people telling them? “This is crazy. People will never stay in other people’s homes. Why would we trust other humans?” And I’m looking at this always against the backdrop of, “How do we navigate change?” and think about who you turn to when change really hits. You turn to your trusted relationships. And if you don’t have many, you’re in a world of hurt far greater than if you do.

And Airbnb, early on, signaled, “We actually think humans are trustworthy. This isn’t blind trust or naïve trust, but we actually think that we can build a business around humans trusting one another.” Lo and behold, they have. And that, too, I’m looking at this from the perspective of, “How do we navigate change together? How do we navigate change better?”

So, I’ll pause there but those are some of the superpowers start kind of surfacing as we dig deeper.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe let’s have a quick overview of the eight superpowers and maybe have your definition and a sentence or two for what that means, and then we’ll see where to dig deeper.

April Rinne
Yeah, sure. So, there are eight flux superpowers, and I always like to say they’re a menu, not a syllabus so you do not have to do one before two, or two before three, but they stand on their own and they also enhance one another. So, the first flux superpower is to “Run slower,” which says that in a world with an ever-faster pace of change, your key to success is to slow your own pace. And I’ll put in a quick caveat here too. Each and every one of these is counterintuitive in some way. It goes against what, oftentimes, society teaches us. We can circle back to this if you’d like.

The second flux superpower is one that I was just talking about, which is, “See what’s invisible.” And this says that when the future feels uncertainty or blurry, rather than focusing on what’s visible and what’s straight in front of you, we need to focus on what’s invisible. Now this includes both identifying your blind spots but also uncovering new forms of value, new forms of talent, new ideas, new forms of inspiration.

The third flux superpower is “Get lost,” which is all about going beyond your comfort zone and your relationship with the unknown. The fourth flux superpower is “Start with trust,” that says when trust seems broken, assume good intent. And this is all about, as I was mentioning, how we navigate change better together.

The fifth flux superpower is, “Know your enough.” And this gets at our quest for happiness and satisfaction, and really the tension between our obsession with more, kind of more, more, more everything, and how that’s mostly making people miserable, in my experience. The way I like to put it is when you’re always after more, you will never ever find enough. And, yet, when you know you’re enough, you’ll immediately begin to see abundance. And, again, more, we can think of as more income, more power, more prestige, more love, more likes, more clicks, more everything.

So, what does it mean to “Know your enough”? And that’s Y-O-U-R. People often ask me if that’s a typo, and I say no. Knowing your enough includes knowing that you are enough just as you are without doing anything more. So, we can come back to that if you’d like.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny when I read that, I guess I didn’t even think about the apostrophe, and I was like, “Know your enough. Like, your number, your level. And what is the level at which it is enough?” which could be different for you versus me versus another. But, yeah, layers. Thank you. Okay, what’s next?

April Rinne
So, the sixth flux superpower is “Create your portfolio career.” This is about designing your professional development and identity in ways that are fit for a future of work in flux. And the punchline here is that I firmly believe that the career of the future looks far less like a singular path to pursue and much more like your portfolio that you create and curate as an artist or an investor would.

The seventh superpower is “Be all the more human,” which gets at our relationship to technology and the tension that we have in spending ever more time with our devices, yet ever less time with one another. And last, but not least, the eighth flux superpower is “Let go of the future,” which is all about our relationship to control, something I have found is tricky for most everyone today, and I always put a caveat on this one as well.

Letting go of the future does not mean giving up. It does not mean failure. It does not mean doomsday-ing. It actually means quite the opposite. So, again, going back to this counterintuitive-ness, even this contrarian-ness, that pervades much of the thesis of flux.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Ooh, so much fun there. So, tell us then, when it comes to professionals seeking to be awesome at their jobs, what’s your take on what is the most important yet also most rare of these superpowers that we should really zero in on cultivating?

April Rinne
Well, I’m not sure that I would put the most important and the most rare…

Pete Mockaitis
We could take two. We’ll take two.

April Rinne
Yeah, I think we’ll do two because I can definitely tell you which ones are most popular. Let me do this, I’m going to put out a few because they’re all very, very sticky for professionals in the workplace of how to be awesome at your job. No question.

So, no doubt, no question, or perhaps no surprise, the first superpower “Run slower” absolutely popular and difficult because this is burnout, this is exhaustion, this is anxiety, this is “Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why am I constantly…? Why am I in this rat race? Why am I on this hamster wheel? How did I end up here? This is not what I had planned for my profession, for my livelihood, etc.” So, “Run slower” for sure.

Interestingly, as soon as you start getting into “Run slower” you do end up often over at “Know your enough,” and that’s sort of, “How do we define what is valuable and important? And what metrics are you using not just to judge how you show up at work and what you ‘do’ but also how you show up in life?” And so, it really starts to unpack some of our values and whether or not those values are reflected at our organization, so on and so forth.

And then the third one, which, not surprisingly, it is the one superpower that is related to work and the workplace, and that is “Create your portfolio career.” So, any of those would be ones I would start with.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, when we talk about “Knowing your enough,” Y-O-U-R, no apostrophe, tells us, how do we arrive at that knowledge?

April Rinne
Arriving at that knowledge, I think there’s a process of kind of peeling back the layers of your unique onion around this. And I like to ask people, and this does relate to every one of the superpowers in some way, kind of getting your flux baseline is what I call it. And most people haven’t really thought a lot about their relationship to change as a whole. We’re busy reacting to change, “Something happened and I need to do something about it.”

But we’re not really thinking about, “What are the things, what are the emotions, and the feelings, and the experiences, that are driving me to react in the way that I am? And what is…” what I call in the book, “What is my script about change? What are the stories and the narratives and the norms that I’ve been taught about how the world is supposed to work, and what my role in it is supposed to be?”

And I share this because a lot of our scripts, really, it’s directly related to knowing your enough, a lot of our scripts are increasingly being shown to be not that fit for a world in flux. They’re quite good for worlds that we can command and control, and sort of tie up in a neat tidy bow, but they’re not that good for when the future you thought you were going to have just sort of melts or falls apart or doesn’t work out like you thought it would be, like you thought it would, which I think many of us had experienced in different ways over the last 18 months.

So, back to knowing your enough. For a lot of people, and here I would include myself, we were taught that more is better, and like inherently better, and that the more you had, the more important you were, the more valuable you were to society. And I think, for a lot of people, that’s more money but also more power, more prestige, more love, more choices, more clothes, more clicks. Like, I was saying, it’s more everything.

And, yet, look around and ask yourself, “What is that getting me? Is more actually…?” and here I would say in the workplace, the more meetings you have, the more productive you are. The more productive you are, we can come back and question, meetings are not a good metric for productivity, but the more hours I work.

Pete Mockaitis
The more emails you get, the more important you are. The more emails you send, the more productive you are.

April Rinne
Yes. Yes. And, yet, and again, we can put this on a financial metric, an emotional metric, a workplace metric, take your pick, more is mostly making us miserable. It’s not necessarily leading to greater happiness or satisfaction. It’s not necessarily…it might be making us feel more productive if you’re measuring your life in how many emails you send, but not if you’re measuring it necessarily in outputs, impacts, ways, number of people that you’re able to serve and better, and the quality of your own life that you’re living.

And so, what I like to ask people, the punchline, the metric for this superpower is, “What is your enough-ness? Have you thought about your point of enough?” Because what I find a lot of times, and I’m generalizing a bit here, but we are, particularly in Western culture, we are really over-indexed on stuff. We have more. A lot of people have more than they need in terms of stuff, and whether that’s cars or clothes or physical possessions. But we’re kind of under-indexed on a lot of the humanity stuff. We actually don’t have enough human connection. We don’t have enough dignity. We don’t have enough tolerance. We don’t have enough integrity. So, we’ve got this kind of too much and not enough but not really a sense of what’s in the middle.

And so, I ask people, “What do you have too much of and what do you have too little of?” And too little can include, “I have too few hours in the day,” “I have too little time to spend with my family,” “I have too little…” and you get into this sense of where we have a culture of insufficiency. And so, finding your enough requires getting clear on, “What are you over- and under-indexed on?” And, partly, I’m not giving one specific answer here because everyone’s equation, everyone’s relationship is different because each of us has a different lived-experienced and different things that we’re strong at, weak at, etc.

And so, it’s interesting because even on the enough factor, “Did you grow up with enough love in your household?” I know it sounds a little bit woo-woo but, in fact, not enough love and care as a child will show up in all kinds of ways as an adult but don’t actually get you closer to your enough. You start to compensate for love with money, etc. And so, all of this, I throw out to get people to start peeling back the layers of their own onion around enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s really thought-provoking in terms of what you have too much of and not enough of. And it’s funny, when it comes to money, maybe nobody would say they have too much money but they might say that they have more than enough money, so you can just change the words around a little bit.

April Rinne
Well, what’s interesting, can I…? Oh, sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
Go take it away, yeah.

April Rinne
So, this cycle of more. And, again, to be really clear on all of these things, I am not saying that more is bad or anything. I’m just saying let’s get clear on what’s really what here. I’m not saying that for any of the superpowers, I’m not saying like the counter is not good or bad. It’s more like, “Have you thought about this that there are more options on the table than you might realize?”

Here’s the thing about more though, how many people do you know that say, “I will be happy when…” “I will be successful when…” “I will be…” fill in the blanks, when? When implies that you don’t have something you need. You need more. And, yet, when you get to that point, so let’s just say more money, “When I have more money…” then what do you need? You need more money. It’s no longer enough. You need more.

And you get on this kind of vicious cycle that feeds on itself and that never allows you to acknowledge and rest and be easy with enough. And that’s the part we get stuck, call it a hamster wheel, call it our own monkey brain that’s kind of running laps around our minds, but it keeps people from realizing that, actually, a decision to be happy, it actually can happen right now. And when you realize that you might already have enough, and that’s kind of that’s your point of sufficiency, satisfaction, again not too little, not too much, that’s the kind of contentedness. And we can talk about the difference between happiness and contentedness, but that sense of kind of peace and comfort as opposed to this drive for ever more.

Now, I’m not saying don’t strive, don’t try to do things, and I’m not saying…What’s interesting too is if you want more and more and more, okay, what’s that more going to get you? And this is where it gets super interesting because of the belief that if you want more, let’s just use money, you want more money so that you can hoard it or keep it for yourself, okay, I’m not sure how much better that’s going to make the world.

But if you want more in order that you can share it with others, in order that you can gift it, be generous, help better the lives of others, that’s actually a pretty good more but you’re not keeping that for yourself. So, you start getting into issues around ego and generosity as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I guess if we talk about hoarding it, like you probably won’t feel much impact in terms of, “I want more money because, I don’t know, going in an unsafe neighborhood with my children, and I’m worried that they’ll be shot.” Okay. Well, if you have more money and you get to a different neighborhood, you’ll probably feel that as an upgrade in the happiness and peace and contentment parts of your life versus, “You know, I’ve got one million in my mutual fund account, and two is just so much cooler,” then you probably won’t even feel that impact at all except when you refresh the page and go, “Oh, two. Nice. Now it should be three.” There you are.

April Rinne
Yeah. And it’s interesting and, if I may, I’m going to share a personal story here because it factors in exactly into what we’re talking about. And it is interesting because a lot of times people are like, “Oh, I want more money because it’s actually a hedge against uncertainty.” And I totally get that. It is kind of the more money you have, the more options you have, the more ways that you can potentially navigate uncertainty and change. That’s somewhat true.

I also would say that that way of thinking can blind you to what’s really needed when we navigate change. And the story I have to tell, it relates to why I ended up writing the book as well, and I sort of mentioned that I bring the lens of a futurist to change, I bring the lens of a global traveler and global citizen, if you will, to change, but I also bring other human and lived-experience with change and uncertainty. And I often say that my journey or my baptism entry into flux began more than 25 years ago when I was in college and both of my parents died in a car accident.

And I share this because I was 20, and speaking of careers and jobs and all of that, 20 is a really interesting age because I was old enough to be living on my own. I was at college. I could take care of myself day to day, but I was young enough, I really did not know how the world worked or my role in it, all of that. And it had a profound effect on how I thought about my career and how I thought about more versus enough.

Now, back then, I never would’ve expected that I’d read a book about this kind of thing. That wasn’t in the plan at all. But I started asking questions at the age of 20 that I now see, many years later, people going through some kind of a mid-life crisis or some kind of real-life, “What is my purpose on earth?” kind of thing. And the question that I would ask myself every day was, “If I were to die tomorrow…” because look what just happened. No one knows how long we have, “If I were to die tomorrow, what would the world need me to do today?”

And it wasn’t about me, like, “What do I need?” my ego. It was, “What does the world need?” because we all have finite time, and we all have a lot we want to contribute and can contribute to others. So, I keep asking myself this question, and then the answer was never “Get more money.” It wasn’t. It was this sense of, “Yes, I need enough money, for sure.” At that point, I was 20, I became, overnight, self-sufficient. There was no back stop. There was no house to go home to, so to speak, when my parents died. It was like, “Okay, I’ve got to figure out a way to move forward.”

And so, it was very clear to me that I needed enough money to be able to take care of myself, but anything over that became like this, “Is that what the world needs from me today?” And it’s interesting because I spend a lot of time talking to people about grief and loss and this kind of change and uncertainty, and, “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” as well. And never, never has the answer been, on someone’s deathbed, that, “Oh, I wish I’d earned more money.” It has definitely been, “I wish I’d prioritized my family more. I wish I’d gone after that job that spoke to my heart, but maybe I would’ve earned a little bit less,” kind of thing.

And so, it’s interesting because even when it comes to how to become awesome at your job, these are the kinds of value judgments and value assessments that we’re doing all the time. And I think one of the best ways to be awesome at your job is to make sure that you’ve got a job that aligns with some of these bigger even existential questions, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you. That’s powerful and a lot there. And so, it sounds like you’ve worked through some powerful questions that really get you places. Can you maybe give us a rundown of some of the most insight-provoking questions and how you recommend sitting with them effectively?

April Rinne
What a great question. So, I don’t mean for this to be a pitch for the book but it’s going to sound that way, and that is simply that, at the end of each chapter, I wrote the books because I wanted to help people ask these questions. And these questions that don’t…they don’t have easy answers, and the point is not to come up with the answer. The point is to actually sit with them and think about, “Wow, I’ve been so focused on metrics A, B, C, I hadn’t even paused to consider what might be behind that or this other set of questions.”

So, at the end of each chapter, there are a series of five questions for each chapter that are designed to provoke exactly this kind of thing, and, again, each one tailored to the superpower. So, I’m wondering which one you want start with. What’s interesting is the “Know your enough” is kind of the questions that we were just going after. Like, “What do you have too much of? What do you have too little of? Have you ever thought of that before?” And, also, “Could you draw what enough looks like to you? Don’t write it. Could you draw a picture?”

That gets really interesting because if you have somebody who’s drawing a bunch of houses and cars and stuff, that’s one view of what is more. But then, actually, if you see somebody who draws a kind of Earth where humans are connected and it’s sort of peaceful, that’s still enough but it’s a different worldview. So, that’s “Know your enough.” But let’s just take another one, “Start with trust.” It gets really interesting.

So, generally speaking, are you quick to trust or to mistrust? Just your default, like, if you don’t know otherwise, do you trust or mistrust? And why? Where does that come from? Most people, our tendency and the script that society has taught us is that humans should not trust one another. That, candidly, Pete, I shouldn’t trust you right now and you should not trust me. That’s what society says. And, yet, where did that come from? Like, really? Because we’re in the midst of a trust crisis and trust is the way forward and yet we’re doing everything we can to undermine it.

And so, you start unpacking questions around trust and you start realizing how often, without our even noticing it, we have a narrative in our mind that humans, on average, are not trustworthy. And what’s worse, very few people actually trust themselves. I mean, we learn to. But, like, how does it feel, do you trust yourself? How does it feel when others don’t trust you? Oh, it turns out, you don’t actually generally trust other people.

So, we’re trying to reset our relationship to trust because, as I was saying earlier, trust is the path forward. If we don’t figure out that one thing, there is not a future in which any of us actually can have a lot of hope. But when we learn to start with trust, and what I call design from trust, a whole new universe of opportunities and goodness of others shows up.

So, those kinds of very essential questions. Back to “Run slower” do you feel like you’re running faster today? Why? Where did that come from? When did it start? Is it something you’re driving yourself to do or others are driving you to do it? You got to get this baseline and then you can start saying, “Okay, how do I need to kind of bring the pendulum back, bring more balance, harmony into my life?” And then, in the book, the superpowers are kind of the how-to and what are the practices and disciplines and exercises that you go through to improve that part of your relationship to change.

Pete Mockaitis
And on that trust stuff, it gets me thinking of Dan Ariely’s work, and it’s not bad. Yeah, people do cheat but humans are pretty good. It depends on the context and all kinds of variables that you modify but it could be a lot worse.

April Rinne
Right. Well, I love that you bring that up because I am not saying there aren’t bad apples out there. I’m not saying blind trust, or naïve trust, or just like willy-nilly trust but don’t verify kind of thing. But what’s fascinating to me is that we have designed so many of our structures, institutions, systems, from the basic premise that the average individual cannot be trusted, and that’s the key. Because when we design that if we don’t know, we do not trust.

A minor flip of the switch that, again, you need to account for bad things happening and some people not being trustworthy, but if you treat that as the exception not the rule, you design a different system. And that’s where it gets fascinating because what happens when we design from a premise of mistrust, we throw out so much goodness in people. When I think about, “Would I rather assume that people are good and have an abundance of goodness and generosity show up, and, yeah, I may have to pay a price every now and again, bad calculation, didn’t work out,” versus, “I’m going to live my life assuming that no one is trustworthy, and live in a system that is designed for untrustworthiness?” you’re basically sucking the life out of you and the people around you. So, you do have to be willing that you won’t always get it right, but that price you’re going to pay is worth its weight 10,000-fold over for all the goodness and generosity that you’re going to see instead.

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

April Rinne
Oh, goodness. FluxMindset.com? No, it’s a joy to join you today. I’m really just happy to be able to share more about it. And, yeah, the way I like to put it is when everything is in flux, everything can benefit from a flux mindset. So, there you have it.

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

April Rinne
One of my favorite quotes is inspired by the last superpower, “Let go of the future,” and it’s by Lao Tzu who wrote the Tao Te Ching, and it is, “When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be.” So, I love that. Lots of good quotes from Lao Tzu.

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

April Rinne
I think one of the books that shows up in Flux, and I continue to refer to time and again, is called The Body Keeps the Score and it’s about the relationship between mind and body, particularly around trauma, but there’s a lot around just anxiety and mental health. And the body of research that’s in this book around how our body holds what our minds and hearts and souls are feeling, but without necessarily words, the ways that shows up and how much we need to pay attention to our bodies, and the kinds of things that we’re holding that we’re often burying, absolutely cannot recommend that book enough.

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

April Rinne
I was thinking about this because it’s so basic and yet so powerful. I use Post-its. I use Post-its for absolutely everything. I have a wall that’s covered in Post-its on any given day. If you ask my husband, when I travel, what’s the first thing I pack on a business trip, it’s actually Post-its. So, it’s simple but it has been my super tool over the years.

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

April Rinne
There are increasingly ones about flux but I actually kind of want to come full circle on this one, back to the handstands. And it does show up a little bit in the superpower “See what’s invisible,” but this whole notion of the upside-down perspective on the world. So, I do have people often quoting some aspects of my handstands and upside-down perspective. Why bring this up is that we are trained to see things, literally, figuratively right-side up. There’s one way that you look at something.

And, yet, this goes beyond change. When we flip our perspective, and here I’ll say literally and figuratively, when we look at something upside-down, we see it completely differently. And what I can tell you is sometimes it looks even better. So, I love this like flip your perspective, go upside-down, see something you’ve been struggling with in a fresh light, you might not only see it better but you might find your solution in your path forward.

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

April Rinne
FlexMindset.com is for all things Flux and book related. AprilRinne.com is my personal site where you will find the handstands.

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

April Rinne
I’m going to show my bias but it is all about think about get clear on your flux baseline, groove a flux mindset, open a flux mindset, harness your flux superpowers, and reshape your relationship to change from the inside out from here on forward.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. April, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in your fluxing.

April Rinne
Thank you very much, Pete. And may the flux be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

700: How to Make Your Anxiety Work For You with Wendy Suzuki

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Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki talks about how you can leverage your anxiety to solve problems and boost your well-being.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The six superpowers of anxiety 
  2. How to trick your brain into relaxing
  3. How a 30-second meditation can make all the difference 

 

About Wendy

Dr. Wendy Suzuki is a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University and a celebrated international authority on neuroplasticity. She was recently named one of the ten women changing the way we see the world by Good Housekeeping and regularly serves as a sought-after expert for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Shape, and Health. 

Her TED talk has received more than 31 million views on Facebook and was the 2nd most viewed TED talk of 2018. 

Resources Mentioned

Dr. Wendy Suzuki Interview Transcript

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

Wendy Suzuki
So happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. Now, you are a professor of neuroscience, but you also spent some time observing baboons in Botswana.

Wendy Suzuki
Yes, I did.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us the story here. How did that come to be? And any insights or hilarity from that experience?

Wendy Suzuki
Well, it was just awe from that experience. Well, I call it my Jane Goodall experience. It was my very first sabbatical of studying behavior, and decided to apply it to baboon behavior, and got associated with an amazing lab out of University of Pennsylvania, Cheney and Seyfarth, who had a baboon cognition research station in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana.

And so, I went there for about two or three weeks. I worked with their postdocs and I was the most highly educated research assistant ever. My job was to collect poop, so I was a baboon poop collector. And I proudly did my job and it’s actually much more difficult than you might imagine because you have to be able to tell the difference between the different baboons so that you collect the correct poop, and that was challenging.

Did you know that baboons in the wild are identified by their ear markings. Their ears get beat up in fights and things, and so what you get is not like a little picture of the face of every baboon with their name, “Here’s Elvis, here’s Loki,” but you get the name Elvis and you get a little drawing of his right and left ear.

So, you are walking around kind of trying to look at the ears of all of these baboons, which that was actually really funny to watch me do, but it was so fascinating. It was like a little soap opera out there. You would not believe the intrigue and the sex and the dastardly deeds that get done in these baboon colonies.

Pete Mockaitis
Intrigue and sex and dastardly deeds. We’re off to a great start, Wendy.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s baboons. We’ve got dastardly deeds. Let’s hear a little bit about anxiety. That can cause us to do some dastardly things or feel not so great. You have come to some insights associated with anxiety. Can you share what’s one of your most surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made along these lines?

Wendy Suzuki
So, the whole book Good Anxiety is really about how if you are able to embrace all aspects of your anxiety, both those negative, uncomfortable feelings, but also all the information your particular form of anxiety teaches you about yourself, then your anxiety transforms into something that could bring you to a more fulfilling life, a more creative life, and, ultimately, a less stressful life. So, that is the take-home message of Good Anxiety that is the culmination of all the research and the science and just the observations that I’ve done around the area of anxiety.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re saying the benefit of anxiety is the teaching that it gives us primarily. Is that right or are there more things there too?

Wendy Suzuki
There’s lots of things. So, one of the superpowers that one gets with anxiety, in fact, we talked about six different superpowers that come from good anxiety, they include resilience, compassion, flow, mindset, focus, and creativity. Now, I’m not saying that somebody that’s in the throes of what I call bad anxiety, when anxiety starts to block you, and you can’t go out and you can’t speak fluidly because you have lots of anxiety. That is not when you start to get these superpowers.

What the book takes you through is, first, exercises and activities to help you flip that bad anxiety into good manageable anxiety. And it’s when anxiety is in this manageable state is when you can take advantage of all of these positive aspects of anxiety, including all those superpowers that I talked about. And that is what the book describes, how these powers of resilience come from the fact that if you are experiencing lots of little bouts of anxiety, every single little bout is contributing to your little piggybank of resilience.

Now, if these bouts are very debilitating, that’s hard to appreciate. But, in fact, scientific experiments have shown that if people go through large numbers of more controllable bouts of stress or anxiety, they develop what’s called stress resilience. They are more resilient than other controls that get either uncontrollable stress or no experience of stress, either controlled or uncontrolled. So, there are definitely positive aspects that come to it. You have to know how to leverage all of the information and superpowers that do come with anxiety.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to have those superpowers, so can you walk us through an example here? So, you’re feeling anxious about something, and then what do you do to make it work for you?

Wendy Suzuki
So, most people, the most common question that I get is, “I get bouts of anxiety. I don’t know how to make it go away, make it feel better.” And so, I always start with the two most direct ways that you can counteract anxiety. You don’t need to practice, you don’t need to do anything, and here they are.

First one is deep breathing. So, you don’t practice it, just deep breathing. Because what you’re doing with deep breathing is you’re activating one of our amazing nervous systems that we all have in our body called the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s also called the rest and digest nervous system. This is a nervous system that kicks in when you have a little more time on the weekends. You can digest. You’re not doing ten things that your boss just asked you to do. And that causes a whole bunch of physiological responses – slowing of the heart rate; deeper, fuller breathing; blood flow into your digestive system and away from your muscles.

Whereas, the stress system, or parasympathetic nervous system, the stress nervous system, does the opposite. I live in New York so taxi cabs come too close to you, clips you, almost clips you on the street, and you jump back. You don’t have to think about it. You don’t have to analyze it. Your stress system and danger-alerting system has you jump back. Your heart rate goes up, your blood flow is going to your muscles because you have to get away from the danger.

And so, I want less of that stress activation systems in my normal life, and I want more of that rest and digest system. So, it’s hard for me to slow my heart rate consciously, but the best way into that system is deep breathing. By deep breathing, you start to activate other elements of that rest and digest relaxation system. So, that’s a wonderful way to do it. Again, you want to catch it before it gets into really deep anxiety. So, as you start to feel anxiety coming on, get those deep breaths going. That’s number one.

Number two is another very effective way to quell bad anxiety is simply moving your body. Go for a walk outside, do some jumping jacks, whatever is most natural for you to do. Why? Because even moving your body a little bit can stimulate the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline. I like to say that every time you move your body, you give your brain a bubble bath of positive neurochemicals, including dopamine and serotonin that are going to activate your feelings of reward and happiness.

So, those are two immediate things that you can do because, as I said, you can’t get to the superpowers when you’re in a state of bad anxiety. So, you’ve quelled your anxiety. You haven’t gotten rid of it. You have lots of things. We all have our own personal anxiety stories. And so, now, you’ve quelled your bad anxiety and it’s a little bit more manageable. It still comes with those negative feelings, but it’s not as debilitating as it was before.

Now, you’re able to start to tap into some of those superpowers. And one of the superpowers that I love to talk about is the superpower of compassion, that is I think it’s very easy to understand. So, let me give an example from my own life. When I was in middle school, high school, I was a very, very shy young person, scared to talk, scared to raise my hand in class. I knew the answers but too scared to actually interact and say the answers out loud. And that caused a lot of my early anxiety in my life.

So, I’ve developed ways not to be shy in that way. But what I realized is that deep understanding of that feeling of fear has given me the superpower of compassion. And I’m able to use that particular superpower in my own teaching because I happen to become a teacher. And so, I use it altruistically by making sure that all the students in my class have many different ways to talk to me, interact with me, tell me what they know, because that is very satisfying to a student. I know from my own student days.

But I’m very, very aware of all those students out there. They know the answer but they have an anxiety of speaking out in class. And I do this also not just in the student kind of classroom situation but in a meeting situation. Sometimes there are people that easily speak out and others have a harder time. So, if I’m directing the meeting, I always make sure that everybody gets a say. And if somebody hasn’t said anything, I made sure, without putting them on the spot, that they had their say taken.

And that level of compassion comes from my particular anxiety story. And you can kind of apply compassion from your own deep understanding of whatever anxiety you have. Money anxiety, aging anxiety, grade anxiety. What can you do to kind of help others because you understand so deeply what that anxiety is?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s lovely. So, when it comes to the deep breathing and the moving your body in order to get you to a more useful place, I’m curious, is there…do you suggest a particular amount of breaths, or a pace, or a cadence, or an amount of exercise? Is there a sweet spot where you start to get diminishing returns?

Wendy Suzuki
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I like to start off with just the quick and dirty activity. Just breathe more deeply. Know that is helpful. Walk outside is the easiest thing to do. However, if you have time and you want to kind of really dig deeper here and find your own sweet spot, here is what I recommend. There are literally thousands of kinds of breath meditation, and you can learn about them simply by using YouTube, and going to three breath meditation. Find one that you like. There are so many. You can judge them by how many views, how many millions of views that they have, and practice that in a non-anxiety provoking situation just to find out which kind that you like.

There’s a kind that you do in yoga class that you might be familiar with. Alternate nostril breathing, there’s counting breathing where you count four breaths, four counts in, hold if for four counts, and then slowly breathe out for four counts. That’s another very common easy one. But some might be more relaxing or less relaxing to you. So, that is the easiest kind of free way to do that.

Similarly, for exercise, we know from experimental studies, and one of my expertise is the effects of physical activity on the brain. We know that walking alone can decrease anxiety levels, decrease depression levels, and improve positive affect, simply walking outside for a minimum of 10 minutes. So, do that.

Some people might like doing something like the 7-Minute Workout from the New York Times. That’s another good way. Again, you can explore, see what you like to do, see what’s more natural. Some people might want to stay indoors to do their physical activity. The other one that I like to recommend is dance. Dancing is a wonderful form of physical activity. Turn your favorite toe-tapping music on from whatever period, and just dance for the three minutes of the song. That is guaranteed to improve your mood as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig it. Thank you. That’s a nice lineup and quick and fun, and makes an impact. So, you mentioned a number of superpowers. I’m most intrigued by flow. How can I use anxiety to get more flow?

Wendy Suzuki
Yeah, that’s a great one. So, flow, as it was originally defined, is kind of depressingly unattainable. You have to have 10,000 hours of practice. You have to be so high-level performance. I think of Yo-Yo Ma because I love the cello. And so, Yo-Yo Ma playing the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites can achieve flow, but I will never be able to do flow because I can’t do anything that beautiful with my hands. So, it’s depressing and also anxiety is a really big flow supper. So, not only is it really hard to get flow but anxiety kind of digs a hole deeper that makes it harder to get.

And so, I’ve come up with something that I use all the time, which is the concept of microflow. So, microflow is not dependent on how many hours you practice or how high a level. Microflow is dependent on how much you enjoy the process. So, for example, I experience microflow after every yoga class in Shavasana because I’m really good at laying still on my back. And I categorize that as a moment of microflow, and it’s really important. This superpower is one that’s both a tool to help people out of bad anxiety, but it becomes a superpower as you practice it more and more. And it’s really a practice and a strategy of noticing all the things that you do enjoy in a given day no matter how fleeting they are.

So, Shavasana always seems so short, but I categorize that as a moment of microflow. My green smoothie that I make in the morning that took me months to finalize the recipe that I love. That is a daily moment of microflow for me. Of course, everybody can cultivate this. But people with anxiety, it’s even more important that they do this so that they can feel this flow and really appreciate the positive lovely moments in their life, and put that in the piggy bank.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s about the savoring, the appreciating, the pausing. So, I guess I’m wondering, in terms of like the recipe there, I guess first you noticed, “Hey, I like this,” and then I guess it’s not just sort of multitasking in your brain and rushing and trying to get it done and go to the next thing. Any other particular mental practices that you’re doing there in order to arrive in that place?

Wendy Suzuki
Yeah, it’s really, I think, it’s an art of savoring good moments in your life because, I can tell you, from my own personal experience, when I was experiencing much higher levels of anxiety, that we all do at certain points in our lives. Any good moment like that, my first thought would be, “It’s going to be over. It’s soon going to be over and I’m going to go back into anxiety.” And so, I was anti-savoring the moment.

And the thing that really, really helped me was a practice that will be very familiar to many people and it’s in the focus superpower, which is the practice of meditation. So, the practice of meditation is really an exercise for your prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is what is giving you that unending what-if list, “What if this happens? What if that happens?” For me, that always happens right before I’m trying to fall asleep. How do I quell that? Well, you practice, you get yourself in a quiet state, and, very important, you start very, very short, with a very short meditation, 30 seconds.

Have you ever done a 30-second meditation? That could be just a breath meditation, going back to our how you quiet a bad anxiety in the first place. But I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to meditate for too long, and thinking that they have to have all thoughts go out of their mind, that their mind has to be a blank slate. That never happens. You can quiet your mind. You can focus. That’s why focusing on the breath, on loving kindness and compassion meditation focusing on that feeling of loving kindness and compassion, which one can’t get. The trick of the trade that I learned from some expert meditators is think about puppies and babies, things that make you go, “Aww,” will make you want to have immediate love for them.

And it’s a lovely meditation to do. It focuses your attention, it focuses your emotional state on cuteness and love and protection of this lovely creature, but it also trains your prefrontal cortex to go in this calm state. And that is very, very powerful for building focus, which often flies out the window with anxiety. And so, by practicing that, that is one of the ways that you can create a superpower of focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Any other pro tips on the focus?

Wendy Suzuki
So, throughout the book I interview a number of people, just real people, different ages, different backgrounds, to tell their story, their anxiety story, and how these approaches helped them. This person actually gave us a wonderful kind of tool for the focus superpower. And that is an immediate turning your what-if list, that often kind of derails your focus, into a to-do list. So, this happened to be an entrepreneur that had terrible anxiety about raising money and couldn’t kind of get over a no answer and second-guess himself for all the things that he could’ve done differently to get that money back or get that investment.

And the tip that he got from a colleague of his, that he shared with us, is that all of those second-guessing that you do, all that creates your what-if list, you turn that into an action list. So, use that as, “This is great. That what-if, that’s going on the list. I’m going to change that. I’m going to do it differently for next time.” So, you turn it into an action item. And it’s kind of turning the negative activation of anxiety that creates this what-if list that puts you into deeper anxiety, and turns it into an immediate action list.

And he was able to implement this and kind of changed his view on his anxiety kind of in one conversation. And he was a very driven person but it is powerful to think, “What if I just turned all those what-ifs into my exploration list?” And that is part of the superpower of these things that come up in anxiety, these thoughts that come up in anxiety.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, Wendy, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention?

Wendy Suzuki
Yeah, one of my favorite superpowers, I think we’ve covered most all of them, is a superpower that comes from good anxiety is creativity. So, creativity is a natural byproduct of anxiety because anxiety often pushes us to find workarounds, “I can’t do that. I can’t go in that direction because that’s difficult but I’m going to do it a different way.”

And, also, the difficulties that come with anxiety, anxiety caused by difficult family members, very difficult upbringings, we know from history, often lead to some of the most creative kind of outlets for that – writing, song. You don’t have to be a number one on the hits list but they are inspiration for lots of creative outlets.

And so, instead of, again, just focusing on the negative feelings, can you get inspiration from all of these people that have used their negative anxiety-ridden experiences to create something beautiful and new? And, in fact, many of them say that their creativity came from their pain and their anxiety, so it’s inspiring to think about anxiety that way, that your anxiety story can become a creativity story.

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

Wendy Suzuki
The first quote that comes to mind that always inspires me is from Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see.” And that is an underlined quote that I used to write this book. I don’t just write about good anxiety and the superpowers. I lived all these superpowers, I use them in my life, and they change my life in profound ways, which is part of the story of Good Anxiety.

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

Wendy Suzuki
Yeah, so my favorite bit of research was a preliminary study that I did in a classroom at NYU in August of 2020. It was the first semester where everybody was going to be remote, and I was invited to speak to a freshmen cohort. I was going to share my research on the effects of exercise on the brain, and I had 30 minutes.

And I decided to truncate the lecture so it was only going to be 10 minutes long, and I decided to do an experiment on them. So, I sent them all off to do, a clinical anxiety survey, this was after I told them about the positive effects of exercise, including that wonderful neurochemical bubble bath that happens when you move your body.

So, after they did the anxiety survey, we all came back, this was all on Zoom, and I happen to be a certified exercise instructor. So, we all did 10 minutes of a workout that I teach called intenSati that pairs physical movements from kickbox and dance and martial arts and yoga with positive spoken affirmation. So, as you punch, front punches, you say things like, “I am strong now.” And every move has different affirmations.

And so, there was 10 minutes of it. It was surprising. They did not know they were going to do this. And then, at the end of that, I had them all go back and retake that anxiety survey. And the next day, I sent everybody that was in that, there were 30 freshmen in that session, I sent them the results.

What I found was before the exercise, those 30 students, on average, were just shy of clinically anxious, very high levels of anxiety. Again, this was right before their first remote session of their freshmen year at NYU, so not so surprising there was high levels of anxiety. But my favorite part is that just 10 minutes of working out over Zoom with me decreased their anxiety scores by 15 points on average, which brought them all to the normal anxiety levels.

So, that is just a quick experiment on the power of moving your body on affecting anxiety.

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

Wendy Suzuki
I’ve been obsessed with memoirs, and I’ve been reading memoirs of comedians because I admired their writing and I’ve always wanted to be a funny person so I’m curious about how comedians tell their life story. So, one of my favorite books that I’ve read recently is called A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost from Saturday Night Live.

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

Wendy Suzuki
I feel like my superpower tool of being awesome at my job is staying connected with a whole bunch of creative friends who are really, really inspiring in lots of different ways. So, I find myself time and time again inspired, thinking about how to bring elements of performance, or, I don’t know, musical theater into my teaching and into my talk world. So, my superpower is my creative cohort of friends.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Wendy Suzuki
My morning tea meditation. So, every morning, I wake up and I do about 45 minutes of meditation over the brewing and drinking of tea. It’s a particular form of meditation that I learned from a monk, a tea monk, and I set up my day beautifully with that tool.

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

Wendy Suzuki
Yes, the quote that I get most often is, “I love your image of a bubble bath for the brain every time you move your body.” It’s an image that’s novel and it sticks with people, and that’s the one that gets quoted back to me the most often.

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

Wendy Suzuki
Yes, best way to learn more about me and get in touch is my website www.WendySuzuki.com. Everything is there from classes, to books, to lectures, to TED Talks. So, you’ll find everything there.

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

Wendy Suzuki
My call to action is to and I’ve done this myself, great to focus on your major strengths. But what if you could use your anxiety to be even better at your job? It’s hard to think about that. It’s a Jiu Jitsu move that I try to show everybody how to do, but that is my best tip for a new way to improve yourself using your own anxiety story.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Wendy, thank you. This has been a treat. And I wish you much luck and good anxiety in the days to come.

Wendy Suzuki
Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.

699: Redefining Success for More Fulfilling Days with Brad Stulberg

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Brad Stulberg says: "There is hardly, if any, correlation between more money and more fulfillment, more happiness, more health."

Brad Stulberg discusses the fundamental mindset shift that helps us feel more fulfilled every day.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The deeply-rooted belief that explains why we’re often dissatisfied 
  2. The simple secret to feeling more fulfilled every day
  3. The hidden costs of efficiency 

About Brad

Brad Stulberg is an internationally known expert on human performance, well-being, and sustainable success. He is coauthor of the bestselling Peak Performance and The Passion Paradox. His work has appeared in the New York TimesWall Street JournalLos Angeles TimesWiredForbes, and more, and he is a contributing editor to Outside Magazine. In his coaching practice, Brad works with executives and entrepreneurs on their performance and well-being, and he regularly speaks to large organizations on these topics as well.

Resources Mentioned

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Brad Stulberg Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Brad, thanks for joining us again on How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Brad Stulberg
Hey, Pete, it’s great to be talking with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m looking forward to digging into your latest, your book, The Practice of Groundedness: A Transformative Path to Success That Feeds—Not Crushes—Your Soul.” I just get a kick out of that subtitle Feeds—Not Crushes. That’s fun. So, yeah, I want to get there. But, first, it’s funny, I am prepping for a camping trip actually and you are a contributing editor to Outside Magazine, which I have looked at several times.

And it seems like you guys always get cool gear sent to you to check out, to test, to review. I’d like to hear if there’s been any just straight up, silly, ridiculous, noteworthily, hilarious devices that have been sent your way in the years you’ve been doing this.

Brad Stulberg
Oh, my gosh, the list is infinite, particularly around so-called wellness products. Most of my writing for Outside is around health and wellbeing, and the amounts of products with such broad claims, all containing CBD, is just outrageous. You’ve got CBD for your sore knees, CBD for your anxiety, CBD for your dog’s sore knees, CBD for your dog’s anxiety, CBD for your child. So, I think we’re in like peak CBD wave.

Now, whether or not CBD does any of those things, I can’t say. I’m quite skeptical. But, perhaps, more helpful for your camping pursuits, the one device that I find so helpful that so many people often overlook is just a really good light that you can strap onto your head, so like a headlamp for reading at night without keeping everyone else up, for navigating the camp ground when it is late or pitch black, and for just getting around. You don’t have to find a flashlight, it’s just there on your head. So, that is my recommendation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. I sprang for a fancy one, I think it was a Black Diamond, and, yes, it has served me well. I have fond memories of everyone having their little headlamps on playing cards at night on the campsite, and it’s a fun little picture. Cool.

Well, so let’s talk about groundedness what’s the big idea behind this latest book?

Brad Stulberg
Right. So, the big idea is this. If you look at charts showing the performance of the stock market or the national GDP in America but also in most Western countries, you see a trajectory that looks very good. It is a pretty consistent rise. But then if you look at charts of depression, anxiety, loneliness, burnout, you see the exact opposite. You see a pretty steep and consistent decrease.

So, the book asks, “How do we reconcile these two things?” The measures that we have show that people are doing really well in terms of GDP and stock market, but these other measures show that we’re not. And I call this problem, or at the least the problem is a function of something that I call heroic individualism, which is this notion that the only arbiter of success is external measurement and it’s a constant race for the next thing, to constantly one up yourself, one up others, and it’s like this never-ending game that is very much fueled by consumer marketing to be better, have more, do better, succeed, and it’s leaving people feeling pretty miserable.

And the solution that I proposed is this framework of groundedness which is based on modern science, ancient wisdom, and concrete practices from individuals who have done well but, more importantly, felt low along the way and had fulfilling lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds lovely. I’d like that. And so then, it’s intriguing, you’re right. So, one would think that in a world in which folks, individuals, are wealthier, we ought to be happier and better off. And I guess there’s been a host of research on that which seems to suggest that there’s really kind of a cutoff point. Like, once your needs are pretty well met and you’re not like worried about, I don’t know, housing or food, or you can buy the basics that you need to be fine and not be freaked out, it seems like right around that point, you don’t get much benefit from being wealthier. Does that tie into some of this as well?

Brad Stulberg
It does, yeah. There are some research that shows just that, that once your basic needs are met, I’ll throw healthcare in there as well, but shelter, food, healthcare, that, generally speaking, more money is not tied to more health or more happiness. I think if you’re a double-minimum wage worker that’s working those jobs so that you can meet those basic needs then, yeah, more money would help. But for the average knowledge worker or business professional, there is hardly, if any, correlation between more money and more fulfillment, more happiness, more health.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, with that established, then we’re going to talk about groundedness a lot. Could you give us a definition for what is groundedness? What is the opposite of groundedness? What does that kind of look like?

Brad Stulberg
Sure. So, the opposite of groundedness is to be pushed and pulled by the frenetic energy and fast-paced-ness of the culture of your life. So, it constantly feels like you’re falling behind, you’re all over the place, you’re treading water, you’re seeking some kind of contentment, you’re not sure where to find it, so you don’t feel firmly rooted where you are.

And, as a result, even if you’re striving and even if you’re successful by conventional standards, you probably don’t feel very good. Lots of people find themselves in this position. Unfortunately, this was true before COVID, certainly true during COVID, and I think a lot of people are now evaluating, “Hey, as we emerge from this pandemic, how can I craft a life that perhaps feels more wholesome and more fulfilling?”

So, the opposite of that being pushed and pulled around is being grounded. And being grounded is about being firmly rooted where you are. It is not a lack of ambition or a lack of striving, but it is doing so from a place of having a very solid foundation in place. And what tends to happen to pushers, high-achieving people, successful professionals, is that once they start to have some success, they often focus on the overstory of the metaphorical tree, so the bright and shiny objects, the next thing, and they neglect the foundation, the core, the trunk, the root system that holds it to the ground, and that whenever rough weather comes, the whole tree is at risk of toppling.

So, this book says, “Hey, here’s how you build that solid foundation that will support you and hold you through highs and lows, and an outcome of that is not only setting yourself up for success but also finding some more fulfillment in life and some contentment and not constantly needing to be chasing the next thing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds excellent. Can you share with us an example of that in practice, like someone who made the shift, they got extra-grounded and good things came from it?

Brad Stulberg
Yeah. So, there’s five principles that are really key, I think, to talk about that help take this from something that sounds really good to something that is concrete and achievable for so many people. And I’m going to pair each of these principles against the current ethos.

So, the first principle is to accept where you are to get where you want to go. And the current culture very much encourages magical thinking, delusional thinking, things don’t go your way, you’re not happy with your circumstance. And instead of face it, well, what do you do? You buy something, you numb it with a substance, maybe you go on social media and you post and you tweet, but you’re never really fully confronting what’s in front of you. And whether things are going well or going not, you have to be where you are, accept what’s happening, and confront what’s in front of you because, otherwise, you’re never working on the thing that needs to be worked on.

The second big principle is cultivating presence so that you can own your energy and attention instead of have it be all over the place. So, what is the current ethos all about? It’s about distraction, busyness, overscheduling, being everything to everyone everywhere all the time. Groundedness asks to say, “Hey, my presence, my attention, my time is actually my life. That’s all that I have so I need to take ownership of it. I need to be more intentional about how I use it.”

The third principle is this notion of being patient to get where you’re going faster. Again, let’s compare this to heroic individualism and the current ethos, which says that you should move fast and break things, you should strive for hacks, for silver bullets, for overnight breakthroughs. What I argue in the book and what the research shows is that all of that tends not to work, and, if anything, it sets you back. If you move fast and break things, what tends to happen is you end up broken. So, groundedness calls for patience, for giving things time and space to unfold, and for really committing to staying on a path and not getting off and on it and off and on it as the next bad comes out.

The fourth principle is vulnerability to build genuine strength and confidence. Particularly with men but with women as well, the current ethos is very much about invincibility. I think there’s a bestselling book by a guy whose last name is, ironically, Asprey, and the book is called Bulletproof, and there’s this whole notion about becoming bulletproof. But humans aren’t robots. We’re not machines that are hardwired. We’re actually quite soft. And the more vulnerable that we can be with ourselves and with others, the stronger and more confident we become because we’re no longer hiding anything. When you’re not hiding something, then you can really own your strength.

And then the fifth, and perhaps the most important, principle is to build deep community. So, the temptation is to prioritize optimization, the hustle culture, road efficiency, more, more, more, and what often gets cannibalized is the time spent forging a true sense of belonging and community, yet we know what makes us happy, what helps ground us when we soar, and what also provides a safety net when things aren’t going well is a sense of belonging to something that’s beyond ourselves, to a community, to strong relationships.

So, those are the five principles that yield the sense of endurance, unwavering strength, ability to be where you are, find fulfillment and still strive for success.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, there’s a lot to dig into in each of these. What are some practices associated with accepting where you are while also not being sort of resigned, like, “Well, that’s who I am. That’s the way it is”? Like, what is that practice of accepting where you are in an excellent way look, sound, and feel like?

Brad Stulberg
I love that you asked that question. So, thank you for asking that, Pete, because so many people hear about acceptance, and they immediately think passive resignation, and the truth couldn’t be farther from that. The best way to move forward and to excel, to pursue excellence, to get better, is to start from a place of fully accepting where you are. And the reason for this is twofold.

The first, as I mentioned earlier, is if you don’t accurately appraise your situation, whatever steps you take to improve are not going to be the best steps because you’re not working on reality. The second is you actually want to be pretty confident and content to get better. If you feel the need to get better, the compulsion to get better, “If I don’t get better, everything is going to go to crap,” for most people, that leads to tightness, constriction, fear. If you feel okay where you are, you don’t even have to like it but you just have to be okay with what’s happening, then you can drop your shoulders, you can perform from a place of openness, from a place of love, and most people perform better from a place of openness than from a place of tightness and constriction.

Something else that I think is really important to talk about here is this notion of acceptance and commitment therapy, which is a huge part of the book. And acceptance and commitment ask you to do two things. The first, accept where you are, be clearheaded about it. The second is to know your core values, the things that define you, that make you who you are, and really commit to practicing them day in and day out. And by merging an acceptance of the current situation with the ability to practice your core values, that’s how you get where you want to go.

The final story that I’ll tell, it’s an old ancient Eastern parable about the second arrow, and this is so applicable to so many people today. So, the first arrow, you often can’t control. This can be an illness, it can be being laid off at work, it can be a global pandemic. The second arrow, your judgments about that situation, your denial of that situation, your fear of that situation, your resistance of that situation. The second arrow often hurts worse than the first arrow.

So, what acceptance asks you to do is not be all rosy and deny that there aren’t plenty of first arrows, but instead of wasting the time and energy judging it and resisting it and deluding yourself about it, to say, “Hey, this is what’s happening right now. Here’s what I need to do to improve the situation.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So, that’s the acceptance piece. And when it comes to cultivating presence, yeah, I think that just about all of us are feeling it in terms of in ourselves and in others, folks don’t seem as present. There’s a boatload of distractions, and we can wax poetically about the doubling of information and omnipresent devices and social media, yadda, yadda. But what are the best ways to get more present?

Brad Stulberg
All right. So, here we go. There’s a study that I wrote in the book by some researchers from Harvard, and they, very ironically, had people download an app on their phones that allowed the researchers to ping them throughout the day. And what the researchers found is that, excuse me, they pinged them and asked them what they were doing and their level of concentration and their level of happiness.

And what the researchers found is it wasn’t so much the activity that someone was doing that made them happy or not, it was their level of presence. So, if someone was fixing their car or mowing their lawn, but reported being quite present while they were doing it, versus someone that might’ve been having sex but not present, the person that was mowing the lawn actually reports being happier in that moment.

So, we often think that we need to be doing the right activity to be fulfilled to be happy, but often we actually just need to be present for what’s in front of us. So, then the question, of course, becomes, “Well, how do you cultivate presence?” And I like to use an analogy of brown rice and M&Ms. So, if you’re ever faced with a bowl of brown rice and a bowl of M&Ms and you’re quite hungry, if you’re anything like me, and like just about everyone I’ve ever asked this question to, you’re going to go for the M&Ms, especially if they’re peanut M&Ms. And the M&Ms are always going to taste really good on that first bite, much better than the brown rice.

Ten minutes later, if you’ve just been eating M&Ms, it might still be pretty good, you might be happy with your decision. But if you choose M&Ms for hours, days, weeks, months, eventually you’re going to start feel gross and sick. And M&Ms are like all the things that encroach upon our attention when we’re doing stuff that matters.

So, the stuff that matters is the brown rice. Working on a big report, writing a book, creating a song, trying to do deep focus brainstorming with colleagues, that stuff is brown rice. M&Ms, social media, refreshing emails, CNN.com, the list goes on and on. All those things feel better in the moment because we’re getting some dopamine hits, some thrill, some excitement but, over time, you get on this huge bender of distraction.

So, much like with real M&Ms, with distraction M&Ms, the best thing that you can do is try to keep them out of the house. So, you design your environment to avoid distractions. And then, also, have this mindset shift that realizes that, “Hey, the deep focus, fully present work that I’m doing might not feel as good at first as engaging in distractions, but I know if I just stick with it, I’ll feel much better.”

And then what happens is you get enough positive feedback and enough reinforcement that, eventually, you start to prefer brown rice to the M&Ms, you prefer presence to distraction because you know how much better it makes you feel.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that sounds sensible in terms of, yup, that checks out in terms of those being the consequences of going there, and so keep them out of the house is great. So, just think about shaping your environment such that the enticing distractions aren’t as available. I guess what I’m finding in my own distracted life is a lot of the distractions, they come from within. It’s like I’m really curious. I got a lot of curiosity. It’s good for a podcaster.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’ve got some curiosity and so I’m doing something, it’s like, “Well, what about this?” And so, the personal practice, when it’s really firing hard, like I find my favorite notebook for this purpose and I write down, “I am doing this.” And then for all the distractions that pop up, it’s like, “Okay, I’m very curious about that. I’m just going to write it down. It’s there so I’m not going to forget about it.”

And then it’s almost like it kind of feels like a workout in terms of, “Well, hey,” actually I got this from you and I think about it all the time, “stress plus rest equals growth,” in terms of like, “I’m focusing. I’m focusing. I am getting kind of tired in focusing and I’m getting all the more tempted but I’m going to hold out for my 30, 60, 90 minutes, whatever,” it’s like, “Ah.” So, it’s like the end of a workout, I get to have a beverage, get in the shower, or whatever.

So, anyway, that’s one thing I figured out but you got the book. Tell me, when distraction comes from within, how do you recommend we cultivate all the more presence?

Brad Stulberg
So, writing it down was the first thing I was going to say, and you beat me to it, so you’re already on track, Pete. The only thing I’ll add to what you said is when you write that thing down, you’re actually offloading it from your brain, so not only do you give yourself permission to stop thinking about it but you also don’t have to worry about forgetting it, because we want to remember our really interesting insights and curious ideas. Someone like who’s a creative, it’s core to your work, to your identity.

What you also just described is almost like a working meditation. So, mindfulness meditation is the practice that always comes up with training presence. And why is that? Because meditation is doing exactly what you just said. Instead of the paying attention to whatever you’re working on, you’re paying attention to your breath, you have thoughts and feelings that arise from within, they distract you, you notice them, non-judgmentally you say, “Oh, interesting distraction. Back to my breath.” In your case, “Oh, interesting thought. I’m going to write it down. Back to what’s in front of me.” Practice that over and over again, and it should get much easier to pay attention.

Something else that helps a here is to schedule blocks of deep focus work. So, oftentimes, what I find people will do is they’ll say, “Oh, this sounds great. I’m going to have an entirely deep-focus present day.” And unless you are a motorcycle mechanic in a room with no digital devices at all, it is extremely hard for people in the 21st century to be distraction-free. What ends up happening is you cave in. You check your email, you check your social media, blah, blah, blah. And negative; you fail.

So, rather than try to avoid distractions all day, what I like to do, and what I tell my clients to do, what I write about in the book, is just to schedule times for deep work, for full present work, and then whatever happens, the rest of the day happens. If you schedule two 90-minute blocks to be present and direct your energy to something that really matters to you, only three hours, you would be amazed at how much you get gone and how good you feel.

I have some entrepreneur coaching clients who are in companies, a stage, where there’s a ton of operational work to do, constant fire drills; keeping the doors open and closed is really hard work. And a common issue that they’ll come to me is they feel empty at the end of the day. They feel like they didn’t really accomplish anything. And for these really busy operators, even just one hour of deep-focus work where they can take something that is at point A, exert energy and presence and get it to point B, leaves them feeling so much more satiated at the end of the day.

So, that’s why I think scheduling, it can be really important. I want to get in the weeds because I know that your audience tend to be business professionals that really enjoy the concrete. In addition to scheduling deep-focus work and fully present work, you want to know what you’re doing ahead of time. Because if you don’t, and that free hour or 90 minutes pops up on your calendar, you have a greater likelihood of filling it with email or with scrolling.

Whereas, if you know ahead of time that, “Hey, today, during my deep-focus work, I’m going to read Brad’s book,” or, “I’m going to work on the PowerPoint deck for this client,” or, “I need to draft this memo,” or, “I really need to write these three important emails.” Well, then you’ll actually do that thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that. And it’s funny, I used to resist that in terms of it’s like, “Oh, no, something really important might come up.” But I find that when I schedule the thing, and then I say, “Okay, that’s the thing,” then I actually know I can trust myself. It’s like, “Well, no, Pete, that was the most important thing when you scheduled it. And now there is a thing that has greater impact. It’s not just urgent. It straight out has greater impact that’s true.”

And so then, I can, in good conscience, say, “Well, this deep-work time was scheduled for important thing A, but in the last four days, important thing B is now clearly way more important than important thing A, and so I’m going to do that instead.” And I can do that as opposed to, it’s like, “Well, no, I feel like catching up on the news instead.” It’s a different substitution and I know it.

Brad Stulberg
But you’re pausing and you’re deliberately making that decision, and I would argue that that’s the value of the pause. And the pushback is always to my coaching clients, “Is it really more important or impactful or is it just something that you happen to be more excited about now?” Because, I’m not saying this is happening with you, but what can happen in really high-achieving professionals is that the long projects where you don’t see immediate results that take a lot of time tend to not get worked on for that very reason.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true, yes. And so, I think it’s so great to have some clear metrics. And for business, I think about expected profit created per hour invested, or wealth generated if we’re going broader in terms of thinking, “I really do need to get a financial planner.”

Brad Stulberg
And then what I would also say, back to measuring what actually matters, is some level of fulfillment. And if you spend an hour doing X or an hour doing Y, there’s also a question of, “Hey, when you get home and you’re with your partner or you’re with your kids, what’s going to make you feel like you’re satiated, like you had a good day at work?” And something that I talk about a lot in the book is so many people that are frenetic and all over the place, and don’t own their energy and attention, they come home from work and they’re super short with their kids or their spouse, and they don’t know why.

And it’s because they feel guilty that they weren’t productive during the day, and they were pushed and pulled, and they had no time, and, “Now, I’m at home and now I can’t even own my time because my partner needs it and that my kid needs it.” Whereas, if you just set aside an hour to do something important that fills up your cup, the rest of the day you can release from that need. And, ideally, you go from an hour to an hour and a half, to two, to three, to four. And some people can do five hours of deep work in a day. They have the capacity to do it, and they have a job that lets them.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, so let’s talk about fulfillment in terms of values, clarity, what do you really want. What’s your top perspectives in terms of arriving at that clarity, of determining the answers to that, and what one’s values truly are?

Brad Stulberg
So, fulfillment is an inside game, that’s the first thing. There’s a concept in the book that I write about called the arrival fallacy, which basically says that so many individuals will say, “I’ll just be content, I’ll just be fulfilled, I’ll just be happy when I get X, Y, Z; that promotion, that car, that beautiful partner, my book sells this many copies, my podcast is number one and its category, blah, blah, blah.” And it’s a fallacy because we never really arrive. The goalpost is always 10 yards down the field, “Oh, your podcast is number one in personal growth or in learning. Well, why isn’t it number one overall?” “Your book sold a thousand copies. Why not two?” “You got promoted to be VP. Well, now, I want to be the CEO.” You never really arrive so you cannot find fulfillment from chasing something outside of yourself.

Brad Stulberg
And it’s a very human thing to do.

Pete Mockaitis
That is so true. When those numbers, they resonate. And that’s sort of my joke whenever I catch a download milestone, it’s like, “Ooh, I’m at 15 million downloads but, you know what, I’ll truly be happy when I’m at 16 million downloads.” It’s an absurdity and I just sort of check myself with that little joke every time we hit the next million.

Brad Stulberg
And I catch myself doing the same thing. Like, none of this is bad. This is human nature. I write books for myself as much as anyone, so that’s why the practice of groundedness is in the title. This stuff is an ongoing practice. So, yes, very human to catch yourself saying, “If then, then I’ll be content. Then I’ll be able to just sit down in the easy chair and be happy,” but that doesn’t happen. Research shows it, all the ancient wisdom traditions point toward it, and stories of people like me and you say the same.

So, rather than try to achieve fulfillment externally, if you can shift the focus internally, then you’ll have a much better chance of doing it. And this is where core values become so important and why they’re such a big part of the book. So, I think about core values as the qualities that you most want to embody, that make you who you are, and if you’re not sure of what those are, you look at people that you really respect, and you say, “What do I respect about this person?” And it’s rarely, “Oh, they sold three million books.” It might be that they are a hard worker, or they’re kind, or they’re compassionate, or they’re present. Those are core values.

So, I think it’s good to come up with between three and five. You don’t want to have a laundry list because then you end up not really doing any. You don’t want to just have one because that’s not very specific. Then for each value, again, things like creativity, family, reputation, grit, determination, persistence, love, kindness, you want to individualize it and define it. So, what does something as broad as love mean to you? What does reputation mean to you? What does grit mean to you?

Then here’s where the rubber really hits the road. For each of those things, in addition to a definition, you want to come up with three daily practices, or weekly practices, monthly practices, where your day-to-day concrete actions align with those core values. In that way, regardless of what’s happening externally, if you can show up and live, in alignment with your core values, then you can feel really good about yourself, not just because “succeeded at the game,” but because, again, these are the things that make you who you are, that you want to embody. When you’re living in alignment with these things, you tend to feel good.

So, an example of this is someone might have the core value love. Okay. Well, this is super esoteric. And let’s say that they define love as “Caring deeply and paying close attention to people and pursuits that matter to me.” Okay, that’s getting a little bit better. Now let’s get to daily practice. “Well, one of those people and pursuits is my relationship with my partner. And this might mean that every night during dinner, I’m going to turn my phone off and put it in another room so I’ll have a better chance of being present for her.” Boom! That’s a practice. It might mean that, “Hey, I’m a creative person, and when I write music, I want to bring all of my loving energy to that. So, I’m going to schedule three-by-one hour blocks a week of distraction-free time to write music.” Now you’re practicing love.

Let’s say the core value is grit. The daily practice might be, “Every time I’m really tempted to stop something and quit what I’m doing, I’m going to say, ‘What’s the cost of just giving it 10 more days to play out and see if it can’t work out?’” That’s the practice that embodies grit. So, you go from these very noble, high-level, lofty, ambitious qualities, down to the minutiae of day-to-day, and that is ultimately how you become more grounded and how you achieve fulfillment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. And I like that extra level of the practices, and you’re right.

Brad Stulberg
I’ve heard people call it an internal dashboard.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like it.

Brad Stulberg
So, it’s like, okay, if your end goal is profit, well, in a business sense, where you have all these steps to execute on to get there. So, here, if your end goal is groundedness or fulfillment, well, here are the three to five things that ladder up to it, and then here are the process measures that are going to get you there.

Pete Mockaitis
And what I like so much is that you can, I don’t know, for better or for worse, I don’t know. Brad, maybe you’ll coach me. I really like feeling like a winner and I really hate feeling like a loser. And so, there’s some little bit of growth mindset, fixed mindset, precariousness there associated with doing things that I’m not good at. I seem to have a heck of a time navigating the medical landscape in the United States, it’s like, “What? My appointment was cancelled. Why? I didn’t do that thing. Well, what?” Whatever. So, that makes me feel like a loser.

And so, what’s cool about this notion of the internal dashboard and fulfillment being an inside game is that you can be a winner no matter what the external results are, “I got dozens of medical appointments cancelled.” It’s like, “But you know what, I still nailed those daily practices associated with the values of who I want to be. So, I’m probably not going to feel all that down about it. It’s like, yeah, that’s annoying and that’s a bummer, and I guess I’m going to have to do it again. But, hey, I’m being who I want to be, and that’s pretty awesome.”

Brad Stulberg
Yes. It’s the ultimate F-U to all the voices in your head that are like, “Oh, you didn’t do good enough. You’re not enough. This isn’t…” And it gets back to what we’re saying. The more you practice those values, that actually, the paradox is the better chance you’ll have of conventional success because you’ll be doing it for the right reasons from a place of strength and confidence.

It also gets back to that practice around presence and scheduling time for very focused presence. Because if you just say, “I’m going to be present all the time,” well, you’re going to be a loser because you’re a human being in the 21st century where distractions are everywhere. Whereas, if you say, “Actually, just for three 90-minute blocks a week I’m going to be present,” well, that’s a game that you can win at. And winning feeling is good. So, you win then maybe you say, “Four by 90-minutes,” and you keep the ball rolling.

So, so much of this is shifting from the more traditional self-help, hustle culture, crush it, be bulletproof, be great always, never be content, to more of a research-backed look, that actually says, “Hey, contentment and achievement go hand-in-hand. The more that you can live on your values, even if they have nothing to do with career success, the more successful you’ll be in your career.” The less you need to buy something outside of yourself to feel good or to numb what’s happening, the better you’ll feel and the more effective you’ll be in addressing whatever it is that’s happening.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. Thank you. Well, Brad, tell me, any other huge things you want to make sure we don’t skip before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Brad Stulberg
Yeah, I think that we didn’t talk as much, really at all, about community, and I think that that’s a really important practice as well. And I’ll just say that what happens to just about everyone, myself included, is that we can get into a really good groove with whatever it is that we’re working on. And when we’re in those grooves, we want to be efficient. And it’s so easy, easier than ever in today’s day and age, to go from meeting up with friends in person to a Zoom, to go from Zoom to a call, to go from a call to a text, to reschedule it because I can just send you a new calendar link. And we tend to do all this stuff because it makes us “more efficient” with what we’re doing.

And, sure, day to day, like schlepping in the car to go meet up with your friends in person, or joining an actual physical book club, or going to the gym instead of working out at home, that takes time and it will make you less efficient. But when you look back over the course of a year, or a decade, or a lifetime, those relationships and those communities that you’ve built and belong to, that’s the stuff that gives your life meaning, and that will help you find fulfillment. And when you’re experiencing a bout of anxiety or depression, no amount of efficient work is going to help you get out of it but your community will.

Or, if you crush it and you go from 15 million downloads to 40 million downloads, guess who’s going to be there to be like, “Hey, Pete, don’t get drunk off your own success”? Your community. So, it’s this thing that is so foundational to being grounded that’s so often gets overlooked when we’re doing well because it takes time and energy and effort, but it always pays back.

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

Brad Stulberg
“You don’t have to feel good to get going. You need to get going to give yourself a chance to feel good.” And so often, people think that you need to be really motivated or inspired to get started, but then good luck getting started because most people don’t wake up super motivated and inspired every single day of their life. But if you can just get going on the stuff that matters to you and the stuff that’s in alignment with your values, often motivation and inspiration follows.

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

Brad Stulberg
So, I think from this book certainly, and maybe just now in my life, I find the convergence of ancient wisdom tradition thinking and modern science to be just absolutely fascinating. So, for instance, for this book, talking about deep presence and flow, being absorbed in something, losing your sense of self, ego-lessness, everything that the modern scientists describe about these great flow states that we chase, the Buddha described as nirvana, the Tao Te Ching described as the way, and the ancient Greeks described as arete.

So, you could put like a scientific description of a flow state next to what the Buddha called nirvana and they’re the same thing. And I think that, particularly with more of these Eastern wisdom traditions, we’re seeing so much modern science just empirically proving what these thinkers have been pointing to for thousands of years.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Brad Stulberg
I forgot what I said the last time I was on your show, so I don’t want to repeat myself. I will say Middlemarch, which is a novel by George Eliot. It’s a big book. It’s like a door stopper, probably about a thousand pages. But if you’ve got a month or two of your life where you really have a good time to read and you just want to get completely lost in a story about a community and characters and people’s struggles, I highly recommend it.

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

Brad Stulberg
It’s going to sound crazy but a barbell.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Brad Stulberg
So, I’m a writer and a coach. I use my brain to do my work, but my physical practice is just so integral to my being able to sit still, focus, think creatively, solve problems, so, yeah, for me it’s probably a barbell. I’m not really any good at lifting weights, but I firmly believe that movement is a part of my job even though I’m not a pro athlete.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Brad Stulberg
Reading. I just freaking love reading. I can never read enough. It’s a big part of my life. It fuels my own writing. And my wife is constantly probably telling me to stop chattering about whatever book I’m reading but I can’t help myself.

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

Brad Stulberg
Yeah, I think, particularly in most of my coaching clients, it’s just this identification or language of heroic individualism, “So, I need to be productive. I need to be efficient. I need to keep striving. If I just get this thing then I’ll finally be fulfilled,” and realizing that that’s not your fault, that doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t make you weak. That is just the water that we swim in in the 21st century here in America and the Western world.

And realizing that that game is ultimately not going to lead to fulfillment, so kind of flipping it on its head and saying, “Hey, what are these principles that will lead to fulfillment? What are my values? How can I live them? How can I accept where I am? How can I be present? How can I be patient?” and so on. So, it’s catching yourself playing the game. And I catch myself playing the game at least weekly. We all do. Realize when you’re playing it and then try to go back to living in alignment with your values to being more grounded.

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

Brad Stulberg
Well, first thing I’d say is please consider the book if you find this interesting. The book goes super deep into all of this. And my website is www.BradStulberg.com, just like my name. And the only social media that I’m really active on is Twitter where my handle is @BStulberg.

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

Brad Stulberg
I do. I think that it would be pretty simple, and it is to be honest with yourself right now if you’re listening, and saying, “Hey, how much am I playing the game of heroic individualism?” And if it feels like hardly at all, great. But if it feels like more than you’d like, try to identify some of your values that are the inside game, define what practices work in alignment with them, and then start building your life around those values. It can be very gradual. This is not about quitting your job. It’s about still being awesome at your job but also making sure that you’re doing it in a way where you’re living in alignment with your values that will, hopefully, leave you not only a high-performer but also fulfilled.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Brad, this has been a treat. Thank you. And good luck in all of your groundedness.

Brad Stulberg
Yeah, thank you, Pete. I hope you stay grounded as well.

690: How to Get Luckier and Create Serendipity with Christian Busch

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Christian Busch says: "No matter what situation we're in, there's always something we can still do even if it seems powerless."

Christian Busch reveals how to create good luck.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to connect the dots for smart luck 
  2. How to turn random incidents into serendipity moments
  3. How serendipity develops grit 

About Christian

Dr. Christian Busch is the director of the Global Economy program at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, where he teaches on purpose-driven leadership, impact entrepreneurship, social innovation, and emerging markets.  

He is a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE) and the co-founder of Leaders on Purpose, an organization convening high-impact leaders, as well as the Sandbox Network, a global community of young innovators active in over 20 countries. Previously, he served on the faculty of the LSE’s Department of Management and as the inaugural Deputy Director of the LSE’s Innovation Centre. 

Resources Mentioned

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Christian Busch Interview Transcript

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

Christian Busch
Thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your book The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck.

We previously had on the show Annie Duke who was a former poker world champion and now teaches a lot about decision-making. And she’s had quite the statement which was that, “All the results in your life are due to your decisions and your luck. And so, you can’t do much about your luck so I’m going to get really great at decisions.” I thought that makes so much sense to me.

But, here, Christian comes along, and is like, “Well, actually, perhaps we can do some things to create good luck.” So, let’s make sure we cover both sides of that equation. So, tell us, maybe as we dig in, could you kick us off with one of your most particularly surprising, counterintuitive, fascinating discoveries you’ve made while researching and working on this serendipity stuff?

Christian Busch
Yeah. It really comes based on the premise of saying usually when we think about luck, we think about this blind luck, to your point, as opposed to skill. It’s like, “Oh, my God, it’s just something that happens to us and we didn’t really work for it.” And serendipity is really about smart luck. It’s about that luck that we have to work for in some ways.

So, take the quintessential moment, if you have your really calm movements like I do, imagine you’re in a coffee shop, you spill a coffee over someone, and you sense there might be some kind of connection. You don’t know what it is but you sense there might be some kind of connection, professional, personal, whatever it is, and now you have two options.

Option number one is you just say, “I’m so sorry. Here’s a napkin.” You walk outside and you think, “Ah, what could have happened had I spoken with the person?” And then option number two is you start a conversation, that person becomes your co-founder, your next investor, the love of your life. The point here is the way we react to the unexpected, the way we connect the dots in that moment, essentially leads us to that smart luck.

And so, if you think about everything from Viagra, to potato washing machines, to how we find the love of our life, a lot of times that is based on our own actions. And so, what I’ve been working a lot on is the question of, “Is there a science-based framework that allows us to create more of those meaningful accidents but also makes accidents more meaningful?”

And so, to give you one example that I’m fascinated by because I think it’s a very tangible approach of how we can better our lives for doing this is the hook strategy. And the hook strategy, essentially, is all about saying if you would ask Oli Barrett, who’s a wonderful entrepreneur in London, “What do you do?” you know, the dreaded question that’s essentially putting you into a box. He would not just say, “I’m a technology entrepreneur.” He would say something like, “I’m a technology entrepreneur, recently read into the philosophy of science, but what I’m really excited about is playing the piano.”

And so, what he’s doing here is he’s giving you three potential hooks where you could say, “Oh, my God, such a coincidence. I recently started playing the piano. You should come by,” “Oh, my God, such a coincidence. My sister is teaching on the philosophy of science at university. You should give a guest lecture.”

The point is we can use every conversation to see the couple of information in there that essentially allows other people to connect the dots for us, and that’s how serendipity starts to happen more and more. And it’s almost like this multiplication of serendipity that we can have through this kind of practices.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the hooks then is you’re providing multiple opportunities for connection or things to be latched onto there as opposed to just sort of like following the script, “This is what I do and that’s that.” And I guess, likewise, with Viagra, so I’m a little familiar with the story. So, how about you share? The discovery of Viagra was not quite what they originally starting to try to figure out. Can you share the story in how that connects to serendipity?

Christian Busch
Absolutely. So, that was really a couple of researchers giving people medication against angina, the disease, and they realized, “Oh, my God, there was some kind of movement happening in male participants’ trousers.” And what would we usually do? We’d probably be like, “Oh, my God, that’s embarrassing. Let’s look away, or let’s find a way to cure that kind of side effect, or let’s get that off the table.”

They did the opposite. They said, “You know what, that’s unexpected but there’s a lot of men in the world who might have a problem in that department. So, why don’t we try to figure out how that could turn into a medication?” And so, that’s how serendipitously Viagra evolved.

And that’s actually, to give you one more example that maybe shows exactly that kind of effect is the example of the potato washing machine. And the potato washing machine was really a company in China that sells refrigerators and they were essentially…they had farmers call them up and say, “Oh, your crappy washing machine is always breaking down.” And so, they asked them, “Well, why is it breaking down?” “Well, we’re trying to wash our potatoes in it and it doesn’t seem to work.”

And so, what would we usually do? We’d probably look at that unexpected event and say, “Oh, my God, why would you wash your potatoes in there? Don’t do that.” They did the opposite. They built in a dirt filter and made it into a potato washing machine.

And so, it’s really that idea of, “How do we react to the unexpected moment, that kind of random events that happens? And then how do we connect the dots to something meaningful?” And that’s where we imbue meaning in it, and so that’s really what serendipity is about. It’s about somehow finding this kind of meaningful accident.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, so that already seems to be a theme here in terms of not being so maybe rigid, fixated, on the thing I’m trying to achieve or how it’s supposed to go, or the protocol or the rules, but rather having kind of an openness to what might emerge from this. Yeah, any tips on how we’d do more of that?

Christian Busch
You know, it’s interesting. So, one kind of part of our research is focused a lot on that question of, “What makes people more successful than others in their careers, and when they run companies, or when they manage groups, or when they run their own life?” And one of the key themes behind that was really that the most successful people seem to have in common that they actually have some kind of sense of direction.

They somehow know, “This is approximately where I’m going. If I’m running XYZ company, a MasterCard, and I want to bring 500 million people into the financial system,” or, “If I am looking for a new job and I approximately know that I want to go into XYZ area.” But then this openness to the unexpected that it might not necessarily be exactly that kind of job that I’m looking for. And that’s really what a lot of them have in common, that they let go of this illusion of control, that you can know exactly what you can do tomorrow, exactly the kind of job you can find tomorrow.

I grew up in Germany, and I love plans, I love everything that reduces ambiguity, that reduces anxiety and everything else. But, actually, one of the things that I’ve realized in my own life, and the life in those people that I’ve studied and worked with, is that exactly that idea of having a certain sense of where we’re going but then unexpectedly, a lot of times, the most interesting things emerge. And so, it’s really about saying, “Let’s redefine that. Let’s redefine the unexpected from a threat into something that actually can make our life even better if we somehow reframe those moments.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, that sounds swell. And maybe to help pull that off, having some extra awareness of what you call three core types of serendipity might help. What are they?

Christian Busch
Yeah. So, it’s really about, “Is there something we’ve already been looking for?” So, let’s say you’re Archimedes and you know that the king asked you, “Hey, can you tell me if this crown is pure gold or if it is something else, some kind of fake type crown?” And Archimedes wanted to solve that problem but he couldn’t find a solution, and he was like, “Okay. Well, let’s forget about it for a second. Let me go to the baths and just kind of chill out for a moment.”

And then when he went into the public baths, he realized, “Oh, the water seems to go up when I go into that, so maybe I can use that logic to figure out if there’s actually gold in that crown because the gold will probably part water in different ways or volumes than it will be if it will be some kind of other material.” And so, essentially, he unexpectedly found a way to solve the problem he already wanted to solve.

And so, that’s a lot of times, if I know I want to have a job in McKinsey and I want to apply to that exact job, and I always think I’d do that via XYZ application or XYZ contact, but then actually the niece of my father’s brother unexpectedly tells me about this one kind of person that I should connect with and I get the job via that person. That, essentially, is kind of that Archimedes serendipity that is one.

The other one really is the kind of more Post-It note where we realize we’re looking for one thing. So, in the case of Post-It, the beautiful notes, someone was looking for solving that in some way, like, “How do we essentially develop a stronger glue?” They were experimenting with strong glue. And then they realized, “Actually, a weaker glue is much more fun because we can then use that on these kinds of Post-It type notes.”

And so, it was something, they were looking for one thing, but while looking for that, something completely different happened. And so, that’s how when we look for one job, and then we might find a completely different job on that journey, and it’s just unexpected.

And then the third one, which is my favorite, is really when it’s completely unexpected, the kind of thunderbolt that comes from the sky where that’s the way how we fall in love a lot of times. We’re in those coffee shop moments, we just bump into someone, we didn’t see it coming, and it just happens.

But what all these three have in common, really, is that it’s all a process. It’s all a process. Rather than just like something that happens to us, it’s always the process of there’s some kind of trigger happening, something happens to us, but then we have to do something with it, we have to connect the dots and turn it into something. And so, that’s the beauty of serendipity.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, how can we get better at kind of spotting those triggers in terms of, I think, depending on your mood? I mean, in my own experience, in terms of like it’s something just sort of like a frustration, an irritation, a headache, or just kind of weird versus is it, “Oh, a wondrous opportunity”? So, how do we spot them and jump on them?

Christian Busch
You know, it’s interesting. I’d cluster it probably in two different types. The one is really, in a way, the way we frame the world and the way we look at the world. And there’s this beautiful example of the lucky and unlucky person where researchers essentially took one person who self-identifies as very lucky and someone who self-identifies as very unlucky, so someone who says, “Bad things always happen to me and I’m always in accidents,” and so on. And we probably all know people in both kind of camps, people who are considering themselves to be very unlucky versus very lucky.

And then the researchers tell them, “Walk down the street, go into a coffee shop, order a coffee, and sit down, and then we’ll have an interview.” Now, what he doesn’t tell them is that there’s hidden cameras along the street and inside the coffee shop, there’s a £5 note, so money in front of the coffee shop, and inside the coffee shop, there’s this extremely successful businessman and there’s this one seat next to that businessman that’s empty.

Now, the lucky person walks down the street, sees the £5 note, picks it up, goes inside the coffee shop, orders the coffee, sits next to the businessman, has a nice conversation, they exchanged business cards, potential opportunity coming out of it, we don’t know that. The unlucky person walks down the street, steps over the £5 note, so doesn’t see it, goes inside, orders the coffee, sits next to the businessman, ignores the businessman, and that’s that.

Now, at the end of the day, they asked both people, “How was your day today?” And so, the lucky person says, “Well, it was amazing. I found money in the street, made a new friend, and potentially an opportunity coming up.” The unlucky person just says, “Well, nothing really happened.” And that’s the interesting thing, that there were two of those moments. The one is the moment of, “If I expect that things can happen that are good, I open my mind more to it. Once I believe that there could be good things out there, actually I see more of those dollar bills. Like, I found I’m consistently and constantly finding money in the street,” because people actually surprisingly drop a lot of money in the street.

But then, also, when you are in the coffee shop and talking with the businessman, that’s more the kind of extroversion piece, that the more we interact with people, of course the more there’s potentially opportunity coming out of it. But closet introverts like myself, like a lot of times serendipity comes from silent sources. It comes from reading a book and then saying, “Oh, my God, people haven’t talked about this for a while. I should do a podcast about this. This is kind of different.”

So, I think the one pocket is really around this idea of overcoming the bias of, “Oh, life doesn’t have something there for me,” because actually life can have something everywhere, and that’s the fascinating thing. If we talk about Viktor Frankl, and so this idea of you can imbue meaning everywhere and there’s always something interesting everywhere.

But, also, then the second piece, and that’s the one I’m much more interested in, actually, is the deeper psychological questions, “What are the self-limiting beliefs that we all have that really hold us back?” And that really is, you know, imagine you’re in a meeting and people talk about something, and you have this random idea come up but you hold back, you don’t talk, and then you go outside, and you think, “Ah, I should’ve talked about it.”

What was it that held you back? Was it, “I’m not worthy enough”? Was it, “I’m not ready, it’s not mature enough, the idea”? And, really, working on these deeper underlying biases because a lot of times we might see the idea, we might see something, but we might not act on it, and I think that’s the bigger piece. So, it’s both the kind of, “How do we train to see more things by not underestimating actually how likely the unexpected is?” But then the second piece, also, “How do we connect the dots and allow ourselves to do that?”

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, yeah. So, you mentioned self-limiting beliefs, are there a few in particular that kind of rise to the top of the list as being prominent and widespread serendipity killers?

Christian Busch
One that I’ve certainly, myself, for a very long time, I’ve struggled with this fear of rejection. I think when you think about that a lot of times in life, the reason why you don’t reach out to someone, the reason why you don’t do XYZ, is because you’re afraid that you might get negative feedback, that someone might say, “That idea is bad,” “No, I’m sorry, I don’t want to date you,” “No, I’m sorry, I don’t want to offer you that job.” And so, it’s that kind of idea that we anticipate the worst case, and we’re like, “Yeah, okay, maybe not.”

And one thing that I’ve realized in my own life, and that I’ve seen with others as well, is once you redefine that away from the worst thing that can happen is rejection, to the worst thing that can happen is that feeling that you have afterwards if you didn’t try, that feeling of when you go outside and you’re like, “Aargh, I wish I had done XYZ,” and, really, that regret that comes from not trying. And that’s very Mark Twain-ish in terms of we won’t regret the things we have done, but we will regret the things we haven’t done a lot of times.

And it’s really that kind of overcoming, that fear in some ways, and it’s not easy but I feel like the more rejections we get in life, the easier it gets in some way to work on that. So, I think the fear of rejection is a big one.

One of my absolute favorites also is, I think, because we, or a lot of us, might have that tendency to kind of control things, we, in a way, then imbue a lot of meaning and trying to have everything under control. And so, as soon as something unexpected happens, imagine you go on a trip with your colleagues, and you organized the whole trip, and now there’s a tire that breaks down and that’s unexpected, and you’re like, “Oh, my God, no, this can’t be. We’ll be late for lunch or dinner, and that will ruin the whole day.” Or, “Hey, maybe this can become a bonding experience for this team. And, like, is there something in that moment?”

And so, I think, in a way, once we let go of this idea that the way we planned it is the ideal way, to, “Hey, actually, if something goes wrong, maybe that’s a great bonding experience, maybe that’s something in that moment that we can do something with,” I think then it gets really interesting. And one thing I’ve always found fascinating about presenters, for example, great presenters, I feel they always have this kind of line if something breaks down because they know the likelihood of something breaking down, the likelihood of a projector not working, of the moderator not appearing, whatever it is, individually it’s very small likelihoods. But if you add all this out together, it’s very likely that something unexpected happens.

And so, if they have a sentence at the beginning where they’re like, “Oh, my God, XYZ ha, ha,” that’s the way how they pull the audience on their side because the audience says, “Oh, my God, like they really can cope with that situation well.” And so, I think those situations, in a way, show real leadership but I think, again, we can all build that muscle for it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Christian, now I want to have a few of those sentences ready to go. Can you recall some of those?

Christian Busch
Yeah, my favorite, really, so a friend of mine, she used to get very red. So, when she would go on stage, she would turn red, and so she would literally then kind of build that into a sentence, and say, “Hey, look, this is the warning signal that we’re about to start.” And this is kind of like something that directed her and something that could’ve been seen as a weakness, or something that where people would’ve talked about anyways. Everyone in this room would either have thought it or would’ve told the person next to them, “Oh, look, like this is very red.”

But by turning this directly around, she actually turned that into something that made her, like made the audience really be on her side. And I think, in my case, being German, we have a lot of anti-jokes. There’s a lot of dumb ones. There’s a lot of like when a projector doesn’t work or something, it’s like, “Oh, the slides were crap anyways, like it’s much better if we talk XYZ.” Things where it’s not necessarily funny in that sense but I think just having a sentence that allows us to bridge that, I think, that shows the audience, “Okay, great. This person is still in control. That person somehow tries to figure out how to just make that work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s interesting, that theme there in terms of, “I am not freaked out by this not having gone to plan. In fact, maybe I find it amusing or I am somehow charmed or enchanted by it working out the way it has worked out,” really does put other folks at ease because it’s like if a presenter is in all awkward, nervous, feeling uncomfortable, well, then the audience is as well. And so, if you go there, that’s cool.

I guess, in some ways, this all seems a little bit easier said than done, I think, particularly maybe when the stakes are high when you really want the thing that you’re really going after, and you have invested a lot of yourself in terms of the time, the money, the resources, into making something unfold the way you want it to, and then it just doesn’t: there’s a flat tire, the slides don’t work, nobody shows up to the thing. Yeah, any pro tips on how to get better at that?

It sounds like you’ve already mentioned previously that the more we can believe and accept that things not working according to plan can be in our best interest and truly an asset. That’s great. And I guess it’d be helpful if maybe you should make a list of such things that happen in your life, like, “Hey, here is some evidence.” But how else do you recommend that we get there when, yeah, when the stakes are high?

Christian Busch
Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ve seen a lot with my students who, when COVID happened, a lot of them had their jobs lined up after graduation or their internships. They always wanted an internship in XYZ bank, and they worked so long for it, and they worked all their contacts work out, and then COVID happened, and it just didn’t. And so, it was this kind of very high-stake first-job type situation where you really felt, “This is what I really want to do. This is what I really need at this point in time.”

And what I found fascinating, and now one and a half years in. Having conversations with some of those students, it is tough. Like, I remember when I graduated in 2007, we had the financial crisis hit. I had so much mapped out, and then that crisis hit, and you just got it emotionally and cognitively, you’re just like, “Oh, my God, life is over and that is it.”

I think one of the things that I’ve always been fascinated by is that kind of question of, “When we look at it in the long run, like when we look at this kind of two, three, four, five, six years, like what does it really mean?”

I’ve seen the same with my jobs, for example. I was on a consultancy track and then, essentially, serendipitously fell into the startup world first, and that was very kind of…it felt like in that moment, “Oh, my God, there’s something going wrong here.” But actually, it turned out, when looking back now, I wondered, like, “Why would I ever even consider that?”

And so, I think to your point, like in the moment it always feels very tough and rough, that’s kind of moments of, “Oh, my God, this is exactly what I wanted. I worked so hard for this for years.” And then I think with a bit of distance over time, what happens a lot of times is that we’re saying, “Oh, actually, I only had limited information at that time. Actually, at that time also, I was another person than I am now because I went through this kind of tough period.”

And so, I think a lot of times, when looking back, it’s this beautiful saying that if it’s not a happy ending, maybe it’s not the ending yet, and maybe we shouldn’t stop the story too early. And I’ve seen that with a lot of people who I consider to be extremely successful, that they essentially have a certain story stop at some point, but then they develop that grit and that persistence. And that is my kind of, on the more actionable side.

I’ve always been a big fan of that perspective-taking, or that kind of when we are in this emotional moment where we say, “Oh, my God, the world is going down. I didn’t get the job I wanted,” saying, “What would I tell a friend now?” And the friend probably usually would say, “Hey, look, that’s really not nice but, actually, hey, have you considered XYZ?” and really taking ourselves out of that purely emotional and into the kind of perspective, which a lot of times, then I think helps with this kind of developing grit.

And I think Adam Grant has done some amazing work around this. I highly recommend it for everyone to check out around grit, resilience, and perseverance.

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

Christian Busch
Yeah, I think, look, at the end of the day, serendipity is about potentiality. It’s about, “What could be?” And I’m a big fan, there’s this amazing organization that’s in Cape Flats in Cape Town.

I went there around a decade ago for the first time. I went in there and I was like, “What is the one question I should never ask you? I come into your context here but what should I never ask you?” And they were like, “Never ask us first question, ‘What do you need?’ because if you ask us, ‘What do you need?’ you put us into this weird role of, like, someone who needs something, a victim, a beneficiary, whatever it is, versus asking, ‘What’s already here? And how can we make the best out of this?’”

And so, that really shaped my perspective in terms of how people, even in the most resource-constrained of environments, want to create their own luck. It’s not about saying, “I’m just waiting for resources here,” and I think a lot of times we have this reflex, “Hey, here, here is some money, here is this. Like, let’s apply for a budget or a grant.” But actually, that dignity that comes from creating your own luck is really at the core of this.

And so, this organization, what they do is they go into different contexts and they ask, “What is already here and how can we make the best out of it? Oh, there’s a former drug dealer. Interesting. That person has a lot of creativity, that person has a lot of contexts, so if we can turn them into a teacher, it becomes cool now to be a teacher. If we look at an old garage, we can look at a potential training center.”

And so, the point here is that we start connecting the dots differently once we get away from looking at resource constraints and the things we don’t have and into the potentiality of it. And so, it’s a lot of banks and others now who apply exactly that thinking. Imagine you’re organizing an event at your company, and you write your budget, and you’re like, “Oh, I need 20 chairs for this event.” Well, what this organization would do, they would first ask you, “Well, do you really need the chairs or can people stand, whatever it is? If you need them, can you ask the restaurant next door, if they can borrow you the chairs, which might also nicely kind of give you some new contacts there, whatever it is. And only if you say no to all of these things, then go ahead with it.”

And what happens a lot of times is that we’re like, “Oh, my God, we don’t even need all this budget. We can make stuff happen much more resourceful than we thought.” And that’s where serendipity starts to happen because we get away from thinking about budget constraints, and things that don’t work, and scarcity, and really think about more, “Wow, what could be in this situation already? And maybe I have more here than I think I have, more kind of context than I thought I had, more kind of resources than I thought I had.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s exciting and, yeah, it makes kind of sense that when you…I think I remember from like a college psychology class, there’s a name for this, being fixated on the lack versus what you have. There’s a name for it. Do you know the psychological term here?

Christian Busch
Well, I think it’s a lot around framing. Like, essentially, how do we reframe a situation? And I think that goes very deeply into psychology. How do we essentially understand that’s it’s not about resource scarcity always? I think it’s, actually, you know what was really interesting, I had a couple of conversations recently with psychologists.

And for them, actually, the mindset is interesting because they’re saying it helps us to get away a little bit from the anxiety, from the feeling that we’re losing control because, actually, maybe there’s something in there that still helps us. And so, I think, to your point, I think there’s a lot of psychological linkages there, I think, all in terms of, “How do we approach life and see less scarcity and more as abundance?”

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

Christian Busch
My absolute favorite is a Goethe quote. I grew up in Heidelberg, and there’s this Philosopher’s Way where Goethe wrote some of his poems. And he had this idea that if you take someone as they are, you make them worse, but if you take them as who they could be, you’ll make them capable of becoming who they can be.

And that’s, actually, Viktor Frankl took that idea at some point, and he talked about it in the context of a flight instructor. The flight instructor told him, “Well, Viktor, if you want to fly like this or just a little bit up, you always need to start a little bit higher than you want to fly because the wind will always pull you down.” So, if you start as a realist, you end up as a depressionist, but if you start as an optimist, you end up as the real realist.

And Goethe’s point really was to say, “If we always see a little bit more in the moment than there is that meets the eye, we start seeing serendipity happen after and after and after and after again.” And I think that’s also what good leadership is about. Good leadership is about looking at a former drug dealer and not seeing just a former drug dealer. It’s about looking at them and saying, “Wow, you could be a teacher,” “Wow, you could be XYZ,” and then people start also seeing it themselves and seeing other potentialities as well. So, I would probably quote Goethe in that regard.

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

Christian Busch
Well, one absolute favorite is about rabbits. So, essentially, a couple of decades ago, two researchers at approximately the same time, they were injecting rabbits with a protein, with papain, and the rabbits’ ears flopped. And both of them saw that, that the flop was surprising, it was interesting, but only one of them followed up on it, and only one of them went through and realized, “Oh, wow, that has to do with bloodstream. It has to do with the blood flowing better.” And then that led to amazing arthritis and other medications and got a lot of prizes.

And, to me, that has always been a beautiful example of how we can really understand serendipity and how we can understand the kind of effect of this. What could have happened had the person acted versus not? So, in this moment, it’s really the one person acted on that unexpected thing, connected the dots, did something with it, versus the other had the same thing happen but they didn’t. And so, it’s similar to what we talked about earlier, these other experiments that are about you can give people exactly the same situation but the way they react to it and what they do with it will lead to extremely different results.

And so, I think that, to me, is always, as an academic, I’m always thinking about, “What are science-based ways that we can understand serendipity?” And one is really about tracing back different types of decisions, and then saying, “Oh, this decision unfolds differently because of that and that action.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Christian Busch
Oh, my favorite book, definitely Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. This book is next to my bedside table. I’ve been re-reading it so many times and, essentially, the core idea is that he was in a concentration camp, which, as you can imagine, is the toughest of environments that one could ever be in. You’re being stripped of any dignity that you’ve ever had.

And he said, “Look, but I still can do something here. I can still…” He had this idea of, “I can still converse with other prisoners every day. And by making them feel better about life in general, I have some kind of meaning here. I can still write this book after I come out here.” And so, he had this duality of meaning, this kind of meaning in the day-to-day that he built, and this meaning of, “I still want to do this later.”

And so, I found that in my work to be extremely effective to have this idea that you both have something that’s in the day-to-day that gives those meaning but also something to look forward to that gives us a broader meaning.

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

Christian Busch
That’s a good question. Probably the coffee machine. I need a lot of coffee.

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

Christian Busch
It’s probably a lot around that idea that comes back to Viktor Frankl, that we cannot always choose a situation or a stimulus, but we can always choose our response to it. And so, that is really our agency, that is where our growth comes from, that’s where our freedom comes from. And so, really, this idea that no matter what situation we’re in, there’s always something we can still do even if it seems powerless.

And so, I think that’s very…something that I think resonates particularly, I think, in tough, I mean, during COVID periods like now. I had COVID last year, the severe form of it, and it’s the kind of period where you just feel complete despair, I just feel like, “Oh, my God, what is this all about?” And then this idea of, “How do you still find some kind of meaning in some way?” And I think that is a lot around this, “How do we respond to stimuli that we didn’t choose?”

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

Christian Busch
It’s on Twitter @ChrisSerendip, and the homepage is SerendipityMindset.com.

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

Christian Busch
Yeah, I would really suggest set up a serendipity journal where you write down, “What are the key themes, three key themes, interests, you have at the moment?” And then, every conversation you have during the next days and weeks, seed a little bit into this and just see what happens when people start connecting the dots for you.

And then doing the same for kind of like the self-limiting beliefs, so really saying, in those moments when you’re out there, where you feel something could’ve happened but it didn’t, “What seems to be the pattern behind this?” Really writing this down and then seeing what it is. And I think what you’ll see is that it’s very relieving to then kind of start tackling this and seeing how many, how much multiplication that has in that area as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Chris, this has been a treat. I wish you many serendipitous moments in the future.

Christian Busch
Thank you so much.

689: How Introverts Win at Work with Jennifer Kahnweiler

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Jennifer Kahnweiler debunks pervasive myths about introversion and explains how introverts can flourish at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The core strengths of introverts 
  2. How to get the most out of the introverts in your team
  3. The ABCDs of excellent extrovert/introvert collaboration 

 

About Jennifer

Jennifer B. Kahnweiler is a bestselling author and one of the leading speakers on introverts in the workplace. Her pioneering books, The Introverted LeaderQuiet InfluenceThe Genius of Opposites, and Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces have been translated into 18 languages. The Introverted Leader was named one of the top 5 business books by The Shanghai Daily. 

Jennifer has partnered with leading organizations like Amazon, Merck, Kimberly Clark, NASA, Bosch, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. She has delivered her signature presentations from Singapore to Spain. 

She holds the Certified Speaking Professional designation, awarded to a small percentage of speakers, and serves as a mentor to many professional women. 

A native New Yorker, Jennifer calls Atlanta, GA home. 

Resources Mentioned

Jennifer Kahnweiler Interview Transcript

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

Jennifer Kahnweiler
It is my pleasure, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom and I’m also excited to hear your story. This morning, in the gym, there was a lot of Beatles playing, and you actually had an encounter with Paul McCartney. What’s the story here?

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Oh, my gosh, this story pops up in family lore time and again. We were vacationing out on Eastern Long Island where I grew up on in the New York area, and the kids were little then, probably your kids’ ages, and we were just having a casual Sunday stroll, and there was nobody on the street in the little town called Amagansett. And my daughter was turning to talk to me and she was knocked down by a bicycle, by a kid on a bike.

And, of course, as a parent, you jump up. She was fine. She was okay. She just was a little bit startled. And we heard, and I’m not going to try to imitate the British accent but Bill and I, my husband, we looked at each other in one second as we were looking at our daughter, and we realized that it was…I was looking right into the eyes of my favorite Beatle, Paul McCartney. And he couldn’t have been nicer and made his son apologize for being careless, so I was impressed by that. And I got to have my Beatles encounter.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is memorable and extra…

Jennifer Kahnweiler
It was.

Pete Mockaitis
…not just, “Oh, there he is in the airport,” but…

Jennifer Kahnweiler
There you go. And I listened to the Beatles channel, too, on the radio so I always think about him. Interesting thinking about personalities, the Beatles have been so analyzed to death, but people talk about the opposite personalities of him and John, and who is the introvert, who is the extrovert, heard that question come up. I’m not quite sure, but I think Paul is pretty introverted. I’ll ask him the next time I see him.

Pete Mockaitis
Next time, yeah. Well, yeah, so we’re going to talk about introversion here. And, boy, you’ve spent quite a boatload of time studying this topic and writing multiple books, The Introverted Leader, Quiet Influence, Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces. So, wow! Tell us, from all of this work, any particularly surprising or fascinating discoveries that you’ve made along the way?

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Well, I tell you what, I came into this work 12 years ago, I started writing, but I think the greatest discovery is, oh, if there’s a great one, is that the definition of introversion and the awareness of introversion, the definition has kind of morphed, and the awareness is basically worldwide now. So, that’s been a surprise.

I didn’t realize, it wasn’t just for my work, believe me, but there was a whole cadre of us in the beginning, including Susan Cain and others, who started dipping into this topic because it had made such a difference in, I’ll speak for myself and my own life as a person married to an introvert for 48 years now, that personally helped me navigate my marriage as one lens. It’s not the only one for sure. But as I started working in organizations, that was a really, really helpful lens to look through.

And I realized a lot of people didn’t realize, A, that they were possibly introverted and that’s why they were having a challenge in our type A organizations, and, B, others didn’t understand introversion. So, that’s probably the biggest kind of nice surprise as the journey has gone on, Pete, really.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so now I’m intrigued. The definition has morphed. I mean, I am a certified Myers-Briggs practitioner. It’s been a while since I’ve done a workshop.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Nice. Nice.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if I’m still in good standing with the organization.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
I don’t think it matters. No, I think you’ll be fine.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I have a definition in my mind about what introversion is. So, tell us, how has it evolved?

Jennifer Kahnweiler
I think the biggest change that has occurred is that it’s not as discreet as we once might’ve thought. We said, and just to kind of backtrack a little bit, introversion is about energy, and extroversion is about energy, and introverts, the typical understanding of that is introverts get their energy from within. They’re in their heads, they’re thoughtful, they kind of think before they speak, etc. Extroverts tend to get energized by other people. But that’s really pretty simplistic, really, if you think about it.

And so, we’ve come to, now, morphed into, it’s more of a spectrum. Like, a lot of areas that we talk about, including different kinds of autism. All kinds of things are now more of it’s not either/or, it’s not binary.

And so, it’s about what you identify with. There are people, as you know, that most of us are really sort of more towards the middle of the Bell curve anyway, right? I don’t know about yourself, and I have morphed more over to the introvert side even though my friends don’t always believe me about that. My editor even told me that on my last book, before our last meeting, he said, “Jennifer, I think you’ve become more introvert. I think you are an introvert.” I said, “No, I haven’t gone that far.” But he goes, “You’re prepared for meetings. You listen really well.” He was ticking off all the strengths of an introvert.

So, I think people do flex over time, Pete, really. And so, I think that’s where there’s been some more forgiveness and openness to some people say they’re ambiverts. Have you heard that term?

[06:05]

Pete Mockaitis
I have, yeah.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Ambiverts, people identify that. Not as many, there hasn’t been much research on that, but people who go back and forth. And as you know from Myers-Briggs’ work, Carl Jung said we develop over time. So, we do tap into those other sides of ourselves. So, I’m very happy about the fact that we’re not just kind of defining it in one structured way, that there is more flexibility according to the person.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, given that, you mentioned some strengths of introverts. Can you share maybe a cool story? So, your book is The Introverted Leader, and more, could you share with us a cool story about an introvert who just saw some phenomenal results in their career and some of the strengths that they brought to the table that are pretty typical of introverts?

Jennifer Kahnweiler
One that I would think about is a woman named Jill Chang approached me

This woman, Jill Chang, was in Taiwan and Jill reached out to me, she said, “I just wrote a book. I was inspired by you and some others to really tap into and own my introversion. And it made such a huge difference in my life to see my strengths not as weaknesses but the fact that I spend the time preparing, the fact that I’m such a really great listener…”

And this happens a lot, Pete, with folks. They will get more confident because then you start to realize it’s not a liability, this is actually a differentiator that you have from extroverts. So, she did, she named all these things and she wrote me this long email and said, “Would you endorse a book?” And, of course, I was happy to. she went on then to write the book. It became like the number one bestseller in Taiwan, multiple weeks. We were able to introduce her to our publisher here and the book has come a few months ago in English. It came out in Taiwanese. And she became a superstar in her country, I should say.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Quiet Is a Superpower. And so, there’d been many people around the world now, I had a chance to speak in a number of countries, and it was really cool to see the awakening there, so that would be an additional thing I would say. The whole awareness, globally now, has legs and people like Jill are making such a difference in their world. And what’s been also cool is all we’ve been able to collaborate on multiple webinars and presentations with people around the world, too, who are introvert authors, introvert coaches.

I got to tell you, when I started out in this, people like you took the Myers-Briggs so you knew about it, but many people were like, “What? How could you be an introvert and be a leader?” It was a lot of selling, a lot of educating and awareness, so that’s been so gratifying.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, so let’s hear about some of these, the “Quiet Is a Superpower,” and some of these strengths. Can you enumerate a few of them for us?

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Sure. Sure. Well, one of them is thinking and not just saying what’s on the top of your mind. So, it’s giving deep reflection, and depth versus breadth is oftentimes what we say, depth with relationships too. Introverts don’t have any patience for small talk often but they have a lot of really great relationships with people – depth versus breadth. Observation.

I mentioned preparation, that’s one of the things that comes up a lot of the time. It’s being able to spend the time ahead of the interview to really think about, “What are the points you want to make? What’s the agenda for the meeting?” All of the aspects of being successful in an organization where you’re not just winging it, where you’re really giving really deep thought, and that really contributes to innovation, to creativity, and all of those great things.

And then, really, I would say the other real strength that I think we saw this come out more in the pandemic is the quiet, being able to take quiet time, being able to embrace silence because that is really when the beautiful inspiration occurs.

I remember one day coming home from work and seeing my 6-year-old in the driveway doing some of her fantasy, just twirling around. We had gotten her a tape of Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers. She was pretending that she was like dancing and in her world. Then she caught my eye, and that moment was kind of gone. She ran into the house, threw her umbrella down, where she was doing “Singing in the Rain.” That was the end of that moment. And I always remember that scene because that is what happens so much. We have that interruption from outside forces but also from ourselves where we don’t take the time to really sit.

And I will say for myself, one of the real beauties, and I’ve heard this from other extroverts, is that we were forced in lockdown to do that, to go within. Did you notice that as well? I mean, it was really a change this past year.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. It’s like you just had fewer options available. And so, you had to find something good there, for sure.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Right. So, exactly. So, I would say those are…there were so many more. Writing is another one, how introverts express themselves is so beautiful. A lot of writers are introverted. And so, those are some of the key ones. There are so many more, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s funny, that story with introversion, extroversion, I tend to prefer extroversion. And I remember when I was little, I was also kind of doing my own thing, and I believe I was Captain America or some superhero fighting bad guys, and I was like punching the air and making noises, all that stuff.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
That sounds great on your mic.

Pete Mockaitis
And then my mom came in, and I, too, was kind of embarrassed, like, “Ahh,” like, “What are you doing?” But it was funny, my reaction was I felt a little sheepish but I just kind of said, “Well, you see, mom, I was being Captain America, and there were some guys who needed…”

Jennifer Kahnweiler
You had to explain yourself, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
But, yeah, that’s what I did. And she said, “Oh, okay, that’s great. Well, carry on.”

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Well, no, that’s great that your mom allowed you to do that because it’s one thing I will say is that, and I’m really starting to explore this with some research with a woman who’s doing more work with children and youth and teachers, because I really think that’s where the opportunity is now. Where we really need to start is working with young people to give them permission to do that, whether they be introverts or extroverts. Having that time in your head, it’s precious, but there’s so much external force, and, “He doesn’t talk up enough in class,” and you get graded down for that, all of this bias in our society.

And it really hit me when I was doing career coaching for a number of years. Before I wrote my book, I had a career coaching practice, and I would see lawyer after lawyer come in or professionals who felt they had really poor self-esteem. And a number of them, when I traced back to what was going on, they were more introverted and they had internalized that perception of themselves as not being sociable and not having the interpersonal skills to be successful in the work world. And so, I had to do a lot of sort of unpacking of that with them.

We need to give everybody a chance to reflect. So, all of these qualities, whether it be at school or in the workplace, are positive for all of us. It’s going to create better results.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jennifer, let’s take this moment for listeners to maybe have some of those aha moments, some of those liberations. You said that the lawyers were feeling stressed and inadequate or inferior or troubled because they had internalized messaging that was kind of, I guess, anti-introvert, if that’s a fair characterization.

And so, can you lay it on us in terms of like what are some of those epiphanies, those revelations, that folks tend to have, it’s like, “Oh, that’s not a problem or a bad thing, but just the way I prefer to run my brain and totally okay and, in fact, often advantageous”? Can you share that with us?

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Yeah. Well, it’s not always immediate that you turn around that negative thinking because it’s been years that it’s been ingrained in you, whether consciously or not consciously by others. And I don’t think parents or teachers ever meant to give us those messages. It’s also the systems that we’re in to not encourage that. But I will say I do have an image in my head of you do speaking as well, Pete.

When I do this, I’ll do a talk about introvert strengths, or that’s a piece of the talk where we’ll talk about strengths, we talk about challenges. And when I ask the audience to just say for me…I’ll get them started, “Well, what’s an introvert strength that you think?” And people will, one by one, kind of warm up, “They’re great observers,” or, “They’re great deep thinkers,” things we talked about.

You will, literally, when you’re in a live audience, I will literally see people sit up in their chairs even like higher. I mean, I don’t think I’m just visualizing that. And the comments that I get after talks and after training sessions, and what people write in the chats, is that they feel grateful to know this. It’s like, “Aha!” It’s like the first time. I don’t know if you felt this way. The first time I took a Myers-Briggs, I was like I was kind of relieved that I was an extrovert because I didn’t really understand my husband and I were having these issues.

We were early young married just coming home from parties, and he would just go into his cave, and I was like, “What did I do wrong? Well, it was immaturity too but it was also like I needed to process the evening and he needed to get away. And just knowing that, learning that, was huge. It was tremendous. And so, I think once you see teams do this, when I worked with organizations when teams start to talk about these differences, it makes such a difference in how they operate.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s a lot of great stuff here, so let’s hear it. So, if someone is an introvert, prefers extroversion, leans introvert, however you want to articulate it…

Jennifer Kahnweiler
If they identify as an introvert.

Pete Mockaitis
Identify as an introvert. What are some of the top suggestions you have that can help make them all the more awesome at their jobs?

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Right. And I like what you said, help make them more awesome, not change into an extrovert. That is the key, right? when you stop trying to be an extrovert, that’s probably the big idea here. And I found that when I researched leadership, when I researched influence, that that’s when introverts are most successful.

So, what do they do? The four P’s is what I usually go back to when that question is asked, and that came from the questions I asked of introverted leaders, I said, “So, how did you become successful?” And we define success in different ways, in different industries, but they were seen as successful. And I interviewed all kind of people. And they said, first of all, the first P is prepare, so back to their strength. Introverts prepare. They prepare questions. The kind of examples I gave earlier.

And that’s been a great lesson for me because I prepare a lot and I see that you do because you prepare your guests. I’ve never seen, I’ve never gotten a slide deck before. I’ve been on a hundred podcasts; I’ve never gotten a slide deck.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you for reading it.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
So, you’ve learned that, right? You learned how effective preparation can be. Anyway, that’s one thing they do and that’s within all leadership scenario, whether it be networking, and they’re scared to go to a live networking reception, and they’re like, “How am I going to get ready for this?” I remember interviewing this one guy, a Martin, and he said, “I found out at our local, I had to do business development. I was really scared to do it, but I researched who was going to be there.”

And he found out that one of the guys was in this nonprofit that he was interested in so he did the research. That got him the deal. It was so many examples like that where he took the time. He didn’t just like, “Oh, I’m a great schmoozer. I’m going to go come.” Preparation.

Second thing is presence. So, what impressed me so much in my own working life was coming across introverted leaders, and I kind of sensed when they were introverted. They were with me when they with me. They were listening. They had their feet on the ground. They were tuned in. If they were doing a meeting, they weren’t worrying about, “Well, I didn’t prepare enough,” or, “What’s going to happen in the outcome?” They were truly tuned in to what was happening. And if things change, they were able to flex because they weren’t thinking about the past or the future. Presence is a huge strength.

Third area was pushing. So, what I meant by that was stepping out of your comfort zone. That’s what they told me, again the leaders said, “I push myself. I stretch myself.” And we know this with people who are high performers that they’re constantly setting the bar higher, not so much that they’re going to pull a muscle but that they’re going to feel it a little bit the next day, that they pushed themselves.

And then the fourth area is practice, and that’s like all the virtuosos do, and I always use the examples of comedians, people like Jerry Seinfeld who you wouldn’t think has to go out on the road but he does it because he talks about his comedic muscle like a fiber optic cable that will shrivel up if it’s not used. And so, all the virtuosos practice all the time. So, they look for opportunities to practice. And what happens is interesting because, when I do these programs with senior leaders, we do a lot now on virtual fireside chats.

So, I’ll do sort of a presentation and then I’ll ask for somebody at the C level or that area who’s coming out as an introverted leader. And, by the way, we used to have a lot of trouble getting those people to admit it or to understand it. And they come and we do a really vibrant conversation about that and they talk about how they push themselves and how they stretch. And for a number of them, I’ve had some recently who’ve been so nervous to do that, to do the fireside chat on Zoom, that they’ve actually written out everything and practiced. We’ve done a session with it. It’s very interesting.

So, then they practice and are good at doing what they do. But many of them are told by their teams and by others that they’re not introverts, they’ll say, “There’s no way you’re an introvert.” So, they’d have to educate people.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, so these four P’s, that’s an interesting maybe blend that we’ve got here because some of these things, it sounds like, come very naturally to introverts and so it’s sort of like, “Hey, lean into those strengths. You’re going to wow them if you do this thing that introverts tend to often be good at anyway.” And others are more of, “Yeah, and also try to do some things that they might be a little uncomfortable with.”

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Yeah, because we still live in a very extroverted world, don’t we, where people, you are required to be in front of people. It’s just the way it is. People judge you if you don’t speak. You have to, in meetings, let’s say you’re with your peers and you’re not speaking up, you got to learn some tricks to do that. And whether it’s preparation or part of that preparation might be to have somebody tee the ball to you when you want to make a comment.

But I will say, Pete, too, that model has been around since my first book. People really resonate with that and I think it’s not just introverts. I think extroverts need to use it too because what I like to see is have people like us go to the other side. In other words, they can say to me all the time, “What can I do to bring out the introverts in my team? How can I bring out their talent?” It’s like, “Why don’t you try listening and be quiet? Just be quiet for a few minutes.”

And nature abhors a vacuum. You asked about a quote earlier. I think it was Thoreau that said that. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something will fill that space.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I like that. And you mentioned tricks, so, yeah, let’s hear them.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Tips and tricks, huh?

Pete Mockaitis
So, preparation, I guess, is a trick in so far as, “Oh, I feel more comfortable being in this environment now that I know some things,” although I think that’s probably universal. I think there’s a Daniel the Tiger jingle about this.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Yeah, what is it? You’re immersed in that now with your littles, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
think it’s, “When we do something new, let’s talk about what we’ll do” is the jingle. So, that’s for toddlers who feel uncomfortable, like, “Oh, I’m going to a scary new place.” It’s like, “Well, hey, one means of conquering that is by, hey, we’re just going to have. We’re going to go to the doctor, okay? There’s going to be a sliding door, okay? You’re going to take off your shoes and get on the…” whatever. And they say, “Okay, this is what we talked about. All right, this is what’s happening right now.” Well, anyway.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
No, no, that’s a lot of analogies. That’s absolutely true. That’s absolutely true.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tricks. Tips and tricks.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear some of your faves.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Well, my head is parked more now in, “What can the organization do? What can we do as leaders and as a system?” And I know I can tell you tricks about introverts. But I think we’ve been putting a lot of pressure on introverts, just as you’re sort of alluding to, it’s like, “Well, they need to step out of their comfort zone. They need to do this, blah, blah, blah.” But what about if we were to frame this as, “You know what, why do they have to keep changing? Why can’t we look at the structures of our organizations so that we…?”

And that’s what I looked at in the last book, Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces. I tried to find pockets of introvert inclusion, “How can we have meetings that are inclusive, not just for introverts, for everyone?” So, examples. Okay, like on Zoom call. Zoom is on everybody’s mind, or virtual. Do we always have to have our cameras on? It’s exhausting. Being intentional about how we structure our meetings.

One thing I’m looking at now, I’m preparing a program for SHRM on hiring and talent development, and taking a look at, “As we’re in our hiring practices, are we being thoughtful about the kinds of competencies we’re looking for in people?” Or, are we putting our list of what our requirements and then the person comes in to interview, and they’re not necessarily the kind of person? The feedback comes back, “Well, they’re not really the kind I want to have a beer with. I don’t think I can have a beer with this person.” Is that really essential to getting the job done?

And I heard many conversations with my clients and what I call introvert advocates in organizations where they’d be sitting around promotional meetings, and somebody’s name comes up, they say, “Well, they don’t really speak up a lot at meetings.” And the person who’s their advocate said, “They’re brilliant, and they’ll talk to you one on one, and they’re really great with that, so we can’t pass over them. Don’t forget about this person.”

So, yeah, those are some of the things we can do. And, actually, structured advocacy, is a term I just came up with now as we’re talking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Innovation right now. I’m listening.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Where we have allies, people that are actually saying, speaking up for people. But part of that advocacy has been the emergence, too, of what we call employee resource groups, which really comes under kind of diversity and inclusion and equity agenda where now it’s not just an add-on to say, “Oh, we need to recognize introverts,” but now I’m getting asked to come in and speak under the auspices of diversity and inclusion because it’s important to consider introversion as another aspect of that, that we need to educate people, make them aware.

So, in some of those examples I gave about hiring and about meetings, it doesn’t take a lot to change those. Those can be steps people can take and they can become aware. In the book, I lay out like five steps, I believe, to help, called Anyone Can Be a Change Agent, that you could be a voice for the quiet, you could speak up when you see that, raising the issues when you’re seeing that we’re maybe going too quickly.

I was in a retreat last year where everything was happening really fast and that people were supposed to answer questions. It was sort of an exercise we were doing, and some lady, one of the participants raised her hand, and she goes, “You know what, I’m an introvert and I’m already lost and overwhelmed, and I see that my colleagues here are the same way.” But it took courage for her to say that. So, being a person that speaks up for the quiet, intentionally addressing the needs as I talked about, encouraging teams to bring up introversion.

And one of the other tips I’ll share is that senior leadership, like in anything else, Edgar Schein talked about senior leadership, really, leading the way. It’s what they say and they do that changes the culture. So, that’s why I’m so gratified about all these fireside chats I’ve been doing because what people write in the chat is like, “Oh, I didn’t know that Jane was introverted. It’s incredible.” And these individual leaders become very vulnerable, so it’s cool.

And when people see that in their organization, that says more than just like, “Oh, we need to embrace everybody,” because they’re actually modeling that it’s okay and it’s celebrated to be introverted. I really love that part of it. That, to me, that’s another evolution that we’ve come to now. We couldn’t have done it years ago. We couldn’t have included. People wouldn’t have been willing to get up there and talk about it.

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

Jennifer Kahnweiler
I think we’ve pretty much covered it all. One book that I think you might not have mentioned that I try to just bring attention to, some, because people ask about it, is about how introverts and extroverts can get along, and it’s called The Genius of Opposites. So, it’s the whole idea that we are exponentially better when we’re together. We really create something that’s better. Like, circling back to our earlier, way early conversation, John and Paul, right? Exponential.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so now I can’t just let that alone. Can you give us maybe a top one, two, or three things that extroverts and introverts can do well to harness these synergies between them?

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Yes. Number one, accept the alien, know that you’re not going to change the person. When you remember that, you will be in for a lot less stress. Bring on the battles. In other words, don’t be afraid to have conflict because that’s when you get the breakthroughs. And, let’s see, you could see I’m going in A, B, C order. C is cast the character but the person in the right role and not try to take credit on due credit, that you’re in this together. And I’ll throw one, but can I throw a fourth then?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Destroy the dislike. So, you don’t have to be best friends but you can try to get along or respect each other. So, yeah, there are some really great examples of pairs in there that people might enjoy reading, The Genius of Opposites. So, thanks.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. All right. Well, now, well, you gave us one. Is that the favorite quote you want to share with us or do you have another favorite quote to put forward?

Jennifer Kahnweiler
This is from Malcolm X of all people, he said, “In all our deeds, the proper value and respect for time determines success or failure.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
I’m trying to manage with my time this week so that was inspirational to me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Inspired.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Inspired, right. Inspired, Pete.

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

Jennifer Kahnweiler
I think my last study on remote work is my favorite. We had 200 introverts, 85% of them said they prefer staying home at least part of the time remotely, and how it really speaks to their productivity and their satisfaction. And so, I hope companies will take a look at that study because it really does come out strong. I don’t think there’d been any studies just on introverts, so I’ve got that available on my website, so it’s free download. So, thanks for asking.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Jennifer Kahnweiler
My favorite book, I just finished a book by one of my favorite women summer beach reads, or author, is Jennifer Weiner, not just because her name is Jennifer. And it’s something with summer in the title. It’s very relaxing to read her – Jennifer Weiner.

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

Jennifer Kahnweiler
A favorite tool for me now, is as an app, I would say, would be – and I probably check it 20 times a day – Dashlane. It sounds very mundane but it keeps all my passwords.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jennifer Kahnweiler
To get up early and sit on my deck and do 30 minutes of, or wherever I am, 30 minutes of free writing, which is just sort of starting with a prompt and writing. And I’ve produced a lot of writing through the pandemic that way so I’m going to keep doing it.

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

Jennifer Kahnweiler
You know, Pete, I say a lot so I think you’d have to ask my husband. Oh, I’ll tell you a quote that he says because he’s very funny and we live together. So, oftentimes if I’m going on as an extrovert does, he will hold up the book, and say, “Read the book.” That’s his quote. No, I think that’s fine. I think that’s probably the one I’ll leave with for now.

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

Jennifer Kahnweiler
I would love people to come to my website, and I’m probably most active on LinkedIn and Instagram, so they can just look up my name on there. I’m JenniferKahnweiler.com so you’ll probably have that in the show notes, Pete, I imagine.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, yeah.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Great.

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

Jennifer Kahnweiler
Yeah, I think the challenge I would have is to schedule some time with somebody that is on your team that perhaps you don’t know as well or you feel maybe just a different personality type than you, and schedule a 20-minute, half-hour call, just to get to know them a little bit and learn more about what they do. I think the challenge right now with so many of us being remote is that we are getting disconnected.

And that did come out strongly in the study I just referenced. We had 45% of our attendees say that they felt disconnected, so I think that’s pretty significant. So, I’d like to encourage all of us to get that weekly on our calendar to reach out to somebody we don’t know as well in our worlds, in our teams, or outside our teams.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jennifer, thank you. This has been a treat and I wish you all the best.

Jennifer Kahnweiler
I love interviews that challenge me and you definitely are at the top of that list, Pete. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.