Episode 7

#007 - Voluntary Discomfort and Well-Being

Published on: 28th September, 2020

This episode is a recording of a presentation Charles gave on his career journey at our recent new-hire onboarding week.

Charles uses his journey to talk about the importance of thinking about a career as part of a life-long journey of growth, the need for a mental model to better facilitate work-life balance and well-being, and imposter syndrome as a roadblock to growth. Finally, Charles talks about the practice of voluntary discomfort as a way to inoculate us against fear and the underrated leadership skill of vulnerability.

Charles references several books and people in this presentation:

Flourish by Martin Seligman

"High-achievers focus a great deal on becoming the person they want to be at work—and far too little on the person they want to be at home ... What this leads us to is over-investing in our careers and under-investing in one of the most important parts of our life."

― Clayton M. Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

― Eleanor Roosevelt

"We suffer more from imagination than reality"

― Seneca

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

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Charles Knight 0:02


, I got promoted in spring of:

But I will tell you that is incredibly useful to talk about. I'm not saying you should throw work life balance out I'm just saying this metaphor of work life balance is flawed. And John Humphrey, you know, the, the co-founder Pariveda that I was talking about earlier, he would talk about this at Pariveda, and he'd say, hey, it's not work life balance, it's more of a work life wobble. And he would actually define a few dimensions in which you'd have to wobble back and forth, you know, depending upon your circumstance, depending upon the situation. And I really, I really like that that's stuck with me for quite a long time. And so, as I've started to internalize what John was telling me, and I started to experience life of my own. I've talked about work life integration, and instead of balance and wobbles, I thought about blurring the lines, you know, allowing elements of work and life to blend together. And for me, it wasn't until I allowed that to happen, that I felt any semblance of balance. And then the pandemic happens. And instead of work life balance or integration, we're talking about work life fusion, right, people are crammed into their homes. You know, parents are trying to teach their kids, it literally is like a thermonuclear explosion. And forget about balancing integration. And, you know, as I was thinking about, you know, revising this talk for this time, you know, that we're in right now, I remember getting a question from somebody in the audience. I don't remember which class, they asked me, Hey, is growing towards a highest potential? Is there such a thing as too much growth? And I don't think I had a very satisfactory answer. Like, can you be to focus on growth is too much growth a bad thing? But pondering that has led me to this. I don't know if y'all have seen the movie transcendence. I actually haven't. But I like Johnny Depp. And I'm sure it's good, because he's a phenomenal actor. And what I think I've realized now, you know, coming out of this, I guess, as we're still in this pandemic, is that we really need to transcend this idea of work life balance. What does that actually mean? I think we need to discard this mental model of work life. And we need to replace it with something else, like a new mental model, one that better articulates the needs that we have as humans, to achieve our highest potential, because achieving our highest potential is so much more than just having a successful career. And I believe that we need well being to achieve our highest potential. And well being you can think about is just doing good things in the world. And it's feeling good while you do it. But it's also when things are crazy, like it is right now, being resilient. And there's a framework that's derived from positive psychology that we can use to deconstruct well being into component parts. And, you know, my work when Taylor was talking about the Fin well being circle that I'm a part of, is to take and apply this framework for the benefit of Fins. And we use this acronym perma V, to describe those different components of well being. So P is positive emotions. E is engagement, you can think about getting into a flow state with your work, whatever your work is, R is for relationships, M is for meaning, A achievements or accomplishments, and V vitality. And so with this, I want to talk to you a little bit about my journey to well being right over my time here at Pariveda and it starts off with achievement. Right? If you remember I told you sitting across from John Humphrey, it's like I want to be a vice president 10 years. That was my life's goal. And along the way, there were very, very small, you know, short term, manageable goals and accomplishments that led to this bigger goal of getting promoted to Vice President. But I'll tell you, as I got closer to getting to Vice President, like within months away, like I was months away of getting to getting promoted to Vice President, I wasn't getting any happier.

And in fact, I was having a crisis of sorts. And I remember talking to Bruce, our CEO, and founder. And I told him like, Bruce, I think I'm having like a quarter career crisis or something. I don't know what's going on. And, you know, the wonderful thing about Pariveda is that they create a safe space for me to reflect on that. And it led me to reflect quite a bit on what the next portion of my life was going to look like, not just my career. And that's when I have my sister in law to thank. So she pointed me towards a book called Flourish. And that book is what introduced this concept of perma V, to me. So after I thought about, and kind of had this reflection, I learned a little bit about positive psychology, this model of well being, I really doubled down on vitality. And this is really having enough mental, physical and emotional energy to show up in life, in all areas of life. And when I thought about the achievement that I've had, over the years, oftentimes, it resulted in me not taking the best care of myself, not taking the best care of my body, my mind or my spirit. And, and I committed this, like, hey, if I'm going to, you know, develop towards my highest potential, I have to take care of myself. And so I invested in personal training, leveling up my nutrition, identifying the right supplements that I need to take, investing in wearables to help me give, give myself information and insight on how to level up my vitality. Because I thought that was the most important thing for me to do to live a better life is to take care of myself. Now, when I started to have the energy to actually think about what I wanted to do for the next stage of my career, I realized that I needed to first get a handle on what I was good at. And that might sound really strange, right? At this point, I'm 10 plus years into my career. And me saying this implies that I didn't really know what I was good at. And that was true. Like, maybe that's just a flaw of mine. But I had to do some reflection. And more importantly, I needed to talk to mentors, friends and family to figure out, what is it that I'm good at? And what is it that I enjoy doing? And I've taken a lot of personality assessments along the way to help me figure that out. And, that's been fun, but worth worth discussing a little later. But once identified, what are some things that are that I'm good at, I was able to then ascribe meaning to the things that I've gone through both the good things and the bad things within work, and outside of work. And that's really important for me, defining meaning for the good and bad events that have happened through my life. And the reason why that's been really important is because once I have a sense of meaning for what I've gone through, and what I'm going through, it's allowed me to look to the future, and deliberately plan for things. And it is allowed me to start with the end in mind. And by the end, I mean, the end of my life. I just fast forward to the end of my life, and design, what do I want that experience to be like, and then work backwards to now. And a big part of what I found in doing all of this reflection and exercise is that helping others is core to what has given me the most fulfillment and meaning in my life. And ever since I figured that out, I have begun to move towards that in my life, you know, focusing on relationships and serving others. And finally, what I've realized is with that clarity, I'm able to cultivate and savor these positive emotions that come up through helping others through accomplishing things through feeling great, you know, physically, mentally and emotionally. And that's really like the icing on the cake.

Now, I gave you a crash course on my journey to well being in a very linear step by step fashion, but it did not happen like that. I certainly encountered roadblocks along the way. And not just on my journey to well being my journey towards getting to vice president as well. And so I wanted to try to distill down. Okay, what is this core thing that underlies all the roadblocks that I've encountered on my career journey, my journey of growth, my journey towards well being. And I found it. And I want to share that with you now. And it's fear, it's fear. And my assertion, you know, having gone through everything that I have so far, is that overcoming your fear is the single best predictor of you being able to achieve your fullest potential, and achieve well being. And so I'm going to talk about that right now. First, we should define fear. I think we all intuitively know what it means. Fear is really this unpleasant feeling that we get. And it's triggered by the perception of danger, real or imagined danger. And it has developed over time for a very, very good reasons to keep us away from things that our evolutionary instinct thought was dangerous. And it's things like lions, tigers, and leopards. Now, leopards are extraordinarily good at eating primates. They're phenomenal predators. They're stealthy. They can run fast, they can leap into trees. And they can carry great weights over long distances, so that they can dine in safety. And so this combination of traits, has resulted in leopards breathing down our collective human necks for as long as you know, 10 plus million years. And this is how we've developed the fear response. But when was the last time we were in real physical danger in a work setting. Now, hopefully, never. But I know that's not true for all of us. But I can imagine all sorts of imagined danger that apply to us and myself every single day. And it's things like public speaking. It's delivering difficult news. It's going up for a promotion board, or networking, debating with somebody's design decision. And I'm not sure about you, but when I think about my fears, right around those things, a lot of them center around my belief that I just wasn't good enough. Like I wasn't smart enough. I wasn't valuable enough. And I will tell you, I remember in the interview process at Pariveda, when they called me back after the the second day of interviews. And they told me that I was going to get an offer. I remember thinking to myself, ha, I fooled them, I fooled them into thinking I'm good enough to get an offer. And it's that kind of limiting belief that has given rise to a lot of fear in my life so far, and imagined danger, this is the important thing to understand about fear is that even imagined danger, perceived threats, not a leopard, they can trigger the imposter syndrome, they can create fear in us, and fear shuts down our creativity. It shuts down our logic centers, and it can physically make us freeze. And it's fear that I believe puts downward pressure on our growth. And over time, if we don't learn to overcome that fear, it will limit our trajectory towards our highest potential and our well being. So what are we supposed to do about this? We're gonna take advice from Eleanor Roosevelt. Now, this quote is brilliant, it encapsulates the mindset, but also the behavior shift that I believe will help you, I know will help you. And what we're trying to do here is instead of waiting for fear to stifle us in the moment and suppress our growth, we should be seeking out fear and learning to overcome it through a deliberate practice. And it's a deliberate practice that's called voluntary discomfort.

So let me explain this to you with an example. Now, this is a coffee shop. Now this this example, takes on a whole new context during a pandemic, but just imagine your favorite place to go. For me, it's a coffee shop and I ask people to imagine going into your favorite place at the busiest time of day. So for me, that would be first thing in the morning. And instead of going in and getting into line to order a coffee, you instead you, you find a space in the middle of the coffee shop. You lie down, and you close your eyes, and you lay there for 30 seconds. You don't say anything, you don't talk to people, you don't tell them what you're doing. You just go in there, and you lie down. Now most people, when I describe this hypothetical scenario, they groan, and they visibly kind of move back, because it sounds so absurd and ridiculous to do. And why is that? So Seneca, this is Seneca here. He's an ancient Roman philosopher. And he was an advisor to the emperor of Rome. And he puts it very, very succinctly, it's like we suffer more from imagination, than from reality. Now pandemic aside, I can guarantee you that the anticipation of going into a coffee shop during the busiest time and lying down, creates you more suffering than actually going through it. And if you were actually to go through with that, you would see, hey, it's not as bad as I thought. And that's why this voluntary discomfort, this deliberate practice, can help us because by regularly putting yourself in difficult, uncomfortable situations safely, you can inoculate yourself against fear, right? It's like a vaccine. And it's like, the more you do it, and you get through to the other side, you realize, you know what, I was playing it up in my mind. And it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I remember when I did it, I thought I was going to get arrested. I guess, like somebody's going to call the cops and those 30 seconds are going to call the cops and they're going to come and they're going to put handcuffs on me and take me out. But in reality, it's like, no, people might think that I'm crazy. But that probably means they're gonna leave me alone and ignore me. And that's, in fact, what what happened. And so now let me share with you a few examples of voluntary discomfort. And these have nothing to do with my career. But, but I highlighted these because I absolutely believe that doing these things, this coffee shop exercise some of these other things, they have transfer benefits, right? Inoculating yourself against fear and one area of life will transfer over to your work life. And let me start with a glass of water. I don't recommend you do this. I encourage you not to but I attempted a seven day water fast. And don't ask me why. Like I've I've had this thing about biohacking, like trying to optimize my health and well being. And I came across fasting. There's lots of great literature out there about the benefits. But you should not do this without medical supervision. And one thing I want to tell you is that after about day two, of not having any food and just water, I thought I was gonna die. Like I physically and mentally thought I was gonna die. Now I'll tell you, I know that humans can live without food for weeks. Right that that's, that's, that's an accepted fact. And yet, I thought I was going to die. And I'll tell you at the end of day three, moving into day four, I did nothing except just kept with it. And I drank my water, lots of water and electrolytes, which is very important. And on day four, the hunger just disappeared. And with it, the fear just disappeared. And I broke through to that other side. Right I had this irrational fear that I was going to die. And

and then I didn't and and I'll tell you that experience I did it once. I did it once. It has completely transformed my relationship with food. Right It's like I no longer see food as this thing that I absolutely need. Right It is now important, incredible fuel to do the things that I want to do. And but I wouldn't have gotten to that realization without that discomfort, you know, for one day, or maybe three days. Another example ice baths or cold showers. If you're an athletes, you've probably experienced this. There's a lot of great literature out there about how reducing inflammation can speed up recovery. Even in Texas, in the wintertime, showers can get very, very cold. And I can still remember very vividly The first time I took a cold shower in Texas. And my body was so tensed up, like I did not want to get into the cold shower. And yet I convinced myself that this was a good reason. And, and I was locked up physically, right. And I was afraid that I don't know I was, I didn't know what was going to happen. And then I remember leaning into the water, starting with the tip of my shoulder and feeling the cold water. And slowly getting my whole body underneath the cold water. And after maybe hyperventilating for a little bit, I felt a profound sense of relaxation come over me, like relaxation, like I've never felt before. And again, it's something that I had to get through this discomfort to to be able to experience. Another example, involves another person. This is eye gazing. So it is an activity that you do seated across from another person, typically a complete stranger. That's how I did it. The first time I didn't know who I was sitting across, I didn't know their name. And the activity is just a stare into their eyes for minutes at a time not saying anything, not doing anything except just sitting and staring into their eyes. And I'll tell you the first time I did it started off with feeling a little awkward, feeling a little silly. There was some giggling happening on both sides of the exchange. And then that transformed into some real discomfort. It's like, oh, like, did I brush my teeth today? Like, do I have something in my teeth from lunch? You know, are they seeing that in my teeth. And then it went deeper. Like, I remember feeling like, oh, god, this person is staring into my soul. And seeing like all of my greatest fears, you know, play out in my mind. Like, I know they could see it. And I wanted to get up and walk away. But I didn't. And eventually that fell away. And what replaced it was this incredible sense of connectedness with a complete and utter stranger, like I did not know this person, I never met this person, I didn't know their name. And yet I feel like we we were connected through silence and staring into each other's eyes. And it's, again, I had to get through some discomfort to experience that. I'll tell you, this is obvious when we think about things like physical training, like we know that stressing the body, you know, causing some discomfort can allow the body to come back stronger. A lot of times, we don't think about that, outside of the physical domain, which is why I also go to therapy on a regular basis. And I have been for years. Because similar to physical training, making me stronger. Going to therapy makes me mentally and emotionally stronger. And I'll share with you one example. Recently, I can't remember maybe this was a year or two ago, there was a big storm that came through Dallas, and the power was cut out for neighborhoods for days. And it was early summer, maybe. And it was hot. And I remember debating. So you know what, I could probably go find a hotel that I could stay in with my kids and get climate control. But then I remembered this practice of voluntary discomfort and I said you know what? For most of humankind, we didn't have climate control. Like we couldn't control the temperature. I'm going to be okay. You know, let me stay in my apartment with my kids.

And let others who need it. Have those hotel rooms. And I remember telling my kids like, you know what we're going to be okay, this is going to hurt and it's going to suck because we're not used to this. But we're going to be fine. And we're going to get through it together. And I remember laying down on the ground with my front door open to allow some of the cool air at night to come in. And my kids still talk about that. You know that they hated it at first, but they realize like wait a second. This isn't as bad as we thought, and in fact, it was kind of fun. You know, that's, that's the practice and action. One other thing that I'll share with you is, that's a really important part of my practice of voluntary discomfort is going on meditation retreats. So this is a picture of the retreat center that I go to in Colorado, once a year. And I go for seven, eight days at a time. And we practice meditation in silence for eight or nine hours a day. That's pretty intense, pretty extreme. I don't imagine most people do that. But it is thoroughly uncomfortable. Like it's, it's incredibly physically demanding to sit still, for hours on end. And not to mention that when you remove a lot of the typical stimulus from your day, like your cell phone, or access to the internet, or TV shows, right, they, they do everything for you, they tell you when to wake up, they make these phenomenal meals for you. And all you do is practice, it's pretty scary what you're left with, because what you're left with is just your thoughts. And I've learned a lot through sitting through the discomfort of my thoughts, you know, in silence. And I've learned a lot, some of which I'm trying to share here. Okay, now, you're probably thinking rightfully so that all of those are absurd, a little extreme. And I would agree with you. Now, whether you buy into this idea of voluntary discomfort as a practice or not, I want you to ask yourself, what are some things you can do right now, to improve your journey, like your career journey, your lifelong journey of growth, and your journey to well being. I'm going to share with you a few things. The most important thing I can recommend to you, if you do only one thing, take one thing away from this talk. It's to practice vulnerability, like vulnerability is a highly underrated leadership skill. And it's a skill. It's something that can be practiced and developed. And I have Brene Brown, and her book daring greatly to thank for changing my life. Like her book gave me the permission to see vulnerability as strength. It takes courage to say, hey, I need help. And in any domain of life, and if every day we show up in our lives, in our work with the courage to be vulnerable, we will absolutely reach our highest potential. So that's it. Vulnerability, to me is the key. discard all the crazy stuff that I said. And just focus on being vulnerable. The second thing is that this is specific to well being, it's like you need a community to support you, like Pariveda is a phenomenal community to help you grow. In so many domains of your life. And Taylor mentioned that there's a community in Dallas that is formed. There is a national community that is forming to define and evangelize certain practices around Fin well being. And I'd like you to go join that right now. So in Slack, there was a channel called Finn wellbeing. And what we plan on doing is hosting a set of challenges. And this is just a sampling of different challenges that people can do, they can opt into, that I believe will materially improve their lives. The last thing is a personal plug. So I'd encourage you if you got anything out of this talk today.

nker down and just wait until:

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