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How do we create meaningful disruptions in our work and personal lives? Whitney Johnson returns to the podcast to discuss her newly re-released book, Disrupt Yourself: Master Relentless Change. We not only discuss how she disrupted her professional life, but in her personal relationships as well. Discover the S-curve—the shape of learning and growth—and how it can be applied to your life, how you can start to change your mindset, and how to mourn a failure and healthily address shame.
Book: Disrupt Yourself
Bio: Whitney Johnson, named one of the world’s fifty most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50, is CEO and founder of WLJ Advisors. Leveraging her proprietary S-Curve of Learning and Personal Disruption frameworks, along with WLJ Advisors’ expertise in coaching, teaching, and consulting, she helps high-growth companies of all sizes create innovative work ecosystems in which individuals are encouraged to learn, experiment, and change. Johnson is the author of the award-winning book Build an A-Team and host of the weekly Disrupt Yourself podcast. She is cofounder of the Disruptive Innovation Fund with Clayton Christensen, and she is a former award-winning Wall Street stock analyst and coach for Harvard Business School’s Executive Education programs.
This transcript is unedited.
Peter: With us today is Whitney Johnson, a good friend of mine who I adore. She’s an awesome person. She has written a bunch of books and rereleased the version of disrupt yourself, which was a tremendous book when it came out and continues to be, disrupt yourself, master relentless change and speed up your learning curve. Whitney is the CEO of WLJ advisors. She’s one of the 50 leading business thinkers in the world as named by thinkers 50. She started out her career working in finance and investment advisory and research, and then moved into what she’s doing now, which is really an exemplary coach and leadership thinker and, and runs her business, developing people’s ability and their organization’s ability to disrupt themselves. So, Whitney, welcome to the Bregman leadership podcast. Again,
Whitney: Thank you, Peter, for having me back. I appreciate it.
Peter: It’s so fun to have you on. So let’s, let’s jump into disrupt yourself. And the way I want to do it is actually by talking about your own life and your own disruption. So you started out your career as a wall street stock analyst. And you know, that’s a very specific talent and requires certain specific skills that are not the same as the skills of being a leadership thinker and being a coach and, and being an entrepreneur. So I’m curious about how you made the decision and we can kind of play through the seven steps of, of disruption, but but you know, we don’t have to do it. You don’t have to hit every single one. But I’m curious to, to for you to share with us how you made that disruption of your own life and and, and what you learned from that.
Whitney: Okay, great question. And actually I would, I would add that the disruption started even earlier than that, Peter, because when I graduated from college, I actually studied music in college. And so when I got to New York, cause my husband was getting his PhD at Columbia I, we were like, okay, so he’s in school, we need food, I need to work. But I’m a music major and I’m a woman and I don’t know anybody and I’m not very confident. So I guess I’ll start as a secretary. And so that was my very first job. It’s, I was working for a secretary as a stock secretary to a stockbroker at, for those of you who know New York, I’m Smith Barney, 1345 Avenue of the Americas next to the Hilton. And so I’m sure you do. And so that was where it started, is that I was now working on wall street, but I was a secretary.
Whitney: And so going to work every day. I’m doing trades for the broker that I’m working for, sitting across from a bullpen of all these guys because they were guys who were trying to open up accounts. Super lots of pressure. This is the era of liars, poker and bonfire of the vanities. And they’re saying all these things like, you know, doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that you should be buying this stock, throw down your pom-poms and get in the game. And I’m kind of offended because I was a cheerleader in high school, but I realized that like after hearing this over and over again, I needed to throw down my pompoms and get in my game. And that was what I would say the beginning of me disrupting myself from a career standpoint. I’d actually probably started it a little bit earlier when I made the decision to marry my husband, which we can talk about if you want to, but go for it.
Whitney: You want me to go there? I mean that’s life. Yeah, exactly. So obviously I didn’t know what disruption was. I would not have called it that then. But this idea of disruption is a decision to become a silly little thing so you can take over the world. But it also applies to, you know, silly little things so we can take over our world you know, step back from who we are to in order to Slingshot forward into who we can be. And so with my husband, the way that started is that I was in college, I I met him. I, I liked him a lot. But I had real reservations because my parents had married, my mom was pregnant with me and that’s what you did in those days as you get pregnant, you get married. They didn’t really love each other. Turns out my dad embezzled money, he was a total womanizer.
Whitney: So I was basically like, really, am I going to marry this person? Cause I’m pretty sure any man, I’m Mary’s going to be just like my dad. And then I had this like big fear that by becoming a wife and mother I would lose my identity. And I think a lot of women struggle with that. And so to make these decisions, for me to marry this person was going to require that I disrupt my view of the world. And in the words of Judith Glaser, who we both know on disrupt my addiction to being right. This belief that the world would be this way and, and so on. Fortunately, my husband saw me for who I could be, not for who I was because our courtship was a misery. I completely sabotage the relationship is any person who wants to be right. Does. and, but you know, sometimes you get lucky and you have someone who can support you in your willingness and ability to disrupt yourself. And so he did. And I would actually argue, but for the grace of God, it would not have happened. But that was really, I think the first big disruption that I had made in my life was actually marrying my husband. And it’s pretty proud of,
Peter: It’s so interesting because you know, you’re, your first step in this process is to take the right risks and, and the point that you’re making I think is that that’s a very personal thing. Like, what’s a risk to you is different than a risk. To me, what feels like a risk when we’re taking a risk is, is you know, born of, of a history. Sometimes, you know, ancestral trauma or you know, the, the stories or narrative that we make about ourselves. And so we make choices or we move forward into someone else who doesn’t have that same narrative or that same history. It wouldn’t feel like a risk or it wouldn’t feel like a disruption at all for, for some people, even though marriage is a huge disruption, having a child is a huge disruption. For some people it doesn’t feel like that kind of a disruption. And so it’s very individualistic and very personal.
Whitney: Absolutely. And I, I love that observation, Peter. It’s, and the way I think about it in taking the right risks is playing where no one else is playing. And it’s, in this instance, it was playing where I hadn’t played and people in my family hadn’t played in terms of trying to figure out how to create a marriage that works on. But yes, you know, when you think about disruption, it’s always relative to something. And when it comes to personal disruption, which is what I study, you know, disruption usually is this idea of, you know, Netflix is disrupting blockbuster and Uber is disrupting taxis. But with personal disruption, you or I are both the disruptor and the incumbent because you are disrupting you. And so in this particular instance, I was disrupting my view of the world. And that’s when I think personal disruption for any of us is at its pets at hardest. And at its worst.
Peter: So the, the nature of a risk is we don’t know. We are literally stepping into the unknown. And I’m curious in your experience and in your research how, how we, you know, like you could look at that and you could say, I, I’m, I’m going to take this leap of faith. I’m going to take this risk and married my husband, even though my experience of marriage is that, you know, the men disappoint and, and we all have stories and it’s really, you know, like your, your idea and that, you know, you’re a quoting Judith Glaser saying sort of, we shouldn’t be so addicted to being right or you were at that point addicted to being right. We might be right. And so how do we know? How do you know that I’m going to take this risk? In the book you talk about taking the right risks and you also talk about the fact that nature favors risk-takers.
Peter: But you know, the nature of risk is there’s a real potential for failure. So sometimes nature doesn’t fell in favor of risk takers. And, and it, you know, on the whole, we look at that when we look back and we say people who have taken risks have successful careers or people have successful careers taken risks, but there’s also lots of people who’ve taken risks who ended up being failures and not just failing, but failing in such a big way that, you know, they, they, they don’t really recover. They don’t necessarily have the resilience to recover. So I’m curious about how you, what advice you might have for us about knowing when it’s the right risk to take, even if it’s in, if the action is in contradiction with, you know, your the story that you’ve had.
Whitney: Well, first of all, we never know, right? I mean, if you’re, if we’re, since we’re talking about disruption and we’ll look at the theory of disruptive innovation that was outlined in Clayton Christiansen’s book, the innovator’s dilemma, which says that when you pursue a disruptive course, you’re willing to play where no one else is playing. You’re taking those market risk and you know, not competing against anybody, just figuring out if there’s a market there, your odds of success are six times higher, but that 6% to 36%. So you know, so there’s still a 64% chance that you’re, it’s not the right risk that you’re, you’re on the wrong S curve. I think though what happens, and this is where some of the other accelerants of personal disruption come in, is that whenever we do take that risk there, our, you know, get on an S curve, it turns out to be the wrong S curve.
Whitney: There’s still something that we learned and I think this is where accelerate number five comes in, or excuse me, on accelerate number six comes in, is give failure. It’s due, is that there is something to be learned. And so then the question comes is what do we do with that thing that didn’t work? Do we allow it to crush us and we never get back up again? You’re right. That happens to some people. But the, the, the people who actually disrupt are those who say, okay, this didn’t work. I’m not going to allow shame to be attached to this failure. I just learned something really valuable. So next, let’s move forward. And so that’s, that’s how I think we need to think about it and most of us do when we’re at our best.
Peter: Yeah. And I think what you’re also saying is implicitly is that there are very, very few risks you can’t recover from like even marriage, which is, you know, ideally until death do us part. The, you know, lots of people see that they’ve made mistakes and, and move out of a marriage. And so there’s like, even the biggest decisions we make that where we think we may not be able to change it. That ultimately, you know, making a bet and, and, and if it does fail, really learning from it is almost always sort of worth the risk as long as you’re continuing to learn.
Whitney: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I think that, and if, you know, one of the things you’ve just touched on, I think for Peter and for me Peter, is that this idea of when people ask me like, why do I do what I do? Like what’s my why? The best that I can come up with, at least at this point in my life is that I know that if people are willing to change and figure out a way to be better tomorrow than they were today, they will be happier. I also know that moving away from the status quo, which is how we are in this moment, the decision to disrupt ourselves is terrifying. And also we’re all a bit lazy. And so we don’t do it. And so for me, my big why is how do I make it safe? How do I make it scary enough not to change?
Whitney: So both safe and scary enough not to change that we will do the thing that we know will actually make us happy. And so, so yes, to your point, there are very few risks, if any, that we can’t recover from if we will develop. And this goes, I think a little bit to the work that you’re doing is this idea of resilience and emotional courage. When you mentioned the S curve a couple of times and some listeners may not know what it is, could you describe the S-curve? Yeah, absolutely. So the S curve is something that was popularized by Ian Rogers in 1962 and to help people figure out how quickly an innovation or anything would be adopted. And what we’ve done is we’ve re-imagined that S curve. Well we used it initially at the disruptive innovation fund to help us figure out sort of where we’re looking at an investment.
Whitney: How quickly will something that has been introduced into the market, a new product, et cetera, take hold. Well, the big aha that we had, or that I should say I had is that this S curve that we were applying for products and services and companies and countries actually could help us understand people, help us understand how we learn and how we grow. And so if you’re all kind of in your brain picture on what almost looks like a roller coaster, but there’s this bottom of the ass, there’s this base where I’m, you’ve got this axis of, you know, X axis of time and Y axis of growth and you’ve got this base where growth is actually, it’s growing fast, but it looks really slow. So there’s a lot of time it looks like nothing is happening. And what that tells us for a person when they’re trying to figure out what this means for us when we’re growing, is that if growth looks like it’s going to be slow, we’re going to feel kind of discouraged and maybe a little bit overwhelmed.
Whitney: But when we know that that’s what it’s going to be, then it allows us to say, okay, yeah, I’m at the low one. That’s how I’m supposed to feel. So it’s an emotional journey, but then you put in the effort and you accelerate into that steep back of that ass, almost like a roller coaster where now in a, you know, whereas in a little lot of time, very little happen now in a little time, a lot of happens. It’s a steep part of the curve. It’s really exhilarating, you know enough, but not too much. It’s hard, but not too hard and easy, but not too easy. That’s the steep part, the exhilarating sweet spot of that S curve. And then you get to the top where growth slows down where it starts to level off. And what that means for you from an emotional standpoint.
Whitney: And a learning standpoint is that you’ve a lot, but because it’s starting to slow, whereas at the low end of the S curve, you might’ve felt overwhelmed. Now you feel underwhelmed. And so if you don’t do something to either push yourself back into the steep spot or jump to a new S curve, what’s w looks like a plateau can quickly become a precipice. And so that helps you understand how you grow and what you want to look to always do is basically learn and then leap and repeat. That’s basically what personal disruption is. And when we do that, we follow that pattern. We’re happier because we’re getting dopamine, which we get when we learn. And that applies to us as individuals. And you build teams by understanding that S curve. And then also obviously high growth organizations cause you’ve got people who are learning and therefore able to innovate.
Peter: So if we actually use your example of the marriage, we might be at the tip of the S curve where you know the honeymoon period has gone and you’re, it’s a little less exciting and a little less fun. Or maybe you’re six or seven years in and, and the idea isn’t to just jump from, from one relationship to the next in order to keep growing. It’s, you know, one of the possibilities is obviously to sort of deepen the, deepen your engagement where you are in order to kind of continue to disrupt the status quo without necessarily completely disrupting your life.
Whitney: Right, exactly. And it’s, you, you make a really good point. It’s something that I was actually talking with my daughter about the other day, she’s like, well what about relationships? Cause like you don’t really, an ideal world want to get to the top of the S curve in a relationship and be like, that was fine. Next, right. Next spouse, next partner. And so like you say, ideally what you want to do is once you get into that sweet spot is find ways to continue to stretch and challenge so that you’re, you continually stay in that sweet spot with a relationship that’s, that’s what you’re trying to do, whether it’s a partner or your children, et cetera. You want to find ways to always be in that sweet spot once you get there.
Peter: Can you share with us your next disruption after the marriage?
Whitney: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So my next disruption I started to talk about was when we moved to New York, never would have gone there. Disrupted my perception of myself. Like I, you know, I’m just a secretary. I’m just a music major. I’m like, no, I can do this. So I start taking classes at night and then I have a boss who willing to help me learn, help me grow, promotes me from a secretary to an investment banker. And anybody who works in financial services knows that it’s this divide that does not get crossed. But I crossed it like he allowed me to cross that chasm. And so that was my next disruption where he made it possible. I had to change how I was thinking about myself, but that was the next big one after the marriage. So I can keep going kind of trace the career, but I can stop there.
Peter: Yeah. Well, I, I, what’s interesting to me
Whitney: Is both of these disruptions are really a disruption of your mindset. You’re not talking ness. I mean, yes, it’s a disruption of your life, but the very first thing you have to disrupt in both of these situations, the way you described it is the way you’re thinking about something 100% fear.
Peter: I find that so interesting because it’s, it’s, that’s really the leap of faith that is very hard sometimes to do and, and it’s you know, you could, you could force yourself to behave in certain ways, but it’s hard to force yourself to think in certain ways. How do you you know, what kind of tips do you have for us to help people move through that part of the process?
Whitney: Such a great question. So again, this is stuff that I wouldn’t have known then. So it’s something that I’m thinking about a lot more now is this idea of, you know, our environment shapes what we think and believe and we, but we have the ability in our conscious mind to change what we’re thinking and then reprogram our subconscious mind. And so what I would say to those of you all who are listening and thinking, well I need to change my mindset cause if I changed my mindset and some of these behaviors or personal disruption can take place, what I would say is that you have to decide what you want to believe is true or what you want to be true. And then you, there are two ways to change what your subconscious mind believes. One is you can have like a really emotional kind of Paul on the road to Damascus experience that just sort of kind of rocks your world and that’ll help you change your belief about yourself.
Whitney: And then the second way is repetition. And so one of the things I’ve actually done, Peter, is on my podcast where I’ve had like episodes 80 a hundred and 120 when I’m talking about like, here’s what you need to do to disrupt yourself. I’m like, listen to this episode seven times. Like listen to it over and over again. So if you know, okay well I want that promotion or I want my business to be 10 times bigger than it is today, or I want to win that reward. We need to get to the point where we say, I’m so happy and thankful and this is stuff that I’ve learned from Bob Proctor who was in the secret, wrote a book called you were born rich and really thinking about your mind as you say it so many times that your subconscious starts to believe it’s true and then your mind has to make its true cause your mind actually responds to what your subconscious says. And so that would be my tip for those of you who are saying, okay, I want to disrupt myself, but I’m afraid to. Then you can say, I’m so happy and thankful that I have gone and gotten a new job. I am so happy and thankful that I have built my business to be, you know, 10 times bigger than it is today. I am so happy and thankful that I have a happy marriage. And once you start to believe that it’s true, then everything else about your body and your mind will make it true.
Peter: And then you start
Whitney: Acting in ways that are consistent with that mindset. Yes, exactly. Exactly. Oh, and that’s the other thing you can do is you know, for example, if you’re like, okay, well I, I’m going to pull this from Benjamin Hardy. He wrote a book called willpower doesn’t work. He had this story about a guy who wanted to like up his game. I think he was telling insurance. So we went out and bought a Tesla because he knew that a person who sold as much insurance as he wanted to sell would drive a Tesla. So he had to start playing that part. It’s not, they say fake it till you make it, but I think it’s really just playing that part so that you start to believe that you are that person and then you step into, into who that person is.
Peter: But of course, that’s a very risky move, right? Because for every one of him who’s bought a Tesla, there’s other people who’ve bought like Teslas and Mercedes and et cetera, and then they go bankrupt because they don’t end up selling the you know, kind of what they need to sell in order to kind of pay back the investment that they’ve made in it, which arguably may not be the right investment. If what you’re trying to do is, you know, kind of grow you grow a business, do I really want to spend my first $80,000 on a car? And, and and you know, as I’m asking that question, I want to throw in another one which is, which is the same question kind of, but it’s, you know, Susan Cain is an example you use in the book and I really love it. And ultimately she was a great success, right?
Peter: Because she, she spent four years in lonely writing and then produced a book that, you know, kind of shook, shook the world in certain ways. What I found myself thinking, and maybe this is sort of my negative thinking that’s not particularly useful to me or other people, but for every Susan Cain, there’s a thousand or more writers who risk it all, spend four years in lonely writing and then they produce a book that never gets noticed. And, and, and I guess that’s the risk, right? I mean, that’s what makes a risk a risk, which is you might be as Susan Cain or you might be someone who spent four years writing a book and hopefully you really thoroughly enjoyed it. It may or may not get noticed.
Whitney: Yeah. So Peter, I think it is a risk. And one of the things I, you asked me this earlier, so maybe this is a good time to answer this question, is how do you know if it’s the right curve or the wrong curve? And so, you know, how do you know if this book is going to get traction or not? You know, number one, the first accelerant, a personal disruption is, are you taking the risks? Are you playing where no one else is playing? So in this case she was writing about introversion, no one else’s writing about it. If you know, she wasn’t competing against anybody, she was trying to figure out if she could create a market. But the second thing that you want to ask yourself is, am I playing to my distinctive strengths? And that’s the second accelerant of personal disruption.
Whitney: Because one thing, it’s one thing to play where no one else is playing, but then what you want and need and must do is not only play to your strengths but play to what you do uniquely well that other people around you don’t. And I would argue in a number of these instances where we like commit our whole life to something and it doesn’t sense is we’re not actually focused on what we do best. And the reason that we do that, not infrequently is that the things that we do best are so easy and so natural and so reflexive for us. We don’t value them. And so we want to go off and do this thing that seems really hard to do, but we’re not great at it. And so part of being able to disrupt yourself and, and lower the risk involved, the risk quotient is to make sure that you are playing to your distinctive strengths.
Whitney: And one of the ways that you can know what those are is like what compliments do you get over and over and over again. And I’ll give you a quick example on that. For so many years, Peter, people would say to me, you know, you should be a coach. Like you’re really good at this. Like you should be a coach. And I was like, no, I don’t want to be a coach. Like who wants to be a coach? Like I want to be an analyst, I want to invest because you know, that felt like it was serious and I was a decent investor. But what I’ve found is that I’m a better coach. Like I’m more naturally suited to that, but I dismissed it because it was easy for me. And so I think that’s the second piece of like making a good, you know, kind of making a an educated risk or a calculated risk.
Whitney: It’s not only play where no one else is playing, but then also play to your distinctive strengths. And then the last two kind of questions you can ask yourself around that, and these are not accelerants, but things to consider is, third is is it hard but not debilitating? Like if it’s a good kind of risk, it’s going to be hard. Like you’re climbing this mountain, you’re like, I love this, that you feel so excited about it and a bad risk cause you feel debilitated, like you’re exhausted all the time because it’s just not suited to who you are. And then the fourth question you have to ask yourself is, am I gaining momentum? Right? If you’re laboring at something for four years and nothing is happening and you’re not actually enjoying it either and you’re not playing your strengths, then you probably need to sort of say, okay, is this really, really what I’m meant to or want to be doing because I’m not getting any momentum and the market’s telling me that I need to tweak this. And the reason I need to tweak it is because if I don’t, then I’m not going to be able to contribute to the world in the way that I’m meant to contribute, which I think is ultimately what we’re trying to get to for each one of us.
Peter: And I love, I love that. And I love the your, your questions around sort of, am I, am I exhausted? Am I, am I like, is it too much for me? And I think there’s this fine, useful, important distinction to say, you know, am I, am I overwhelmed because it’s too much for me or am I over or, or, and maybe overwhelmed as is the wrong word, but am I, am I tired all the time because I’m working on stuff? There’s too much for me. Am I tired on the time because I’m working on stuff that’s not enough for me? Right. And you talk about both sides of this S curve and, and sometimes I imagine when something is overwhelming or too much or, or not engaging in a particular way or it feels like you’re tired, that that comes from a place like some of these feelings might be coming from a place of, you know, hyper engagement and challenge versus the exact opposite. Sometimes it might physically feel the same to you. Is that, am I thinking about this right?
Whitney: My gut says no. My gut says no. I think there’s so, so you know, to give you an example, you and I have both come through a really big heavy travel season, right? Right. You know, Vember and we’re both come home and we’re both tired, right? But do we feel depleted, exhausted and like not alive? I think the answer is no because we both love our work. I think the kind that I’m talking about is this sense of, I don’t know if [inaudible] the right word, but you know, that sense of boredom, but this sense of this just doesn’t feel good. Like it just doesn’t like what’s the point of this? Why am I doing this? I think so there’s different, maybe you’re still physically exhausted, but the emotions that you’re having around that and the experience that you’re having around it I think are very different.
Peter: Got it. That’s great. And bring us to one more brief disruption because I love, I think, you know, using yourself as an example to help us kind of see how these disruptions truly play out is fantastic.
Whitney: Yeah. Okay. So let’s see. Yeah. Okay. I’m going to give another one that I think is so number six is give failure at due. So let’s talk about that. Cause everybody likes to talk about failure as long as it’s, you know, someone else’s. So let’s talk about that cause I think this is a really important one and I think it dovetails nicely with the work that you do. So, so giving failure, its due. If you think about it, you know, it’s the up and down or part of personal disruption. Cause whenever you disrupt yourself, basically what you’re doing is you’re moving, you know, you’re sort of point number eight on the Y axis and you’re making the decision to move down to point number seven or point number six because you believe that the slope of your line. So whereas before it was over one up one, you believe that by moving down to six will be over one up two.
Whitney: So the slope of your line will be, will be steeper. So that’s, that’s why you do it. So the up and the downer part of person instruction. Now the fact is, is that whenever we’re disrupting ourselves there, there are going to be failures. Like they’re just will be. There have to be like by definition. And so I think about my failures. They have included things like bombing speeches in front of hundreds of people and being fired and backing businesses as an investor that blew up. And you know, the experience of that was, you know, the speech, they didn’t like it. They hated it. I had all these comment cards to, to how much they didn’t like it when I got fired. I was absolutely devastated. I really thought I would never recover. I just felt so, so be roughed. So it’d be roughed. And then when I, the business blew up, I’m like, well, I thought I was a Saudi investor, but I think I now feel like a complete fraud because, you know, I’m not, and so the thing that I’ve learned about failure is that whenever we fail, we’re not only, or we’re embarrassed, but we’re also heartbroken cause like there was this future, like we envisioned this future and we were going to be the conquering heroin and we didn’t.
Whitney: And we weren’t. And so I think we have to grieve. Like I, that’s the one thing I would say around feathers. We have to be willing to grieve when something is big and it doesn’t work. And the reason we have to grieve is because there’s emotion there. And it’s part that, that same emotion that w w allows his degree, which is also gives us that, that conviction to move forward. But then then, and this is critical, we have to be willing to ditch the shame because it’s the buy in to the shame. This idea that this failure has become a referendum on our fundamental sense of self is what limits disruption. It’s not the failure cause like we all fail all the time. It’s that sense of shame. And so what I would say around this is that we I’ve had lots of failures. I think I’m getting better at dealing with my failures of being more resilient and being able to move forward faster and to ditch the shame faster. But that one is very, very critical for all of us if we want to live this life of disruption, of learning, leaping and repeating because there will be failure. But the more, the more quickly we can get that return on failure on the faster we’ll be able to move along our ass curve.
Peter: I think this point about having to mourn is so important because we really try to skip over that part. And I think you can’t find the, the next step of passion without mourning what’s been lost. Like everything will just sort of be muted. And I’m curious if you have any tips for us about how to mourn.
Whitney: I love that. I love that question. Peter. One of the things that I, I remember so yay for therapy. A wonderful therapist that I had, she said to me at one point and then showed me some research that said that whenever we lose some thing, we need someone to bear witness to our loss. Whenever there’s any kind of trauma. And we often think of that trauma of like something, you know, someone’s lost a loved one, et cetera. But whenever there’s something that we wanted that we didn’t get that still traumatic for us, like that’s your trauma and that’s my trauma. And so one of the first things I would say is to allow ourselves, I can feel myself just getting emotional talking about it is be willing to you need to find someone that you can share it with. Like this happened and it felt awful and I feel bad and I feel sad.
Whitney: And the flip side of that then is that our willingness to bear witness to someone else’s loss. And you know, I know over the last couple of months there’s a some, a friend of mine who I don’t know, well her, this is slightly different, but it feels like I need to say it so I’m going to, so I have a younger brother who committed suicide and so some people in my, my faith community, their son committed suicide as well. I don’t know her well, I just called her up and I said, you know what I would you like to come over to my home and just talk. And so she came over and we spent like an hour and a half, two hours together and she just talked about it. She just talked about her experience and how she was feeling and that she missed him and all those things that happen.
Whitney: And I, cause I felt in that moment that my job was just a bear witness to her loss because as I did that, then it allowed her the ability to grieve and the about ability to, to feel. And to mourn and, and when we have that someone to listen to us and we’re, we’re willing to listen to other people and not try to fix it, just to bear witness to it, that is a first step to our loss. And I talked about suicide, but I think it, it applies when you lose a job, it applies when you didn’t get a promotion, it applies when you wanted someone to pick you for their Dodge ball team and they didn’t pick you like it applies no matter what. I played Dodge ball when I was in fifth grade, I remember that. So anyway, that would be my tip is to find someone to listen to you and then be a willing listener of someone else’s loss.
Peter: Thank you for sharing that. And, and I think the thing that you said about shame and letting go of the shame talking about it is, is one of the modes of doing that, right? Because, you know, we, we can’t, shame doesn’t, can’t exist in the light, right. That like is, is if we keep something a secret, it stays shameful. If we open it up, then the shame dissipates around it because we’ve had someone who’s listened to it, who’s sat with us and with a non-shaming heart and, and then we are received in that way. And so it’s also like, I, what I want people to hear from this is, is, you know, when you’re talking to someone who has struggled with, you know, their own failure or their own sort of morning, but it’s also really a great message for people who are the listeners, right?
Peter: For people you know, in, in your role where you’re able to invite that woman in and say, you know, can you talk to me like it’s, you know, this is not an experience I’m unfamiliar with, unfortunately. And, and it’s, and it’s would be happy to connect with you about it. And I think to do, if we did that for each other in failures, if we can stand with each other in failures and, and rather than, you know, try to avoid the person’s eyes, you know, and try to make them feel better. All of that goes to increase the shame. If I say, Oh, don’t worry about it. You know, you’re okay. You’re, you know, it doesn’t reflect on you. And like all of that stuff, if that happens too soon, then we’re making, we’re, we’re showing how uncomfortable we are with their failure and that ends up kind of increasing the shame rather than detracting from it.
Whitney: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Peter: Whitney. It has been such a pleasure having you on the Bregman leadership podcast, not only because it’s so fun to talk to you every time I talk to you, but also and probably more substantially because you offer such great value and have such great insights and I really appreciate you sharing your personal stories too, which is a kind of makes for these conversations. So interesting. We’ve been talking with Whitney Johnson, her book that has been rereleased that is well worth the read is disrupt yourself, master relentless change and speed up your learning curve when you, thank you so much for being on the Bregman leadership podcast.
Whitney: Peter, thank you for having me and thank you for making such a wonderfully safe space to have a, a rich conversation. I really appreciate it.