Aug 25, 2021
That divine middle is emotional liberation, where I can be compassionate and show compassion to an individual. But I do not need to carry whatever it is that they are feeling, right, not my responsibility to. And the thing about the thing that I think this is so important for me in my life is I think this was my biggest blocker, my biggest blocker to grow like something that I may have gone through my whole life and never addressed if it were not for something like Lessonly.
Is there anything that you found yourself giving time to in the pandemic, whether that's like a new pursuit or a hobby that you have particularly enjoyed?
Yeah. I've given myself a lot more time to make art, and I tend to make art with Legos. I really appreciate this man named Joseph Albers, who was a teacher at Black Mountain College, right. During World War two, post World War II. And he created this series of things called Homage to a Square. And he really like color theory. So he would put basically squares inside one another. And he did about two0 of these over a series of 20 years, I think from his 60s to his 80s, if I recall correctly, so hugely inspired by somebody doing 2001 thing from their 60 to their 80s.
And these squares, like I said, they're color theory. So he was trying different colors, and he said when I put a blue in the middle and I surround it with a red, that blue takes on a different cue, then it visually looks different than if I surround it with a lighter blue. Like what we put around to color changes the way we perceived that color.
So during COVID, I started doing all of these squares, and they were these really great free flow activity where I could get a 16 by 16 Lego square.
And I would create my own version of Joseph Albers Homage to a Square, all these different colors, and I have them all around my attic now. And it was just one of those things that I could do without thinking I sift through the Legos, I'd find the right color. I'd build these squares. It was not taxing, but it was rewarding.
And so I think in general, what I learned to do during COVID was play and not have a goal. And in one way of doing that with art and just really, truly understand what playing is, because I think I spent a lot of my adult life and I think a lot of my adolescent life achieving instead of playing, and I think you can do both at the same time.
But I don't think I was doing both. I think mostly achieving I love that.
Well, especially with the relentless pace of work in general, but especially accelerated as a result of the pandemic to actually have spaces of purposeful rest, whether that's like actual physical rest of sleeping or encompassing it with the mental release of play is something that I hear again and again as I work with different individuals, even as being really life giving. Yeah. I love that
You also have welcomed, I think, a new little person into your home in the midst of the pandemic you find that that has having a child in the home has unleashed some different capacities in you as well?
Oh, yeah. So my daughter Marnie, she's eleven months old yesterday and eleven months.
Happy eleven months, Marnie.
Yeah, pretty special. Full name is Marina. When she was born, we didn't know she was gonna be a boy or a girl. She came out of my wife, and we had three names for girls, picked out three names for boys. Marina was the one that was clearly the winner. And then basically, as soon after that, we just started calling her money. So she came home and just changed our lives there's. Covid before Marnie and this COVID after Marnie and COVID after Marnie is excellent. You know, I think COVID before Marnie was really tough for a whole host of reasons, but when Marnie came, she brought this new life to our house, like literal new life.
Right. And then just this vitality to just and I of seeing the world differently and being a dad and watching my wife be a mom. And now being a husband to a mother, like all these things are life changing. And I'm 33 years old this year, and I just sent myself shifting from this achievement mentality to more kind of focusing on now, what do I care about? Why do I care about it? And am I doing the things that I care about? And my family is something that I care about?
Music is something that I care about reading or things that I care about. And the difference between that and achievement and Carl, you the psychiatrist, help me figure this all out is I'm not doing them to impress anybody or to get anybody's. Applause I'm doing them because I care about them. And if somebody doesn't care about them, that's okay by me. And somebody does care about them. That's okay by me. But I'm not doing it for anybody else. Right?
And being with my daughter is just something that is really important to me because she just wants me to be there with her.
She doesn't even need me to do anything. She just needs me to be watching her spending time with her. And it's just been really cool to over eleven months. Jess, who's a very calm woman, nurture Marni and love on Many. I think I call myself in a big way in front of Many. Many got her grandpa and her grandma, and then we have a woman named Gabs, who is a friend of ours and the caretaker of Mary three days a week. And all these people just are very calm personalities.
And Marni has just been wrapped around with so much love and kind of calmness. And what I imagine is going to come from that is what has come from that, which she's very adventurous, like, she's not scared. She's vibrant, and I just feel really lucky because it's not that parents don't want to give that to their kids, right? I think it's just sometimes we just don't have the resources, don't have the time, we're overstressed, and we're in a fortunate position where that's not the case. And it is highly rewarding to see my daughter be that's exploring, creative, laughing kid.
And I want that for everybody because it's a real gift. I.
Love that enjoyment of just her presence and watching her flourishing.
And something that you said kind of, like, particularly caught my attention, that I'm not thinking primarily of what I'm doing for her. I'm just being with her. I'm paying attention and the power of presence, which is its own segue into some of what we want to talk about today, which is empathy and connection in the workplace, because although it's not like a paternal relationship with those that you work with, I think there's this deeply human need to be seen and acknowledge, and I'd like to kick it off.
I know you're a leader that values cultivating this in your workplace. What is a personal story for you about why empathy and human connection really matter specifically in the workplace?
Yeah. I think empathy allows me to feel as somebody, so it allows me to kind of sit in their shoes and do my best approximation of what's stressing them or what's bringing them joy, like, empathizing with their situation. And I think that's incredibly important to a certain degree. I think the place where I get the most juice is being compassionate. And I think I've learned to recognize feeling sympathy for somebody, understanding that they are going through pain, but not carrying that pain as my owner running those same circuits myself.
This is something that Robert Sapolsky to a gentleman from Stanford has helped me understand. If I sit there and run the circuits all day long that somebody else is running and I get stressed with them, I wear myself out, but I can be compassionate and sympathetic to an individual. Like, if they're hurting, I can acknowledge that they're hurting, but I don't need to run the same circuits.
So I think it's really important to be empathetic because it gives me a chance to kind of sit in something and understand. Oh, yeah, that does not feel good. But I can't run that circuit too much because I'll wear myself out. But I can run the compassion circuit a lot longer where I can see if somebody's in pain, even if they're yelling at me or they're frustrated with something that, you know, life is tough there in a difficult situation that you might describe as suffering. I might describe a suffering.
And to be a calm presence in the face of that is a gift in and of itself. I might not have to do anything more than that. Then just be calm in front of them, not diminish or dilute. What they're saying also enhance what they're saying. Just be there as a calm presence that listen. And who does that take me? Has that taken me a long time to learn?
Can you give me an example? What has that looked like for you and your leadership over the last year and a half?
Yeah. I think we can. I go back longer than that because I think the Lessonly journey is nine years long to date, July 12 today. And I noticed that as we hired more and more people, we hit 17 people, and then we hit 25 people and then hit 50 people, that there was always more feelings coming into the business. Right. A woman named Jill Bolte Taylor, a friend and somebody who I love says we are feeling creatures who think, not thinking, creatures who feel feeling, creatures who think.
So we are a lot of feelings, right. We are very emotional. And for most of my life, I believe that was responsible for people's feelings. And I believed that I was responsible also for their judgments, which kind of two sides of the same coin. I just feeling responsible for two things that are not my responsibility. Right. Feelings and judgments of other folks. So I would try to carry those feelings as my own, and I would kind of assume those judgments as fact and they crushed me.
So I'm going to focus on the feelings part today, as opposed to the judgments or for this moment, on the feelings part.
There was a lot of feelings in the business, and every time we hired a new person, just more and more feelings, and we got to 50 people, and I couldn't take it anymore. I was probably a long pass being able to take it anymore. I was stressed, self medicating, trying to keep up with all the feelings. And it wasn't working because the frantic folks around me, if they were feeling frantic, I was becoming frantic myself, and that's just not what people need.
So I was fortunate enough. One of my teammates, who her name was Casey Combo. At the time, she's since married, she gave me a book called Non Violent Communication, not because she knew I was struggling with this, but because she knew I was looking for different methods for clear communication that was not aggressive, that was not argumentative, but was clear and compassionate. And in this book, Marshall Rosenberg writes about emotional slavery, which was exactly what I was. I was an emotional slave. I believe other people's feelings my responsibility.
And then he writes about emotional liberation. And he talks about these stages, the first stage, being emotional slavery of I assume your feelings as my own and my responsibility, and I carry them, and I get tired and you get tired. He says that a lot of times when people do that for so long, they might move into the next stage, which is basically disavowing other people's feelings. And right, about 50 people. That's really the only thing I knew how to do at that point. I was like, I can't carry all these feelings, so I'm just going to say no to all of them.
We hired Megan Jarvis at that point or head of the yeah, wonderful. Right. And I was like, hey, Megan, I'm so glad you're here. I need you to take the ceilings, like, I just need to go high. But, like, that was so not fun for me, because being with people is why I like my job, you know? So hiding from the feelings, man, I wasn't going to like my job, so it was just not going to work. So depending on my energy levels, I'd either carry people's feelings or I would hide.
And Marshall Rosenberg showed me that there's a third way. So those are two extremes right side of turning feelings all the way down to I don't care at all. So turning it down to 0% or turning it all the way up to a 100% care about everybody's feelings. And he makes it clear that there's this divine middle and that divine middle is emotional liberation, where I can be compassionate and show compassion to an individual. But I do not need to carry whatever it is that they are feeling, right, not my responsibility to.
And the thing about the thing that I think this is so important for me in my life is I think this was my biggest blocker, my biggest blocker to grow like something that I may have gone through my whole life and never addressed if it were not for something like Lessonly. Lessonly is this thing that's bigger than me, and it needed me. It was either going to crush me if I didn't figure this out, or I need to figure this out to keep my job. I wasn't going to be able to do my job if I didn't figure this out.
And so this bigger thing than me forced me to figure this out. And Marshall Rosenberg game is a blueprint of emotional liberation, and that's what I began to practice. And I don't know if I'm never going to be the same because of that.
In a really, really healthy way. I don't feel responsible for other people's feelings anymore. I feel responsible for my feelings and kind of making sure that I take care of myself. I are responsible for my intent behind my behavior. I'm responsible for my behavior.
I consider myself responsible for those things. Doesn't mean I consider you responsible for yours. I just telling you, I consider my response for those things. And so that's what I focus on.
And the reason I bring that up is in the journey of lesson. Like, there's been nothing more important to me than this.
I'm struck in finding that third way that you needed to develop a skill set of perhaps encountering the emotion. And I don't know if discharging is the right word, but even, like, energetically being able to release your feelings of responsibility, what what did that look like?
Thanks for asking that. I mean, very clumsy at first. Right. Like, understanding something intellectually does not mean that I can do it. Well, I have to practice it again and again and again, which is a whole other topic we should discuss of. Just like, intellectual understanding is not knowing. Knowing is doing. You cannot know something without having done it is otherwise it's intellectual understanding. So I had to practice a heck of a lot and remind myself that when somebody came to me and brought something, it was always coming through the lens of their own experiences.
And it was never simply about the thing that had happened. They were also bringing to me whatever else was going on in our life, because we can't separate that. We can't separate, like if we're having an emotionally charged home life and something happens at work, and it is like the straw that breaks the camel's back. What I hear from that person is just the work thing, right? What I don't see is all the stuff underneath the water that is happening. That is not my business, but it's always there, right?
And when I would make a decision network Edwin Friedman, who wrote this book called The Failure of Nerve, he really helped me with this. He helped me understand that I'm always in a relational triangle with each person. And this was a big breakthrough for me. This is like something that intellectually, really helped me break through in terms of my practice, which was when somebody comes to me, there's always a third thing in the room, and that is a prior issue that they might be bringing, or I might be bringing or another person that they might be bringing to the conversation where I might be bringing.
So to make it clear, like, Liesel, you and I are engaging right now, and we need shortcuts to kind of understand how to behave with one another. So we might filter through other people that we know that remind us of one another. And so when I meet people like Liesel, which this is just a brain by a shortcut, these things you'll come to mind. And in your case, I get a lot of warmth from you. But let's say I reminded you of somebody who really rub you the wrong way in the past.
You might engage with me through the lens of that person. It's not just about me and you directly. It's a third thing that everything goes through and that's happening all the time everywhere. We're not directly relating to one another, relating through our past experiences and the people that we've known in the past. That helped me a lot, because when somebody would come to me and be really fired up about something that I thought was disproportionate to what it just happened, it helped me understand why that might be.
There might have been a past issue, that this was emotional wound that was being poked at. It was not my responsibility, right? But I can sit there and be attached into the person. And maybe they don't understand that here, bringing that to the table. But I can have a sense like, this is not just about me and this person and this thing that's happening, they're filtering through their life. Right? And so when I realized that through Edwin Freeman, I realized it almost gave me permission to not carry things, because people are always bringing more to me than was between me and them.
And I'm always bringing more to people that is between me and them. So I don't want them to carry my stuff. And I don't want to carry theirs. Does that help, or does that make sense?
Yeah. That understanding. Did you find yourself needing? Some people engage in breathing exercises or they find themselves even to physically move as you are growing in this practice, there were things that you were like reading that were helping contextualize it. Were there other things that you like, embodied practices that were really helping.
Oh, yeah. Getting sleep sober, sleep hugely helpful. Like, I can show up and be calm in a conversation in a much richer way if I do not drink booze before bed. And I don't mean, like, I mean any amount of booze. And this is a rule that I break a lot for myself, which is like even a glass of wine at 05:00 p.m. Or 06:00 p.m.. It affects my sleep. So if I really want to be the best version of me, I say no, and I sleep better.
And it's just a fact of the matter. I am much less agitated. I am much calmer. So doing my pre work of getting exercise, eating well, sleeping well. And all those things are intertwined, what I eat and how I exercise to fix my sleep. So that matters to me a lot of just kind of taking care of myself and controlling the variables I can control. And then in that moment, if somebody's losing, they're cool in front of me or I'm losing my cool in front of them.
And my therapist, Terry Daniel, says it can help basically coach me. It can help to put your hand on your stomach, like, on your skin. And it can be a safer thing to do when we're not physically in the room together. Like, let's say I'm having a different conversation over the phone, like, happening a lot over COVID. And just that skin to skin connection with myself can be very helpful. Breathing. Breathing deeply when I'm with somebody can be very helpful. Breathing and showing them slow my breath down can even be coming to them.
So, yeah, there's physical things that I can do in that moment. And I hope it's very clear that I'm not suggesting that I nail this every time. Right. These are just tools that I have to do this a little bit better every day.
Yeah. I think that's helpful. As you were beginning, you talked about this inflection point at 50 employees where you started giving more attention to the particular presence that you were bringing. What did you start to notice? Did you notice the difference in people's receptivity to you and the sorts of things they were saying back to you as you grew in this practice?
Yeah. Here's one thing that comes to mind that I noticed is I noticed I didn't have to solve anybody's problems for them. And I used to think I had to, like, I used to think I had to come up with solutions. And more than anything, now, I can be with somebody ask them questions and ask them questions and do active listening. So, like, one of the things I learned through motivational interviewing is if somebody's telling me something instead of asking a question, saying something like, so maybe somebody comes to me and says they haven't responded to me three times.
You're frustrated might be the way I summarize where I think that person is at based on what they just told me. And then they had to go, Well, not really frustrated, just a little bit irritated. Or they go, yeah, I'm totally frustrated, and they keep talking. And when I'm getting them to do with this verbally process, and I'm only doing that because when they verbally process this stuff, they come up with answers a lot better. Right. But if I'm talking the whole time, it's tough for them to find answers.
So when I reflect what I'm hearing with a statement, it gives them a chance to keep talking so that they can kind of maybe all I have to do is just get it out. Right. Not keep it in, just say it to somebody. Some days that's all that happened, and two or three days go by and they call me and they say, I think I figured out what to do. Thanks for listening the other day, it just is it. And I'm somebody who wants to solve a problem.
Right. But in fact, sometimes I'm doing somebody a major disservice by even if I got the answer right on the off chance I get the answer right. With the limited information I have sometimes saying, hey, maybe here's what you should do is a complete disservice to that individual, because me giving it to them might make them more likely to actually not pick it up and do it. But if I were to just a little calmer and let them give you that conclusion themselves, it's so much more powerful if they thought of it.
Right. Like, you don't want to be told to do things. So sometimes even if it's the right call, we might do the opposite of what I've just been told because we got told to do it. But if somebody can figure it out themselves, that's the most powerful.
That's the most powerful recipe, even if it's exactly the same thing I would have said. Right. And most of the time, of course, I don't have the answer. But I guess my point is sometimes even giving somebody the answer unless they're asking me for it.
Right. Unless they're saying Max, I really want your feedback here, which is a whole different prompt. Right. But if they're not asking for it and give it a I can do a major disservice in that process.
Yeah. I think that's such a good word, because I think especially as people get, we oftentimes promote people on their capacity to solve problems. It's a really valuable skill set to organizational growth and leadership. In my work, I call it the predisposition to be in a Fix-It, Frank.
And what I heard and what you said is also a comfortability with a slightly extended time horizon. I think as I verbally process something that I see in the leaders that I work with, is there this imperative of like, well, we need to get it figured out now. We need to get it figured out in the moment. And I've got insights and I've got a history, and so I'll give it to you, and then you'll be happy. And how that short circuiting of the process, it can be a move of not believing that there's enough time to let somebody come to their own conclusion or not believing that they have the capacity of do so.
So I've just got to give it to you in this moment.
And the cost that can be associated with doing that, I think he spoke really eloquently to.
Well, thank you for hearing me out, because I think that's taking me a long time. Like, what I saw is the people who I would go to therapy with were very reluctant to give answers. So they were modeling for me, and I'd ask them why, and they teach me. And I don't consider myself a therapist. Right. But these people I do consider they are therapists. They're professinally, trained and in some cases, done it for 40 years. That's a long time. And there's a lot of mistakes being made in that process to their admittance, seeing them and seeing how helpful it was for me, but also knowing that there were times when I would go to that person to say I'd really like some advice.
And I've opened the door at that point to hear them. And many times the advice they give me, I don't take it up with open arms. It's when that advice feels pushed, then that's when it doesn't work, right. When it feels pushed or forced. But when it's invited, that's a whole different motion.
Right. So the acknowledgment of seeing a therapist of some of the things that they have helped you with. You recently did something for your company where you interviewed your therapist to talk about boundaries. I'd like to hear about why that felt important for you to do. And what were some of the key learnings that you felt like were really important for your people,
Yeah. So while I was important and what do people take away from it? I can only tell you what to away from because they haven't seen the interview yet. At the time of this conversation, we have not shown it to them yet. But I'll tell you what I hope to take away from it. But I'll start with, hey, here's why this is important. Many of my teammates asked me about boundaries just completely unprompted. They would come to me and say, hey, I'm going on a vacation. I know that you encourage us to turn all of our stuff off, to delete our email and our delete our slack from our phones, so we're not going to compulsively check them.
But I don't know if I'm comfortable doing that. And for whatever reason, they were not willing to accept themselves doing that they were concerned. And that's a boundaries challenge for me. I speak openly about having engaged with people that I love who have substance use challenges. And I speak openly about having to learn about boundaries in that process where I begin and they end in where they end, and I begin. It's a very important part of understanding how to be healthy in the midst of something that is really, really challenging, which is substance use disorder, which you might co alcoholism or any number of things.
Right. So I speak openly about these things. People come to me, and it's clear to me that this is not something that we get a lot of attention. And I would generally share. See, if somebody wanted something from me, I would generally share a talk by Gabor Monte called "When the body says no" was good.
He's a master, and he speaks about boundaries. Basically, caregivers tend to struggle taking care of themselves, and they'll just give care and give care and give care, and they will not care for themselves. They'll be asymmetrical in the way they give care. The way that they care for somebody else is one way. And the way that her from themselves is completely opposite. Basically, like, they don't deserve any care, but everybody else deserves all the care. And he basically talks about how this just Withers people away. So all of these things combined, I know boundaries are important in my life, and my teammates come to me and say they matter.
Gabor Mate gives this talk. And when I share with people, they tell me like, oh, my gosh, my brain just blew open in such an interesting way because he's so profound. So I'm thinking, hey, this is a chance for me, too. And so I asked my therapist about how does he view boundaries? And he gave this just excellent off the cuff answer. And I was like, Can I just interview you sometime about this? And so we can share this with my teammates, because exactly what you just said.
So he comes in and we talk about boundaries. And I thought it was important because I just it's just not talked about in our world. Right? We think Kind is doing things for other people, kind of at any expense to ourselves. Right. Like, well, they asked for it. So I got to give it because I don't want to be a jerk.
It's like that. It's not. We have to counterbalance kindness with boundaries, with assertiveness. And I just see people who do not have those tools to be assertive, and it's very stressful for them, and I ultimately think it's slowly killing them. So I think this is important. So here's what I hope people take from it. When they hear a assertiveness, I think they maybe hear aggressiveness. And Terry is very clear that you can be assertive without infringing on anybody else's energy or anybody else's motion. Like, it's not about aggression, right?
Those are two different things. Assertiveness is the ability to say yes or no based on you wanting to or not wanting to. And he says it ultimately comes from a place of self acceptance. If I enter a space and I accept myself, then I can assert my needs. And asserting my needs does not mean dominating your needs, right? It just means if I'm tired, somebody comes to me and says, hey, can we do this thing today? I might say if I'd like to do it tomorrow, I just don't have the energy today.
I like to do it tomorrow. And if that person is not willing to accept it, I say I understand, but I still have the energy. Can we do it tomorrow? And he's like, if you don't accept yourself, you won't even ask. You may not even ask the question of can we do it tomorrow? Because you may be coming from a place to say, I'm not good enough in order to feel good enough, I need to answer this request. But he's, like an accepting person, believes they're good enough.
They don't believe that they're going to be good enough by doing the request on the demanded time. Right. They're just good enough. And so he really clarified in a big way how self acceptance is key here. And what keeps us from exerting boundaries is a fear. And each person's fear might be different. But understanding what that fear is, it might be that you feel like you're not good enough for X, Y, or Z reason might be something different, but getting down to that fear and understanding it and and working through that is the way that we get to a place where we're comfortable enough to say no, thank you and stand by it and not be worried that that person, we're going to lose that person by doing so.
Well, and as I think of some of the responses and groups and surveys and the work that I do, I think there's an underlying fear for many people that if I assert this boundary, people aren't going to like me as much. They're going to think I'm lazy. And while you, as a leader, cannot, in a top down way, control people's responses to things like establishing boundaries or expressing vulnerability, that there is an element of culture creation that goes into this. How do we, as a group, you know, not always perfectly respond, but have more of a context where we, like, make the space for that.
We make the space for it's okay to say no. We make the space for vulnerability. What are some of the ways that you have co created with some of the other leaders at Lessonly, a culture that says it's okay to do that? What are things that you have done that have moved the needle?
Yeah. So if the executive team at Lessonly is unable to assert ourselves, like, if we are not assertive in a situation, if we say yes to every new thing that comes our way, we are not modeling what we need the rest of our teammates to do. So it's incredibly important that a certain boundaries in my life that the executive team set boundaries and their lives, that when it's too much, we say it's too much. That is the fundamentally most important thing we can do to make it okay for anybody else to do it.
The opposite approach that does not work is the same as your boss saying, hey, I don't expect you to work on the weekends, but I'm gonna because, you know, I got a lot to do, but I don't expect you to, and that just doesn't work. You know what? People here, I better be working on the weekends, right? If your behavior is not aligned to your words, people are going to look at your behavior, right? Not your words. They're going to trust your behavior, not your words.
So what I want to do is align my words to my behavior, which is to say weekends are sacred, just like winter is the season that allows for spring. And winter is a season where it looks like there's not a lot happening, but there is a lot happening. Sleep at a time when it look like there's not a lot happening, but there is a lot happening. We need weekends or it looks like there's not a lot happening, but there is a lot happening, right? This resting and recharging is incredibly important.
And if I don't treat my weekends like I want to people to treat them. And then why would I believe they're going to do that? Right. I can't do anything more than that is just make the space to say like, I mean it when I say this, and I mean it because this is my behavior, and I need my executive teammates to mean it, too. And I need the managers to also mean it, too. And in some ways, that goes well in other ways. It doesn't.
Right. But it's ultimately out of my hands to some degree. Right. If people are going to pick that up, if we have a chronically, chronic challenge of the teammate, it's my responsibility to have a difficult conversation with them and let them know how important their modeling is, no doubt. But ultimately they're going to make the call if they want to change their behavior or not. And it's out of my hands if I'm doing it myself.
I'm struck right now that it's a tight labor market for many people. Lessonly is growing. You're wanting to bring more people on. Do you feel like you have seen a through line towards creating this kind of culture where rests and seasons and vulnerability is upheld and valued and the way you're able to attract and retain talent?
I think we understand part of the recipe, but we exist in a system, though, that is chronically overworked and systems win. Like individuals, we've created a system a lesson that I'm really proud of. But we're also in this broader work environment, in this cultural environment of overwork. And unfortunately, those systems, if we don't kind of remove ourselves from them and do a lot of extra work, they win. The bigger system wins. The culture wins. If they didn't win, we wouldn't probably have 25% to 50% of the population reporting depressive States.
The culture is winning. We've optimized for economic growth, we've optimized for consumerism, we've optimized for commercialism. We haven't optimized for well being. And look what we're getting, right. We're not getting a lot of well being because the system is not in support of of that. So it's discouraging. It just is. And so we can only do so much less only to turn the tide. But it's our job to at least try. And one of the things that I find complete myself to be completely powerless to change is that there is no winter in software.
There's no winter in the business world. There is no period of three months like there is for a pro athlete or for a farmer, where we work really hard and we plant and then we harvest. I'm not a farmer, so I'm not going to use all the right words, but we create a crop or mini crops. And then we have this period with winter where we take our time to rebuild. And pro athletes have their own seasoned in their off seasons. And this is wise. This is wise.
I have not figured out how to recreate that in the business world. And I don't know if I ever will. It just is the system at work, right? Our customers, even if we take that time off, if we were to say less, only going to B nine months out of twelve, we're going to lose deals because there's a lot of deals because people need us for those three months, they were going to be off, right? Because they're going to be on. So, you know, it's not an excuse.
It's just me saying, like, I don't know how to do it, right.
The pressures of the prevailing system of capitalism that prioritizes growth and efficiency above all else.
You said it well.
We’ll return in just a moment for the final portion of my engaging interview with Max. But I want to take a moment to thank our sponsor, Handle with Care Consulting. In the midst of the unrelenting stressors the last year and a half, are you giving your people what they need to stay engaged? Empathy is key to building the sort of culture of connection that Max is talking about at Lessonly. And the good news is, it is a skill that can be learned! If you want help in skill-ing your people up in empathy and creating a place where people want to come to work, Handle with Care Consulting can help. With interactive keynotes, empathy at work certificate programs, and coaching options, we can help you show care when it matters most.
I would love to hear about times when building connection at your workplace have felt easy for you and why you think they felt easy. And then I'm going to have to underside. What are times when building connections felt really hard for you and why you think to start with when it felt easy?
Yeah. When it's all easy to build connections, when I am accepting on myself to go back to Terry Daniels lesson. I mean, it has everything to do with my my internal system being an equilibrium, you know, which is a delicate thing, right? One night of sleep and throw it off. But when I am in this place of peace with myself, I'm able to bring peace to my connections and not view myself as needing to be anything other than what I am. But when I'm not at peace with myself, I can go to a state of judgment and criticism.
And if I drop a ball or miss a mark and these are judgments that I would make of myself, you mess that up, you drop this ball, you miss that Mark. Those are all judgments in their evaluator language. It can be very harsh with myself and showing up to a situation. Putting intense pressure myself does not increase my connection to the person in front of me or the room in front of me. But when I show up and just say, like, you know, I accept myself, and acceptance does not equal agreement.
Like, acceptance does not mean I've got it all figured out. Therefore, I'm good. Acceptance just means I'm willing to look at my own behavior and accept it. Whether it's behavior that I can objectively say is life giving or soul sucking, I have to be able to look at it to accept myself. And once I can look at it, I might be able to make changes. But if I can't look at something, it's tough to change it. Right. So acceptance is not about saying I like everything that's going on in my life, just about saying I'm willing to look at everthing that going in my life with in an even handed way.
And when I accept myself, I can show up to a room with my new teammates or my old teammates or a mixture of the two and be peaceful in front of them and talk about mistakes without feeling ashamed and talk about things that I'm proud of without feeling ashamed and and share my humanity. And if I can do that, it maybe gives another person's permission to do the same. So I think it has everything to do with my personal system, being in a good spot here and then acknowledging that my personal system is often not in a good spot to folks so that they understand, like, hey, they're not dealing with somebody who's got this figured out, right?
Like day in and day out. I might have a different equilibrium, or I might have a different disequilibrium, right? It's not about coming at this from a place like I've got this oneness every day. I certainly do not do. Not at all. Right. But when I'm at peace, I can connect better. And I find that to be a really fun time in that journey towards self acceptance.
Something consistent theme that I hear from leaders is just the particular burden of other people's expectations about what it looks like to lead or manage change in a given season; as you are seeking that equilibrium and self acceptance, what about when you smack up against somebody else's? Like, judgment? I needed you to be different. I wanted you. You're not doing it the way that I would like for you to. How do you encounter those voices, real or perceived and still work to maintain well in the balance?
Because sometimes we do need to change. Sometimes it's like, oh, that was a blind spot. I need to change. And sometimes we need to be able to have the discernment to say, like, hey, that's your stuff, not mine. How do you navigate that process?
You nailed it, right? How much does this person love me? Is my first question. How well does this person know me? If it's my wife, I know she deeply loves me. And when she brings me something where she says, hey, what I got and what I needed were far apart, I'm listening. I'm not sitting there saying, hey, your expectations of me don't matter, right? I'm listening. It might not be that I agree with everything she says, right? But I'm definitely not shutting it all out either, right?
She is just like me going to come at this from an emotional triangle of past wounds, but doesn't mean that there's not real meat on the boat when she's frustrated. Right now, if somebody needs something from me and I don't know them very well, and I'm skeptical that they love me or know me really at all, it's not that challenging anymore for me to just kind of let that. There's a moment at first that I go back to my old self of getting defensive or being hurt.
And it's more than a moment sometimes, right? It could be an hour. It could be 2 hours. It could be 3 hours. It could be a good night sleep that needs me through it. But then I'm like, yeah, that's okay. Life is too short. So it depends on my relationship to this individual. And Brene Brown has the idea of the Square Squad, where, you know, the coal world can't be my critic, and I can't have nobody has my critic either, right? I need the people who love me, care about me.
And if the Square Squad is the one inch by one inch piece of paper where I can put the names of the people who I know love me, who will tell me the truth as they see the truth, right? They're version of the truth, and I know that they're not going to willingly hurt me for fun. And those are the folks who feedback. I am a lot more. I'm a lot more discerning with. Right? But if somebody's coming out with this condemnation or an unspoken expectation and they say you didn't meet my unspoken expectation, like, that is not my problem because it's an unbroken expectation.
There was no agreement there. I've got a chapter and Do Better Work, which is a book I got to write a couple of years ago that uses Steve Chandler wisdom of expectations versus agreement. Like, if we did not agree to that thing, then we have to get that agreement now and then begin to hold another accountable going forward. But if we didn't have an agreement and you're mad about not spoken expectation, like, I need you to look in the mirror and say, like, hey, we get an agreement because I don't remember the agreement now, and I can't read your mind, and we don't need to go back and litigate the path that you're frustrated about when we didn't have this agreement.
Just an unspoken expectation. But we can make an agreement now. And an agreement is not you dictating at me or me dictating you. It's us going back and forth and negotiating a course of action that we say, okay, this feels good collectively. You know, that is a relationship. When we do that, the other thing is just, you know, I can't live in a world where I just have to respond to everybody's unspoken expectations.
Something that I like and have appreciated. I think I've been getting your emails for, like, the last two years just because I enjoy reading them.
But you compiled them into a book that you just referenced. Do Better Work. You have a new book coming out. Tell us about that.
Yeah. So I took those notes and compiled it. So the first book do better work. I'd been writing notes, took some of those, turn them into chapters. This one is called To See It, be It. And I'll say that a little slower to see it. Be it. The idea is, if you want to see it, be it. And that's the best you can do. Right. I want to see more patience in this moment. Bring patience. If you want to see more creativity in the world, bring creativity.
And then let go of all the other stuff of what you want other people to be doing, because I think it's just very, very common and very easy to get wrapped around the axle of what other people are not doing. And I honestly think some people will die spending most of their time complaining about what somebody else is or is not doing instead of going, do I do what I value? Right? Do I live by what I value? And, of course, the answer is going to be no, because nobody does that perfectly.
And then the next question, if the answer is no, what it always is, how can I begin to spend more time doing what I value? And let go of worrying about what anybody else is doing? And, of course, there's a relationships with husbands and wives and kids were that's incredibly difficult, right. And there might have to be boundary set where I feel like I'm living my values over here and there's somebody else in my space consistently that I just don't feel like I can do my best self around.
That might require boundaries of separation. I just don't be together anymore. But what I'm getting at is, I think one of the greatest things we can do for ourselves to say what I want to see in the world, and how do I, at the time align to what I want to see in the world? And I think what happens when we do that is we either find that the things we want to see in the world has validity to them. We start to live them, and we start to see that they're very life giving.
Like, let's just use an example of getting good sleep. I want to see people well rested in the world. Well, I can't control how you sleep. I can control how I sleep. So if I take care of my rest, I want to see it, and I'm being it, right. And I can let go of all the other things. But at least I'm doing the thing that I want to see more people doing, and I'm letting go of whether they're doing it or.
And as I do that, I might say, hey, this feels pretty good. Like I had a hunch that sleep taking care of sleep was going to be helpful. And look how beautiful life is now that I've been able to take care of my sleep, which I understand is not an option for everybody. But I'm saying it's an option for me. So sometimes living my values strengthens those values. Other times, living things that I believe I value, like I intellectually value it, and then I start trying to live it.
I found out, oh, I don't really value that as much as I thought I would putting into practice. I see that there is that there are problems and there are always problems with any value is taken to an extreme. Like loyalty. I value loyalty. Taken to the extreme, it becomes blind loyalty. If I turn it all the way up to 100% loyalty, I become blindly loyal. If I turn all the way down to 0% loyalty, I don't have any loyalty at all. Right. I need to have that loyalty dialed into something somewhere in the middle counterbalanced with once again assertiveness and boundaries.
I'm loyal to somebody, but not at the expense of my own mental health and well being. It those two things counterbalance one another. So only by living that value do I learn those hard lessons, in my opinion. Right. I can't learn them intellectually. I have to live them and say, oh, wow, I do value this, but I value a different permutation of it than I thought. That makes sense.
So that's what the book that's the first chapter of the book is, or the first note in the book. And then there's 24 notes after that of other things that I just think are important, and I share them because they help me and they help somebody else. Great. I just know for a fact that all 25 of them help me. And my hope is that maybe one day somebody picks them up and they want to read the book. Right. They're choosing to read the book. And one of the notes, as as it helps me in the past, helps them in a similar way or a different way altogether.
That is healing as the whole point of the book.
Right. Well, and your writing is accessible. It's oftentimes encompassing story. It's nice digestible bits of wisdom that you could blaze through all at once, so you could flip through and take a little at a time. So I'm excited about this new offering.
Thank you for being open to it. It's a great joy for me to write. I got to dedicate it to my daughter, and I dedicated to her because I just want I could get hit by a bus one day. Liesel. My dad owns a funeral home, and my dad's dad started a funeral home. My dad and his brother ran the funeral home for last 30 years, 20, 30 years. And people just get they just leave, right? They don't choose to go a lot of the time. It's not old age that takes us all.
So I'm very highly aware that, like, is not my choice when I get to go and so writing for me is a chance to capture a bit of my spirit. And if I have to go for whatever reason, my daughter can pick up this book and do better work and and catch a little bit of her dad and deeply special to me to be able to capture a little bit of my spirit. And it really forced the genuineness out of it.
Right. Because I don't want it.
I don't want my I got to be genuine under that premise. Right. Like, I got to say what I believe, what I mean and what I stand by, because I don't want my daughter reading about somebody who didn't exist.
Right. Or reflecting in an individual that is not integrated with their best thoughts. Like, we're always seeking that integration, but you don't want a glaring gap between what you say and how you live, right.
And I want her to see that I hurt. I make mistakes. Right. She's not going to get a picture of a perfect human being because I've never been one of those and they don't exist. She's going to get a picture of somebody who struggled, and that's what I want her to have, because that's the model I want to be. Hey, life is a lot of struggle, and there's a lot of beauty in that, you know, a lot of beauty in that. I've been very fortunate in that struggle, right.
I always had a roof over my head. I always had food to eat. I don't pretend my struggles like anybody elses, but I can tell you struggle nonetheless. And I don't want her to think that life should just fall into place and be peachy. And that's what life is.
So as we draw near the end of our time for listeners who say I want to build more connection in my workplace, I want to be part of that change.
I know it's a broad question, but what words of insight would you offer to them as they think about how to go about doing that?
So I want people to ask themselves, what do I value? And how do I, 1% of the time seek to live that value and become symmetrical and congruent with what I value in my behavior? And then how do I learn in that process? Because that's the best I can do. And if I'm in a system like, let's say I'm in a work system where it does not align to my values, I have to ask myself, Am I willing to change into those systems value because the work system will change every person in it if they stay long enough, right?
It could even change them quickly. But if I'm in a system that is not congruent with my values, I'm going to be nervous because it's possible that that system actually has values that are very life giving. It stay long enough, I'll find out. But if I find out they're not life giving, I stick around. There is a casualty there. There is a loss there. So my ask to people is if you want to see it, be it and then pay attention to what the system cares about.
And if the system is so disproportionately, caring about things that are not what you care about is very important. If possible, you get out.
That's a good word, Max. Are there any questions that you wish I would have asked you that I didn't ask you?
Let's see. I mean, I've talked about values a lot, so real quickly, I think something that I love talking about is this idea of reciprocity. Liesel, yeah.
Tell me more.
Yeah. So reciprocity is idea of I give what I get. And so let's say I get kindness from somebody, so I give it back. But a lot of times reciprocity comes through in a relationship where people are not communicating very clearly, when maybe somebody is struggling and they take their aggression out at somebody else, reciprocity is oftentimes somebody yelled at me. So I yell at them. Somebody didn't respond to my message, so I don't respond to their message. So it becomes I give what I get. And reciprocal cultures, if we're having behaviors that are life giving really beautiful, right?
Because somebody gives me patience. Ideally, I respond to them with patience, right? Somebody gives me support. Ideally, I respond to them with support. Reciprocity is not necessarily something that is good or bad. It just is. And it resides about giving what we get. So what's the alternative to that? Well, it's living by values, which is, I think, supremely important to understand. If somebody comes to me, maybe somebody doesn't respond to my message that I sent them. And then later, they need something for me. So now they're asking me for my time.
If I'm reciprocal, I say, Well, they didn't respond to me when I needed them, so I'm not going to respond to them. But if I value driven, I say I value communication, right? I value support, and I would have value that person responding to me when I needed their help. So regardless of the fact that I didn't get it from them, I'm going to give it to them, not out of fight, not to show them the way. Right. Because I value it. It's really important that we get those two things.
It's not out of fight, right? It's not to prove anything to this person. It's because I value it. So if you're not having difficult conversations with me, it's not an excuse for me because I'm not living in reciprocal life. I believe in difficult conversations. I believe in having them. I'm going to have them with you. And that's the best I can do. You may not respond in the way that I hope that's out of my hands, right. I just value difficult conversations. I value patients. I value forgiveness whether I get them or not.
So I think reciprocating can be a race to the bottom. It can be this kind of slippery slope of just degrading cultures, degrading relationships, and values based living. If I do it because I value it, not because I get it in return is the answer, in my opinion.
I love it. I agree.
Here are three key takeaways from my conversation with Max and I have to confess, there were definitely more than three valuable takeaways, but I have narrowed it down to these three…
Max Yoder: Do Better Work
Robert Sapolsky: Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst
Robert Zapolsky: Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers
Gabor Mate: When the Body Says No
Marshall Rosenberg: Non-Violent Communication