Puzzles and Pivots

Last week I received a jigsaw puzzle in the mail. I didn't order one, and I certainly wasn't expecting one from Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Business.

On any other day, I would have set it aside for another time. Life was already puzzling enough.

But the swag appeared on my doorstep at lunchtime. So my daughter and I opened the puzzle up and spent a few minutes of our lunch piecing it together.

It was an oasis of delight in my highly scheduled day.

A tight schedule suits me. There's psychological comfort in planning out where you're going and what you are doing. It gives you something soft to bump up against: the known, not the cold unknown.

And yet, too much structure can be, well, too much. There's a rigidity that creates a lost opportunity to give your brain a workout as you learn how to innovate and adapt.

I still remember a conversation I had with my colleagues in Brazil nearly fifteen years ago. They told me about an acquaintance who was traveling in Europe, met a stranger, and instantly recognized a golden opportunity. In a moment, their colleague tore up his itinerary and took off with the stranger in pursuit of what he believed was a better option.

While most of us probably can't cancel all our bookings, I wonder if we could leave a little more slack in our schedule to have moments— great or small—of fascination and joy.

I experienced that in two of my recent speaking engagements. One was good, but the other was great. What was the difference? It was having guardrails but leaving space for the unexpected.

I had that experience again when I interviewed John Tesh for the Disrupt Yourself podcast. Tesh is a former host of Entertainment Tonight, now a celebrated composer and host of a nationally syndicated radio show in the U.S. We left time for the unexpected, and our conversation took several pivots of surprise and delight.

If you are so scheduled that there's no chance for play, disrupt yourself. I'm not saying you need to launch to a radically different S Curve. Of course, that could be wonderful, but if a towering new S Curve isn't in the cards, start small.

You could talk to a stranger, learn the name of a flower, do a jigsaw puzzle. Talking to a stranger could be the first step in taking your life in a new and better direction. (Where was your life partner when you met? Odds are, it wasn't Google Calendar.) Doing an unexpected midday puzzle with your child could be a bonding moment the two of you won't forget. Leave some wiggle room, mentally and emotionally, for a surprise.

An opportunity to put the pieces of your life together, childlike wonder included.

As always, thank you for being here––and thanks to the many of you who surprise and delight with your lovely notes.

My best,
Whitney

P.S. If you listen to our podcast but haven't filled out the survey yet, please do! You're listening, and so are we. Click “submit” and as a thank-you gift, you'll get a download listing 10 stellar podcasts that can help with career changes. Let's disrupt and grow together.

239. John Tesh: How Positive Thinking (Literally) Saved My Life

John Tesh wears many hats: News reporter, sports commentator, TV host, radio personality, composer, author, and touring musician to name a few. What you may not know is how a variety of mistakes and “crimes” (as he puts it!) lead him to become a household name.

In this candid interview, John recounts how disappointing his dad, being homeless, and the kindness of one friend set him on a disruptive path toward radio and TV production. Thanks to his tinkering with reel-to-reel tapes and microphones in his childhood basement, he felt at home when sneaking into a college radio station to make the demo tape that would later get him on the air.

Fast-forward to a wildly successful career in broadcasting, and then a terminal cancer diagnosis in 2015. When his doctors told him to “get his affairs in order,” John became a “victim,” as he puts it: of cancer, depression, and alcohol. But a profound shift in his attitude and faith changed everything. He recounts the story of how he and his family beat the odds in his latest book, Relentless: Unleashing a Life of Purpose Grit, and Faith.

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Life on the Wheel

I'm not going to die.

Or at least I am living in denial about my inevitable death.

Maybe you are too.

That's why I didn't quite know what to expect or think as I prepared to speak in Nashville at the National Funeral Directors Association.

Because the subject of death is so uncomfortable for nearly all of us, we are continually in denial. We tend not to think about it and pretend that it's not going to happen.

But the members of the National Funeral Directors Association don't have that luxury. These are people who confront human mortality all the time. Every workday is spent dealing with the nitty-gritty realities of death and the tender feelings of the mourners left behind. You could even say these professionals are at the top of the S Curve of dealing with death.

Not so for most of us. Because talking about funerals reminds us of the reality of death, we don't usually want to talk about funerals either. I knew very little about the industry.

I had a bit of awakening, similar to when I studied Mike Rowe and his work. Funeral Directors are not people we give much thought to, most of the time. But they are people who do an essential job, who get dirty on our behalf. Because we don't really want to need their services, we probably aren't as appreciative of them as we ought to be.

They are the people who are there to be our guide when we are at the launch point of the S Curve of mourning, loss, and grief.

I was humbled to hear them share stories of kindness rendered at a moment of deep pain, when a child has died, for example, the compassion offered and the sense of mission they have for this work.

While speaking with them, I was reminded of Natalie Babbitt's classic of children's literature, Tuck Everlasting. It is an elegant rumination on the role death plays in life with lessons for adults and children.

Here's a summary for those unfamiliar with the story. Winnie Cooper, the young protagonist, has stumbled on the secret of a magical spring of water. Drink from it, and you will be immortal. She meets the Tuck family, who drank from the spring many years before and have been arrested in their development ever since. They don't age, and they don't die. They live an itinerant life, trying to keep their secret, a secret.

There is also an antagonist, a man who has heard rumors of this spring and wants to find it and monetize it. Of course, he wants to drink from it himself. But the Tucks have lived with their unnatural situation long enough to understand that it would be a bad idea.

Pa Tuck wants to persuade Winnie not to drink from the spring.

Dying's part of the wheel, right there next to being born…. Living's heavy work, but off to one side, the way we are, it's useless too. It don't make no sense. If I knowed how to climb back on the wheel, I'd do it in a minute. You can't have living without dying. So you can't call it living, what we got. We just are, we just be, like rocks beside the road….I want to grow again and change. And if that means I got to move on at the end of it, then I want that, too.”

I want to grow and change–––I hope you do too!

This week, our podcast guest is Jennifer Moss, an award-winning journalist, nationally syndicated columnist, and author of The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It.

When healthy stress levels get out of control, it can lead to burnout, a massive blocker for our S Curves. I think you'll find some useful ideas in our conversation.

As always, thanks for being here!

My best,
Whitney

238. Jennifer Moss: The Cure For Burnout Isn’t Self-Care

A healthy amount of stress is so important for personal growth, but chronic stress that demands our attention 24/7 can disconnect us from our work, colleagues, and purpose.

This is burnout, and Jennifer Moss observes that we are facing an epidemic. She's an award-winning journalist, columnist, and author of The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It.

But contrary to popular wisdom, making time for that bubble bath or movie night isn't the solution. Burnout is a “we” problem, and the root causes are at the organizational level.

Jennifer shares her surprising research on where burnout comes from, why it's worse than it's ever been, and why we need a system of preventative care.

We're conducting a quick, anonymous survey to understand our audience better! It takes less than 1 minute, and is enormously helpful. Take it here:

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Bring It to Better It

Earlier this week, I was in a meeting (not unusual). The presenter was well-prepared, but I was distracted and somewhat disengaged. I didn't get a lot out of it.

I know better than to let that happen.

Especially because, just days before, when I was the presenter, I'd had exactly the opposite experience.

I offered Ed Mulitalo, the head football coach at Southern Virginia University, to speak to the football team. SVU is where my husband teaches, and our daughter goes to school. The Mulitalos are family friends. I'm invested in their success.

My initial impulse was to be of service––teaching the team principles and ideas that I wish I had learned in college, such as disrupting our mindset, how to rewire our brains, and that the game, any game, gets played between the goal posts of our ears first.

I didn't expect the team to be of service to me.

Typically, when I do a facilitated session, I talk about 100% responsibility –– in the words of Jocko Willink, “extreme ownership.” It's a reminder I use, thanks in part to my mentor Marshall Goldsmith and Disruption Advisors colleague Ralph Campbell, that the success of a speech or a session is only partly dependent on what the speaker does. It is also, to a not insignificant degree, attributable to what the audience or participants bring.

To date, this was one of my best speeches. It wasn't because of what I brought. It was what the team members brought.

We were in a relatively small room with 105 football players aged 18-25. They were rowdy, respectful, participative, and all-in.

When I asked questions, they spoke up. When I told them that I had to disrupt self-limiting beliefs that kept me from asking Pixar's Ed Catmull onto the podcast, these young athletes remonstrated with me.

And, when I asked them to commit to disrupting their mindset, they brought the house down with ferocity; the sound was deafening and exhilarating. Maximum intensity in a chorus of “Yes, I will do this.”

They participated, and because of their participation, the speech was better, and I was better. Now you understand why I shouldn't have been a distracted participant mere days later.

As a footnote, it reminds me of a recent interview with Michelle McKenna, who is, ironically, also in football—the CIO of the NFL. She said she often learns from the junior people on her team—the people in their 20s. At the time, I didn't really identify with her experience. But this week, I got it. I understood the discipline, eagerness, and integrity, all part of a committed desire to learn and be better.

When have you had an experience where the audience or group truly showed up? What can you do to better show up yourself? And when have you recently been around the next generation (whoever and wherever that is for you!)? How did they inspire you?

Our podcast guest this week is Steve Bullock, a money manager at Fidelity Investments. But that's not why we're chatting. He's also the author of Out of the Box Golf, where he analyzes a ton of data to upend conventional wisdom about the sport. Think of it as Moneyball for golf.

Steve has some bold predictions for the future of golf and provides important insights on overcoming the challenges of jumping to new S Curves.

We will make five copies of his book available. Hit reply and say, “My S Curve is Out of the Box.”

As always, thanks for being here!

My best,
Whitney

237. Steve Bullock: What Golf Pioneers Teach Us About Taking Risks

Even if you don't play golf, there's a surprising amount to learn from pro golfers who broke with tradition to “swing their own swing.” That's what Steve Bullock learned when he analyzed tons of data for his book Out of the Box Golf. Think: Moneyball for the 9-iron crowd.

For instance, even holding a club the “traditional” way puts players at a huge disadvantage. Yet even when golfers find clear advantages through technology or alternate practices, most players ignore them (often for decades!) and fall behind their peers. “Humans tend toward conformity,” he explains. It's not hard to see how this applies to the business world as well.

Whitney and Steve discuss the extraordinary ways that experimenting with risk can pay off, in your professional life, and on the fairway. And Steve stresses that if you don't have the pioneer's stomach for risk, make certain that you're a fast follower when innovation comes knocking.

We're conducting a quick, anonymous survey to understand our audience better! It takes less than 1 minute, and is enormously helpful. Take it here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DisruptYourselfPodcast2021

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The Right Question

If you're getting worked up about a situation, stop. You are likely asking the wrong question.

That's what my truth-teller (aka the “husband”) said to me last week. He loves me and is invested enough in me to point out when I take off in an unproductive direction.

The scenario:

The 3rd accelerant of personal disruption is 'embrace your constraints.' I had a hard deadline on a project but very little time to work on it. Postponing was not an option. I needed to give my constraints, not just any old hug, but a huge bear hug.

The conversation started out gently enough. Here's what I need to do; here's the time I have to do it. That was the rational, logical approach.

Then, I started asking different questions: “Should I have started working on this earlier? Should I have created more time to work on this instead of letting other priorities fight their way to the top of the to-do list? Should I have worked all day Sunday even though I have committed not to for religious reasons? Picture me, working myself into a perseverating frenzy.

These are important questions to ask. I'm recognizing that part of growing up is threading our way through a variety of questions. But this was not the moment to ask them. Faced with the deadline, I needed to ask what would help me do the best that I can, given the circumstances, and without time-wasting wallowing (oh, this is so awful and challenging, I think I'll run from the bear). Once the project was done, then I could with a forgiving eye ask the other questions. What could I do to manage a similar situation better next time? How can I spend less time wandering down unproductive neural pathways?


Pardon the interruption. I want to tailor this newsletter to better meet your needs, so we are conducting a brief audience survey here. It will take about a minute, and it would be very kind of you! As a thank you, when you complete it, you will get a free PDF download about changing jobs.


The wrong questions are those that don't help you do what you need to get done now. Analyzing how you've gotten in the stressful pickle doesn't help in a pressure-filled moment or day. Stop battling—competing—with your circumstances, and start creating by embracing the constraints of those circumstances, whatever they are.

If you find yourself getting worked up, stop asking the wrong question; start asking the right question.

How am I going to create with what I have right now? How can my constraint become a tool of creation?

Our podcast this week is with the Chief Learning and Diversity Officer at Kraft Heinz, Pamay Bassey. She's the author of the daily interactive journal, Let's Learn Our Way Through It, Shall We? She is also one of the most interesting people I know.

Pamay's resume looks classically corporate, but her background is more unconventional. The comedy stage, rather than the corporate office, was her initial professional love. This was a delightful conversation for me, and I think you'll agree. Please join us.

My best,
Whitney

P.S. At the end of the podcast interview, there's a giveaway opportunity! If you respond to the question asked, you will be eligible for one of Pamay's reflection journals. I am making five available!

P.P.S. Last week we had a glitch in our system. Those who tried to access the podcast with Leena Nair were directed to the wrong webpage. The link has since been corrected. Please take the time to listen to Leena's advice for connecting to your purpose.

236. Pamay Bassey: Make Learning Your Superpower

A 21st century career path can take many twists and turns. The skills you learn for one S Curve may not map perfectly to the next. That's why learning is the most important skill of all.

That's some wisdom from Ekpedeme “Pamay” Bassey, the Chief Learning and Chief Diversity Officer at Kraft Heinz. And she should know. Before earning her many prestigious titles in the corporate world, she came from a background in standup comedy and improv. Pamay is a first generation Nigerian-American, born in New York City. Her heritage has deeply informed her approach to diversity and inclusion, but her passion for comedy made her career path unconventional to say the least.

Pamay and Whitney discuss how to translate skills from one S Curve to another, especially when it comes to job interviews. And why it's so important to fill your eyes and ears with the stories of others who have accomplished great things. Pamay also explains how journaling regularly became a powerful self-reflection tool, especially during a difficult time of loss.

We're conducting a quick, anonymous survey to understand our audience better! It takes less than 1 minute, and is enormously helpful. Take it here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DisruptYourselfPodcast2021

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Seize the Season

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we passed the fall equinox last week.

It was accompanied by a few nights of star bright clear skies, a big, luminous full, or nearly full moon, and the cooler days and nights that signal the rollover from summer into autumn. The annual color-changing of the leaves makes this a favorite season of the year for many, including me.

Of course, I love spring when it arrives, and everything comes alive again after the cold, dreary winter. Although winter in its early days is pretty spectacular too, there's nothing to compare with the sparkling beauty of fresh snow. Winter is not my favorite season, but it does offer some of my favorite days, and I know a few people, especially skiers, who can't wait for it to start and wish it would never end. Summer, too, has its unique pleasures to enjoy. But by the time fall arrives, as it now has in Virginia, USA, I'm tired of the heat and humidity and am ready to put away the summer whites and get cozy.

Amazingly, while my half of the world is embarking on autumn and heading toward winter, the southern half is experiencing the spring rebirth en route to the days of summer abundance. Not everyone wants to live with all four seasons, but I do. That said, I know the coming of fall can signal hard times for many who suffer from the shorter days, lower sunlight, and more time cooped up indoors. Research (and personal experience) tell us that although the autumn “fall back” time change gives us an extra hour of sleep, it also discombobulates our circadian rhythms. Leaving us stressed and cranky for several days and often more. But overall, it seems we love the seasons when they are new and then gradually tire of them over time and feel refreshed when change is upon us again.


Pardon the interruption, but I have a quick ask. We are seeking to better tailor this newsletter to meet your needs, so we are conducting a quick audience survey, which is here. It will take about a minute and it would be very kind of you! As a thank you, when you complete it, you will get a free PDF download about changing jobs.


Here are a few things I'm considering that would shake up the routine and help maximize the benefits of the changing season while minimizing the negatives.

  • Permit myself to sleep a little more. Once upon a time, before artificial light, people slept when it was dark. Candles, lamp oil, fuel for the fire were all finite resources to be used sparingly. In the months with less daylight, this meant that people slept A LOT. I can't see myself sleeping 14 hours a day, but it would be in harmony with history and biology to add a little extra sleep to my nights.
  • Focus on the unique pleasures of this time of year. In my part of the world, that means evening fires, hot cider, fresh bread, homemade soup, sweaters, and long walks outdoors in the cool air. Summer reading is popular, but it's never too soon to make a list of good books to help ease the way through the long evenings of the darker months. We DO have artificial light; we might as well put it to good use.
  • Be on the lookout for people around me who might need a positive boost. Where and how can I add a little sunshine to someone's day?

Whatever I do, I aim to keep it simple. Overly ambitious goals or changes in routine tend to backfire. Sleep a little, breathe the autumn air both indoors and out, and find ways to be kind to those around me.

What do you do to seize the season, whether it's autumn or spring for you now?

Our podcast guest this week is Leena Nair, the Chief Human Resources Officer at Unilever. She's also the first female, first Asian, and youngest CHRO in the company's history.

We discuss why raising your hand for the most difficult jobs is one of the most important things you can do. As she says, “When was the last time you did something for the first time in your life? That's the last time you grew.”

Leena explains, “Companies with purpose last. And people with purpose thrive,” and she has the data to back it up. I hope you'll be as inspired as I was!

Thanks, as always, for being here!

My best,
Whitney

235. Leena Nair: Raise Your Hand for the Hardest Job

We all have jobs to pay the bills, but what is your purpose? And what's your

Leena Nair asks these questions every day. She's the chief human resources officer at Unilever. She's also the first female, first Asian, and youngest CHRO in the company's history.

“Companies with purpose last. And people with purpose thrive,” Leena explains. And she has the data to back it up.

Ensuring the well-being of 150,000 employees is a monumental endeavor, but her success stems from spending time with people to understand their motivations. And she rejects outdated business models that only view employees as a cost, rather than a company's greatest asset.

Leena's made huge investments in purpose workshops and mental health programs. It's not only good for people — it's good for the bottom line, too. “For every $1 I invest in human well-being, we get $2.50 back.”

Whitney and Leena discuss why raising your hand for the most difficult jobs is one of the most important things you can do. “When was the last time you did something for the first time in your life? That's the last time you grew.”

We're conducting a quick, anonymous survey to understand our audience better! It takes less than 1 minute, and is enormously helpful. Take it here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DisruptYourselfPodcast2021

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OTHER WAYS TO ENJOY THIS POST:

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