Seize the Moment

I'm currently on a jag to ask people about their formative or crucible moments. Maybe you’ve noticed that question popping up on my podcast.

What is the defining moment that makes people who they are? I first got interested when we talked about it with Bernie Swain, founder of the Washington Speakers Bureau and author of What Made Me Who I Am.

Last year, when we interviewed Robert Glazer, he shared his two most formative moments. The first was a trip he took to Prague. Subsequently, after he had started his business, he participated in a five-day intensive workshop that required inner work. You can listen to that podcast episode here.

Those two experiences were game-changers for Robert. They changed the trajectory of his life’s accomplishments by changing what he believed he could accomplish. They were big events that moved him from being what observers might have called an ‘underachiever’ in his 20s to a determined achiever in his 30s.

I wonder about you. What have been your most life-changing, personally disruptive moments?

There are also micro-disruptions––small events that over time energize a groundswell of change.

One of those for Robert was initiating the writing of a highly popular newsletter called Friday Forward. He talks in his book, Elevate, about how he writes this newsletter every week. It has become a keystone habit for him, one that has motivated and reinforced other habits. A few other keystone habits, like waking up early, have allowed him to accomplish many important goals over the past few years, including writing his book.

I’m re-reading Elevate and have noticed that I’m establishing a keystone habit around tennis.

Last week I played (using the phrase very loosely). What I really did was go hit with a recent college graduate who fed me tennis balls and gave me a workout. My backhand had improved since I last hit six months ago.

Maybe I got lucky, but I think it's because I committed to pick up my racket everyday this month, if only for ten seconds. The act of practicing my backhand made me think about tennis. I was visualizing myself hitting, and thinking of myself as a tennis player.

We have major life-altering experiences. But I am equally curious about the small, simple things that lead in time, to seismic shifts.

What could you do for ten seconds today that will be a micro-disruption? Seize the moment! But really–––seize this second. This next ten seconds.

This week on the podcast we interview Ellen Bennett, founder of Hedley & Bennett. Her formative event came while working as a line cook. Her boss wanted her to order new aprons and she volunteered to make those aprons instead. That was a formative event. She had previously only imagined herself making aprons. The ‘second' arrived. She raised her hand. A decade later, she is the CEO and Founder of Hedley & Bennett, with more than $20 million in annual revenue, selling to over 4,000 restaurants, and clients like Martha Stewart, Mario Batali, and Alton Brown. She also wrote a delightful book, Dream First, Details Later.

Ellen raised her hand to make forty aprons. Robert started writing a newsletter.

What micro-disruption will you make today?

Truly, I'd like to know.

My best,
Whitney

213. Ellen Bennett: Dream First, Details Later

Our guest today, Ellen Bennett has created a roadmap of sorts for young entrepreneurs in her appropriately titled book, Dream First, Details Later. Bennett is the CEO & Founder of Hedley & Bennett. Their mission: To make the hardest working, best looking aprons, and kitchen gear in the world.

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Armed with a business license and the dream of something better, in 2012 Bennett took a leap of faith and fortune. Her dream, to design and produce superior gear for professional kitchens, has come to fruition. Join us as Ellen shares about the wild and unexpected journey that led her to where she is today, making aprons and kitchen gear worn by many of the world’s best chefs and home cooks everywhere.

Bennett’s belief in herself, her company and nearly everyone she connects with, is truly inspiring. She truly leaves one feeling we can dream first and save the details for later.

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Tuning Up the Generator

Let me start by saying I don’t need a pickup truck.

But there was an advertisement on TV the other day for a truck. The hook for buying this particular truck instead of any made by competitors is that the tailgate is articulated and folds down to create a step up into the truck bed. “The tailgate to end all tailgates,” the commercial proclaims. Probably not. I predict that other truck makers will soon sport this feature and that further refinements will be forthcoming. Nothing is the end all anymore if it ever was.

But, for eons, every tailgate when open has lain flat and level with the back of the truck. Every tailgate has been too high for normal humans to easily get into the truck bed. Somebody’s bright idea has, through relatively straightforward means, solved this problem.

I was intrigued. I don’t need a truck. I do, however, need good ideas. We all do.

Why/how does somebody suddenly look at a problem and envision a solution? Especially a simple and elegant solution that once found, appears so obvious. Why couldn’t I think of an articulated tailgate? Or Velcro? Rubber bands? Paper clips?

In this week's podcast, James Altucher talks about generating ideas–about revving up our idea generators. For the past 20 years, James’ goal has been to come up with ten ideas a day.

Then he identifies easy ways to test them. This is key, as he explains on the podcast and in his book, Skip the Line: the 10,000 Experiments Rule and Other Surprising Advice for Reaching Your Goals.

I need some hacks for coming up with more ideas. Maybe you do too. One of James’ tricks is that he picks a topic, then focuses on coming up with ideas related to that topic. He’s worked at it until idea generation is a superpower.

Pick any topic. Can you come up with ten ideas? I tried during my interview with James. It’s a muscle I want to strengthen.

James talks about Skipping the Line; what I would call taking market risk. Playing where others are not. Generating and testing more ideas. Maybe you have a lot of ideas waiting for a chance to prove worthy. I think we often get hung up on the second step. Testing seems difficult and resource intensive. Simplifying the testing helps us learn fast. If our idea flames out—we’ve learned something valuable. Or if the test is a success, no failure. It’s either learning or success.

Abbas ibn Firnas was a 9th century polymath living in southern Spain, then known as Andalusia. A polymath is someone like Leonardo DaVinci—a brilliant student of many disciplines. ibn Firnas made contributions to astronomy and engineering, developed a process for manufacturing clear glass, invented lenses for improving vision, a model simulating the motion of stars and planets, and a method for cutting crystal and more. Lots of ideas, and good execution. We can only imagine how many ideas he tested without success.

ibn Firnas is most famous for attempting flight. He studied birds, and eventually devised a winged frame covered with feathers, and jumped off an elevated place in Cordoba, Spain. According to witnesses, he flew, or glided, for quite a while, before injuring himself on impact. He was one idea short of total success: he didn’t have a bird’s tail to land safely. Success and learning. No failure.

We can be so focused on execution that we forget to focus on generating new ideas. But if we want to climb our S Curves faster, and prepare for the next leap, a cache of readily tested new ideas is a treasure indeed.

My best,
Whitney

212. James Altucher: Skip the Line

James Altucher is a serial entrepreneur, chess master, prolific writer, successful investor and stand-up comedian. James is a lot of things, but maybe most of all, he is an experimenter. His latest book, Skip the Line, provides a roadmap for those of us looking to do the same. He has frequently appeared on CNBC and on many podcasts, including one hosted by yours truly (see episode 06). James also hosts his own podcast the James Altucher Show, a top-rated show since 2014. Altucher is talented, successful and inspiring. He pushes the limits, challenges the status quo and encourages us all to do the same.

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Both James and the stories he shares, are extraordinary. In this episode we learn how early in his professional life, James went from low level programmer at HBO to pitching a news docu-series to the CEO and then, actually producing the series. This skip the line moment would come to be a reoccurring theme, throughout James’ career. He shares how he is constantly leveraging experiments, like performing stand-up comedy on the New York Subway system.

Listening to James, one gets the sense anything is possible, even, skipping the line.

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The Iron String

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nearly every night, as my workday nears its end, I say to my family, “I'll be finished in five minutes,” or “I’ll be finished in fifteen minutes.”

But I'm not.

In fact, it’s a running joke. My family already has a margin of error built into their internal clocks and calendars. Wife/Mom said ten minutes. So, she’ll be done in 30, maybe 45 minutes. Sometimes they even take good-natured bets. What will five minutes mean today?

It’s a running joke, but at its core, unfunny. The gap between what I say I’ll do, and what I actually do matters. It’s serious. It impacts the quality of both personal and professional relationships. Maybe not in huge ways, but maybe it’s one of those things that is just slowly erosive, eating away a bit at a time. That’s how a little gap became the Grand Canyon. In fact, the gap impacts my relationship with myself: my confidence, my sense that I am the person I want to be.

I like to think that I am worthy of trust. And in many, probably most, instances, I am. But I could be more trustworthyTrust isn’t built only on the big things; the ones where we know we have to come through, or else…. Trust is built, or not, on whether we deliver on the small stuff, too.

I've talked about this previously—how we can perpetually overcommit, and then cancel so readily and routinely, that commitment becomes a completely negotiable, and therefore meaningless, notion. Except that the negotiation undermines us in our own eyes, and in the perception of others.

Our podcast guest this week is Stephen M.R. Covey, best-selling author of The Speed of Trustwho says that “self-trust will always precede relationship trust.” Nineteenth century American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson characterized self-trust as an “iron string.” As a pianist, I think of the heavy strings at the bass end of a piano, and their powerful, enduring resonance. In contrast, our voices may sometimes play a little weak and thin. “Tinkling cymbal” and “sounding brass” are the phrases the King James Bible uses to describe our casual hypocrisy, where we allege commitment but with little, or no, follow-through.

One of my long-time editors, Heather Hunt, shares that early in her husband’s career he received a life-changing word of advice from a boss: “If you want to be a star, do what you say you’ll do, because almost no one does.” Credibility is that simple, and yet so often a challenge. We bemoan the decline of trust at a societal level, but companies and societies can't disrupt this cycle unless you and I do. We all can and should ask ourselves, how can we become more trustworthy.Covey breaks trust into two and then four elements that create credibility and sustain trust: Character, which includes integrity and intent (our motives, which can either burnish or tarnish our trustworthiness); and Competence, which is an amalgam of our capabilities kept current, and our track record. Together these attributes—there’s a lot more about them in the podcast—inspire confidence about us in others, but not before they inspire us to feel more confidence in ourselves. Ultimately, feeling more secure in our knowledge that we can be counted on, in both large ways and small.

An earlier podcast guest, Erik Orton, said that the size of our dreams is in proportion to how much we trust ourselves.

I'm upping the ante on self-trust by finishing my day when I say I will. I'm stopping in 5. And sticking to it.

What will you do to flex the trust muscle en route to bigger and better dreams?

As always, thank you for being here.

My best,

Whitney

How do I lead?

A few days ago, I joined the Thinkers Infinity Clubhouse with Mitch Joel, Rahaf Farhoush and Laura Gassner Otting.

Prior to our conversation Mitch asked me the question “What is leadership? How do you lead?”

I’ll confess he had me scrambling.

I've heard this question posed nearly ad nauseam––so many times that I rarely even notice or tune in to listen, much less actually give it some thought. I’ve never really asked myself, ‘What are my leadership principles? How do lead? Do I even think of myself as a leader?”

These questions deserve serious consideration.

We may find it challenging to define what comprises good leadership but, like art, we know it when we see it. I know it when I see it in men I admire. Right now I'm reading about Teddy Roosevelt in Doris Kearns Goodwin's Leadership In Turbulent Times. In my experience, it’s mostly been men who have had leadership roles.

But leadership isn’t only about position, and it isn’t only men who have leadership skills—who lead. In addition to the informal leading that women have always contributed to, women are also increasingly growing into the leadership roles that their skills merit. What does leadership look like in women? Do we have different expectations of how women lead than we do of men? How do I lead?

I don't have my list of leadership principles yet. But one thing I believe strongly: good leaders practice personal disruption. They aspire to become a better person and are willing to step back from who they are to do it.

Coincidentally (or not) we have Ed Catmull for this week’s podcast. Ed is the bestselling author of Creativity, Inc. He’s famous for the workplace culture that he developed and led as a co-founder of Pixar.

He leads people by believing they are worthy of his trust. Trust is a rare commodity in the contemporary workplace because it’s not common in the world generally. There are a lot of reasons to distrust, but Ed found that trusting people fuels reciprocity—they trusted him back. We’re more likely to follow a leader we trust.Here are some attributes of good leadership that Ed personifies:

  1. Ed checks references, but once he hires someone, he believes they can do the job. He doesn’t put them on probation; instead, he instills confidence by expressing confidence that they are equal to their responsibilities.
  2. He leads by taking responsibility when someone isn’t scaling the S Curve as expected–maybe there were signs he didn’t see when bringing them onboard, or maybe he didn’t give them the tools that they needed to be successful.
  3. Ed Catmull leads by example. And his example of leadership was never more compelling than when 90% of Toy Story 2 was wiped out (two years of work!) and he didn’t spend one moment trying to find someone to blame.

A good leader does what a good parent does: they create an ecosystem of safety for their people and furnish it with growth opportunities. When your people grow, your company grows.

Have you stated your leadership principles? Are they due for an update?

If you haven’t–and you did–what would they be? Give it some thought; I am.

My best,
Whitney

 

On Being Gracious

This week I interviewed Dr. Meghan Rothenberger for the podcast. She is a physician by training, specializing in infectious diseases. Her father was a doctor. She married a doctor. She had always wanted to be a doctor. Until recently, she was an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

In 2018 she had a happy home and rewarding work life, but then she noticed something was off. She started having suicidal feelings. She had struggled with depression on and off throughout her life but given the stigma surrounding mental health amongst medical professionals, Meghan found it difficult to recognize and seek help when she most needed it.

Her story shines a bright light on the tremendous strain being experienced by healthcare workers. I was aware of that, but in a remote way. Dr. Rothenberger brought life to my awareness. That is the power of an individual story.

Healthcare workers are enduring a lot of trauma with very little time and space to process daily loss, while being held to impossibly high standards. Their emotional health AND endurance are being stretched to the limits and beyond. We need them to care about us, and the the people we care about. Their raison d’etre is healing and care, but they aren’t being allowed to care for themselves.

As I considered Dr. Rothenberger’s plight—no doubt representative of many other healthcare workers, along with much of the general public, whose emotional resources have been depleted by the pandemic—I found myself thinking about grace. It’s the season for it; for Christians like me. Easter Sunday is coming up this weekend. It has also been the season of the Jewish Passover. It’s an especially good time to evaluate whether we are giving grace to healthcare workers, to others, and to ourselves.

Grace is not easily defined. The word bears an obvious relationship to gracious—having and giving grace—and embodies concepts like patience, kindness, generosity, tolerance, forgiveness, and mercy. Shakespeare wrote about mercy in the Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes….

Because we human beings are flawed and frail and constrained in our capacities, we all need mercy—grace. But it can be hard for us to give. And for some, even harder to accept.

This may be why in many faith traditions, the giving of grace and of mercy are considered divine acts.

On mercy, Shakespeare further says:

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.

As two of the world's major monotheistic religions celebrate a holy season, I would encourage you to think about where you can give grace and mercy. Including to yourself.

As Shakespeare says, it blesses both the giver and the receiver.

My best,
Whitney

P.S. You can listen to my interview with Dr. Rothenberger here.

209. Meghan Rothenberger: Stepping Back to Heal

Today, our guest is Dr. Meghan Rothenberger, an infectious disease doctor specializing in HIV and AIDS, formerly a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Meghan wants to disrupt the stigma around physicians talking about their mental health and we are here to help.

From the outside looking in, one might assume that Meghan’s life is an idyllic one. After all, she is happily married with two sons and a daughter, and Meghan’s husband is also a doctor. She has a great family, a great career and had always wanted to be a doctor. However, in 2018 Meghan’s thoughts began traveling to painful places.

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Meghan kept up the façade for as long as she could until one day, under mounting pressure and expectations, she experienced an emotional breakdown. Join us as we explore the immense pressure experienced by medical residents and physicians and learn about the barriers that keep them from seeking treatment.

Meghan’s story is one of healing and self-discovery and today, she generously shares her journey with us.

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208. Bob Proctor: Change Your Paradigm Change Your Life

Bob Proctor is a towering figure wherever the mention of self-improvement comes into discussion. For more than 40 years, Bob has focused his entire agenda around helping people create enriched lives, full of rewarding relationships and spiritual awareness.

Listen in to hear about Bob’s journey from obscurity to successful entrepreneur, teacher, author, business consultant and counselor. His latest book, Change Your Paradigm Change Your Life, is due out this August.

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In 1960, Bob Proctor was a high-school dropout who had worked a string of dead-end jobs. Crippled by debt, he struggled to find a path forward. However, his life changed dramatically when a friend gave him a revolutionary book, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The result was a remarkable transformation.

Bob’s message is a powerful mix of thought and action. His goal? Helping people create a limitless life.

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207. Ashley M. Fox: Wealth Builders

Money is a resource, and yet many of us are not comfortable talking about money, let alone talking about building a wealth. Fortunately, today I am speaking with Ashley M. Fox. Ashley, a former Wall Street analyst and expert at financial education, is her to help us disrupt our view of money.

Join us as we discuss giving your money a job, dispelling myths around guilt and shame, and learning how to pay yourself first.

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As part of Ashley’s mission, she founded Empify, an organization dedicated to changing the mindset of communities across the country through financial empowerment and education. They have reached thousands of students in over 50 different schools and organizations in the United States. Ashley is also a financial journalist for Black Enterprise magazine and has been featured on Jim Cramer's The Street, Yahoo Finance, and Glamour magazine.

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