#12 High on Life with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman



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Whitney Hess: Welcome to another episode of Designing Yourself. This is Whitney Hess.

Paul McAleer: And this is Paul McAleer.

Whitney: In this episode, Paul and I talk about energy. We discuss the ideas of balance and centering as well as what it means when we feel high energy or low energy. And Paul finally talks chakras, which he’s been wanting to for a while.

Then we talk with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, the cofounder of The Center Centre, a new user experience design school based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She tells us how she keeps her energy so high despite having a 14-page to-do list and much more, coming up on this episode of Designing Yourself.

Paul: So, there was an episode that we had last season where I referenced chakras. And I don’t know if you remember it. Do you, first of all?

Whitney: I could not possibly tell you which episode it was, but of course I know that we’ve spoken about chakras.

Paul: I wish I had looked up exactly what episode it was and what time, because I love being precise like that. But I brought it up, and part of the reason I did was to - I did it kind of in a humorous way. And I kind of said something to the effect of wait until I bring up chakras because then everything is done. Katy, bar the door because we’re done. That’s it. We’re going all in.

And this is it. This is where it’s coming up, because when I think about energy, I think about the chakras. And that is a new thing for me because I had no idea chakras existed before a couple of years ago. I had no exposure to it, had no idea what they were. I didn’t know what they meant or what they signified, just totally clueless.

And we love to have definitions read from Wikipedia, so I’m not going to do that. What I am going to say is the way that I understand chakras is that they are points within the body that basically reflect our energy and physicality and spirituality kind of all together. And there’s the ability to focus on them and direct energy into them and notice where the energy is flowing in and out of them.

And I have found that to be an extremely useful way to think about a lot of things and feel a lot of things. And it really surprised me because this is not something that I would have ever considered more seriously three, four years ago at all.

Whitney: Well, you are aware that we share a brain, correct?

Paul: This has been established by us writing blog posts within days of each other and similar other eerie coincidences.

Whitney: Days? I feel like it’s been hours.

Paul: I think it was one time. I think it was within hours or something crazy like that, yes. So, yes, I understand that. So, please continue.

Whitney: So, I too was completely unaware of what chakras actually were up until less than a year ago. And when I heard the term “chakra” I just chalked it up to, you know, something completely outside of the realm of actual reality. I kind of just put it in the new age, whoo-whoo bucket. I like to call it whoo-whoo.

Paul: Yes, the whoo-whoo bucket. I like one whoo, but I agree with you.

Whitney: I go for two. And, to me it was like the equivalent of auras and tarot cards and palm readings and things that I enjoyed doing when I was a kid but that are basically the equivalent of a Ouija board. And only in the last six months or so - maybe a year - have I been learning that there is actually a scientific basis for this stuff.

And as with most knowledge that comes from Eastern society, us Westerners have a very hard time taking it seriously because it’s so different from what we’re taught. But in actuality, it is steeped in so much science, biology, history, deep knowledge of how human beings work and how the universe works, that there is a tremendous amount of realism and insight to be learned from the chakras.

And one thing I want to say to add to your definition is that the chakra points in the body - and different traditions have a different number of chakras. And they call them different things. And they’re related to somewhat different things. But more often than not the most commonly-used system of chakras has seven chakras. And they’re all in a vertical line from the top of your head down to your groin, essentially, your center line.

And these seven locations in your body are actually where you have the highest concentration of nerves. So it’s bundles of nerves where nerves are intersecting one another. And they are essentially the most sensitive, if we were to consider nerves as being where our senses come from. They’re the most sensitive areas of our body.

And because it’s these intersections of nerves, they are where we are channeling the most of our energy. And you can talk about it sounding very whoo-whoo, or you can talk about it in scientific terms. We know that we are energetic bodies. And for many of us it’s easy to say I’m low energy today. I’m so high energy today. I’m totally hyper or I’m totally down.

And we can notice our energies in our body. And many times we can notice other people’s energy. Like, you're in a meeting and someone comes into the room. And you don’t really know what it is you don’t like about the person. But you just don’t like them because they shift the energy in the room.

And we talk about that so fluidly in our society. And then when it comes to actually talking about how to create energies, how to dissipate energies and the word “chakra” comes into play, then suddenly it’s like, OK, wait. I was willing to talk about energy, but don’t take it that far.

Paul: Exactly. Exactly. It’s kind of funny how that works, in that we are quite willing to talk about it in some sort of vague, abstract, not necessarily tied to anything kind of form. But when it actually, as it turns out, has a spiritual and scientific backdrop and background, then it kind of changes a bit. And that also is part of the reason I was initially uncomfortable talking about it, is because of that concern, and that, wow, it is whoo, one whoo, and it’s just kind of out there.

But I’m cool with that now. I generally am. And I think part of my fear was just the old judgment stuff that I deal with anyway. So, when it comes to energy there are a couple of really interesting things that I think are in line with this. First of all, when you mentioned that they’re all kind of centered in the body, to me that’s also a natural place to talk about being centered as well.

Because, if you have, basically, a map of the human body in front of you, the chakras do line up center in a person. So when you’re not feeling centered, again, that’s a phrase that we kind of have taken away from this meaning and just kind of made it generic. But I believe it lines up with that as well - pun fully intended - in that if you're not centered, then possibly your chakras are off balance as well.

Whitney: And people say that. People say I’m off balance today.

Paul: I’m off balance. I’m off balance. I’m off center.

Whitney: I’m not feeling grounded.

Paul: Yeah, and I’m not feeling grounded, which could mean the root chakra is off balance as well. So whether it’s something that people consciously believe in or not, the terminology is something that’s totally seeped into our culture. And that I actually see as a positive thing because then it kind of can open the door to more people exploring that and talking about it.

But when I first heard about it, I was introduced to it by my therapist who is also a certified yoga therapist. And for me it was hitting all the buttons at the right time because it was like, oh, there’s a yoga connection as well, which I was also interested in. And there are certain poses that can line up with chakras and help you get those balanced, which I found really exciting.

But one thing I wanted to do was kind of explore them on my own. And I remember it was when I was on a trip for a conference a couple of years ago. I was reading about them and watching videos, and then I found meditations on the chakras as well. And I did my little bit of homework and found that at the time that I really wanted to focus on my basically - gosh, my creativity and enthusiasm and kind of all that type of energy.

It wasn’t quite root chakra. And as it turns out, the chakra that’s right above that, Svadhisthana, which I trust I’m saying correctly - the orange one, because I love the colors, too - the colors are awesome. That’s where I wanted to put my focus.

So I actually did meditate. I did a guided meditation with that chakra in mind. And it was really transformative for me, which surprised me. I didn’t expect it to be. But just following along with a guided meditation that was on YouTube, for goodness’ sake, it really - I could feel the energy of that chakra and feel it misaligned and then conclude the meditation with focusing on not just the chakra itself but the color, which was also important to me because I love color and that’s something that - who doesn’t love color?

But that’s something that I thought was a really accessible way to think about it. And so, for me focusing on orange and then at the end of that meditation focusing on white, kind of that whole all colors, right, focusing on all of that, was really beneficial for me. And I came away feeling more centered. I genuinely did. And it was just kind of putting all those things together that really had an impact on me.

And that was something that at the time I wouldn’t say totally surprised me, but it was not fully expected. Much like you, I trust it would have been something that I might have scoffed at or been very skeptical of a number of years ago. But it worked for me.

Whitney: Well, I think it’s amazing that you took it upon yourself to adjust your energy in that way when you knew that you needed to cultivate something else for yourself in that moment in order to feel better and to achieve your goals, whatever those were, at the time. But it is, I think for a lot of people listening, probably still sounding really out there.

But I want to give an example that people may not realize but that was definitely making the rounds last year, which is Amy Cuddy’s Power Pose TED Talk.

Paul: Yes.

Whitney: Do you remember that?

Paul: Was it the - just to clarify, was it the - oh, gosh. Was it how you move affects your body, or how your - oh, gosh. I had this title down because gave a talk on that.

Whitney: I can’t remember what it was called, but it was - I call it how you pose shapes how you feel.

Paul: Yes, that is what it is.

Whitney: But I don’t know if that’s - 

Paul: Your body language shapes who you are.

Whitney: Yes, your body language shapes who you are. And she is a researcher, and she speaks with the science rhetoric. But what her study found and the way that she framed it in the TED Talk was that two minutes of standing up straight with your hands behind your head and your elbows out and your shoulder blades pressed together just for two minutes a day can make you more powerful at work or make you feel more energized and more in control of your situation. OK?

Now, we watched this TED Talk, and it’s 18 minutes of wow, and we can’t believe all the research and what it shows and how conclusive it is. And it’s so easy. It’s just two minutes of putting your hands behind your head and striking a power pose. Or she was showing how a lot of - across cultures, a lot of people who’ve just achieved something put their arms up with their fists closed and they pump the air with both arms over head, like in a cactus shape like someone who’s just won a race does. We make that pose all the time, and it reinforces that power.

Well, if we stop and take a moment to analyze what's happening if you were to put yourself in that position, you are lifting your chin, opening your throat. You are opening your breastbone, the center of your chest. Your shoulder blades are pressing back together. Your ribs are lifted. You are creating space underneath your diaphragm. We’ve now covered opening the throat chakra, opening the heart chakra and opening the solar plexus.

And the common qualities that are associated with each of those, throat chakra is associated with communication, clearly, in the throat, and creativity. The heart chakra is associated with love and compassion. And the solar plexus, which is that spot above your abdomen but just below your ribs, like where your - what do they call that spot right between where your ribs meet? Kind of where your diaphragm is, that’s the solar plexus. That’s the center for energy and power.

And that’s what's happening. You’re creating that space in your power zone, and it becomes a power pose. And that’s how we refer to it. So the idea for some people of standing in a power pose for two minutes before going into an important meeting seems like a totally worthwhile two minutes to spend. But then hearing about how you did a chakra meditation sounds totally out there. It’s the same damn thing.

Paul: It is. Well, I think it would be very different if I had - well, A, if my story was different, but B, if I told it perhaps without the notions of the chakra and energy and colors coming into play, because then it would be, well, I really thought about - I really concentrated on me and a part of myself that really needed attention, and I worked on it. And that would be very plain and very possible to do. But it may be a little more “acceptable” to talk about it that way.

But I find that to be an interesting parallel with Amy Cuddy’s stuff because we’ve talked about her stuff before. I’m glad we can bring it up again and again because it’s so very good and made me think about things in a very different way. But it also goes to show how tied all this stuff is together, because it’s not simply a matter of your body being in a certain position, although that is a key component of it.

But it’s also that your mind and whatever other component you have - spirit, soul, what have you - is there, too, and possibly others that all work together on this. It’s not something that any one component of yourself can do. It’s all of you working on it kind of together.

And, yeah, you need to pay attention or may want to pay attention to one part of the self or one part of the - one chakra. But ultimately it requires your whole presence in some way.

Whitney: Well, I think what we’re getting at here is that we are whole human beings, which is a message that we like to share on this podcast quite often, and it often comes up in our conversations. Yes, every single one of us is a whole human being. And that includes a mind, a heart and a body. And in fact our mind and our heart are contained within our body, but we’re not often so good at remembering that.

Many of us are just disembodied heads floating around, and we often forget that our body even exists. Its only role in our lives is to carry our brains from one place to another. And we don’t treat it the way it needs to be treated. We don’t remember that it’s there during the day. We get so drawn into our work that we just abandon it and ignore it completely.

And we don’t recognize just how much we need it, not only to survive but to thrive. So, the body has its own intelligences. It has its own sensations. And we as a society tend to be so focused on thoughts and ideas and the productions of the mind we put all of our attention there. And we don’t really put enough attention into the other intelligences that are a natural part of our essences, the emotional intelligences.

And that is both managing and knowing oneself and knowing and managing others as well. And then there’s the body’s intelligences, which are all of the senses and all the sensations and all of the pains and all of the languages that our body not only can speak volumes to the rest of the world about who we are but also have intel for us about what’s going on with us that we may otherwise not be tuned into.

And so working with the chakras, even though it sounds really kind of flighty or whatever or something that isn’t for everyone, in reality understanding how each part of the body is incorporated with the next and the centers of energy and what those are associated with in your life can give you a lot of insight into what's happening with you that your mind alone can never know.

Paul: That’s absolutely right. And one more example is touching on something we were talking about before we started recording. And that was that yesterday was an extremely low-energy day for me. I basically had taken in some things in the morning and read some things that were kind of upsetting to me. And I carried them with me. Plus I felt that I - as also I mentioned, I’m not in a cold state, but I’m in that pre-cold, maybe I’m going to be sick state, but I’m not sure. But there’s something showing up.

And I felt that I had a lot of stuff to get done at work. So all of that kind of worked - I’m going to say it worked to conspire against me, but it really didn’t. but those are the things that I kind of let drive me to a place of low energy yesterday.

And when I was at work I just really buried myself in my work yesterday. I had a lot of things I could do kind of heads-down, which meant headphones on and not as many interactions with people and just kind of cocooning myself in my work. And it’s interesting to me that if I were to have looked at how that manifested physically, it would mean that I was really just sitting in my chair, in my office chair, and moving my fingers and typing and moving my hand and moving the pointer on the screen and getting up to make lunch and go to the bathroom and get coffee and all those little things that were not really, even in the way I described them, they were not really giving me an opportunity to get any energy in or out.

It was just kind of all trapped. And I felt small, and I felt just low energy, just like it’s not going to change. And for a while I also then recognized, well, if I’m having a low-energy day, then I certainly am, and being accepting of it, but not going so far as to say, well, I’m going to go ahead and change that voluntarily now. I just kind of closed myself off.

And it was something that one of my coworkers noticed today. She’s like, yeah, I noticed that you were really just kind of quiet and just working mostly by yourself yesterday. And I said, yeah, it was a low-energy day for me.

Whitney: And when that happens to me I say that I’m feeling blah. I don’t have a way of describing it. I don’t say low energy. I just say I’m blah.

Paul: That’s a much more succinct way of putting it.

Whitney: See, what’s interesting to me, though, is that you’re talking about kind of manipulating these energies to benefit us on a day-to-day basis, and that there are these fluctuations that occur naturally, and accepting them is, of course, really crucial because if you’re not coming from a place of acceptance, then you can’t truly move forward kindly and gently to yourself.

But I think it’s also really important for us to discuss that with a lot of these energies there are long-term blockages that are occurring based on our sense of ourselves, the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are, the routines that we have, how we spend most of our day, like sitting at a desk like many of us do and not moving around, a lack of physical activity, eating habits, sleeping habits.

All of these things contribute to longer-term energy blockages that require us to do a lot of concerted effort repeatedly, not just to change how we’re feeling on the day to day but to really undo some bad habits and open ourselves up physically in new ways to let energy flow through that space.

And I am a little hesitant to admit, but we’re putting it out there, and so let’s go. I am now coaching people. I have clients as a part of my certification process for my coaching program. And I’m working with six clients right now, and I’m having the most amazing time. And I can go off on that for a really long time, but I’ll stop myself now.

But I will just say that as part of helping to figure out where people are getting stuck, and they’re bringing an issue to me, and I am helping them to see it in a new light, what I do on my own, this is in no way what is being taught to us in the program within the methodology of New Ventures West.

But on my own because I’m recently starting to see just how powerful these chakras can be, I’m mapping their issue to a chakra and I’m thinking, OK, if they are feeling creatively blocked or if they’re feeling insecure about finances or if they’re feeling that they are having a lot of conflicts with people at work that they really just can’t understand, they’re lacking in understanding compassion for them, or they’re feeling really tired, I take that issue and I figure out which chakra is that associated with.

And then, at least one of the practices that I offer them as a part of our coaching engagement, part of our program, is an exercise that will open that chakra. I don’t ever say the word “chakra” to them because I know that for some, not for everyone but for some people, they would look at me like I have three heads. And I don’t want to distract from what we’re doing with where this theory is coming from.

There’s really no need to get there. The why isn’t as important as what they do and how they do it at this point in their process. So for someone who is really struggling with a creative block, for instance, a great practice might be encouraging them to sing in the shower because that’s going to open up the throat chakra and it will cultivate creativity.

Or someone who is really struggling with their colleagues at work might benefit from a heart chakra opening, which could be as simple as rolling up a blanket, putting it on the floor, laying down with your shoulder blades just slightly above that blanket roll so that you’re laying back with an arch in your back and your chest opens. And lay like that for five minutes, and that’s the practice.

And people can do that at any time of day - in the morning when they wake up or before they go to sleep. Just five minutes of opening up their chest like that, which could just feel good and could just be meditative because they’re resting for probably the only five minutes of their day. Little do they realize that it’s also cultivating heart openness, which is ultimately what leads to compassion for others.

So you almost don’t even need to know that you’re doing it in order for it to work. And I’ve found that to be incredibly effective for people. And they’re loving the practices that I’m offering without even understanding the theory behind it.

Paul: That’s fantastic. I love the idea of taking even a couple of minutes and doing something like that. I’ve found that for me and my crazy, hectic life, which everyone has, even taking a five-minute break to do a yoga pose, one yoga pose even, or just taking five minutes to do quick meditation, that’s something we’ve chatted about before. And I’ve been putting that into practice.

That’s been extremely beneficial for me. So it’s not something that we can also say, well, you have to understand all the chakras. You have to research them. You have to watch guided meditations on YouTube. And then you have to practice meditation. Because you don’t. If you do, great. And if you don’t, that’s also great, and I will not judge.

If it’s something as simple as singing in the shower, well, that’s something lots of people do anyway, or singing in the car, which I recommend highly if you drive to and from work. And I do that all the time.

Whitney: I don’t know what it is, but my voice sounds awesome in the car.

Paul: In the car? What about the shower? Is it good in the shower, too?

Whitney: Yeah, it sounds good in the shower, too. But then in any other location I sound awful.

Paul: Awesome. That sounds like you love karaoke then, right?

Whitney: I really benefit from those close-quarter acoustics, I guess.

Paul: Yeah, I guess so. I mean, so the last thing I’ll mention that is maybe an Easter egg of sorts, is that - a question, actually. I won’t even mention. I’ll ask you a question. Do you know why our current logo for the show is purple?

Whitney: I never knew that. Look at you. Well, I’m going to tell everyone since I just figured it out. Purple is the associated color with the crown chakra. It is the topmost chakra. It’s at the very crown of your head, the tip-tip-tip of your head. And it is associated with understanding and enlightenment.

Paul: There you go. No small goals for this podcast.

Whitney: You know what? I am impressed, Paul. I never picked up on that.

Paul: Nice. Well, now you have, and I’m glad you did. And as they say, the more you know.

Whitney: Well, thanks for that tidbit and for enlightening me and our listeners. And hopefully we’ve given everyone something to think about, maybe taken a bit of the mystery away from this whole chakra and energy business and encouraged a few folks to go find out more for themselves.

Paul: That sounds great. Thanks so much, Whitney.

Whitney: Thank you, Paul.

Paul: Leslie Jensen-Inman is the cofounder of The Center Centre, which is a new user experience design school based in Chattanooga. And prior to her work with The Center Centre Leslie served for five years as an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is known for promoting awesomeness and encouraging people to do good. Leslie, welcome to Designing Yourself.

Leslie Jensen-Inman: Thanks. Thanks for having me on.

Whitney: We are so thrilled that you could join us today.

Leslie: Well, I am, too. I’m very much looking forward to our conversation.

Paul: Wonderful. So, I think we should start with The Center Centre, because that is one of the most exciting things that’s been going on lately. So, I can only imagine what goes into making a school. And I would love to hear more about how that journey has been for you.

Leslie: It’s exciting. It’s long. It’s more complicated than I could have ever expected, and I expected it to be really complicated. So there’s all these different parts. I guess, for example, yesterday I made a to-do list for myself and it’s just items around the curriculum. And the to-do list, which was no spaces on lines, was 14 pages long.

Paul: Oh, wow.

Leslie: But I was like, you know, this is OK because I really will never be bored. Every single day I’m doing something a little different, and it’s really exciting. But I guess the general process of how the school got started is Jared Spool and I both came from slightly different ways to come to the conclusion that we needed a new kind of UX design school, one that really produced industry-ready graduates.

And this would be good for both the graduates and for hiring companies, because there’s such a need for UX people these days, right? And CNN Money recently posted that it’s going to be like a 22% increase in the next 10 years.

So we’ve got all these positions open but not a lot of talent to fill them, at least not the kind of talent that most companies are starting to realize they need, which are more of these generalists, people that have really holistic skills. And that’s where sort of this idea of the unicorn came up.

So, if people have heard of The Unicorn Institute, Center Centre is the school that’s coming out of our research from The Unicorn Institute. And when Jared and I started talking about this we decided to approach this like both of us like to do that we find projects work best with, is actually conducting research.

So we met with hiring companies and hiring managers and UX professionals and really delved into what do hiring companies need from graduates. And we figured this was a really great way to be able to serve both the graduates and the hiring companies because when students graduate they really do want to go and find meaningful work.

So, if they could have the skills that the hiring companies are looking for, that would make that transition a whole lot easier. So we started with that, and that was a couple of years ago. And we’ve been continuing our research throughout. But we started implementing our research and creating a curriculum and things as specific as finding a space and location for the school and thinking about furniture and color palettes and all those kinds of things and how those affect learning, thinking about how do you set up a curriculum in a way with a new kind of course structure and different ways to meet the students’ needs and then ultimately produce industry-ready UX professionals.

And, I don’t know, there’s just so much that we do every day. And recently we’ve just been authorized by the State of Tennessee to be an actual post-secondary school, which is a huge big deal. And we’re really excited that the state of Tennessee has worked with us because we’re kind of non-traditional. But they’ve been really great in seeing that this is the future of education.

Whitney: Congratulations.

Leslie: Thank you.

Paul: That is fantastic.

Leslie: It is such a huge deal, and it took us a year to get through the process. And it’s grueling, but it’s so good. Our work - everything we’re going is so much better because we’ve had to answer really tough questions.

Paul: Like what?

Leslie: Everything from how are you going to make sure that the students - how are you going to make sure every promise you make to the students is held, like you keep your promises? And that is something interesting. I think a lot of us like to make promises and keep to our promises, keep our word, keep our commitment.

But when you start realizing everything you write, if you’re going to write - we’re building out our school website. Everything on there is a promise to a student. How do you keep those promises? That’s really an important thing to consider.

Whitney: Wow. And it sounds like you have so many differing concerns, so many different stakeholders, from the State to the students to the companies that you’re trying to serve. And you have this to-do list that’s 14 pages long, which just boggles my mind. And yet you seem so excited to take it all on. So I can’t help but wonder where you get your energy from.

Leslie: That’s a really great question. First, I think it’s really important to work with really great people. So I’m working with Jared, and he’s fantastic. And when one of our energy is low the other one is usually high, and we can sort of say, OK, let’s rally on this, or this thing didn’t work out and it really stinks. So let’s try to focus on this positive thing, and just reminding each other that we will get through this, that we’re totally capable of doing it. It just might not look like the thing we started out in the beginning, or that we’re going down a slightly different path.

We’re keeping true to the values we have, to what’s important, but things don’t always or maybe ever look exactly how you think they’re going to when you start a project. And that’s OK, and we just have to kind of remind ourselves. And then, we have two full-time employees that are fantastic and I get to meet with all the time. They’re here in Chattanooga.

And so we work together. And there’s this energy that happens when you get together and you’re not only thinking and discussing but actually executing your plan. And so working with really great people is super-important. And having really great people in your life in general is really important. So when I decided to do this I had a conversation with my husband, Sean, and I had a conversation with my mom and my closest friends and said here’s this thing I’m going to do. And it might be a little bit crazy. And they’re all used to it, so that wasn’t a big surprise.

They’re like, yeah, yeah, this doesn’t sound any different, Leslie, than anything else you’ve tried to do. But they know that some days, that my days are not as predictable. And having a spouse that gets that, it’s the only way to do something like this and still feel really positive about it, I think.

Whitney: It sounds like you have asked the people in your life to help give you the energy that you need to keep this going by saying, hey, this is the intention that I’m setting out to achieve. Be there for me. Please remind me of why I’m doing this, but also recognize that when my energy is drained, this is why it is. And it sounds like a really smart maneuver to make sure that you have what you need to keep things going over the long term when you have so much that you have to get through, really, to make it a reality.

And I’m very curious about your relationship with Jared in particular and your recognizing that when your energy is low, his is high and vice versa, what do you think that’s about, that there’s kind of like this give and take kind of thing that happens in a partnership when it comes to energy?

Leslie: It’s really - I think it’s one of the most important things to figure out with any relationship. And a business partnership, it’s a lifelong relationship. And we’ve worked really hard to have really great communication. And there’s been times when I’m like, Jared, can you please remind me why this is supposed to be great?

And there are not that many times, because what we’re doing is so exciting that most of the time everything feels good. But sometimes when you’re working through a whole bunch of, I don’t know, contract [lawyerese] stuff which, for me, that’s not my wheelhouse. That’s not where I find energy or excitement, and the same way, except once I start learning how to do something that’s really fun.

And that when we finish up a contractor or figuring out how to read a certain - so the state of Tennessee, they write very much as lawyers write. And that’s because most of the entire group that we’ve been working with, which is the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, their background is in law.

And so, for me that’s not seemingly fun until I started to understand it more and ask Jared for some resources and ask him for just some support of, hey, remind me that we’re doing this for a good reason. And it’s like I know it, but sometimes you just need to hear it from an outside source, and it’s not just in your head.

Paul: So, I’m curious, too, about during this - as you say, it’s a business partnership that just continues to last. And that’s something that we see in all of our relationships is give and take, too, with energy. Out of everything you do, what gives you the most energy?

Leslie: What gives me the most energy? That is a really great question. I don’t even know. Maybe I do know. I really enjoy connecting with people. When I was teaching full-time, the thing that would give me the most energy is seeing that light-bulb moment when the student really gets it. And I think that in some ways has transferred with my team and seeing when they get something. It’s like this aha moment, and it opens up their mind to something bigger.

And it could be as simple as figuring out how to make a process more efficient. And they get just so excited about it. I work with a team that gets more excited about using Basecamp and TextExpander snippets than I’ve ever known. But it totally makes sense because we’re trying. I’m not the only one with a to-do list that’s that long.

But it’s just so exciting. And then we’re sharing that information and then it’s feeding off of it. I guess also one of the reasons it makes that question so hard is because with this process of building a school we keep having different seasons. There was going through the THEC authorization. That was like a whole different mindset. And we were writing in a whole different voice. And we were communicating in a whole different way than when we moved over to the Kickstarter project, which was a totally different experience.

We were having to communicate within the team in a different way, to the public in a different way. We were actually allowed to be public. That was fun. And so there was a whole different round of excitement. So I guess it just sort of morphs and changes as we do with this project.

Paul: You know, I’m glad you brought up Kickstarter, too, because as an outsider, for me that was one of the most exciting things to see, was just how quickly that got funded and how you guys blew through so many of those other goals. So I’m curious about that as well. How did that feel? How did that affect your energy and Jared’s energy as well?

Leslie: OK, we were in a total state of shock. So, we were - so, the three of us team members, so Keith and Summer, they work with me in Chattanooga. And so we were in our space in Chattanooga. And Jared was up in Boston with the UIE team. And there is this - you know, we launched and publicly we launched, and within three hours it was funded.

And there was this moment where I thought something happened that was like wrong, because there was a massive jump. It’s like a $10,000 jump. And I Skyped Jared. I’m like did you just do something? Did Kickstarter mess up? Like, here’s this unbelievable thing. And then I was like, do you want to stay on Skype, because I think we’re about to make our goal?

And the whole entire group were all there in shock. And oh, by the way, my mom was there because my mom who, when she’s in the role of helping me with this kind of thing, like Center Centre, she goes by Alice. We have this great relationship where she can be my mom or she can be Alice and they’re sort of very different roles and we totally get that.

And she was there, which was really helpful because she took some pictures of us to capture the moment, because we were just sort of like what’s going on and how do we respond to this? And she also helped us make sure to proofread some stuff because when you're that excited you can miss things. So luckily she’s got a good background in education and stuff, so she was able to help us sort of stay a little sane on the details that we needed to.

And I realize sometimes you need someone that’s going to be excited for you but is not running on the pure feeling of adrenaline to catch those kinds of typos, which was great. I don’t know if I’ve answered your question, Paul.

Paul: No, you did, because I get the flavor of how then you kind of took the energy from seeing those changes in the Kickstarter amount so quickly and then also having your mom in this different role there, too, to kind of help and support and, it sounds like, give a little bit of grounding as well while you were still kind of in that shock state, too.

Leslie: Yeah. It was total - and, I don’t know. I feel like you kind of need that. But we didn’t know what the day was going to bring. We really set ourselves to have no expectations of it, because sort of you can hope, but I feel you expect it. Then, I don’t know, it’s like two different mindsets. So we were hopeful that we have a successful Kickstarter. But we didn’t expect it.

But we tried to prepare for it. But what we weren’t prepared for was having to have stretch goals so quickly. So we actually decided that our energy was so amped up, adrenaline, that we needed to take a little time to figure out what our next stretch goal was and what would be important to the students and the community. And we just gave ourselves a little time. And I don’t think we announced the stretch goal until Monday. And we launched on Thursday afternoon. We just needed some time and some perspective to even know what to ask for.

Whitney: You know, what you're getting at here, Leslie, is really interesting to me because I think oftentimes we talk about energy as a thing that’s only positive. We really want as much of that as possible. We want that excitement. We want that adrenaline rush. And you’re giving a couple of instances here of where having too much energy could have been a liability, like you needed your mom to be in a calmer state to check your communications to make sure that it was what you really wanted to say when you were in a place where your energy was running so high that you might have made a misstep.

And the same goes for putting out what your stretch goal was, to not do that in a place where maybe you weren’t thinking straight because energies were so high because you had that adrenaline rush of having been funded so quickly. So I think it’s a really interesting concept that there’s like this middle ground, maybe, that we’re trying to strike that is enough to get us amped to wake up early in the morning and get through our 14-page to-do list but that isn’t so much that we make rash decisions that we end up regretting later.

Leslie: Yeah. And I think having the presence of mind of knowing it’s OK to pause for a minute and reflect on things and give yourself a minute to balance out the energy so that you’re coming to whatever the next thing is with a clear mind.

Whitney: Well, since you mentioned pausing, I want to bring up the really wonderful Pastry Box article that you wrote last year about being where your feet are. And that really made me think about the pauses that we require in our lives to reflect on where our energy is and to conduct it in a way that’s productive for us.

So I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about how you developed this practice of being where your feet are and how you use it and how it helps you in your life.

Leslie: Yeah. So, being where you feet are, the basic idea is sometimes, I don’t know, at least for me my mind will start racing on either a million things I have to do or start cycling thoughts that aren’t all that productive. And I have to remember to go - visually, usually I’m either standing or I’m sitting. If I’m not I get into one of those positions where I can actually have my feet on the ground.

And I push them so I can actually feel it a little bit. And I push down, and I go, OK, here are my feet. I am where my feet are. I am in this present moment. Nothing else really matters right now. I can just clear my mind and remind myself that I’m fortunate first of all to have feet. That’s one of the - I don’t know if that doesn’t sound right, but I feel like I remember to be fortunate to have the ability to actually literally be where my feet are, so to be grateful for things that I have that I take for granted every day.

So, I’m there. I’m thinking about it. And I start calming my thoughts down. And I’m just visualizing being where my feet are, thinking about my feet. And then from there I can take one thing at a time. And this happened - last year was a really tough year within our family. Sean’s mom was going through - she’s fine right now, but she was going through a lot of treatments for really aggressive breast cancer.

And it was really tough. Sean was actually in Denver for 215 days straight. And we live in Chattanooga. And so there were these - yeah, it was a tough, tough year. And so, sometimes I just would have to go, OK, just be where your feet are. Don’t think about what if this and this other thing. Just be in the current moment and then take the next moment from there. And it seemed to help me find my place.

Paul: That’s a really wonderful way to look at it. And I can say, too, that after I read the article where you shared that idea I took that in. And that’s something that I know Whitney and I have talked about before on this show. And I brought it into a talk I gave last month as well. So I basically had a room full of people looking at their feet at the same time, which was glorious.

Leslie: That’s pretty cool.

Paul: And it was just such a nice way to express this reminder of, hey, be where your feet are and be here and be present. And it was just so useful and so great. So, thank you for sharing it.

Leslie: Well, you're welcome. And I’m glad it was helpful. You know, when I write things I don’t always know if they’re going to be helpful for anyone. And you know when you share stuff like that really publicly, it sort of feels risky because it feels very personal. And so, I’m glad it was helpful. Then it’s worth taking that risk.

Paul: Understood. So, one thing I am wondering about is this. How did the school get its name? How did things go from Unicorn Institute to Center Centre?

Leslie: OK, so just specifically around the name, Center Centre was actually a name we had before Unicorn Institute. But because the state of Tennessee wasn’t - until we’re authorized we weren’t allowed to really speak about the school as a school. But we still wanted to be able to share our research because we felt that was part of our responsibility to our industry because our ultimate goal is to help move us all forward, move our profession forward. We wanted to share our research.

So, The Unicorn Institute came up, and Jared and I, neither of us can remember how exactly it did. But it started coming up in these meetings we were having with the hiring managers. And it stuck. Everyone seemed to get it. And Center Centre is the idea of being centered, that the idea of UX really does sit in the center of so many different businesses, even if people don’t realize it yet, even if the C-suite doesn’t quite get it.

If you look at it, UX is a mix of business and research and design and development and pretty much everything, right? Because it takes all of those pieces to make a really great user experience. So that’s one thing, is about being in the center. And then having a place, a center, for being in the center, so that’s part of it.

Paul: That’s great.

Leslie: It also allows us the opportunity to develop, if we choose to in the future, different kinds of programs that meet different needs as our profession grows. So it does allow us to grow as our profession needs us to.

Paul: I am thrilled, and I feel slightly validated, because I had a theory that Center Centre had to do with centering oneself a little bit. And that is great to hear. I mean, beyond the sense of UX being the center of everything it sounds like it really is the centering of energy and being able to stay on course, maybe pun intended, but really just really focus on what needs to be done in order to get things done. And that’s exciting to hear. It’s exciting to hear. And I love the term “unicorn,” too, because if you’re in UX it feels like you have to.

Leslie: It does. I mean, I think that’s where we’re going towards. And there are people that really don’t like the name “unicorn”. And then they’ll suggest other mythical creatures instead. But it’s really - I’m like, you're just switching out mythical creatures.

But the idea of basically that we need to be holistic in what we’re doing and what we’re thinking doesn’t mean we have to be doing each of those things at every given moment of the day because that is not possible. But when people tell me that unicorns don’t exist I’m just like, man, if you looked at my to-do list or what I’ve done in a day, I don’t see how that can be.

You might want to call it a different name. And I’m cool with that. It doesn’t matter. Whatever we can do to build language around the - it’s more about the roles we’re doing, and it’s the actions we’re taking. And the names of things, whatever floats your boat, but Unicorn has definitely stuck around for us. It won’t be the name of the school, of course. Center Centre will. But I do believe that a unicorn will be our mascot.

Paul: That’s great.

Whitney: So, it’s obvious that there are people that you’ve surrounded yourself with that support you in this mission. But then of course once you start to be public about what you’re working on, it seems everyone has an opinion about it. And I’m sure that not everyone is as supportive or energizing about this as you need them to be.

And so I’m starting to wonder. We’ve talked a lot about what gets you moving and what really feeds you. But on the flipside of things, what drains your energy the most?

Leslie: I try not to let the negative stuff actually drain my energy because I feel like I’m giving a lot of control of my way that I view the world to other people. And it really is my responsibility and my - I don’t know. I believe that I tend to create the lens of which I look through the world, right?

So, if I start letting all the negative stuff get in, then I’m really changing my lens to fit other people’s lenses, and that doesn’t work for me. And that can be very draining. And that’s how I learned not to do it, because of that. Now, it doesn’t mean it always works. I am so human, and I fall back on these things, like why would that person Tweet this thing?

And then I realize, you know, I’m not really sure it matters why they did it. And if for example someone Tweets something negative I usually just ask them a question, like hey, so talk to me more about that. I’d like to hear your thoughts on that. And then usually they’re actually saying the same thing or they just didn’t know a piece of the program that we’re doing because we haven’t shared a ton of it yet.

And so, it’s just more about having communication and helping people understand where we’re coming from. And if it doesn’t fit right for them that’s OK. There’s other things. The thing that probably drains my energy the most - and I’m not saying this is a negative thing. It’s just going back and forth. I’m very big picture on this and then very detailed, and big picture and detailed.

And there’s a ton of meetings. And there’s also, for me, I meet with people. I have to reflect on the meetings, because I think that’s when you learn is when you actually spend time reflecting on things. And that can be spending five minutes just figuring out what that meeting was about.

Then I’m just writing the curriculum and I’m working on the framework for that so that when we bring in facilitators they have a really great place to start with in helping me. I’m managing people, and I’m doing all these different things. And by the end of the day I’m pretty super-exhausted. But it’s this really good exhausted. So it’s completely draining, but I’m happy. So it’s very satisfying.

Whitney: Wow. It’s interesting, because what I hear you saying is that there really isn’t anyone else who can give you the energy you need or take it away from you, that at the end of the day you conduct your own energy, and though you’ve created a support system around you and they are there to help create an environment in which you can succeed, you really don’t rely on anyone else to give you what you need, nor do you allow anyone else to take it away.

And I think that’s a really beautiful relationship that you have with yourself, and it’s very inspiring, I’m sure, for people who are listening who often feel that they are up or down depending upon what others are doing around them and how they’re received in the world. So thank you for sharing that.

Leslie: You're welcome. I mean, it’s not easy. It’s really - for me it’s a tough thing. And I’ve got to remind myself. And the people that I surround myself will remind me when I forget. So Sean’s really great about reminding me it really doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing or saying. All that matters is what you’re doing and saying. I’m like, OK, that’s right. Move forward.

And it’s just really important to surround yourself with people that when you lose your way a little bit - and that can be for like one minute. You just say this person wrote this Tweet, because those are the kinds of things that can really get in your head if you let them. And to just have someone else be like, yeah, that doesn’t really matter. You’re doing great work. Just keep going. And the people that need to get it are going to get it. And the people that don’t won’t. And you can’t control them. All you can do is control yourself and your actions.

Whitney: Yep. Very well said.

Paul: That is wonderfully inspiring, absolutely. Leslie, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been great talking with you. And one question, though - if anybody wants to find out more about The Center Centre, where should they go?

Leslie: You know, that’s a great question. Right now the best place to go is unicorninstitute.com because that’s where our research is. And you can sign up there to join our quest. When you do that, you join a newsletter. And we don’t send it out too often, but we aim for weekly. Sometimes it’s monthly.

And that’s where we’re going to be posting new information about the school. You can also follow me on Twitter. It’s @jenseninman. That’s my Twitter handle.

Paul: Yay. Fantastic. Leslie, thanks so much for your time today. This has been great.

Leslie: Thank you all.

Whitney: Thank you, Leslie.

Paul: All right. That’s a wrap on this episode of Designing Yourself. Our thanks to Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman for joining us today. And, of course, we thank you for supporting our show. We’ll talk again soon. Take care, everyone.

Designing Yourself is hosted by Whitney Hess and Paul McAleer and is produced and edited by Whitney Hess and Paul McAleer. Our theme music is All Heroes by Ardecan Music Productions with some rights reserved via creative commons. You can follow Whitney on Twitter, @whitneyhess, and you can follow Paul, @paulmcaleer.

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