Leah Weiss, Ph.D. is an author and a speaker who helps leaders be better humans. Leah has taught and spoken in more than 100 organizations worldwide, including Goldman Sachs, Nasser, the European Commission, Google Intuit, and more. Her work has been covered by outlets including the New York Times, BBC TEDx, The Financial Times, A Harvard Business Review, and on and on. She created the highly popular leading with mindfulness and compassion course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and she’s a founding faculty member of Stanford’s Compassion Cultivation Program, which was conceived by the Dalai Lama. Leah co-founded Skylyte, a company that specializes in using the latest neuroscience and behavior change to empower high-performing leaders and managers to prevent burnout for themselves and their teams.
In this interview, Leah joins me to explore a lot of things that can help you not only be a better leader, but also a better human. We talk a lot about her first book “How We Work: Live Your Purpose, Reclaim Your Sanity, and Embrace the Daily Grind.” that was also endorsed by the Dalai Lama. One interesting thing we talk about is purpose, not just as a concept, but how we can incorporate it into our day to day lives. We talk about mindfulness, compassion, and balance. Leah has a particularly interesting perspective of balance that I think you might find useful. If you work in a professional environment, or if you’ve experienced Sunday dread, overwhelm, burnout, mom guilt, inertia, or a struggle for balance, then this interview is for you.
This week on the School for Good Living Podcast:
Connect With The Guest:
Brilliant Miller [00:00:15] My guest today, Leah Weiss, Ph.D., helps leaders be better humans. If you’re a leader, if you work in a professional environment, or if you experienced Sunday dread, overwhelm, burnout, mom guilt, inertia, or a struggle for balance, then this interview is for you. Leah is a researcher, a speaker, a professor, a consultant, and an author. She created the highly popular leading mindfulness and compassion course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She’s also a founding faculty member of Stanford’s Compassion Cultivation Program, which was conceived by the Dalai Lama. Leah co-founded Skylyte, a company that specializes in using the latest neuroscience and behavior change to empower high-performing leaders and managers to prevent burnout for themselves and their teams. Leah’s first book and the one about which I ask her many questions and this interview is called How We Work, Live Your Purpose, Reclaim Your Sanity and Embrace the Daily Grind. It was endorsed by the Dalai Lama. She has taught and spoken in more than 100 organizations around the world, including Goldman Sachs, Nasser, the European Commission, Google intuit, and more. And her work has been covered by outlets including the New York Times, BBC TEDx, The Financial Times, A Harvard Business Review, and on and on. So in this interview, we explore a lot of things that can help you not only be a better leader but no surprise, as I said earlier, a better human. We talk about value as excavation, how we can find out what truly matters to us and how we can live true to it. We talk about purpose not just as a concept, but how we can incorporate it into our day-to-day lives. We talk about mindfulness. We talk about compassion. We talk about balance. It has a particularly interesting perspective of balance that I think you might find useful. We also talk, as we do in so many of these episodes, about Leah’s writing and creative process, and a little bit about what she’s learned about marketing and promoting books. So if that’s your gig, I think you want to hang around till the end. You can learn more about Leah and her work. You can find her online at Leah WeissPhD.com. It’s Leah Weiss. You can also find her on Skylyte.com or on LinkedIn, either for her account or skylight account on LinkedIn. So with that, I hope you enjoy and find benefit from and expand the amount of compassion and the amount of understanding and the amount of peace and the amount of productivity, health, and happiness in the world. From what you take away from this interview with my friend Leah Weiss. Leah, welcome to the School for Good Living.
Leah Weiss [00:02:57] Thank you for having me. I’ve been looking forward to our conversation.
Brilliant Miller [00:03:01] Me too. Would you tell me, please, what is life about?
Leah Weiss [00:03:06] I find myself kind of moving towards the kind of quintessential Tibetan Buddhist answer because I don’t think I’ve ever come up with anything better. I think it’s about wisdom and compassion. I think that’s at least that’s what I try to focus on. And when I do, I think that always move in a direction that involves growth.
Brilliant Miller [00:03:46] Yeah. Now I realize that the way any one of us answers that question, of course, is inevitably informed by the path we’ve followed in life, you know, the journey we’ve taken. And I understand that you’ve been on this path of wisdom and learning and teaching for a long time. But there was a class in ninth grade where you studied the literature of enlightenment. Is that true? And if so, will you tell me about it?
Leah Weiss [00:04:11] Yeah. So I had a teacher, Dean Slater, who would actually be a great guest for you and your community. He’s written a bunch of great books. And he developed this class called Literature of the Enlightenment. And we read really across traditions, as well as with humanists, secular humanists, and people like Thoreau. And for me, when I encountered Tibetan Buddhist text for the first time, it was just like completely the world stopped. So many of the questions that I had been very angsty, kind of teen. Hashing out and trying to understand through reading all kinds of isms like this just made a lot of sense. And he was a very he is a very funny, practical kind of person who, like, really gets the teen psyche. And so when he would teach things like meditation, I remember one of my good friends who was in his class with me. Tried to debrief her meditating and was like, Mr. Snyder, it’s just so boring to meditate. So very boring. And it was really an honest moment. And Dean responded to him, Well, can you be with the boringness? And that was like that in itself was just mind-blowing, like how much we try to move and feel and do and feel to avoid the space around the boringness that we’re pushing against. So he had a lot of great ways to kind of instill these kind of epic points of wisdom in a way that like a 14-year-old could take in. And he can call us out, like when we cut class because the dead were touring and we were going to a show. And we had some total B.S. in our story. And it’s like, I know the dead were at MSG last night, may know why you guys are exhausted. So I’m like, okay.
Brilliant Miller [00:06:40] Truly, he sounds like a man of wisdom.
Leah Weiss [00:06:42] Yeah. Yeah. And very funny.
Brilliant Miller [00:06:44] Amy Goodman Well, what a gift to, to be exposed to that and to, to learn about these things in your teenage years is something I’m not sure I would have received at all at that time in my life. But I understand that it’s maybe set a trajectory for your career and even your life and that you’ve learned. You’ve traveled to Tibet and Nepal and and India and you’ve even learned Tibetan. Is that right? Did you at least conversationally, fluent in Tibetan.
Leah Weiss [00:07:16] At one point. And I was I was pretty pretty there. I would say, you know, these days it’s not. I can I can still read, but I haven’t been using using it as much. But yeah, it was a big priority for me to be able to read texts directly and to be able to. I spent a bunch of time when I was an undergrad. Stanford had this amazing kind of way of giving undergraduates research grants and and I applied for those and got different sources of funding so I could go and spend time in Dharamsala. And so I just wanted to be able to talk to people. And I really felt drawn to spending time with the newcomer refugees, the folks who had just recently escaped Tibet, who hadn’t had a chance to learn English, which most people would try to do after they had, you know, been in been in India or Nepal for any long period of time. So, yeah, a it’s language is such an interesting thing. It really, you know, for those of you who have learned or or have embedded in your in your way of experiencing the world multiple languages, it just it informs how we see in a fundamental way. So it’s interesting. I’m seeing my oldest who’s getting ready for her bat mitzvah, starting to get into the Hebrew and like there’s just ways that things are very different and your fundamental construct through language. So I think it’s a good thing we’re all hardwired to do it and especially when we’re young. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:09:04] Yeah. And I think we, we don’t know, right? We don’t know what we don’t know. And with language in so much of it, I think defines or constrains how we can even think and what we what we see and so forth. And I’m reminded of this in a small way, because years ago I studied Japanese and had the chance to live with the host family and so forth. And, and I just remember thinking how interesting it was that in the romance languages where we have like masculine and feminine, then in Japanese there’s verbs that denote whether something is animate or inanimate, and that sensitivity to life that I think is part of the entire culture that we don’t have in the same way is no surprise, is very, very different. But what would you say are some of the differences maybe that exist in the Tibetan culture that are perhaps reflected in or maybe even attributable to the language that that are maybe different or unique from from our culture?
Leah Weiss [00:09:59] I think that. There’s. A lot of. Setting of intentions through the at the beginning of any experience or meditation practice, there is just a structure of grounding and in what the motivation is. And I think about that a lot because a lot of the conversations I have and the work I do is it’s around trying to help people connect with a sense of purpose. And I think our lacking of this idea that as we start any conversation or process or item on the to do list to reconnect with what is the motivation, the deepest motivation behind it, like what is the far reaching goal that we’re hoping that this action is going to in some way influence? I think that’s really powerful. And I think that there’s an aimlessness that many of us or anxiety that many of us experience when we lose track of that.
Brilliant Miller [00:11:12] Yeah, I think you’re right. And this is something that I really appreciate from your book, and I have many questions. So the book you wrote, How We Work, Live Your Purpose, Reclaim Your Sanity, and Embrace the daily grind which was published not too long before the pandemic. Right. And then we and then the world changes. But in some ways, some things never change. But I want to ask this question about well, let me start with why did you write this book? Could you write it for what you wanted to do for them? How did you hope the world might be different, like anything related to the book itself and why you wrote it?
Leah Weiss [00:11:44] Yeah. So I wrote this book because I felt that while there are many books on things like mindfulness at work or even how to develop more compassion. There’s an overemphasis on the timeouts and the meditation on the separate kind of things that we do, which I’m all for. I spent much of my life in long meditation retreats, but there’s still this really important question of what does it mean to be compassion and action? What does it mean to apply a purpose throughout our day? What does it mean to to to take these these really powerful concepts, practices, and leave them more consistently through how we’re experiencing and creating our lives? And I also really wanted to do that from the location that I was at. I had three kids under five, like living in a very expensive place, trying to figure out how to how to do meaningful work and support my family and, you know, and stay kind of very tied to the practicality and not see that as as disparate. And I think, you know, for me, that’s why I started the opening section. And the book is about one of the cities or the opening sections, about one of the meditation masters who who practices meditation while he repairs shoes. And, you know, that’s very much the thesis. It’s not about the breaks between repairing shoes. It’s about the how can he show us how we can make our process intertwined with our growth and our humanity in a world where our jobs are increasingly very much dehumanized? And and that’s a big part of why we’re burning out. We’re spending the majority of our time in environments that are inhospitable to human beings. And so that’s what this book was really about. Like, you know, if there is a path where we can in the situation that we’re already in change how we’re experiencing it, I wanted to really lay that out there. Now I think it’s up to the reader to discern. You know, I think there are some really big questions that we each have to answer. Can we is it enough? Can we change through our mindset and through practice enough? Or are there external changes we have to make? And my kind of thesis throughout the book is maybe there are external changes that you need to make. And the first step to doing that is to do the internal work so that, you know, when that you have the clarity about what it is you want to, to move towards instead of just away from. So now those are some of I wanted it to be a book for people who had Sunday dread, for people who felt overwhelmed by their work or who felt mom guilt, which I was really grappling with at that time in particular, and who felt they didn’t have the luxury to step out of all of that. And I think a lot of the voices that were guiding what mindfulness at work looks like were coming from a really privileged place that is like pretty unrelatable. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:15:42] No, I think I’ve seen that as well. And on that and it’s one of the things I appreciate about the book is, well, there’s a few, but one is that it? I found it to be a really wonderful combination of stories, research practices, questions, you know, things that took these things that can seem very conceptual and allows me or a reader to figure out what it looks like in my life and then to put it into into practice. And a teacher of mine once suggested that basically any idiot can sit alone, like peacefully in a quiet room. But that’s not what meditation is necessarily. And and said that, you know, we don’t meditate, we become meditative. It’s when we get off the mat. And your book showed examples of that. And this idea to go back to what we talked about with the Tibetan and how maybe the language and the culture are informed, you you introduce me to this idea. I think if I’m saying this right, I’d love if you talk about it, because I think it’s essential to everything you’re saying. Now, is this about dumb person? Is that right? Will you talk about what that is and why you you included that in this book?
Leah Weiss [00:16:53] Yeah, absolutely. So don’t assume is is basically a framework for approaching anything. So it could be approaching your meditation practice or it can be approach. Facing a task or approaching an increment of a day. And basically, it translates directly to the three. Three. All three good things. And the three good things are setting your intention. So as I spoke about before, like getting really clear on what our motivation is beyond the immediate either gratification or need that’s being met. It’s doing the thing whole heartedly, whole, attentively, and then it’s reflecting to understand what the learnings are and to, in a kind of traditional Tibetan framework, dedicate the Marriott or the whatever good stuff was created or done or experience that that ties back to the, the broader issue at hand, the needs of people while beyond who we interacted with. And I think this framework is so simple. So it’s one of the things that you can use when you’re going to sit and meditate before you start whatever practice you’re doing, remembering why you’re doing it, and and connecting with whether that’s the impact you want to see in the world or and however you frame it. Right. And so I try and try to sidestep putting too much language around it. But if you are a religious person, you know, that would be the place to connect with what you see as the higher power, let’s say. And then really putting yourself fully into what you’re doing. So if you’re if it let’s say you’re not meditating, you’re washing the dishes and you’ve set your intention that this become create an environment for your home, that people can enter and feel welcome and peaceful and bigger so that the people who come through your home can then be energized to live their lives in a better way. Having been there, then just really being present to the washing of the dishes and then at the end reconnecting with the purpose and also doing a little bit of like where did my attention draft or how did I move away from the practice that I set out for myself? And I think, you know, to your point about what your meditation teacher had said to you about being meditate, is it the image that came to mind for me when you said that was around, you know, when you’re spending time in Buddhist countries and in Asia, people are practicing in all kinds of chaotic environments. And I think that’s a really important lesson, whether it’s someone who’s sitting in the middle of a living room with a huge amount of people around them, or they’re at a holy site and they’re walking or bowling and there’s people everywhere. There’s not this sense of like, I need to be separate from to practice. And and I think that that is like a very kind of precious perspective for us that like right in the midst of the noise and chaos and messiness, like, there’s always an opportunity to develop wisdom or compassion. We might not be able to develop quiet quantities. I wish that there is more quiet in my world, but. But that doesn’t preclude the other.
Brilliant Miller [00:20:47] Yeah, that makes me think of something I once read that Gandhi said about my life is my teaching and about how, you know, our lives are an opportunity for practice in every moment and and how we don’t need to imagine that it’s somehow this meditation or mindfulness is somehow separate from our lives. But in fact, every moment of our lives affords us the chance. And I really, really appreciate that view. I also I really like what you wrote. Oh, and before we leave this topic of purpose, there’s a couple of things here. You cite some research in the book about runners who run up a hill and one group was asked to think about and reflect on their life’s purpose before they did. And the other group wasn’t asked to do that, but their experience was very different as a result. Will you talk a little bit about that?
Leah Weiss [00:21:39] Yeah. And this I love this research because I think it cuts to the heart of why having a clear purpose is a massive force for resilience. So this in the center of the Cornell campus, there’s a massive hill and there’s apparently there’s all kinds of things. Around, like getting over the hill so early in the semester. People go and they attend their classes and the weather changes and motivation dies down the hill, becomes this really insurmountable force and having a stronger Y, connecting the Y, you’re going to go schlep up and down the hill and come back the other way was a big determinant. And and the willingness that people had in this to do that in in a very physical, practical way. And there’s a lot of really interesting research like I love the definition from Dr. Barb Fredrickson, how she defines purpose. She describes it as a far reaching and steady goal, something personally meaningful and self transcending. And it’s far reaching and steady. So it’s not the minutia of our to do list, although ideally our to do list is moving us towards act. It’s got to be personally meaningful, which is why I think this kind of introspective conversation and community that you’re convening here is so important. People need a place to take the time to think through what is really that important to me and in for it to be truly powerful and say it needs to be bigger than ourselves and our it has to have some kind of of impact that and other people on that earth time, you name it. But it’s got to be there. And I think that the. What we know from the purpose research and I kind of do a lot of examples of this in the study is in my book about when we are higher in purpose, not only are we mentally stronger, we’re less depressed, we’re less anxious, we can deal more readily with adversity. We can find post-traumatic growth as opposed to trauma, and we can move through trauma. And physiologically, I think that there’s like that’s where for me the biggest. Aha. Kind of comes in that our body is at the whether it’s the level of inflammation, whether it’s the level of our ability to process antivirals, whether it’s the genomic kind of microscopic level. There’s so much research about people who are stronger and purpose are more healthier. And I think that that is a really powerful point, even philosophically, because it shows us that we need a why it’s not just a luxury from when we’re in our 20 is, but it’s we need it. We are light throughout our lifespan and we need it when we’re teenagers. We need it when we’re adults and we’re in the middle out of things. And the jobs and the career and the family life is so busy and harried, we need it done. And then for older adults, when they’re in their third act, their life expectancy and quality of life is way higher. And there’s research around all of these phases. So I hope that that’s something maybe to validate for some of the listeners here that, you know, taking this time to do this work is is fundamental to who we are.
Brilliant Miller [00:25:35] Yeah no doubt. And so the it’s something that comes to mind for me is Viktor Frankl and man’s search for meaning and justice. In four years, you’ll see in the lightning round. One of my questions is what what gift have you at? What book have you gifted or recommended most often? And that book is far and away the number one. And I when I read it a couple of times now and I just reflect on how, you know, he Dr. Finkel, would talk about the importance of a purpose in one of the worst situations imaginable. And then I think about my life and many of our lives, many of us in the developed world are very blessed, especially by comparison. And this is a little bit abstract, perhaps, but I think of something Warren Buffett said about businesses when he said businesses lose more money in good times than bad, meaning when things are easy, when when the economy is good, and when consumers have money and stuff like this, it’s easy to not watch costs and it’s easy, you know, to not be as disciplined. And I think it’s kind of a similar thing where when we are so blessed, it’s maybe not as evident how important purpose is. It’s maybe easier to see in a concentration camp. Intel You know, it’s not like life seems to work until it doesn’t. And then like you’re saying, whether it’s sun dread or it’s a relationship that or we do get a diagnosis or something. But that’s part of what I love about your book, too, is that you give us some practical ways to discover or define. And that’s a question before I get to that top-down, bottom-up approach I’d love for you to talk about, but do you think that purpose is something that we discover in the universe? Like, is it they’re waiting for us to find it? Or is it something that we speak or write into existence? How do you see that?
Leah Weiss [00:27:22] Such a good question. Can I get one before the summer? Something you do or find your comment about purpose in kind of when I’m hearing implicit in this like the abject need that maybe we’re not you and I are experiencing today and many of our listeners aren’t like the kind of idea that masochist hierarchy of needs if if we have our basic food shelter whatnot handled, does that remove us in some fundamental way or set us up to have like angst over purpose? There is it occurs to me to recommend a book I often assign when I’m teaching anything that allows me to assign it. One of the Dalai Lama’s books is called Toward a True Kinship of Faiths, and it’s basically the whole book is around an exploration of different wisdom, traditions, and their take on compassion. But the introduction is so interesting because he talks about his perspective on the more affluent contexts, being further separated from purpose, from compassion, and experiencing more depression and anxiety. And just the way he lays it out, I think is coming from him is so compelling. So anyways, in what you were saying just made me think of that and I think it’s a really important question and also something that like, you know, it’s such an interesting one, like how to think about privilege and purpose. And as I’ve had people ask me over the years, is, is purpose something that you only get to do when you’re the CEO and you have all the resources and flexibility and had people kind of make the opposite assumption like, oh, I wish that I wasn’t in such a rarefied space with all of my needs met and then have all this like luxury to be spinning about big questions that I would be too busy to worry about if I was like actually trying to meet basic needs. It’s a, I think, a really important question for our time. But coming back to, you know, I love the frame that you used, I, I think with purpose, is it something that we like find? Is it something that we create? I think it’s a bit of a mix. I, I do think that there are people often experience this idea of like coming into like an Aha around a purpose, think there’s a whole set of people who like have that they have origin stories for their purpose. Like, you know, I, I know I think of my older sister who’s, who’s told me I can stop calling her my older sister and just call her sister. And she is a physician like a really passionate physician and she has a whole origin story around it. And it has to do with our father, who is a physician, and the experience she had of someone having a heart attack on a tennis court. And, you know, some people have this like I had a moment that catalyzed my sense of where I’m supposed to be in this world. And then I think there’s a lot of people who don’t have that, but they can still have a purpose. And I think then there is more of a path around examining life stories. So one of the exercises I love to do with people is and we’ve done this interestingly digitally through the Stanford Alumni Network, we put together like a virtual program on finding your purpose. And we would have people meet in little groups all over the world, and they would do this interview process that we can link to. It’s probably simpler than me describing all that, but long story short, there’s a specific process around telling in a streamlined version of your life story, while someone else is listening for the values that they hear, and then using the conversation to do some clarification and getting down to core values and understanding what has been operative, often without us being conscious of it in the moment. But there were key components that drove decisions we made in getting more of that kind of what we call in the research language values excavation work. Getting really clear, not just like academically, like look at this list of value circles where you like. I’ve always looked at those exercises and been like math, like, okay, and so what? But I think looking at like when were times in my life that big decisions needed to be made and I feel and in hindsight like I was. I was able to approach that with like clarity and intentionality. What were those values like now? That’s really interesting and understanding. How do we then make sense of where are those values in our life and work today? And that’s such a big place where burnout happens. It burnout isn’t just about we’re all working too much, although we probably are. But a big precipitant of burnout is when our work has a big drift from our core values. And if we can bring that back together, so many changes for us. So I think it’s kind of both. And I think not to be discouraged if you’re a listener who hasn’t had that like linear I, I had a precipitating event and now I know what I’m supposed to contribute to the world kind of catharsis. And I think for a lot of us there are many zigs and zags and it’s almost in hindsight, we can see that there was a path that has coherence. And I think purpose work is something that we all need to do because in a given example for health care, like so many people have a really kind of origin story, like the cathartic story behind going into that work, but that doesn’t buffer them from when they’re in the experience of being in a broken health care system and losing track of their sense of purpose. Either way, you need to continue to do the work of understanding where is my purpose expressed. Where is it blocked? What do I need to take? What do I need to take internal action on external action on the systems level, action on, and so forth?
Brilliant Miller [00:34:37] It makes a lot of sense. And I’ve never thought of burnout as. But I like the way you describe that. At least sometimes. Or one, cause it’s when our work drifts from our values. That’s interesting to think of it that way. And with a lot of these things to kind of go back to what’s almost maybe a theme of the interview, the recurring three-hour interview, is this a privilege? Right, where I know many people are busy, they’re they are overwhelmed. There are a lot of responsibilities, not to mention distractions and other opportunities and so forth. But what’s what do you what have you seen that works for people who it’s like life isn’t working. They have a sense that purpose might be a key for them, but they don’t necessarily know. They don’t know, if should they hire a coach. Should they look for a workshop? Should they do a ten-day assignment retreat? Like, what do you what would you suggest to somebody who is looking to better define themselves or understand their purpose?
Leah Weiss [00:35:34] Yeah. I mean, I’m a big fan of the art of the possible, so, you know, I would never want to give an answer. Like, the retreat is the way to go. If you have, like, capacity financially and in terms of flexibility. And you can take some space to do a formal meditation retreat or spend time in nature like, you know, those are always there. If you have some structure behind how you’re spending that time, whether it’s meditation or reflective writing, those can be great things to do. I also think that you know, some of the insight that can be most powerful can happen with kind of microdoses of reflection done regularly. So I’ll give an example. One of the exercises that I’ve done with a lot of super busy women executives who are asking questions around like I’m successful by objective measures, but am I where I want to be? What, you know, all these kinds of purpose-driven questions, or maybe I’m not as successful as I want to be and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling like I’m semi-good or good enough at what I’m doing that doesn’t like that. Was it my dream? Is this how it has to be? One of the exercises that I think is really effective and like time-limited, time-bound. So we’ve been talking about like how much of your time is being spent, how much of your work is being spent, aligns with your values. There’s a time-to-purpose challenge kind of methodology that I’ll describe in a simplified way that I’ve done with a lot of folks and women and students and people mid-career and organizations. So basically the upshot being, and you do this work to get to your core values and you start looking at through having told your story, having made a short list of what you think your current like you don’t have to commit to them forever. But three core values that really do define you. So for me, like I might pack integrity, compassion, and humor. Like I feel like that kind of capture a lot for me and then make it practical. So booking a day at the end of my day before I log off from my work, like, what did I do today? When was I aligned with all of or any of those values? And were there big chunks of the day where I wasn’t? And it’s also then you can start overlaying what was draining, what was anxiety-provoking. Where did I feel? In the zone. If anywhere you are in the flow. And I think really you can do this as a daily like when you sit down before you just get into the to-do list setting intentions, coming back to the stamp assume looking ahead at here’s what my day is going to take me. I know that there’s like bigger risks in these activities because I’m, you know, don’t love them. I’m frustrated. So here is my intention here. I’m going to really focus on bridging relationships or compassionate candor or some sort of like alignment with a value, even in the tedious things we don’t want to do at the beginning of the day. Or we could do this on a Monday morning and scan your whole week. But the trick is you got to come back at the end and ask, how did it go today? How did it go this week? And then that’s where we then look ahead. What do I want to do differently next week? Are there things I actually really want to move toward changing how I’m showing up or getting off of my calendar altogether? And I think this structure gives us a lot of opportunities, to be honest with ourselves. You know, I think there’s there’s definitely things for many of us we’re good at and we feel we should be doing because that’s where we’re valuable to others. And or there are passions we have that we haven’t let grow. So doing this exercise with a coach I think is or appears like some accountability body. I do think this is work that we want to do in conversation because the opportunities are really highlighted when we have this as a dialog for where we can focus on bite-size changes or practices that we want to insert.
Brilliant Miller [00:40:28] Yeah, man, there’s wow. There’s so much for me and what you just shared too. Like, I just interviewed a guy for this podcast not long ago, John Philip Newell, and he’s a Celtic teacher and he talks about this thing. I’d never heard of the anthem, Kyra, which is this idea of like a sacred friend, a part of the function of that friend in this relationship, as I understand it, is as a witness to one’s unfolding. And as you’re saying in this dialog and I love this term, this microdose of reflection, where we don’t need to necessarily give away all our possessions or go to some kind of a retreat that we can cultivate this in our daily lives. And another thing that came up is when you were talking about the reflection, how that’s such an important part. I think about a coach of mine, a guy, Michael Bungay Senior, a friend, and a former guest on this. He ends every coaching session with the question, What was most valuable for you here today? And he points to the power of someone to reflect in that moment of them articulating. Then it’s almost like they become aware or it goes deeper. I think that’s really cool. And then I think about my dad, who is this phenomenally successful entrepreneur, and my mom told me that one of his practices every night was he would as he was falling asleep, he would recall the day he had just left. Who did he meet? What did he do? You know, and I think that informed. How did he want to show up tomorrow?
Leah Weiss [00:41:56] Yes.
Brilliant Miller [00:41:57] So so interesting. And then the last thing is, I heard a mystic once think this was a medieval mystic that has suggested you are already that which you are seeking to become. And in some ways now it’s now, you know, life is being and becoming. But in another way, I love this practice that you’re suggesting because we do tend to look at what’s missing, what’s wrong, you know, the deficit. But this practice and the reflection can help us to zero in on yeah, I did live my values this way and to acknowledge ourselves and I just think there’s something really beautiful about that.
Leah Weiss [00:42:32] I’m so glad to hear that it resonates. And this, by the way, one of the practices that I’ve really loved is kind of bringing this in with the kids at the dinner table, and we’ve been doing it since they were really little, and sometimes it would be called Berkson by its or, you know, different, different kind of metaphors that we would use, but to get them in the habit of reflecting on their day in this way. And then I think there’s another really interesting element for those of us who struggle with a lot of self-criticisms adding in, I think a lot of people are used to the idea of gratitude. What do I appreciate and great when my grateful for from others, but also great appreciation for ourselves for something we did in that day to like see that strength, own that effort. And I think it’s really yeah, it’s here. I love the example that you gave of your father of how it leads us to kind of have further, stronger convictions about how we want to show up that next day. It’s such a yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:43:41] And when people will say like, Oh, I’m just bad with names, there’s a part of me and then I don’t know, maybe they are, but I think we tend to think we have congenital defects or something that we don’t really have. They’re just these limiting beliefs and the stories we tell. But when I look at my dad, he was good with names. But yeah, he reflected on who did he meet and what were they named. And then when he met him again, he had a greater chance for recall and stuff. So there’s a lot in that. Let me ask you this before we so I know and I’m really enjoying our conversation. By the way, I hope you are on YouTube. So I do want to ask you about balance. You shared something just a little anecdote in here about someone who sounds like making a difference for you, someone named Father Jack RATH. Schmidt Right. And as a coach, many, many people I hear I just seeking balance, you know, and so forth. But it sounds like he told you something that has stayed with you about balance. Will you share with me what that was?
Leah Weiss [00:44:40] Yeah, absolute. So when I was in grad school, I was doing a program that was one foot in the School of Theology and ministry. So the first jubilee to be on that side for sure. And then the other side was in education. And one of my friends who was doing Catholic ministry, it was really amazing, amazing woman. She does all of this incredible activist work and so forth. She was getting spiritual direction from Father Robert Schmidt. And he was really curious because when I would talk to her, I would hear about the things that he would say. And I called him up and I was like, Oh, can we, like a chat? And we started having these regular conversations. And at that point, I had just gotten married, I had a newborn and my father had passed. So all in like, you know, a very short period of time. And I was feeling completely overwhelmed by life change. There’s a lot of change. And I was past the point where I had a lot of structure in my doctoral program, like the last few years, you just got to write a lot of stuff. And so the coursework was done. So it was just kind of me up against myself in a lot of ways with a lot of changing contexts. And he really pushed this idea of instead of thinking about balance, which has had so much critique and in the last year of, you know, balance kind of implies this like way that we’re standing are holding things that are precarious to think in terms of rhythms and to think not about needing to force everything into our idea of what it should look like in any given day. So I kind of had a tyrannical approach of like, well, I have to be doing this as my academic self and my mother self. And what about my physical and psychological need to grieve and, you know, all these things and it kind of this idea of a rhythm. Thinking about it in the context of a day, a week, a season of life, I think helped me to be okay with like prioritizing certain things or just not, you know, there are some simple things like, okay, I have the choice right now. I can either take a nap or I can like clean while my baby’s asleep and I’m going to prioritize cleaning or I’m going to be exhausted. And like, it’s there’s just so many of these small choices around can we where can we let imperfection be okay? And, and know that there’ll be other seasons of life that we can come back to that thing that we are feeling pulled towards, that we want to do, but there’s just not. So I really like that. And I think thinking in terms of seasonality has been really helpful. You know, it puts us back to thinking about how nature and life cycles happen and letting there be seasons of rest, seasons of of more activity, seasons of focus on some elements rather than others. So I feel like this is one of those that I’ll be living into my whole life. I’ve been very curious recently, you know, talking to folks who have older kids and trying to borrow some of their perspective about the phase I’m in now, you know, with this kind of seasonality in mind, because it’s very hard to have that context when especially if you’re in a phase where you’re surrounding yourself with, you know, where do I where will I spend this weekend? I’ll be at, you know, a bazillion-hour baseball game with other sitting with other working moms and, you know, people whose lives look so much like mine right now. So it’s great because we can connect, but there are also share similar blindspots. Yeah. So one of the things that really, you know, kind of has come back to me is an emphasis there, reconnecting with friends who older children as both like a little more equanimity and letting my kids have their own journey and not trying to be as controlling, but also like a bigger emphasis on my relationship with my partner because like, you know that is something that in the chaos of trying to. Balance. All the things. It’s like you can. Lose track. Yeah. So I like that metaphor a lot. I feel like I’m not doing it justice this morning, but it’s a powerful metaphor for now.
Brilliant Miller [00:49:57] It is. And I think you’re doing great. And to what you said about this, you know, the seasons that we find ourselves in and parenting and so forth, and that a choice ultimately is a choice available to us, whether we’re aware of it or not. Where to prioritize and maybe prioritize doesn’t sound right. But with our partner versus our kids. And that’s something I never thought about. And my wife, we just celebrated our ninth anniversary and we’ve known each other for about 12 years. And I’m very grateful, you know, together we’re raising six kids. And she very consciously told me early in our relationship about the importance of that connection, of that marital connection, and making sure that it was in some ways truly primary. And I would not have thought of and I know it can be easy to go to the kids and so forth, but then in the macro view, the kids hopefully, if all goes well, grow up and leave the nest. And you know, if you haven’t focused on that primary relationship, it’s like the chickens come home to roost.
Leah Weiss [00:50:53] I think. Yes. Yeah. And you’ve taught them through your doing that, modeling what it means to have that kind of relationship, which I think we also want for our children to have. Like when I think about my daughter, my goal for her isn’t to become like, you know, a self-sacrificing feeling like she’s never enough. I want her to. And that’s been my way forward. I’m really trying to make changes and like. Taking time to do some of the physical, like self-care that my mom has always blocked. And one of the ways that I’m really finding that changing now is like, what do I want for her? I want her to take care of her body and my boys. I want them all to take care of their bodies, have beautiful relationships, and have meaningful work. So like then that should lead back to the fact that they should see me actively prioritizing those same things. And I just wish I had thought of this like ten years ago, but all right, here we are.
Brilliant Miller [00:51:58] So it’s the best time to plant a tree thing. Right. Two decades ago. But here we are when we know better than we do better. So. Awesome. Well, let me ask you about it. Let me turn our conversation to a discussion of skylyte. So tell me, what is this and what does it do for people?
Leah Weiss [00:52:17] Yeah. I love the work that we’re doing at Skylight. So a couple of years ago, my former superstar MBA student from when I was teaching at Stanford Business School, called me up and was like, I’m thinking I’m going to leave McKinsey, where she was working before and after business school. And I really want to focus on this problem of burnout and resilience. And I’m really disappointed to see how so many organizations are just putting deflecting the problem back on the individuals as though they, you know, created burnout for themselves by not using the benefits they were offered. And I was to a very similar kind of conclusion after many years of being brought into organizations to do work in the space of whether mindfulness or compassion or purpose. But I kept it earlier in my career with the individual kind of focus. What are the individual practices and mindsets that matter, that work, and the science behind them? The problem I was realizing was I was becoming kind of a tool for the organizations to not make systemic change because there’s a workshop and purpose. So if you don’t find your purpose and that’s kind of on you, what’s implicit, you know? So I was like, What? The two of us came together when we formed Skylight to Change, working from the increment of the individual to bring more of an appreciation to the role that team plays in our mental, physical, and emotional health, in our productivity. And to really look at this idea of what would it mean to change workplaces where there is an understanding of team health and what it takes for the group to create that based on best practice. So I love how you’ll see this in my book, how we work that the culture and the individual are both super important. But the problem is cultural efforts take like three years of consistent, well-funded effort. If you’re going to try to change an organization’s culture and if you’re an individual and you’re doing all the right things, if you have a manager and a team that is not mirroring that, you’re still not going to get where you want and need to be. So that was like kind of our reason for being of how can we and I had been experimenting as had my former student and co-founder and us with different ways of doing kind of micro learning’s measurement that comes back to support behavior change. And how do we apply that in the team setting? Because when we first started, we did a whole lot of high-stress middle manager interviews, you know, a lot of folks who are like her a couple of years out of an MBA in a really good job with a lot of pressure. And they weren’t ultimately the decision makers. And a lot of what we found was the burnout was driven by lack of transparency, lack of fairness, like values, drift, these kinds of issues. And what we wanted to do was be able to create a process that protected the individual from having to say, this is sucking my life force working here because I’m experiencing all of these microaggressions or I’m experiencing I do all this work and then a decision is just swoop down made and I’ve no visibility and I feel really I put everything into it. I gave up my. Now it’s my weekends and nobody gave me the courtesy of like helping me even understand how a decision was made out of my work product. Like, those are the things that we’re just destroying people. And so we’ve been working in a lot of different environments, from Nasser to Stanford Children’s Hospital. They’ve used our work at Mayo Clinic, pharma companies, tech companies, places where there’s a lot of stress, where people are working as teams and managers. The disproportionate reason why people leave their jobs is people are miserable. But I also think just blaming the manager doesn’t make any sense because I’ve never met one who is like I woke up with the goal to make people’s lives miserable. They’re being squeezed, right? They don’t have maybe communication skills or resources or an understanding of they get timelines. They didn’t ask for what they had to grind towards. So our kind of goal was to create using the idea of team vitals. How can you feedback to the team on where they’re doing well, and where they’re at risk so they can use that information to improve how the managers are managing, how the teammates are experiencing anything from psychological safety to autonomy to purpose, and being able to take this process and over time really understand and own it. So anybody, whether they’re an individual contributor, understands how I can influence the culture of my team if I’m a manager. I understand there’s even a higher level of responsibility for the culture of the team. And then how do you take all of this and give information back at that higher level at the department or organization so that they understand what are the implications, what are the needs, what’s not working? So it’s an attempt to, you know, change how we work in an extension of what my book was about and the individual practices. But really trying to honor that, you know, I’ll give you the metaphor, a firm, the godmother of burnout, Dr. Christina mars, what she describes trying to have an individual solve their own burnout, like asking a cucumber in a vinegar barrel not to become a pickle doesn’t make any sense. Cucumber in a vinegar barrel will become a pickle unless you do something about the acidity. And so that’s kind of my ask for all of us. It doesn’t mean that we don’t do individual work. Of course, we do. But we also have to understand we are people in environments and we are shaped by them and we have a responsibility to shape them. But we need to understand how to do that and understand a lot of the role that yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:59:37] That’s powerful in, in what you’re saying. I can just think I’m reflecting on our own family business and I know from experience how difficult it can be as someone in a business, even in a leadership position, to impart that kind of, I would say force because like the thing attributed to Einstein that a problem can be solved with the same level of thinking that created it, that it’s no surprise that these teams, these organizations continue on a trajectory of their own without the infusion of some new thought, some new energy like skylight can provide. So that’s like A, but then B is even if you have that, make it whatever. There’s a knowledge transfer, there’s a new insight, then there’s the whole work of integration. And if Skylight can be a partner with an organization as they’re so busy on just serving customers and managing expenses and like all the things that have us driving right over the hood, I know again from experience how challenging it can be and have a partner like that that can help us to actually, you know, not only find a vision but then live into it. That’s that’s powerful.
Leah Weiss [01:00:41] Yeah. And I appreciate you know, I think one of the things I would say to you, I know you have a lot of coaches in this community of listeners, and we’ve found it really powerful to bring coaches into that so that they can apply this methodology and be that ongoing touchpoint. We also hire coaches to, you know, to be in the mix with the projects. We’re doing it. It’s worked both ways. But yes, for behavior change, we need that ongoing kind of cheerleading accountability. Someone who can see the blind spots of the individual and the group, which it’s very difficult. Two do two Einsteins attributed quote is exactly on point.
Brilliant Miller [01:01:30] Now and I’ll just share with you one mine one micro point in your book that blew my mind. And then immediately I was like, oh, that’s true. About how there are some people you talk about how many people are disengaged in any given organization generally and so forth. And the thing that you pointed out was that there are people there are some people in some organizations that would rather sabotage or destroy a project than see another colleague succeed in it. And I was like, oh, my gosh, I feel bad for people in that toxic kind of situation, but I know it’s unfolding every day.
Leah Weiss [01:02:06] Yeah. Wow. Wow. And it’s up to the culture and the leadership to make that not happen. Yeah. Or to reinforce that now.
Brilliant Miller [01:02:20] Well, if you’re okay with it, let’s go ahead and transition to the enlightening lightning round.
Leah Weiss [01:02:26] Okay.
Brilliant Miller [01:02:27] How are you doing, by the way?
Leah Weiss [01:02:30] Yeah, I’m doing well. Thank you for asking.
Brilliant Miller [01:02:33] Okay. Again, this is a series of questions on a variety of topics. My aim for the most part is to just ask questions and stand aside. I might my curiosity might get the better of me and I’ll get on a few of your responses, but I’ll try to keep us moving. Okay. Question number one please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a.
Leah Weiss [01:02:58] A classroom where we’re always learning.
Brilliant Miller [01:03:01] Okay, question number two. What’s something about which you have changed your mind in recent years?
Leah Weiss [01:03:11] Parenting. So many places where my kids have pushed my thinking. I’m trying to think of one very specific example. What comes to mind? Something that I’ve changed my mind on. Blacksburg is one of the roadblocks games I was very much against, and my daughter really like I think gets a lot of benefit from some of the creativity in there and gaming in general. My kids have changed my thinking about it.
Brilliant Miller [01:03:51] All right. Okay. Question number three. If you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a t-shirt with a slogan on it, or Fraser saying or a quote or a quip, what would you say?
Leah Weiss [01:04:04] My shirt would say. Well, let’s make sure it’s a. The guidance counselor for my youngest says, quote, Kindness grows. I think that’s a pretty nice plan. That’s cool.
Brilliant Miller [01:04:22] I like that. All right. Question number four, the question I referenced earlier, what book, other than your own, have you gifted or recommended most often?
Leah Weiss [01:04:31] Annie Dillard’s writing life. I love that book. For when I want to stay out of any Buddhist studies or kind of religion. I think it really gets into our process of what it means to create an encounter fear. And one of the I think the most powerful, powerful points and it’s been helpful to me as a writer that she talks about, is how essential it is in the creative act to destroy. And that, I think, is always a really painful, frightening part of the creative process. So the writing life, it’s small and it’s powerful.
Brilliant Miller [01:05:13] Awesome. I haven’t read that, but I’ve read some of his work and I sure love it.
Leah Weiss [01:05:18] Okay.
Brilliant Miller [01:05:20] Question number five. So this has to do with travel in your career. I imagine you’ve traveled quite a bit. What’s one thing you do when you travel? Like maybe a travel hack, something to make your travel less painful or more enjoyable.
Leah Weiss [01:05:36] I really like to do like compassion meditation while I’m walking through the airport and just like do a version of instead of getting frustrated or claustrophobic from all the people around, like really trying to see imagine them in the entirety of their life, of their context and their kind of common humanity. I love spending time doing that. It really changes the travel experience.
Brilliant Miller [01:06:13] Awesome. Okay. Question number six. What’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age? Well.
Leah Weiss [01:06:20] Mm-hmm. Hmm. About two years ago, a friend of mine who is a coach mentioned that she had made a New Year’s resolution to stretch for 5 minutes every day. And I’ve been doing that now for about a year and a half. And it’s so good. It’s so good. And I’m always talking about like micro-meditations and doing things in small increments. But the 5 minutes of stretching is and I’m very grateful for that habit, and I think it makes a big difference.
Brilliant Miller [01:06:57] That’s great. It just reminds me, I did a workshop one time and a guy was in the military who was in the program, and he consulted his commanding officer for his advice on how to advance in his career. And that and this was a man of few words. And he said, Stretch. And he said, You mean like push me? Like, no, I mean physically stretch.
Leah Weiss [01:07:20] So that you.
Brilliant Miller [01:07:21] Think about that a lot. Okay. Question number seven. What’s one thing you wish every American knew?
Leah Weiss [01:07:40] I wish we knew. How to. Listen. For an understanding of ideas that we. Don’t hold or don’t agree with.
Brilliant Miller [01:08:00] Me too. I wish I knew how to do that. Question number eight. What’s the most important or useful thing you’ve learned about making relationships work?
Leah Weiss [01:08:10] Mm-hmm. Assuming. Positive intent or trying to return to it and remembering. That my brains, all of our brains are attribute interpretations automatically and we believe them. And and they’re not necessarily true. Often they’re not true. And when I can remember that, that I’m constantly creating stories and so are other people. And we can come back to what’s the positive intent behind our relationship, that it’s one that we’re both committed to or just is just trying to understand what’s actually happening. Instead of believing my thoughts.
Brilliant Miller [01:09:16] Awesome. Question number nine, aside from compound interest, what’s the most important or useful thing you’ve ever learned about money?
Leah Weiss [01:09:31] That. That there’s a lot. Of self-development work to be done within the context of money. I think I had an allergy to it. I just wanted to like not engage or everything kind of around it. Professionally for me was a lot of struggle and I think kind of changing. Changing this perspective to being curious about where you are from? What are my spending habits? What, how? My grandfather used to always say we vote with our feet about basically everything in life, but how am I voting with my dollars in terms of what matters to me? But also, just like as a woman professional who is very uncomfortable negotiating or charging, you know, for the work that I do that when I realized that this. Isn’t a deviation from like a path of growing, but actually trying to understand what what are my insecurities and and fears and aversion. And just like really that is there’s a lot to learn.
Leah Weiss [01:10:48] How to interact with money.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:50] And all show up right there. Yeah, I just I just interviewed a woman named Brett Frank who wrote a book called The Science of Stock, and she suggested, that if we want to face our shadow, we look at our browser history and our calendar. But I’m also thinking like maybe our credit card bill. That’s interesting. And then another event I went to, there was a guy who was speaking, he was a therapist, and he said that when he was a student learning psychotherapy, his teacher said, You must undergo psychotherapy yourselves and the subject of your therapy will be your parents and money.
Leah Weiss [01:11:28] Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:11:28] It’s interesting.
Leah Weiss [01:11:29] I remember a friend of mine who was a doctoral student in theology was getting married during our while. We were in school together, and she did premarital counseling or sessions with the priest from there, from their community. And money was a big part of what he pushed them to talk about because it’s the reason that so many relationships struggle. And I thought that was really powerful to like get online from the beginning. It was really smart.
Brilliant Miller [01:12:03] Yeah, super smart. Well, speaking of money and congratulations, you surviving lightning. Lightning round. You did great. One thing I have done in an effort to express my gratitude to you for sharing of your time and your wisdom with me and everyone listening is I’ve gone on Kiva dot org. I know a Stanford Stanford students that made this and made $100 microloan to a woman in Liberia. She’s 34 years old. She’s named hello. Excuse me. How she will use this to buy more rice, red oil needs, onions, and other items, and she’ll sell this food in her community. And I hope by doing so, improve the quality of life for herself, her family and people around her. So thank you for giving me a reason to to do that.
Leah Weiss [01:12:48] Beautiful. Thank you for doing that.
Brilliant Miller [01:12:50] Yeah, my pleasure. Well, the very last part of our interview here is just a few questions for you about writing and about creativity. This one is kind of random come to me, but I want to start with it. What’s the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Leah Weiss [01:13:14] But that’s money that I spent as a writer. Might be for just finally getting markers and pens. I really, really liked and enjoy it. It just really makes a difference in the process.
Brilliant Miller [01:13:32] No doubt you have the feel, the tactile, and the experience of using whatever tools we use makes such a big difference. Do you do a lot of writing longhand? Do you sketch like how do you capture and preserve thoughts? Typically.
Leah Weiss [01:13:47] Yeah, I’m kind of all over the place. I do. I have always a lot of notebooks and pieces of paper kind of going. I go through phases of doing a lot of kind of more elaborate journaling and drawing. But overall and kind of I think I go in phases where there’s a topic I’m really interested in. I start researching in my teaching or giving, doing things with it, workshopping it, and then writing out of that process. I find that really helpful. But, you know, it’s interesting. I’ve started dabbling with some more creative writing than the nonfiction that I usually do, and my process there is a little bit different, and I’d say it feels more kind of private and like, you know, whereas like the nonfiction kind of topical writing is so interactive and what are people’s experiences? How do they react to this information, like trying to think about a learning pathway for making it useful? But I think the more like esthetic writing is, is more kind of. Quiet hand often like while I’m traveling, or if we’re, we do a lot of camping as a family like that kind of environment. Mhm.
Brilliant Miller [01:15:22] Who has been influential in your development as a writer and what have you done for them?
Leah Weiss [01:15:29] I would say Kelly McGonigal, who’s an incredible author, she has great TED talks. I have worked with her at Stanford for a lot of years and she really influenced my teaching and writing process I before I met her. I like to do a million different things, like I always had a lot of different projects going and she really encouraged me to like it. Focus and repeat and end in the repeating, really kind of think about the messaging and the learning and seeing the teaching and the speaking and the writing kind of fit together. I also think she’s really influenced me. Since we’ve taught together, it’s been two years now, but it was really informative. She would kind of go right to the points of doubt or skepticism, and I hadn’t seen teachers. I’d seen a lot of people, like fight with the points of doubt or skepticism or debate them. But she had a particular way of really engaging with what kind of wisdom they might contain or bringing together kind of the shadow of a topic in a really powerful way. And that is something. And that I think, just like informs how I try to teach, how I write and how I’m trying to lives. Yeah. I really like that. Instead of that kind of typical like here’s the way forward, here’s the idea, and I’m going to like fight it and argue it and did it do that? But let’s also, as part of understanding this idea of what is what are the problematics, who does this not make sense for? What would block all of that kinds of doubts, which I’ve always had as a practitioner and a learner, but taking those into. How I kind of accompany other people through their learning has been the biggest takeaway. She really the value of repeating whereas I was like novel new topic. I’m going to teach these two courses this year and then I’m going to develop a new one and a new one, and I’m always giving different talks that I’m researching for as opposed to like, I really want to get in deep with this one. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:18:12] Right on. How cool to have a colleague. You can be like a friend and a teacher and so forth. And that way in her book, by the way, outside of stress, has really made an impact on a friend of mine to the point that I’ve benefited. I haven’t even read the book, he’ll talk about when he encounters a stressful situation already he’s changed his internal monologue to Let’s go like all right, game on. That’s the one they on. So that’s awesome. What tools do you find? I know Microsoft Word pretty much everyone says Microsoft Word, but what tools and technologies do you find indispensable as a writer? Some people I know will use like a corkboard and have index cards. Other people create like commonplace books, or they’ll use Evernote or even Scrivener. Like, are there any softwares or hardware or just good old-fashioned you mentioned? No. But want to know from what tools and technologies have become an indispensable part of your writing?
Leah Weiss [01:19:10] Yeah, when I started writing How We Work, I really liked Scrivener. Now I’m a big fan of notion, which I’ve started using for work, but I like the way things are in bed with each other. So I use it for my own like noncollaborative writing as well. I am a big believer in the whiteboard. So to the point where like I have half of my office is covered in like the whiteboard pane and I just getting up and moving and sketching things out and being able to put sticky notes. And I really like that. Just basic like old school paper files of, you know, I’m really increasingly trying to, I feel bad about the paper part, but just reading on screens is I just it doesn’t, it’s not great for me and my concentration or my ability to synthesize ideas. So paper and files and tactile, I feel, you know, just really important.
Brilliant Miller [01:20:18] What habits and routines, if any, do you have around writing? And I realize it might change when you’re in a specific project or something, but anything, anything come to mind there.
Leah Weiss [01:20:30] So my youngest son loves to walk and he gets kind of like the Sun Blues before every day of school. So we do walks in the morning and he’s very philosophical. So he is a sounding board for like just coming back to existential questions. So that’s a really important part of my process at this point. I really actively take breaks and do things like garden or walk or cook or anything kind of physical instead of like sitting and staring, you know, at whatever I’m trying to do, I really value that there. Doing some work and then leaving it and letting that processing happen. And I think that’s made things a lot more pleasurable. Giving things time to like gestate, you know? Is really important. And I prefer a lot of things from talking to writing. So doing more like having to do a talk or a conversation and then transcribing it. I think this is a helpful workaround to if I can have a dialog as opposed to like a monologue or we’re going back to talks that I’ve been given to think about like key points and like powerful questions people ask. Those are really good. And like getting into something that feels like weighty hacks.
Brilliant Miller [01:22:16] So what was your process like to get how we work done? What were just the broad strokes of from the time you settled on the idea or the thesis of the project, and how did you organize your time? How did you collaborate? Like just anything related to that.
Leah Weiss [01:22:35] My literary agent was really instrumental in the whole, like defining the process, defining the topic, how to frame it. And I, the editor that I worked with at HarperCollins was amazing and like very much got the vision there. And then that was the reason I went with that publisher as compared to other ones. Like I would really encourage people when your find if you’re going a traditional publishing route, you know, there are other people who had cool ideas about where my book could go, but. But they weren’t bringing out, like, what I felt was the best of what I have to offer. They felt like cool other people’s books that I could try to write as opposed to like, what is my voice? What is my message, what? What goes on, my experience. I think to process-wise, oh my gosh, so much trial and error. I rewrote that proposal a bunch of times with my agent’s input and the proposal changed significantly. It was a period of time when a lot of mindfulness at workbooks was coming out, which I’m now grateful for because it pushed me to really get to where we started. Like, what is it that I want to say to tribute that’s different than to like go meditate for the first minute of your meeting or lunchtime meditation at your office, which like great, but okay, we’re done with that. But I had to keep kind of going. I had two babies in the process of getting this book written, so time would pass and my perspective would change. So there was a lot of like from that Annie Dillard idea of like destruction in order to create. And yeah, so I rewrote the proposal a few times over until it became something really that felt worthwhile to my agent, to the publishers. And then, you know, writing it was pretty it went in phases that were grueling and really hard and phases that felt really inspired and like magical and everything in between. A lot of slogs and just, you know, finding people who could read and react at the right points. And when those right points were what is important now but messy process, I wish I had something more like.
Brilliant Miller [01:25:13] I was going to say. It sounds like a book.
Leah Weiss [01:25:16] My Fourth Child. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:25:19] What advice or encouragement would you offer anyone who is working to to get their own book done?
Leah Weiss [01:25:28] Yeah, I think no, that’s going to sound a little bit clichéd or perhaps on brand for me. No, you’re. Why are you writing this? There are so many different valid reasons to want to put a book out in the world, but if you’re the reason you have driving, it should determine how that happens. Are great paths with self-publication. There’s a great path to success working with a publisher. There are a lot of steps if you’re going through a more traditional path of a publisher and finding an agent and did an editor. And if your goal is you just want to synthesize something and put it out there and you’re excited about the creativity of the social media or getting it out into the world, I mean, people increasingly say I’ve heard more and more publish authors from traditional publishing houses move toward self-publishing, because I read later books because they’re like, I have to do all the the all publishing is self-publishing in the sense that you have to be the engine behind promoting it. I won’t say that it’s 100% true for me at HarperCollins. They were amazing and did a lot. But I think too many people. That’s true. So it may not be worth all of that extra hassle. If it’s something that you have a vision, you can there’s great support to help get a beautiful, clear book and you can put it out into the world and do a lot of positive things with it. You know, depending on what your goals are.
Brilliant Miller [01:27:05] Now that you write, that is very own breath for you and it makes a lot of sense. Okay. I think my last question then here is just what you mentioned about promotion, marketing, about sales. What have you learned? What have you learned now as somebody who’s published a book? It’s been out for a few years. You have gone with the New York publisher and so forth. But what would you tell a beginning author they could expect or maybe they even should do not big on should I suspect you already do but when it comes to marketing, promotion, sales, anything like that, what would you say?
Leah Weiss [01:27:41] I mean, I think if you’re clear about your why is this a book that you want? Because it’s going to support a business goal that you want to use it to establish, you know, your expertize. And or is this a book that is about you diving deep into a topic you care about and learning and synthesizing and communicating depending on what it is? I think one of my lessons was like that. Maybe to put in some ways less pressure on the book itself, like a lot of things continue to unfold over time. And actually, like my publishing team said that they are like, we think yours is going to be a long tail book. We’re not expecting or pressuring you to have like a New York Times bestseller in the first few weeks. But but if you are in it for the long haul, that this is a set of topics like I love talking about these topics, I probably will for my whole life that the launch itself, it just changes the perspective if you take a bigger timeline on this is something I’m putting out in the world and it will be a way that I continue interacting with people in these ideas versus like, you know, gunning it to get a specific kind of. Like notoriety. And then the other thing is, is there is a lot the kind of PR around a book and writing like there’s a lot of great stuff about how to get involved in being a source for articles using HARO using. There are so many democratized, accessible places to write. And so you can try to do like a super difficult to get into niche or you can also focus on, you know, putting your message out through a medium or another one of those kinds of forums that anybody can get on to and just keep the cadence going. Yeah. But I think it’s it’s not something to get into because of money or the likelihood of any single book. Bringing fame and transformation for a person like financially or professionally is pretty small. But doing it because you love it and you want the experience is what I highly recommend.
Brilliant Miller [01:30:22] Some fantastic. Well, then let’s wrap with that. My guest again today, Dr. Leah Weiss, how we work, live your purpose, reclaim your sanity and embrace the daily grind. Thank you so much for being here.
Leah Weiss [01:30:37] Thank you for having me. I’ve enjoyed every second.
Sign up to receive podcasts, blog posts, and other inspiring content from Brilliant Miller delivered to your inbox.
Live a good life. Help others live a good life too!
We will never sell your name or email address.
Opt-out at any time. No strings.