#1 The Hamster Wheel



Note: Designing Yourself is produced as an audio podcast. We encourage you to keep in mind that emotion and emphasis may be lost in the written word. Transcripts may contain errors.

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Paul McAleer: So, how do you start stuff?

Whitney Hess: Oh my gosh - birth. I mean, I don’t think that it’s necessarily pretty. It just happens.

Paul: It just happens? So, is that true for everything, though? I mean, you just kind of go and see what happens? Or what goes into it?

Whitney: I think that we recognize things as having started quite a while after they actually started. It just takes a while for us to see it.

Paul: Oh, OK. So, what if you don’t know if you started something? Is that what it is? You just don’t know, and you just go along and do it?

Whitney: Things are in motion and you are experiencing them, reacting to them, I think, long before you’re conscious of it. The seeds are planted. And then you start to notice your own behavior and you realize that you started something.

Or you make a conscious decision and it’s fairly arbitrary and you say now I’m starting something. You just claimed that point in time as the start, but it really started long before that.

Paul: So, do we have any control over that, really?

Whitney: Not necessarily. I think there’s a lot of things that we don’t have control over, and it’s kind of exciting to let go of all of that control and not have to be so in control. The thing that we have control over is how we respond to the things that happen to us, what we do with them.

Paul: Yeah, that makes sense. But what about this? I mean, we just decided to start a podcast. We just decided to start it, and we just started it together. And that was a decision, right? Or not?

Whitney: Of course it was a decision, but think about all the things that happened before we hit Record. Quite frankly, there were a lot of things in motion. We had a few phone calls about it. We sent a bunch of emails. We tried to figure out what the format would be.

Even before that we had a couple of phone calls just getting to know each other post-conference. And before that we had an amazing interaction at a conference that was completely unplanned, spontaneous. And before that we just happened to decide to go to the same conference.

But before that we found each other on Twitter, or you found me and I responded. And I remembered that we had worthwhile interactions. And all of that snowballed into where we are now.

Paul: I mean, that makes sense to me. I think the thing for me that I remember is my - so my coworker, actually, [Mateki], she introduced me to you via the Twitter. It was just really weird because one day it was that she just stopped by my desk and she said, do you follow Whitney?

I said, no, I don’t know who that is. And she said, well, she’s this UX person on Twitter. And, boy, I’m paraphrasing here. But she said she’s this UX person on Twitter. She’s pretty cool. She’s doing a lot of great work, but people are giving her shit because she is putting - I forget if this was the - when you were doing the person by person thing for - gosh, I’m so sorry. I’m going to blank on this.

Whitney: Hurricane Sandy.

Paul: Was that Sandy? OK. So, for Sandy, when you were doing that, and she said a lot of people are giving her shit for it. And I was like, wow, that sounds weird. So I went to check it out. And I read your post and I read the Tweets a little bit, and I was like I don’t understand why people are attacking her, but OK.

But I was more intrigued by the idea of it because it seemed human and humane to do. And then from there I just followed you on the Twitter and that was it. And then, as you say, then it was a progression. I was simply reading your stuff for a while, a number of months.

And then when I think I saw that you were going to be at IA Summit, I was like, well, I want to say hello and I want to introduce myself because we had an interaction on the Twitter and it was great. But I also went into it and I was like, she’s not going to know who I am.

I was totally like I’m just this guy and that’s it. And I’m going to say hello and I will thank her for her work and that will be that. That was my expectation going in, which was fine.

Whitney: Well, it’s so funny because firstly being - and I’m not going to use the word “attacked” but criticized for the things that I have done on Twitter is not new for me. And so the reason that it was happening then is that I was “clogging up people’s feeds” with information on the lives that were lost during Hurricane Sandy because I felt that the media coverage was more about flooding and storm surges than it was about people who were dying and the many, many more people who were in trouble and not getting the aid that they needed.

And so, people then said something like stick to your topics, to paraphrase. And then it reminded me of another time about two years ago when I started the Four-Hour Body eating plan. And I went on Twitter to say, look, I’m starting this new diet. And I need you all to hold me all accountable.

And it felt like a really positive thing to reach out to a community of peers and say I’m trying to better myself in this way with my physical health and the way that I eat. And so I was posting what I was having. Three meals a day, that’s three Tweets out of a day. And I Tweet a lot more than three times a day on average.

And I actually got replies from people saying less food, more UX. So, being a whole human being who not only practices user experience, writes about user experience, talks about user experience but also eats three meals a day and wants to connect with other people on that level, on that human level, doesn’t appeal to everyone. But that’s OK.

When we connected in person, the conversation was so immediate and I felt like we were drawn to each other to have a conversation not about all the UX topics that were going on around us at the IA Summit but about being human and how we show up as whole human beings everywhere we go.

And it was amazing to me when I said something along the lines of, oh my gosh, it’s been years to you. And I noticed in your face that you furrowed your brow a little bit, and you didn’t correct me but you kind of gave off this hint of, like, really? It’s been years?

Because I felt as though we had been chatting on Twitter for years. And now that you’re saying it was during Hurricane Sandy that you first found me on there, I’m amazed because that was not even a year ago. That was November. So, it’s pretty amazing.

Paul: Yeah. And I was thinking about that, too, and the whole - with the way you mentioned how you decided to Tweet your food. And that is like - the hard part is that people at that point, it sounds like, were really expecting you to just do UX stuff. Like, that is the thing you do, and that is the thing you Tweet about.

But you’re always a whole person. I mean, no matter where you are you are you, and that’s what you bring into any space or any conversation or anything you do. And there are times when parts of you are maybe not as present or simply don’t need to be. But the fact that people were talking with you about, yeah, more UX stuff, that’s something that’s - I find that really interesting because I have had that same dilemma.

For me, it’s been, I’ve always thought that I needed to have a clear separation between my professional presence on the internet and everything else. So, for me it was a literal domain separation. There was the domain where I talked about work and had my resumé and my portfolio for future job stuff. And then the other site was where I talked and was more talking about me and my life and the like.

It didn’t used to be that way. But then at some point I decided to separate the two. And now that seems kind of strange to me. I don’t know if there’s a point to that much.

Whitney: I’ve struggled with the same thing. In my late teens and early 20s I had a blog that was just a mish-mosh of things that I was learning, doing, what have. It didn’t have any real point to it. I talked about what I was studying and I talked about what I was doing and traveling and whatnot.

And I never really got a lot of traction with that. And I don’t think that that was my goal at the time, but I do remember thinking, how do people get readers? And I didn’t really have any other than my friends and family.

And then years later when I started the blog that I’m still running, I remember making a conscious decision to make it “professional.” And I said this is going to be a blog just about user experience stuff. And I’m going to look at all different facets of user experience. And I want to push the boundaries on what user experience is.

And that was meaningful to me in my work environment, too. But I would never post about a date that I went on. I would never post about a fight that I had with my parents. These were the things that I told myself were absolutely off limits for a professional blog.

And over time probably due to being on Twitter and all of the really intimate relationships and bonds that you’re able to form with people in this pretty strange medium, I felt more and more allowed to share other parts of myself.

And so, when big things were happening for me, like when I quit my full-time job to go independent or when it was an anniversary of my blog or Thanksgiving and I wanted to share thanks that I had for certain people in my life, I felt compelled to do that on that blog.

And it wasn’t strictly professional in that it wasn’t akin to my blog posts where I was comparing the features of Bloglines, which was big at the time, over Google Reader. It wasn’t that. But it still seemed to have relevance in that it was related to my career, and my career is in user experience.

So, I made that kind of allowance. And then as time has gone on and I’ve felt more and more whole and confident and grown up and in charge of myself, I’ve allowed myself greater allowances, and I’ve said this is my property. No one else owns this. And I’m going to share who I am in all aspects of my life on my blog, on Twitter, and in my day-to-day life as well.

But it’s funny because I did something recently that actually contradicted that desire that I had, which was I had written this kind of personal essay. It just flowed out of me. I was taking a walk around Key West, and I was approaching an art gallery, and I just was thinking about things that were happening in my life.

And I had my phone in my hand because I was taking photos of cute doors and cars and funny signs and things that I was seeing on the street as I walked. And I just started typing. And I typed and typed and typed. And I stood still, and sometimes I moved forward and then I stopped and I typed again.

And what came out of me was this essay. And it was very personal, and it had absolutely nothing to do with work, career, user experience or anything else. And at first I thought this was for me, and there’s no reason that this needs to be published.

But I ended up kind of in a strange moment sharing it with my boyfriend. And he was really moved by it. And then I thought, well, maybe I should share this. Maybe there’s something here that’s worth sharing. But this can’t go on my blog.

And I went searching for another place to publish it. And I thought, gosh, do I need to start another blog? What if I do personal writing more often? Is it just - it’s not going to be appropriate for me to put that on Pleasure and Pain.

And I ended up choosing to publish it on Medium. And I told myself, well, Medium is a shared space and it’s not something I’m trying to brand or drive traffic to or run a business off of in the way that I’ve been able to use Pleasure and Pain to build my business. And even though I’m glad that I used it, it was a great user experience in and of itself to use Medium and I enjoyed it.

And it attracted an audience to the piece that my blog on its own wouldn’t have done. I felt kind of strange afterwards that I had compartmentalized myself like that again. 

Paul: So, wow. I totally agree. I mean, I’m not saying that you compartmentalize yourself. But what I hear there is very much the, hey, I have this thing and I want to get it out, I think. But if I put it on my blog it’s going to be a little weird because it doesn’t fit with the rest of my blog or the like.

And that got me to thinking about Twitter and how that’s become really important to me because I have started a lot of friendships and just gotten to talk with people I would never, ever talk with otherwise through it.

But back when I started using Twitter it was a private thing. I had it locked down. I had to authorize you to follow me and that whole thing. And I had a dozen or two followers, which was plenty. And the numbers don’t matter to most of me. There’s a part of me that still absolutely cares about the numbers. But that is not the primary goal for me anymore.

But there’s some stuff I put on the Twitter and there’s some stuff I will put on my blog. But for me, too, it’s been while if I’m going to write something about me and what I’m thinking about in relation to time and these abstract concepts, these things that I totally geek out over, does that make sense alongside a post about doing agile UX?

And maybe it makes absolutely no sense at all. But I’m at a place where I feel that that’s all right because that still represents me. And eventually there will be categories. And if you want to only look at some of the things I’ve written you can do that or you can search or what have you.

But I am messy by definition. These are things that are all of some interest to me, so I want to get them out somehow. And for me right now it’s all going to the same spot. Outside of Twitter, it’s all going on my blog.

Whitney: Well, I’m happy to hear that you’re doing that. And it’s something that I aspire to as well because I think that it belongs together. We are one person. I’m one person. You’re one person. And if the intent is to share ourselves with others in an attempt to forge connections, then sharing only a part of ourselves we’re going to form a bond with only a part of other people.

And we’re not going to have those deep relationships with them. And we’re not going to understand their multidimensional selves because we won’t be sharing our multidimensional selves. And when I think about why I really felt compelled to publish that post on Medium instead of on my blog, I think it was because I had that less food, more UX in the back of my mind.

I let that comment sink in. And I let that make a decision for me instead of rising above that and saying, you know, what other people may think is secondary to what I think and what I desire for myself. And I’ve found that the people who recognize their wholeness have an easier time accepting the wholeness of other people.

And so, someone who make the comment less food, more UX, wants a news source. They want a resource on UX. They don’t want a human being.

Paul: Right. That’s right. That’s exactly right.

Whitney: And I’m not a blog. And that’s a hard thing for me to say because there are a lot of people out there that think that I am. That’s their perception of me, that I’m a blog. I’m a Twitter account. That’s what they know of me.

Paul: You have RSS. You know, it’s funny, too, because recently I was looking back at my ancient website, phonezilla.net, and gosh, those were good times. But I was looking at the stuff I wrote back in ’99. And one of the things - I looked at my About page, and I wrote something towards the end that - boy, I’m going to paraphrase myself.

But I had said essentially this whole website is an experiment because you are going to develop a persona. You are going to develop a picture of me which is not fully accurate. But you’re still going to develop it. And at the time, since I was in art school, I said this is an art project.

But the funny thing is it still kind of holds true because people will form a perception of you based on what they know and what they see and what they perceive and what they hear and what they read. But it’s never necessarily a full picture of you, ever.

Whitney: How could it ever be?

Paul: I don’t know.

Whitney: I don’t even know myself to the fullest extent. How could anyone else know me? And I’m trapped inside of here.

Paul: Yeah, exactly. I mean, what if - it would be kind of hilarious if maybe Google figured that out someday. Like, oh, you’re going to do this. And it’s like all the wonderful predictive stuff that technology is doing, too, it’s like it’s almost getting to the point where some of that knows you better than you know yourself.

Whitney: Yeah. Well, Facebook Insights is precisely that. It’s for advertisers to gain insights on who’s seeing their ads. But maybe it could be turned around to give you some insight on who you are. But that presumes that what we share is who we are.

Paul: Yes.

Whitney: And particularly in my case because I share a lot people assume I’m oversharing, that I’m sharing everything that exists. But there’s a heck of a lot that they don’t know.

Paul: Right. And it’s going to be - the thing I think of with all the predictive stuff with regards to ads, it’s going to be really weird in the near future when basically Foursquare or somebody says to you, hey, you’re going to Arby's for lunch.

Whitney: This just terrifies me because it presumes - 

Paul: Is it because of Arby's?

Whitney: Not Arby's, because they have a really good roast beef sandwich. Or at least they did when I was in college and broke and hungry. But to even think what was that roast beef gives me the creeps to just think about it.

I have to wonder if we will become shadows of ourselves because of technology being applied in that way because anything that tells you where you’re most likely to have lunch presumes that your behaviors dictate your way of being, dictate your true nature.

And it also presumes that people with the same or similar behaviors have same or similar ways of being and same or similar true natures. And I fundamentally do not agree with that.

Paul: Right. And it feels a little creepy, too. I mean, because I think we’re thinking largely of the advertising angle, of course, because everybody loves Arby's. but it’s more of a matter of, well, are our behaviors already - gosh, I don’t want to say already planned out, but s it more so that our behaviors as people are so predictable that we can just entrust a computer to figure that stuff out for us?

Whitney: Yes. But the beautiful thing about being alive is that you have free will, and you get to choose your behaviors regardless of what your past circumstances have been and what your temperament or tendencies may be. You still have that choice.

Paul: That’s true. Hmm. Do you feel any of it’s planned out at all in any way?

Whitney: Are we talking about fate here?

Paul: Fate or kismet or Yahtzee, whatever it is.

Whitney: I go back and forth. I think that it’s likely possible that there is a grander scheme of things, master plan. But I don’t believe that our decisions are being made for us. And I don’t believe that there’ a puppeteer pulling the strings causing our behavior. I really don’t.

I think that we are in this together, and perhaps the grander vision is being dictated by a higher force that none of us can perceive. But I don’t believe that, like any visionary, that entity, whether it’s a being, whether it’s a force, an energy field, whatever, has the control to make each and every one of us from the beginning of time until the end of time choose every behavior. I really think that that is an easy way of giving up on life.

And so, it’s important to me that I see myself as having free will. It’s important to me that I see the purpose of my life as being to develop myself. And what that entails changes constantly. And I’m going through a whole new wave of it now, and I know you are, too.

Paul: Absolutely.

Whitney: But I am so dead set on understanding who I am and understanding my relationship to the universe and having a lasting impact in some way. And what that way is is always changing, and I’m always being surprised by the possibilities for that because just when I think I’ve figured it out it changes and a new opportunity arises and I feel my passions shift.

So, I really believe that our behavior is the one and only thing that we control in this world. We can’t control what happens to us. We can’t control what people think of us. We can’t control when we’re born, when we die, when we get sick.

I just think that we control how we react to all of the various inputs and stimuli and how we carry ourselves, how we understand ourselves, how we share ourselves with other people and how we make ourselves receptive to others.

I think all of that is within our control, our behaviors. Outside of that, I don’t think we control a damn thing.

Paul: That sounds about the way I think about it, too. I mean, the main thing that I see is that one of the ways that you can change behavior is to start something because basically you’re saying the way this is right now is something that I am choosing to change.

And that may - you know, the thing is, too, is that it may be something really small. It’s not even something as big as today I’m going to figure out my place in the universe because, boy, that would be a really awesome thing to put on a to-do list and then check off. That would be great. OK, figured it out, done, took an hour.

But more so just taking any kind of action, and whether that is within the context of your prior behaviors or not, I think, is the interesting and fun stuff and the place where change happens and behaviors change and ideas change and ideas grow and all that stuff.

Because, you have patterns, and I do too. I mean, everybody has these patterns. And some of these we've had our whole lives. And I feel it’s really important to first see that and then understand it, and then if you want to change it, change it.

And to me that’s been very powerful stuff, to really be able to not step out of myself but to look and say, oh, I’m doing this again. And sometimes other people will say you’re doing this again, and sometimes I am stubborn and will say I am not doing this again. But I certainly am.

But looking at patterns of behavior and saying, oh, that’s a choice, like I’m not programmed in that way. I don’t have to react the exact same way every time this happens if it happens on a repeated basis. Like, I’m in that moment, and I can choose to do something different.

And maybe it is putting “figure out the universe” on my to-do list today. Maybe I should totally do that, actually, right now, because that would be really great. But it would nag me, too, and that would bug the shit out of me.

Whitney: I mean, it’s so funny that we put these things on our to-do list and they become the center of our day. Our whole day is oriented around getting these items off the to-do list. And we’re designing our lives around these little tactical things.

And there’s so much mental and emotional energy that I don’t even think we realize that goes into that I canning that grander goal and then reducing it down to these sets of tasks and saying what are the small little things I’m going to do today that are going to get me there?

And I don’t know that many of us are even conscious of that. And then of course we throw a bunch of other things on the to-do list that other people aren’t doing, so we feel the need to take care of or our little things where we’re trying to control our world because it’s changing around us and we don’t like that and we’re trying to feel more stable and so we have to get a bunch of things done in order to control that stability or create the semblance of it if it’s possible to exist at all.

And our whole day becomes checking off these boxes. When do we take a step back and say what is the life that I’m trying to create? And are the things I’m doing every day enabling that? It’s not something that I’m conscious of every single day.

Lately I’ve been in it, so it would be easy for me to claim that I have, like, some secret power of seeing the big picture. But when I’m in the weeds, I’m in the weeds. And I don’t, and I think that it’s the most important thing in the world that I send this letter today, that I respond to that email today, that I do this research on this website today because if I don’t get it off my to-do list it’s going to be hanging over my head.

And known of those things in any way further my exploration of myself, my deepening of my compassion for other people, figuring out what matters to me. Known of that does. It’s just this thing. And it would be easy to say we have to, you know, get rid of our to-do lists and get rid of email and start living in these totally different ways, that we’re on the hamster wheel now. We’ve got to get off the hamster wheel.

But the reality is that the hamster wheel is life. I mean, it’s just one day after another day after another day. We have no clue when it’s going to end. So I don’t know that there’s a better way of plotting out all of our steps towards our ultimate achievement when we don’t even know what periods of time we’re going to get to act on them.

We don’t know how many days we’re going to have, and we don’t know how much time we’re even going to get in each day because there’s millions, billions of other people with their own agendas and their own free will that enter into our world every day and fuck up our plans.

How do - 

Paul: Yeah, that’s the worst.

Whitney: How do you get off the to-do list hamster wheel? And I’m actually really curious to know because I don’t think I know this about you, what was that moment, if there was one, when you realized I’m passionate about developing myself? And I’m welcoming change and I’m going to do that in the face of fear? What was that for you?

Paul: Oh, gosh. That’s a good question. Much like we were talking about the choosing to start at the top of the discussion, I don’t know if there was any one moment of clarity. I think it would be maybe silly for me to say on April 19th at 4: 21 p.m., that is when everything happened.

I think more so for me what it was is that I had - boy, well, part of it was therapy. I’ll be absolutely honest with you. Part of it was therapy and just having that other perspective on my life that was coming from a professional certainly helped me a lot.

And that gave me a lot to think about and talk about with my wife and kind of figure out with her to a degree. But then there was also just the self-exploration, and a lot of that really for me came down to seeing that I had a choice in all matters of my life.

And once I saw that, that really opened things up for me. And that did happen April 19th at 4: 21 p.m. But no, really, for me it was having that acknowledgment. Like, everything in my life is a choice that I’ve made, for the most part, right?

I mean, yes, I’m here. I didn’t choose to exist, which is kind of cool. But I do, and what I do in every single moment is absolutely a choice. And, yes, much like the to-do list stuff, and you were talking about how other people come in and disrupt that perhaps pristine to-do list, there are some times - I mean, there are definitely times when other people take priority.

But I think for me what it was is As I started really understanding me and starting to acknowledge that I had wants and needs that I had not addressed maybe ever in my life, in an attempt to be totally selfless and help other people I was denying myself. And being able to pin it like that and see it that way was really - that was a big moment for me, too, because that, again, was a choice.

I was always that I canning a backseat and always letting other people choose, even if I knew what I wanted and had an idea. That was a part of me that I really didn’t give a lot of play to. So, that part of me was really quiet for a lot of my life. And I just decided.

I wouldn’t say I just decided, but it made more sense to me to consider that part and give it a little more play and let it speak and let it - let’s see where it goes and let’s see where things go. I think that’s where a lot of it came down to for me.

And once there’s the notion of, wow, I can control this - and it’s only me I can control, of course, as you say, not other people. But while I have control over this and I can control this, that’s when - like I said, that’s when it kind of opened up for me a lot because then it led to things like, well, I’ve - gosh, I never exercised. I never liked that.

I never liked the fact that I didn’t do it, and I never liked the fact that - never liked exercise. I’d just never been exposed to anything that I really enjoyed.

And then I tried running, and I liked it. And that really surprised me a lot because it still sounds terribly boring, terribly boring to me, a part of me, right? But I really enjoy it, so I don’t see that as something to be ashamed of. That’s just something that’s now a thing that I do.

But I wouldn’t have gotten to that point if I had just said, oh, this is - I don’t have a choice in the matter. And this is the way I’ve been for X number of years, and it will continue that way for question mark number of years.

Whitney: Well, first I want to say word up to therapy. I feel like people are not - it’s still a taboo for some reason, and I’m not sure why it should be a taboo that you love yourself and you want to be the best version of yourself you can be and you trust in another human being to help you figure out how to do that.

So, I’m a big fan, been doing it for many years with different people, different periods of my life. And I would also credit it tremendously for the mindset that I have that I am a living, breathing, changing being and that I can engage in what it is that I want to work on on a daily basis.

But you need to get some perspective on that. And whether it’s a therapist, a coach, a friend, a boss - I mean, that insight comes from a lot of different places. But there’s a lot of validity to going the psychology route. But I’ll leave it at that.

When you say that you were so focused on helping other people, that you really denied yourself a lot of things, I am reminded of one of my favorite images, which is the emergency procedures on an airplane of putting on your oxygen mask before helping others.

Paul: Yes.

Whitney: And I remember as a kid how disturbed I was that an adult would put their mask on first before putting on my mask. And I really remember thinking that it was so unjust and it was only until very recently that I fully understood why those are the rules and why those rules are really good and why they apply to all areas of our lives, because if we are not taking care of ourselves and we are not the best version of ourselves, we are no good to anyone else.

Anything that we do for anyone else is not sustainable. And we may think we’re being selfless. We may think that we’re giving everything that we have to other people and selfless meaning that we’re denying our needs in order to maximize what we can give to others.

But the reality is that that is a complete falsification and it’s a denial of reality which is that if we are not taking care of ourselves, we aren’t as expansive. We aren’t as receptive. We don’t have as large as an energy field as possible to help others, to be there for people, to really support people and their needs.

And so, I recently have become quite dedicated to taking better care of myself even though I was under the impression for the last 30 years that I took great care of myself. I’ve always been very independent. I’m an only child. I learned how to play alone at a young age, always took myself out to great restaurants, movies, bought myself gifts.

I thought I was my best friend. And it’s been a hard realization but a really important one of late that there are a lot of things that I do to deny myself my basic needs. And I think like you I’ve done that in the name of selflessness. I’ve done that in the name of deep compassion for others but failed to recognize that I was not being compassionate towards myself at all, that I was in a way demeaning others because I was seeing myself as not having the same needs as them.

And we’re all equal in our need for love and support, for sustenance, for passion, for all the things that we try to enable in others. And if we don’t have a reservoir of that in ourselves, we will get tapped out eventually. And that happened to me in a big way.

And then I didn’t want to help anyone because I was just done. I felt used and I felt burned out and I felt like I had nothing left to give to anyone. And that was a shitty feeling.

Paul: I mean, that includes yourself, right? I mean, you didn’t have anything left for yourself either, right?

Whitney: Yeah, no. I had nothing. I had no space left, no space, no attention. And that was a super hard realization because I always thought I was way ahead of the game.

Paul: What made you think you were way ahead of the game, as you put it?

Whitney: I don’t know. I don’t know why I ever thought that. I always saw myself as being really insightful. I always saw myself as being really resourceful and not needing other people as much as other people might need other people.

I think that it was all total defense mechanism now. I mean, at the time my whole growing up and my twenties, I really convinced myself that I was somehow better, that I was somehow above all the other things that people experience, that I had figured it out, that maybe I had come from a better place, maybe I had a stronger resolve.

I don’t know. I’m not sure now what it is that I convinced myself that I had, but I know that I thought I had something that was limitless and that I didn’t need to feed. And because of that I could dedicate my life to helping other people because I would always be fine.

Paul: Right. I mean, that - yes, I can understand that, because for me it was always, oh gosh, it was pretty similar, actually. It was that I could help other people and help other - you know, for me help is one part of it. But it is not all of it because it was - like, I also didn’t necessarily have a big focus on people.

And that’s something I’m still very much working on and, as I said, being present in others’ lives. But for me it was that - I don’t even know if it was coming from a place of help, but it was coming from a place of I would almost say more ignorance for me and not really understanding what - not only my stuff because my stuff was totally like so not even considered.

It wasn’t even there, for the most part. But more so just, hey, other people really have needs, too. And it was needs in the broader sense and not like, hey, I need you to add this to your to-do list type stuff.

But that took me a long time to realize, for sure. People are people, and we all have our own stuff and our own things and our own thoughts and feelings and the like. And, boy, that sounds - you know, when I say that out loud, boy, that sounds really elementary. But that’s something that took me a while to truly realize.

Whitney: I think it’s something that we all say, but there’s a big difference between hearing the words and being able to recite the words intellectually and truly knowing something in your being. And that’s something I’m learning right now because I’ve lived from the neck up my whole life.

And I’ve been an emotional person, and so we tend to say emotion’s in the heart, though I don’t know that that’s biologically the case. But that’s how we like to represent it. And I’ve always been emotional and been able to tap into my emotions and not been caught off from myself in that way.

But I would definitely say that I have not been present in my body. I’ve not recognized myself as being a human being. I’ve not understood the inner workings of my body. I’ve gone to the doctor’s when I was supposed to, and I’ve taken the medications when I got sick.

And I’ve eaten enough to stay relatively healthy. I don’t have any health problems. But I’m not talking about it from that kind of superficial level. I mean, recognizing that we have a head and a heart and a body and that they all coexist and they all arrive wherever we go, it goes back to what we were talking about, a whole person.

I mean, how many times I denied the needs of my body because I was in the middle of doing something for work and I didn’t want to lose my train of thought? There would be times that I would have to pee and I’d hold it for four hours because I just had to get that wireframe right.

Paul: Isn’t that incredible, right? I mean, having to go to the bathroom - because I was sitting here like, yeah, I can definitely remember times when I’ve held off going to the bathroom because I’ve really got to finish this screen or I’ve really got to finish this thing. And for goodness’ sake, your body’s saying, hey, we’ve got to go now.

And saying no to that, I mean, it seems very funny. But we do that because we just see the importance of whatever we’re focused on and whatever that task is. And we’re like, that’s fine. You can do it in a few minutes. And sometimes there are situations where you have to wait.

The similar thing I was going to say was around food and lunch and being in office environments where people will work through lunch and then I run into people every day and I have throughout my entire career where I’ll run into them at, like, 3: 00 in the afternoon. They’re like, I’m just having lunch now and I’m starving. And it’s like, why didn’t you have lunch?

And if you’re starving, well, great. But try to - that’s a part of self-care. And it’s really weird to me, and it’s very troubling when it’s a matter of that’s something like that or going to the bathroom. These are really basic things. I mean, these are super basic, and we deny them. We say, hey, that can wait. Is that really taking care of yourself, really?

Whitney: No. It’s because we’re completely living in our heads. I’m reminded of when I was still working full-time and I was just getting into Twitter, and my dear friend Matt Knell, who I met because of Twitter, knew that I would delay lunch. He knew that I would get so caught up in what I was working on that I wouldn’t eat.

And every day around 3: 00 he would Tweet at me in all caps eat something.

Paul: Nice. Nice.

Whitney: We joke about it now because it was pretty cute and pretty sweet of him to do. But I would see that and I would be reminded that I had not eaten and that there was this other person who I didn’t know and we chatted on Twitter for months before we ever met in person and we both lived in New York at the time.

And I would just be reminded that there was another human being buried in that 140 characters and an avatar, even though that’s all I could see of him. There was a whole human being who was able to recognize me for more than my Tweets and was a whole human being as well.

And he wanted the best for me in all aspects of my life. And he was willing to take those ten seconds out of his day just to send that message. That meant something to me. It hit me. And I think that we very quickly were able to see each other as more than just, you know, colleagues or work associates or whatever but people in the tech scene, which is what we were to each other, I suppose, at that time.

And we became really, really good friends, and we still are. Even though we don’t see each other that much and we don’t work in similar area, we still have that connection because we recognized something about the other person, that we were whole people.

And I think that it’s rare to find another person like that or maybe people are recognizing it but they’re not communicating it because they think that others don’t see them that way. I don’t know. To the person - and I can’t believe I keep bringing this up, but obviously it still has an impact on me.

To the person who said less food, more UX, does that person see themselves as a human being with a body and desires for their life outside of career advancement? I have to wonder.

Paul: I’m not sure. I mean, that’s a very interesting point because, I mean, as you said, that person - not knowing that person and having the context - 

Whitney: I don’t even know who it was.

Paul: Right, and only having the context that you provided, but it sounds very much like that’s very much - this is - I only see you as doing this for me. And that is all you are. And it’s not - it sounds like actually that message could be interpreted as pretty awful. But maybe it wasn’t an insulting thing.

I don’t know, but it could also be that while I only saw that part of you and that is all that I knew, and while there are other parts of you and I don’t see value in that - and again, that’s a denial of a whole person.

So, but hey, here’s the thing, though. It sounds like you took less food, more UX to heart, didn’t you, because you were skipping lunch? You totally took it to heart.

Whitney: Yeah. Those were - wrong timeline. But yeah, it’s funny because I haven’t thought about that in a long time, but this conversation is continually bringing that up for me. It symbolized something. And I don’t remember who it was and I don’t remember even knowing the person who said it. And it wasn’t one person.

It was a bunch of people who either unfollowed and felt the need to tell me why they were unfollowing, and it was happening at a time when I was just starting to Tweet about the Four-Hour Body stuff. And then it happened again when I was Tweeting a lot about the Hurricane Sandy victims.

And what it symbolized for me is that not everyone wants to engage with a whole person all the time. And maybe that’s OK, and I’m not passing a value judgment on it. But that’s not something that I want for myself anymore because I think that I worked very hard to deny certain parts of myself in order to create an image that I thought was going to be more popular.

Paul: Absolutely.

Whitney: It wasn’t something that I did consciously at all. But it’s not like I was at my desk trying to engineer a person that I could attempt to be. I think that just slowly over time I was either taught by society or I had my own misconceptions about what little areas of myself I should shut off or just dial back and not broadcast as much and which other areas I should turn up the dial on in order to attract the most people and be appealing to the most amount of people rather than to say it’s OK if being fully me puts off some people.

However, it’s going to attract a fewer number of richer relationships into my world where they too want to engage with their whole selves, with other people. And in a way, when you and I met, it wasn’t like, oh, hey, so you work at [GoGo]. What do you do there? And, oh, so tell me about what project you’re working on right now, who are your clients?

We were immediately drawn into a conversation on a very different level. It was not about our work selves at all. And it also wasn’t only about our personal selves. We weren’t talking about each other’s significant others. We were talking about our wholeness and working to embody that more and what does that mean and have we not been authentic in the way that we’ve been behaving up until now if we’re now coming to this realization that we aren’t doing as much as we can to not compartmentalize ourselves?

And I’m still struggling with where to draw the line. I mean, I don’t share any intimate details of my relationship online and for good reason. Privacy still exists in my world. But how can I share with prospective clients what I’m doing in my life, the life choices I’m making?

Moving to Key West, now we’re talking about buying a sailboat and living aboard. How can I share those aspects of what’s going on in my life without creating the perception that I’m checking out of society or that I’m less serious about my business or that I’m less available for work, all of which are not true?

But you can easily imagine how that would be the perception. And so, I’m really struggling with that. I don’t know how much to share. But then I feel inauthentic that I’m not sharing it all. So, I’m figuring it out. I am really in the early stages of this. And that I’m starting this coaching program now at the same time, there’s a whole lot of newness in my life and a lot of roads that I’m walking down. And I don’t know where any of them are going to lead.

But I feel like each one is reinforcing just the greater changes that I’m trying to make to myself, and they will all have their benefits in some way. And even if they don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other, and even if they don’t all pan out and I realize along the way that thing wasn’t what was right for me and it didn’t pull me in the direction that I was looking for, in sum, I think, all of these thing will.

But it’s really hard to know how to communicate that with other people without feeling like you’re being judged.

Paul: Well, maybe you are being judged. But, I mean, you’re doing [unintelligible] diagrams on a boat, from goodness sake. But you may be being judged, but you don’t have any control over that. Some people are going to judge you, and some people are going to judge me or anybody else.

But I think to me the importance is that the people who matter most in your life, the people you are closest to, that is where the judgment stuff is most important because for me there was a time when I really cared what everybody on the internet thought about me a lot because, again, with the selflessness it was pretty much, wow, then I’m thriving on that feedback.

I am looking at the analytics. I’m looking at the numbers and I wonder what they’re reading. And that’s very - boy, that’s self-serving stuff, in a way. But I really cared about that a lot, and now I kind of don’t.

Much like you were saying, too, there are people who are going to hear this pod cast, and they are going to say, wow, that was great. And there are some people who are going to say, wow, that was a big waste of time. But so be it, right? It simply is, and for us it’s a conversation. And for other people there may be something they get out of it.

But it still doesn’t represent all of us, you know what I mean? This is a slice, and that’s all it is. But it’s not that it doesn’t mean it’s without value.

Whitney: I completely agree. And when you told me that the person at work came over to your desk and said, oh, this Whitney character, I mean, even hearing that makes me kind of change my body position. It makes me kind of hunch a little bit, and it makes me make myself small a little bit because hearing that is strange to me.

The idea that there are people in the world that are talking about me when I’m not present, at 30 I still haven’t figured out that that happens. I’m not comfortable with that at all because they could be saying negative things about me and I’m not there to defend myself and I’m not there to explain what I meant by that and I’m not there to show them all the other sides of myself that they’re not seeing.

And they’re making a judgment with less information than is available to them. And there’s a part of me that wants to control that.

Paul: Absolutely. I have that, too.

Whitney: I think a lot of us do. And it gets back to what we were talking earlier about what you can control. You’re right. You can’t control whether people are going to judge you. People are going to listen to this. People are going to see us on the street. And they’re going to either think something or say something.

And they’re not going to agree with something that we’re doing. And that’s just how it is. And the reality is that we do that to other people all the time.

Paul: Yeah, totally.

Whitney: I consider myself to be so, you know, high on the scale of compassion, and I’m the person who writes about empathy all day long, and meanwhile there are plenty of situations in my life where I find it very difficult to extend that compassion to people because my little judging antennas are up and I can’t stop myself sometimes. And I hate that, and that’s one of the things that I’m actively working on right now because it isn’t what I believe to be my true nature.

I think it’s something that I learned, and I want to unlearn it. And I’m trying to figure out how. But it’s just how it is. And other people have the same things. And if we were to control our behaviors based on what we thought other people were going to like or say or think, then we’re giving up all the control that we have in our lives.

We’re giving up everything. So, to take a stand and say it’s OK if no one likes this and it’s OK if I fail, ultimately I’m doing it for me. And that’s not something that I think most of us give ourselves in our lives, especially those of us in helping professions.

And that word “help” is very strange. And I heard you loud and clear when you were saying that the turn of phrase “I like to help people”, it’s not enough. It doesn’t capture what we’re really talking about. It doesn’t capture the depth of our passion, of making other people’s lives better and how we dedicate ourselves to that.

We’ve chosen to do that through technology. We’ve chosen to do that through working on the mother humanistic side of business. That’s the path that we’re on. And even you and I do that so differently despite the fact that we are practitioners in the same realm, so to speak.

But we really don’t - many of us, and I would venture to say most of us who are in these helping professions, give ourselves that gift of saying I’m doing this entirely for me, nobody else, not my partner, not my kids, not my parents, not my boss, not my direct reports, only for me. This is my journey. This is my project. I am my lifelong project.

And there is no one who can stop me. And I think I’ve resisted that for a long time because I thought it sounded very selfish. And I’m finally realizing that it’s selfish to not do it.

Paul: With the selflessness that I have learned over time, I started to feel that anything that I did for myself was selfish, and I saw that as a very negative thing. Like, selflessness I saw as positive, like that’s a really good quality, to be selfless.

And selfish, oh, that person is really into themselves and in not a good way, and there’s a lot of stuff that I have wrapped up with that word and have for a very long time. That’s not new.

But what I’ve found is there is a middle ground. As you say, if you start to pay attention to yourself, your needs, what your desires and wants are, that’s not selfish. That’s self-awareness. And there’s a huge difference. And maybe selfish isn’t even a negative thing. That might be just something that I have learned.

But I’ve almost always heard it in a negative context, like boy, that person’s being really selfish. It’s kind of done as a putdown. But maybe there are times when it’s totally not. Maybe it’s fine.

Whitney: Maybe it’s awesome. Maybe it’s all the people that refuse to take care of themselves that think that selfishness is negative.

Paul: Maybe it’s envy.

Whitney: Maybe. Maybe it always was. So, here we are. We’re starting. You have to start somewhere, right?

Paul: You have to start somewhere. And if you don’t start, then nothing happens. Then nothing happens.

Whitney: And eventually you stop being given chances.

Paul: Yes, that’s true.

Whitney: Then the decision is made for you.

Paul: Yes. And then you start to feel powerless and like you don’t have control.

Whitney: Or you’re gone and it’s all over.

Paul: Yes. And then what? Nothing.

Whitney: We don’t know.

Paul: Well, we don’t know.

Whitney: Maybe you get a chance to do it again.

Paul: Yeah, that’d be pretty sweet. But maybe you won’t. I don’t know. But I do know that we started a podcast tonight.

Whitney: Which is pretty sweet.

Paul: It is pretty sweet.

Whitney: Whatever we start, we can call it a podcast because that’s the label that other people would like to put on it.

Paul: Yes.

Whitney: But what we have started, which I think started before tonight, is a friendship that’s based on something true. It’s based on a similarity that we see in one another that is deep below the surface. It’s not about the fact that we’re both user experience designers. And it’s not about the fact that we both attended this conference or really anything that could be seen on paper.

Paul: Right. Yeah. It’s a connection. I mean, it’s a connection, and it goes beyond that. You’re right.

Whitney: And I think if we can achieve anything with sharing these conversations with others, it would hopefully be to encourage people to look for more of those in their lives.

Paul: Agreed. The more whole people that we connect with, the better. And boy - and you know what the awesome thing is, too? If you have a person that you do consider your significant other who is also a whole person, that’s exciting stuff.

Whitney: Oh, it is. And I think we both have those. And hopefully we’ll get to share a bit about them in our future conversations.

Paul: That sounds good. All right.

Whitney: Well, we did it.

Paul: I think that’s good. Should we stop the recording?

Whitney: I can’t wait for whatever comes next, but yeah, I think it’s time to stop the recording.

Paul: All right. So, we’re going to stop now.

Whitney: OK. Bye.