Paul McAleer: Hello.
Whitney Hess: Hello there.
Paul: Hi. You're listening to "Designing Yourself." My name is Paul McAleer, and bonus points if you said my name correctly in your head before you knew how to say it. [laughter]
Whitney: And this is Whitney Hess.
Paul: So, today we wanted to talk about fear. This is absolutely one of my favorite topics. Absolutely. So, I'm not sure how you feel about it.
Whitney: I love fear.
Paul: [laughter] You love fear? Why do you - Well, I'll ask you a question first. Why do you love fear?
Whitney: Because it forces you to ask yourself questions about who you are, about where the fear comes from, about whether it really exists or you've just made it up in your mind. For a lot of my life, I thought that the fear was a way to keep me safe from things that could hurt me, but at some point along the way, I realized that the stuff that gave me the greatest fear was actually the stuff that I needed to spend my life doing. So, now, I love it.
Paul: You love fear. That's so awesome.
Whitney: Oh, but I hate it, too. [laughter]
Paul: Wait a minute. Okay, so .
Whitney: Do you like fear?
Paul: No. I don't like fear at all. So, I don't like it, but here's the deal. So, I've never liked it, but I became very comfortable with it as an M.O. It was just kind of the way I operated, right? So, fear was such an ingrained part of me that it was just kind of the norm. You know, when I say that, that's kind of a broad statement, right?
That doesn't mean that I was fearful all the frickin' time, really, I don't think, but when it came to things that kind of make the experience of life really exciting - in the way that I see it as exciting - those were the times when I would, kind of, seize up and be fearful and kind of fall back into a, you know, just kind of this whole "Well, it's going to be a lot easier to not do anything" type of mode, you know, and just kind of hold back and not do it because of the fear of, you know, the possibility of a result that was not something that I could plan or like.
Whitney: Hmm. Go on, though. What made that change? What created that change?
Paul: It wasn't any one thing. Here's the thing, too. Whenever you ask me stuff like that, too, I want to find one answer and pinpoint it to one particular thing, which is something else that's interesting. Like, I'm noticing this. It's, like, well, it was this one thing.
Whitney: Well, isn't it interesting about me, though, that I want it to be one thing? [laughter]
Paul: Nice. Nice. Well, then, I will give you the answer. It was one thing. Whatever it was the last time we talked about it, I think April 19 was the date. That was the day it happened. I'm going to go back to that, but you know, what is was was that it was the recognition in me that there was a pattern around it.
You know, we talked a little about that last time, but for me, it was that I would, you know, I would get the gumption in me to change or take an action, and really, it's take an action, right? Change could be a part of it, but it was do something, but I would hold myself back because it felt way more comfortable to just be in that moment and, kind of, swallow that fear up inside of me and not really feel it and just, kind of, be numb to it in a way.
Even the way I'm talking about it now is very different than I even used to think of it because, like, a lot of things with self-awareness and self-acceptance, I wasn't able to name it or recognize it at all. Like, that wasn't something I saw as fear. I just saw it as the way I was and the person I was. Now, I see it as a part of me that is not very satisfying to all of me.
Whitney: Absolutely. I can so easily say that I love fear because I think that confronting my fears have allowed me to get to know parts of myself that I was denying, that there is something very important about who you are based on the things that you fear. I would use my fears to avoid things. That was really, kind of, the most obvious thing for me. I often feel that that's what we're taught. Like, fear is a good thing. It keeps you away from the bad stuff.
Paul: Right. Right.
Whitney: When I really started to look at what it is that I'm so afraid of? Why am I afraid of this? Why have I been avoiding these things? I learned a lot of things about myself. One, I learned that I didn't really understand the thing. So, part of the fear was the unknown or not liking that I didn't know or feeling as though it was foreign and therefore was wrong.
Then, another part of me realized that it was often about judgments that I had adopted from other people, things that had been ingrained in me from a young age, from external forces, but it wasn't really how I felt. It wasn't really based on my research, my discoveries. It was just these blanketed judgments about how life is supposed to be lived and what you're supposed to avoid and what you're supposed to aim for and optimize for.
As I started to explore certain fears, I realized that I actually wanted to do those things. The reason I was so scared of it was that I had constructed this box around it to keep me away from it because I really wanted it, and it seemed scary. It seemed dangerous. It seemed risky. I didn't quite know how to do it. I didn't necessarily know anyone else who had done it. So, I stayed away from it because part of me deeply wanted it.
So, that's why I say I love fear because when I recognized in myself, now I'm able to say, There is something buried in that deeply that I'm really attracted to. I need to let myself get there. Now, I can say all this, but it's a lot easier said than done.
Paul: Oh, totally. Absolutely, right?
Whitney: So, I have the sleepless nights, and I have the bad habits, and I have all of that stuff that you, kind of, distract yourself with when things get scary. I have all of that stuff, but I have recently - I'd say maybe in the last year and a half - kind of changed the whole way I live my life.
Now, instead of trying to check off the check boxes of accomplishments - which is the way that I lived my life for a very long time, I thought that that's what life was. Like, let me build the resume. Let me build the portfolio. This is the next thing I'm supposed to do, the next rung in the ladder.
Now, it's like a constant search for what scares me the most. That's the thing I have to go pursue. I had to figure out why, and I'm going to go do it.
Paul: Wow. Holy crap. That's awesome. That is, like, to me, that is ideal, and that's the direction I kind of want to go in. When you're saying that, it makes me think about the big stuff that I'm afraid of, but then, I also tie it back to the little, tiny stuff, too.
Like, there was a time at work, oh, gosh, I don't know, about a couple of months ago. I really needed to talk to somebody about something that was very important to me. It was somebody I didn't work for. It was a guy on another team, but I had had so many problems talking with this guy. I just didn't feel comfortable with him.
I didn't know him terribly well, but we each had kind of our own opinion of each other that had been manifested in the company culture in some ways. That was in my head. Like, it's funny because it's almost like the [sport 00:09:33] stuff, when you get in your own head, you know, like, any of that, you just get it in your head, and then, you're just kind of living there, and boy, that's an awesome expression, right?
So, I really need to talk with the guy. It was funny because I went down to his floor, and I saw him walking around the cubes. You know, he wasn't in his office, so it wasn't as I had pictured it in my head as how it would go down. So, right there, in my head, it was like, Whoops. Maybe this isn't going to work out.
Then, I, you know, I kind of walked into the kitchen, and I got myself some water, and I realized what I was doing. I was totally just delaying this. I really had to check myself on that, you know, internally, and kind of looking, like, What are you doing? Like, what are you doing? He's just another guy. That's all it is.
He's just a guy, and you need to talk with him. This is too important to not talk with him about. So, you know, I was, like, gosh, in that moment, I was so scared. I was scared. It wasn't a big deal. I just needed to talk with him about something work-related. I mean, it was so, you know, I look now in the lenses, just like, wow.
It was so small, but at the time, it was so very big for me. You know, I even felt like, I could feel, you know, a little bit of that tingling in my arms a little bit, a little of the fight-or-flight stuff coming in for me. I just walked up to the guy. I was like, No, no, no. I've got to do this.
I walked up to the guy, and I said, "Hey, can we talk for a couple of minutes?" I said, "Let's go in your office and have a chat." That was it. Like, that was how I opened it. It was funny because that part of me that really feared him was, oh, man, that part was kicking and screaming and just did not want to be there.
I don't think it was evident physically. Like, I wasn't hunched down or anything. I certainly didn't have my chest out and was super-duper, you know, super-duper present in that way, right? It wasn't like I'm walking in with super confidence, but I mean, even talking about it now, I can feel my body reacting a little bit just recounting it.
We talked about it, and it was a hard conversation, but it was a good conversation, and it ended in a very good place. You know, I was just thinking and remembering how much that really affected me at the time and how very scared I was to just talk with another person about something. That was all it was in the end. Yeah. I was so very scared.
Whitney: It's so amazing for me to hear you tell this story because one of the things that I have been actively doing in my life right now is trying to maintain presence. It is exceptionally hard. It is actually quite unbelievable how not present most of us are. It's not a slight, and that's not a criticism. It's just an observation, and I include myself in that.
We live entirely in the past or in the future, replaying the thing that that person said, and now that we've had the distance, how we would have said it differently and how we really would have gotten them, or is that really what that person meant? Wait a minute. I didn't hear it that way, but now, I think that they meant this.
Replaying and replaying, or inventing future conversations, how it's going to go, what you're going to do, what they're going to say. If they say this, then I'll have this ready. If they decide this, then this is going to be my next step. We spend so much of our energy replaying what has happened in the past or inventing what's going to happen in the future.
This desire that I've had recently to develop my presence stems from a lot of places. One of the areas that continues to come up is a very common practice or common, kind of, topic in Buddhism, in meditation, in yoga, and these are a lot of things I've been surrounding myself with lately because I am a very high-strung and uptight person.
It's not the easiest thing for me to just be. I moved to the Florida Keys thinking that I needed space, and I just needed head-room to focus again. I was spread way too thin, and I was totally burning out. Then, even being in the most peaceful place you could possibly imagine, my mind was still racing.
So, this is a new thing that I'm doing. The reason I bring it up is because this one book that I read, that has had a very powerful impact on me, and then I gave it to my boyfriend. I gave it to him without having read it because I thought that he would enjoy it. He was, like, a chapter into it, and he was, like, Okay. I'm giving this back to you because you need to read this.
I recommended it to a bunch of friends. It's called "The Power of Now." It sounds very New-Agey because it is. It's by Eckhart Tolle. The thing that he says is that fear is us living in the future. That's what fear is.
Paul: Totally. Man, that's awesome. I love that.
Whitney: Fear is living in the future, and I'm, like, flipping through it right now because I'm trying to find the quote.
Whitney: “...anxiety, tension, stress, worry, all forms of fear, are caused by too much future and not enough presence.”
Paul: So good. Oh, my gosh. So good. So, there are a couple of things you mentioned. I want to get them while they're still in my head because I'm trying to be present. Living in the future, so, yeah. That is, so, I noticed that in a couple of places for me.
Now, one is when I meditate. Like, that is something I am so abso-fricken-lutely practicing on and, you know, it is hard. Also, and it's not hard. That's the beauty of it, but the thing that I notice about myself when I start, almost always, is that my mind goes elsewhere.
I am thinking about what I'm going to do afterwards. I am thinking about what I'm going to do in an hour or what I have to do later that day, tomorrow, whatever. Like, it's almost like my calendar is just flooding me at this time, when it's really about, you know, me just kind of being, right?
So, that happens to me, and that is something that, phew, boy, I am fairly certain, fairly confident, the term is "monkey mind" on that. I love the term, right? I want to be sure, but I'm totally not. So, I'm going to say it anyway. So, it's monkey mind, but I'm just racing, and these other things are, kind of, entering my head.
The importance with the meditation is, you know, it's to acknowledge that, yes, it's in your head, but not to really chase it down and to just let it be because I also found, you know, initially, when I started meditating, I would get songs in my head. I would get, you know, things that people said to me in my head, just people would show up. I mean, it was just that kind of thing for me.
Getting to a point where it became about me and my body, you know, as an abstract concept but in that space, at that time, then it turned to, you know, more body awareness. It's not like I've absolutely now perfected. I'm still totally practicing on it.
The other thing about the future stuff and the sleeplessness, I definitely want to talk about this, too, because you mentioned you have sleepless nights. I do, too, but they are so rare for me. Like, I can count, I think, on one hand the number of sleepless nights I've had since I was 21, right?
Whitney: Oh, my God.
Paul: I am totally a sound sleeper. You can ask my wife about that.
Whitney: That's amazing.
Paul: Well, those are the ones I remember. [laughter] I could totally be selling myself short, but there was one that happened. It was about a month or so ago. I was having a very stressful time at work. There were conversations and things that were happening. I just had this overwhelming sense of things were going to change and not in a way that I would want them to change in.
You know, it was out of my control. You know, I acknowledge that now, but wow. When it came time to go to sleep, I remember I was laying there. You know, it was like 11:00 or so. My wife was sound asleep. I was just up. You know, I had my eyes closed for a while. It totally didn't work.
My mind just started going into all the scenarios of the things that were going to happen the next day, like, all of them. My mind could not stop. It was just, you know, here is how it's going to go down in this guy's office, and then, we're going to talk this way, and here's what you're going to say.
I swear, it was, like, anybody who's ever done a user flow and has had to map out - Here's the tie-in. Everybody who's had to map out every use case of every user flow, that was what was going through my head that night of what could happen tomorrow. Like, all the future possibilities.
I was just, like, here's what's going to - and this is going to happen. I was just, like, terrified because "A," it was keeping me from being asleep, which is something that I have a little fear of, which is maybe a separate topic, and then, just the fear of, like, almost all of these outcomes not being really positive, like, not ones that I would choose to have happen.
So, the thing is I remember just, kind of, laying there, and you know, part of the thing I do - and maybe you do this, too - is that, you know, you'll have these things in your head. You'll look at the clock. You're like, Oh, shit. Now, it's 12:30. You roll back over or whatever. More of this happens. Then, you roll over and it's 2:00.
That is all engaging my mind mostly because my mind is, like, No. You really need to be asleep. My body wants to be asleep, but my mind is not really letting me. So, what I tried to do this last time was really, you know, whenever these scenarios came up, I really tried to acknowledge where I was in that moment because I would take a moment. I would try to breathe.
I would say, Nope. You're in your bed. You're in your bed. It is 1:45 in the morning. You're here. Just breathe, and that's it. At first, it really, totally, didn't work. I don't know, ultimately, if that did work, but I did go to sleep that night, but it took me such a long time to even calm myself down in that scenario because I was thinking about everything that could happen tomorrow.
For some reason, my mind wanted to plan out every single thing that could happen tomorrow and be ready for it, which is totally, you know, totally how I've operated for so long. This was, like, the magnificent manifestation of that, you know?
Whitney: Well, we're total control freaks. We just need everything to go our way. I mean, obviously, we're all that way. We're so afraid of other people making decisions that are going to force us into situations we don't want. It's not a slight on us. I don't mean that at all, but I am really just so tired of needing to be in control all of the time.
That's the thing that I just feel so exhausted by because I have always gone through the exact same thing. I mean, it's amazing to me that you say that these sleepless nights are rare for you. We are similar in a lot of ways, but in this way, we're very different. I often have sleepless nights.
I often cannot stop my mind from racing. It's not that I have trouble falling asleep. I'm actually quite good at that. It's that a few hours later, I wake up, and I cannot go back to bed. I will have been up the entire night, and then, early morning or late morning, I don't know, I will then need a nap.
I'll want to go to sleep when I need to be getting up, but I will have done fifteen things by then because the mind racing gets me so crazy that then I have to get rid of it. I just, like, answer e-mails, or I try to get things off my to-do list, or I write, or I do a lot of mindless, like, you know, Wiki hole stuff. I just go down the Wiki hole, and I start researching a bunch of stuff.
What's so interesting to me is that you were able to find that meditating calmed it, that you fell asleep from the meditation. From my understanding - and I'm really curious to hear more about your meditation practice has been - but from what I understand, because I am a total newbie at this, is that the whole purpose of meditation is to develop presence.
It's to not be in the future. It's to not be in the past. It's to cherish that present moment. It's funny for me to think now about when I couldn't sleep as a kid and that typical thing you hear: Count sheep.
I always thought, What the hell is counting sheep? This is so bizarre. Why is this so ubiquitous? Why do we see this in TV shows, and why do parents tell their kids to count sheep? Just in hearing you talk about how this puts you to sleep is now, for the first time, connecting in my mind, that counting sheep is a form of mantra meditation.
Paul: Oh, wow.
Whitney: All you're doing is focusing on the number and the image of a sheep jumping over a fence, or whatever the image is that you conjure up. Your mind is captured and is full by that activity, by that repetition. So, you can't think about the past. You can't think about the future in that same moment.
Paul: That's really clever.
Whitney: So, you're present, and you fall asleep.
Paul: Wow. Totally. Totally. For the record, the way I always pictured it was, the sheep were slightly cartoonish. The fence was, like, a brownish fence -
Whitney: My fence was white.
Paul: - fairly low. Okay, and they would have numbers on their sides, too.
Whitney: We must have seen this image on, like, a "Sesame Street" kind of thing because that sounds very familiar.
Paul: Maybe so. Maybe so. Maybe that's what's been perpetuated, right? That's how you count sheep. Maybe that's the only way, but boy, you're right because it forces you into that moment, right? It's, like, you're concentrating on this moment in, you know, this arguably boring process, right, because it's really just, you know, counting numbers up. That is about being present.
You know, with meditation, I must also say I am absolutely not - I am a newbie at that as well, for sure. I'm not a super-duper expert at that. No way, but initially, when I started doing it, it was to calm me. Then, I realized, Well, that's kind of just a side benefit, and that's not really what the purpose was for me. I got that out of it, but then, I recognized, Well, maybe there's nothing to get out of it. It is simply to be.
You're right. It's about the present moment and having that level of awareness that runs very, very deep, to the point that you become an abstract concept. That's my understanding and interpretation, which I trust is wrong in some way.
Paul: Maybe it is. I don't know, but okay. I will say that for the way that I do it, that is where I let it take me. You know, much like with breathing, just having that very fluid concept of the entire universe is there. You are a part of it. You are able to bring everything in and out. Like, that, to me, is a very powerful image.
Paul: That is "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" all the way, one of the best books. My friend Ryan recommended it to me. God, I love that book so much. So very good for me, but just the idea of, you know, you're breathing and just being a swinging door, just something that lets everything in and lets everything out and very, you know, very fluid, very calm.
I'm making the hand motion of that swinging door right now, sitting here. Like, I'm actually doing that, too. I'm talking with my hands a lot tonight, I noticed, too, but yeah. It's totally just a very fluid and easy movement. Now, getting there from a place of being so ramped up and amped up about what could happen tomorrow, I don't have a strategy on that.
I just, kind of, tried to calm myself in that way, and you know, just say to myself, Breathe. No. Breathe. It's funny because I say that to my son, too, sometimes, and he does it. Actually, he likes to do yoga, which is awesome.
Whitney: That's so cute.
Paul: He totally does.
Whitney: I love my yoga. I have done it many times in the past. I've been really intensely interested, and then somehow, life gets in the way, and I stop going, and then it's, like, a year until I pick it up again. I'm determined this time to not let that happen, but I am loving it. I'm loving everything that it's about.
It's fitting into a lot of these other practices that I have now been introducing myself to lately, all in the attempt to be more present, to understand who I am, to let go of a lot of junk from the past, to let go of a lot of expectations for the future, and just to be happy in the present moment.
A lot of this was prompted by "The Power of Now," perhaps, but I'm of the belief just - as I said last time - that there is, you know, I don't really think that starting happens. It's, like, once you realize that it's happened, it's been going on for a while. In order for us to even have been attracted to reading "The Power of Now," we were already in motion in this way.
So, I think that presence is something I've been craving for a while because calm is something that I've been craving for a while. What I'm really, kind of, amazed by that presence and yoga and meditation helping you to develop presence allows for is letting go of the ego.
You said something that made me think that that's what you meant, that there's this moment when you realize that you don't really exist the way that you think that you do. That conversation that you're dreading doesn't really exist the way in which you imagine it does. It just does not bear any importance really at all to the universe.
You are just a being - a living, breathing being - taking the air in and letting the air out. In that, you are exactly like everyone else, and that's not a bad thing. It's a beautiful thing. Not just other human beings, but you're connected to all things. I'm finding the calm in that. I'm finding the calm in how meditation and how presence on the greater scale, how much that connects me to nature, how much it connects me to my environment and helps me realize I'm not in this alone.
A lot of my fear stems from that. It's not just being an only child, but it's being trapped in this head. You know, I've been trapped in this head for 31 years (as of tomorrow).
Paul: Happy birthday.
Whitney: I have been trapped - thank you - trapped in there, and I've wondered. I remember wondering at a very young age, How do I get out of there? How do I go somewhere else? Even the whole notion of vacations I always found really funny. Like, we take ourselves out of our external environment as though that has anything to do with it.
It's, like, I always think of "Moby Dick" because it was a really long time ago that I was forced into reading it in high school English class, but I'm pretty sure that the moral of the story is you can't escape your own problems no matter where you go. You just can't.
You know, even being in the Keys, all the stuff of who I am and what I struggle with and what I desire and what I can't have because that's just not how the past was written, and who knows what the future will bring and the ambiguity of it all, the unknowns. All of that still exists.
There is nothing that I can do to change my environment. I can't have a nicer house. I can't have a better manicure. I can't have nicer clothes. I can't have a higher-paying client, gig, or whatever. None of that is going to change the fact that I still hear my voice in my head, all day, every day.
What I'm so attracted to with the meditation and developing presence is the concept that you can actually get that voice out of your head. More so, that that voice is not you. That voice is not you. The thing that he says in "The Power of Now," that he underscores over and over and over again, is by the sheer fact that you are listening to the voice, the voice is not you. You are the one doing the listening. That's your true self.
Paul: [laughter] Holy smokes. Yeah. That's awesome. Wow. That blew my mind. Wow. Wow. That's insightful.
Whitney: I know. You've got to read this book. You've got to read this book.
Paul: Well, clearly, I do. Clearly, I do, because the assumption is, you know, the narrator - oh, my gosh. Now, my mind is numb talking to myself in my head, but you know [laughter], the debate is raging.
Whitney: It's like "Inception."
Paul: Totally, right? It's like, no, yes, no. Wow. So, the narration, the commentary, that's going on in your head is not necessarily you because you're doing the listening. Wow. Okay. That blew my mind .
Whitney: It is so amazing that we all experience this. We all -
Paul: Totally, right?
Whitney: You and I happen to have a moment of synchronicity when we met at the IA Summit. We were both able to articulate something about who we are and what we want for ourselves at the exact same moment, where we had a connection, and we've been able to maintain that connection and form a bond because we had that very lucky moment, but I fundamentally believe that everyone is going through this. Everyone is.
It's not just, like, you and me, and we just happen to be in these phases in our lives, and so, isn't it interesting that we connect on this? It's, like, no. I really feel that everyone is going through this, and the more comfortable I get with talking about this stuff, the more I find that everyone I know is thinking about the same stuff right now.
I think it's possible that everyone's always been thinking about this [laughter], but I just haven't been comfortable with it. A big part of my fear comes from needing to appear like a fearless person. I don't really know why I, kind of, had that obsession for a long time, but it's forced me into a sort of hibernation of having to work through a lot of my fears by myself because I've been the most afraid to let anyone else see just how afraid I am.
I'm slowly giving that up. It's not easy, and I'm getting fears. I feel fears rising in me right now that I'm saying it, knowing that we're going to be publishing this and that people are going to be listening to this. Someone who might know me might hear this and is now going to know. That is, like, whoa. That's scary.
I mean, the last episode, when you mentioned that your co-worker said something about, like, Oh, do you follow Whitney Hess on Twitter?, that conversation happened in the world about me that I wasn't present for. That's fucking scary.
Like, I can even handle it. It's a kind of foreign concept because I'm so scared of it that I've never really wanted to entertain the thought that people are talking about me when I'm not there. That is crazy to me. I don't like it. It doesn't feel good, but here it is.
When you put it out there, and this is me doing exactly what I said I wanted to do - and that I've been engaging in - at the beginning of this, I have to dive right into the fears. I have to break them wide open. One of those things is sharing just how scary life is and just how much I have been afraid of.
I'm damn lucky that I had the resources, resourcefulness, willingness, what have you, name it what you want, to be willing to stare them down and say, No. You are not going to own me. So, it may appear - based on things that I've done in my life - to others, like, there's no way that she could have been scared because she did "X," "Y," and "Z," but no. The only reason that I was able to do it is because I was so fucking scared of it.
Paul: Totally. Totally. I think that's, you know, one thing that pops in my head because I have to, at some point in our conversations, I have to evoke [Merlin Mann]'s name because - and this will be the time that I start - one of his excellent talks that I believe is on Vimeo, and we'll put out a link or something - it's called "Scared Shitless."
It is so good because much like this, to a degree, you know, he's articulated how, like, really what the difference is between people who are doing stuff and people who are not doing stuff, it comes down to fear and dealing with it, right?
There is just fear everywhere, right, potentially. If you wanted to be, it can be that way, but there is the potential for fear everywhere because if you let yourself be in the future, you can come up with every terrible possibility for everything if you want to, right?
I'm thinking about that mostly on a big level, not really the little, tiny level, but I mean, there's the, you know, very real possibility that this will be my last moment. I don't know, but that fear in me is so very tiny that I feel I can deal with that fairly well.
Whitney: Oh, that's not a tiny fear for me.
Paul: Oh, oh, okay. Well, let's go come back to that .
Whitney: Yeah. Go ahead.
Paul: So, anyway, the whole thing with, you know, there's so much that you could do or one could do but doesn't because of fear. That is the crux of the problem or the limitation is that the people who are doing the things that you would like to do or should do or could do are basically getting past fear.
Now, you know, it's different for every person. I mean, there are some people - you know, obviously, everybody's different - where it might not just be fear. It might also be a physical limitation. It might be something else that's an important factor for them, and it's not simply fear, or maybe they blow past that frickin' physical limitation and do it anyway.
There is that moment when, I trust, like, most other people - and this is, I think, a shared experience - you come up to that moment against fear. You can either step back, and say, I'm not going to do it - and, for me, there's been many, many times when I went to that point and just stepped back because it's way more comfortable and less scary for sure - or you go through with it.
You deal with things, like, you know, the possible physical manifestation of fear, you know? Public speaking. I mean, you know, getting the butterflies in the stomach and all that stuff. I mean, those are common experiences, but I think the fearlessness is the interesting point and having that perceived fearlessness because, you know, I haven't seen you speak in person, but I've seen your videos on the Web.
I didn't get a sense of fear from those, for instance, right? So, mission accomplished on projecting the fearlessness in those scenarios, right, but taking that beyond public speaking in a scenario where most people are, you know, kind of fearful in general, and putting that in everyday practice, well, that changes things a lot.
Then, it leads to the little conversations that we avoid or don't want to have because of fear of an outcome or fear of what could happen. Those are the actions that we don't take. Those are the things that we don't do or say. We let the fear be us, even if we are not made of fear, which I would guess, just putting a guess out there, almost all of us are not simply made of fear.
It's something that just, you know, we can let it drive us if we want to. It's funny because, you know, you mentioned talking about this and how you have this fear of people hearing it. I'm sitting here. I notice I'm shaking a little bit when I'm talking about this because this is a really, like, you know, a heart-of-the-matter type of thing for me. I don't talk about fear at length like this.
So, this is new. Much like you, it's, like, and we're going to put this out there, too. So, it's scary.
Whitney: It's so scary, and there are so many things that we do to take us out of the moment because it is such a scary place to be to stay and to sit, and I can't even imagine how many situations I've been in where I've allowed fear to dictate the outcome of the situation for me when it wasn't even, you know, how I wanted to turn out, but I just couldn't do what needed to be done.
I couldn't have the conversation. I couldn't finish the document. I couldn't meet the deadline. I couldn't purchase the flight. I couldn't transfer the money into the other account. I couldn't whatever. There are so many things that flood my mind where fear has forced me to have to live with an outcome that I really didn't want.
I've noticed that there are certain things that I do that indicate to me that I'm afraid of something, that fear is happening for me before I can even pinpoint that emotion, you know, before I can even say, There must be something going on that I'm fearful of, or wow. I'm really scared of this. I notice other things that I'm doing, and it's the things that I fall back on that take me out of the moment.
I'll give you some examples. Needing to check up on TMZ. Oh, I just have to know what's going on with these celebrities, or, like, yeah, oh, I wonder what the update is on that awful news item because I need to know that right now. Watching TV and being just taken out of the moment and escaping through someone else's fictional story.
Eating has been a big issue for me. I have always struggled with eating the right things for emotional reasons. I have totally, you know, like, emotionally eaten or whatever, covered up my emotions by eating something that tastes awesome or is really bad for me, or it sometimes goes in the opposite direction, where I'm eating only really healthily.
It becomes, in a way, the thing that I invest my time in, and I make it about the food. Oh, I'm only going to do this. You know, I've done Four-Hour Body now for two years. I know that, at times, it has been really good for me, but at other times, I feel like it was a device that I was using just to not be present with whatever was going on right now because I shouldn't need a dude with a book to give me rules for how to eat.
Let's be honest here. If I had that inner peace, and if I was present, I would eat the right amount of the right foods, and I would still be able to have a sweet because it would be in moderation, and it wouldn't be in excess to the point of making myself sick or being unhealthy.
A lot of these things have been, kind of, crutches for me that have buried the fear or that extracted me from the fear instead of just facing it, looking it right down, and saying, Screw you. I'm going to do this. I'm not going to think about you anymore, but I'm not going to do that by, you know, distracting myself with all this other stuff that's not good for me.
I'm just going to do it. I'm just going to explore it. I'm just going to dig underneath it and figure out what I'm really scared of because it's rarely the conversation with the guy. It's rarely the thing that you have to buy or whatever else is getting in the way. It is almost always something that's underneath that that's a deep-seated fear.
You say, you know - and I'm happy for you that you say you don't really think about it, and it's a distant idea - that this might be your last breath, but that's a big one for me. Like, am I spending my days doing the right thing? Am I going to have all the days that I need to make the impact that I want to make? Did I waste today because I was in an emotional place that I distracted myself or I procrastinated, and I didn't accomplish what I had set out to? Will I get another chance?
That is in me all the time, and it only exacerbates it because worrying that today is your last day is the worst way to, you know, insure that you're not going to stay present and be peaceful in that moment and do what feels right and take care of the things that matter to you because all I'm thinking is what I do right now has to be the best thing possible because I may never get another chance.
It's not healthy at all. It's just, oh, my God, I feel like I'm [unintelligible 00:47:28] right now, but it's just so unnecessary. It's so unnecessary. Who's keeping track? Who is, like, got their ledger and is judging my every day? Who is, like, You know, you really didn't do that. She didn't Tweet enough. She Tweeted too much. She didn't write enough blog posts. She didn't call enough clients. She called too many clients. She didn't answer enough e-mails. She answered too many of them. Who is doing that? Who is checking up on me?
Like, it's a crazy thing that I think so many of us live with and just are stuck in this self-judgment constantly because we're afraid that we're not doing the right things, that we're not making enough of an impact, that we're not fulfilling our full potential, and it's just bizarre.
Paul: Well, it's like we've all got this score card that we're keeping track against, but nobody knows what the hell a score card is, but we just have this sense of whatever we're doing is almost certainly wrong. You know, I even said that earlier about meditation, for goodness' sake. You know, I said, I'm doing it wrong. [laughter] Maybe I'm not. I don't know.
Even that, like, even that, I have, you know, I made that comment, and that was coming from a place of, Well, somebody listening certainly knows more than I do on this, and they will say, You are wrong on this. That's, like, where that came from.
You're right. Boy, you just unleashed, like, fifty different topics on that last statement, but that's cool with me. You know, I think beyond that, though, a lot of it does come down to the fear, you know? I was thinking, last weekend I went to a place that I really love to meditate.
When I was walking to it, I, you know, really had a strong presence of mind, more so than anything else, and at one point, I was thinking to myself, You know, if this is my last moment, I'm okay. Even that, though, is so freaking self-indulgent now that I look at it.
I don't mean that in a super-judgmental way, I don't think, but boy, I designed that moment as much as I could. You know, I had the opportunity to meditate on my own. I had some time on my own. I was able to pick where I went. I drove there.
Then, I walked to the place I meditate, and there were so many things that I chose in that moment, but I don't have any control over that, for goodness' sake, but the tough part would be if I said that same thing to myself in a moment of true adversity and/or fear, that would be frickin’ scary. I am nowhere near there.
So, I'm not saying I'm totally chicken-shit or anything, but I think that I had that, a moment of awareness, in a very, very carefully designed moment, you know?
Whitney: You know, I think you're way too hard on yourself.
Paul: Awesome. Thank you.
Whitney: I think you are awesome. You know what? Stop judging.
Paul: And done.
Whitney: It's funny. All of this stuff that we're talking about I'm just recently discovering. This is what Buddhism is all about. Now, I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person, fairly well-read, definitely well-educated. I am not afraid to admit that I had no idea what Buddhism was until about a month ago.
I knew it was a religion. Well, I think I was wrong because I don't really think it is a religion, but I thought it was a religion. I knew it was old. I thought that it was nicer than some of the other religions. I was pretty sure that wars hadn't been started over Buddhism.
I was pretty sure that that's what the Dalai Lama was all about, but I really didn't know a thing about it. All of this stuff that I've been reading, and the stuff that I've been doing, and even the coaching program that I'm going through, all these signs started planking towards Buddhism.
Now, I'm Jewish. I was raised Jewish, not particularly religious, definitely very spiritual and have been my whole life, but also a little wary of religion as a concept, just, like, the human intervention of it all, as though, like, a group of humans have all the answers, and if you just follow these things, you'll get the answers, too.
I've always been kind of skeptical of that. So, I wasn't really loving the idea of starting to explore this thing that I thought was religion, but the few books that I've been reading, and the few people that I've been talking to and the few Buddhist meditation centers that I've been looking into online and what-not, I'm starting to see it's not really a religion at all.
Any of the Buddhist practitioners who are listening to this, I suppose, can write to us, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm under the impression it's not really a religion. It's, like, a life practice or a philosophy. I think that's, in large part, due to the fact that Buddha was not - and never claimed to be - a type of God or a human version of God or holy in any way.
He was simply a dude who sat under a tree and came to some realizations about life and decided to dedicate the rest of his life to teaching people what he came up with in the hopes of creating a more peaceful world. That's a really simplistic power-phrase, but I hope that it's a fairly accurate one.
The reason that I bring it up is because one of the Buddhist meditation centers that I've looked into is called "Spirit Rock." It's in San Francisco, the South side of San Francisco, actually. It was started by this guy, Jack Kornfield or Kornfeld, I'm not sure how you pronounce it.
I read an article in the "SF Chronicle" a couple days ago because it's their 25th anniversary. So, they were getting some write-ups or something. He tells this story about how he came to be a spiritual teacher and how, you know, where he came to Buddhism and, particularly, how he's now doing this Buddhist stuff in the U.S.
The story that he tells is that he was living in a Buddhist monastery somewhere - I think it was Tibet - and had been there for many years and eventually left and was back in the U.S. and was meeting his sister-in-law or someone for lunch.
She was running late, so he was sitting at the restaurant table and thought, I've a moment to kill. I'm going to meditate and closed his eyes and meditated on loving-kindness, which is one of the things that Buddhist meditation teaches is how to really think about loving-kindness - or, I guess, I shouldn't use the word "think" because meditation isn't really thinking - but how to meditate on loving-kindness with the intent to foster greater loving-kindness within yourself and within others.
While he has his eyes closed, just meditating simply at the table, waiting for her, he overhears two women say, "Oh, my God. Is that guy for real?" At that moment, realizes that the rest of his life will be dedicated to teaching people in the West why this stuff matters so much.
I was really moved by that. Don't know if the whole Buddhist thing is going to be for me. Don't know if I'm going to find any truth, as I explore more deeply. Don't know that it's something that I will take in as part of my identity the way some people do. I don't know that I'll ever go to a meditation retreat center place. I don't know that I'll ever know what all the words mean.
Maybe the whole thing is not the right path for me, but what really resonates for me is this idea that part of us, part of our society, and part of all of our minds, has that, "Oh, my God. Is that guy for real?" in it. It's in there. It's programmed.
I know, as I'm reading this stuff, I think, Oh, my God. Is this guy for real? With all this stuff that I read, and even though it's speaking to me, I'm still cynical about it. I feel really moved in a similar way, though I'm sure that I will go about it in a very different fashion.
I don't know that I'll be running a Buddhist meditation center any time soon, but I feel really moved by that notion that we could dedicate our lives, not just our careers but our whole lives, to helping other people recognize the importance in being present and in cultivating that for themselves and the vast benefits that that has on the world.
When I stop to think about it, I hope that this connection is not seen by you or by anyone listening as a opportunistic one, but I really believe that there is so much of what we do, as user-experience designers, deeply wound up in that, this deep, deep desire to help businesses recognize the importance and the presence that they have in their customers' lives, to help them recognize the importance and the presence that they have in their employees' lives and, lastly, to cultivate loving-kindness within the organizations and with their customers.
Is that not what we do as user-experience designers?
Paul: No. I think that's totally what we do because the whole thing is built on empathy and understanding, you know, at a mind-only level, understanding user needs and being able to call those out, and you know, if you think about some of the activities that we do as user-experience folks, you know, there's the role-play and scenario creation and persona creation and all those things.
Those are all centered around people. The whole point of it is to get to a point where we not only listen to people, but we understand them, as much as we can, and that goes well beyond what they say. You know, that's the old, Oh, gosh. How often do I hear the Henry Ford quote?
Whitney: Oh, my God. Kill me now.
Paul: I hear it every day.
Whitney: As though that quote is, like, an antidote for our whole field, our whole industry.
Paul: Totally, right, but it goes well beyond that. You know, when you start to look at things, like, Indi Young's work in "Mental Modeling." I mean, for me, that was eye-opening. Just being able to take what people say and do, more importantly, and their behaviors and get to a place of understanding and comprehension.
Yeah, that's what it's about, but all too often, it's outward-focused and not inward-focused with us. When you start through the inward focus - at least this was the case for me - like, you were talking about is this guy for real?
We had this on an earlier call, before we did Podcasts and stuff. I joked at the end, when I said, "Well, I haven't even brought up chakras yet." [laughter] It was, like, you're going to flip your lid on that, but it's something that resonates with me.
So, what's wrong with that? There's still that check in me, though, that really says, Wow. Maybe, you know, oh, that's kind of out there. You know, that's hippy-dippy-trippy stuff, right? We put all these labels on that stuff, but you know what? If it's meaningful, so be it.
Whitney: Yes, and that's just fear talking.
Paul: Yeah, it is, right? It's just the fear that, wow, maybe there's something to this. It resonates with me. It makes sense to me in my head. It feels right in my body and in my spirit or whatever other components you have, and that alone is enough. There does not need to be the judgment that goes with that, too.
Whitney: I couldn't agree more. It requires each of us to take a look inside and to develop ourselves to the greatest extent that we possibly can, to our greatest capacity, because that is what enables us to help develop that compassion within others.
If we are not starting at home, we're never going to make any real progress with the people around us. We also just have absolutely no authority to tell other people how they should be if we're not actively learning that way to be ourselves every day.
Paul: Absolutely, and it is such a learning process, and it's never done.
Paul: Never, ever, ever.
Whitney: That's what's so beautiful about it.
Paul: Yeah. Totally.
Whitney: Back to "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind," always beginner's mind.
Paul: Yes. It's beautiful stuff.
Whitney: Oh, my gosh. We thought we could tackle fear in an hour?
Paul: We mostly did.
Whitney: We got wrapped up.
Paul: We mostly did. Yeah. We mostly did. Yeah. So, an hour on fear. That's pretty good. [laughter]
Whitney: Yeah. I mean, I still love it. I love it. It makes me crazy, but I really think there's something very special there. I'm so glad that you wanted to talk about fear today.
Paul: Well, thank you so much for talking with me about it. This has been a phenomenal conversation. I mean, the last thing that I'll say is that there's so much that I'm afraid of, but the difficult and super-exciting part is just plowing through that anyway and doing it no matter what the fear is. Love it.
Paul: Well, I think that's it.
Whitney: I can't wait to talk to you again next week.
Paul: I can absolutely say the same. I cannot wait. I will also chime in and say thanks to everybody for listening, too.
Whitney: Thank you all so much.
Paul: Thank you. We'll talk to you soon.