Start Up Your Life with Anna Akbari


Being Happy TODAY

Sociologist-turned-entrepreneur, Anna Akbari presents amazing insights from the entrepreneurial realm that can help anyone of any age and stage of life to live more happily; starting today.

Anna gives us simple tools to push back against the limitations and distractions of modern life and technology. She discusses the dissatisfaction we have with the current paradigm and teaches us how to carve out a little slice of heaven for ourselves…no permission slip required. So whether you are a retired and have a desire for more than the daily golf round, or a young person on the brink of college life, this is a must-listen episode for helping you find your inner compass that will lead to your most fulfilling existence.

Shifting the focus

Anna’s experience in Silicon Valley has given her a unique perspective on happiness and how we can learn to shift our focus to find fulfillment. Switching from an “If – then” model (“If I get my law degree, then I’ll make a lot of money and be happy when I retire” kind of mentality) to a more organic “flow-based” lifestyle will allow you to pivot and grow in all the ways your soul desires. You can achieve true lasting happiness when you’re in flow, because it will always be about the journey, not just the destination.

Stepping out of the perfection trap, embracing failure as a learning tool and finding our inner mantra, are among Anna’s top recommendations for us. With her ‘Observe – Hypothesise – Test – Repeat’ model, your best life could be a few short and simple experiments away. What’s first on your list?

Interview Notes From The Show:

– Hey, welcome back to The Urban Monk, I am here. Today, we are breaking out of some of these health topics because, listen, if you’ve said it once, you’ve said it a hundred times, just get healthy. And, when new stuff comes, we’re gonna talk about it. I have been on this quest with the new movie looking at all of these things that we can do in our lives to kind of shift the way we live, in how we spend, in how we interact with banks, in how we interact with finance for the prosperity movie and along that arc, I basically tasked out our show producer Carl to say, look, I want things along, that this arc that will help my listeners. And so, today, in-studio, yay, because we do a lot of Skype stuff, is Anna Akbari who is actually half Persian, so we’re, ah, I’m full Persian, and who’s here, finally moved down to Southern California, got out of the New York weather,

– I did.

– and is living where the sun is still shining. We had a warm lunch day, today.

– [Anna] Yeah.

– Talking about starting up your life, so, you were a, you’re a sociologist by trade?

– Yes, I am.

– [Pedram] Yeah, and so you taught at NYU, back in the day.

– I did.

– [Pedram] And, then you got involved with startups in Silicon Valley?

– Mm hmm, I did. So, I migrated from academia to entrepreneurship, which might seem like there’s a real disconnect, but I think that a lot more academics should approach their career from an entrepreneurial perspective. But, you know, maybe that’s a different topic But, yeah, I did, I made that migration and I was really, I mean, my role in academia and part of the reason that I chose the programs that I did is that I was more interested in how we could be public intellectuals versus just operating within the academy and I think entrepreneurship is a really great way to do that as well as writing and speaking and this sort of work.

– It’s interesting, we had someone on the show, last week, who was talking about this kind of dynamic tension between intellectuals and entrepreneurs and how that’s happening on the coasts and, you know, there’s all of this kind of money envy and class warfare and all this. But, he was a Berkeley economist and he was speaking about this in a context that I’d never really thought about before, but you are an intellectual entrepreneur, so did you get involved

– Yeah.

– in your own startups? Did you get involved in working for startups? How did it go?

– So, initially, it was always my own startups that had varying degrees of success, as our early startups often do, but learned a lot from it. And then, one of my startups briefly merged with one in Silicon Valley. And then, when some things unfolded and it became clear that we needed to separate again, I ended up working with an incubator in Silicon Valley and that was where I was working with startups and also being the sort of the liaison between startups and the corporate world, but not actually working for a startup,

– Got it.

– itself.

– So, I watched a video of yours, a TEDx video about happiness

– Yeah.

– and how one can find happiness or one can even look at happiness in the digital age

– Yeah.

Our Digital Personas Are Becoming A Huge Part Of Who We Are. - @annaakbari via @Pedramshojai

– with all this digital stuff. And so, in the miles that you’ve run since then, you’re actually finding that one can live their life in the way that one would run a startup in a way that you can have some efficiencies? Like, I’m trying, and so you’ve connected some dots, there, in your own mind.

– That’s, that’s right, yeah. Between, you know, being a sociologist and being really interested in identity, in general, that’s really always been my focus. And so, the initial place that I looked was in our physicality and the way we self-present and then from there, it evolved into our digital personas because it’s a huge part of how people know us, how we know ourselves, how we interact and form group connections. And so, from there, I really became very invested in this idea of whether or not that was making us happier and what we could do to alter that because, looking at it from an identity perspective, you know, I really think identity is not something that’s fixed. It’s something that we can, for lack of a better word, we can manipulate it in ways that will lead to our preferred aspirational existence and I think that technology, and our virtual identities, is a key component in how we can make that happen. And, that isn’t to say we’re trading off authenticity. We’re just redefining it.

– So, in the old days, if we all lived in a village and your identity was your identity, everyone kind of knew who you were,

– Yeah.

– You were that girl, I was this guy, he was that guy, whatever, it was a little bit more blocked off and now, you’re saying

– Yes.

– that I get to reinvent my storefront, whether it’s Second Life or Facebook or Instagram?

– [Anna] Yep.

– And, we’re seeing a lot of that, I mean, this is kind of new, right? In, culturally?

– It is, well, I mean, we’ve seen it happen in a lot of ways, but the breadth, the extent to which you can do it is definitely new and the number of people you can reach through it, I think, is very new. But, essentially, for me, the argument is that creativity trumps biography. And, it isn’t to say that you forsake your biography, but that that’s more of a springboard, rather than this sort of limiting belief system of, you know, who you are.

– Hmm, so one of the, Eric Ries, there’s a great book I’ve been recommending to a lot of our Media Academy students about looking at, like, how to be a lean startup, right, and a lot of that has to do with just being able to pivot and be agile in that.

– That’s right.

– So, let’s talk about the startup part of this first and then bring the personality in. As a startup, like, what is it like? For a lot of people, you know, I’m in California, I’ve got a lot of friends in startups. Like, I am in this.

– Yeah.

– But, a lot of people living in the world have no idea how startups have to function and just how crazy it can be, day-to-day.

– Yeah, well, there’s not any stability. There’s no guarantee that what you’re doing is still going to exist six months or a year from now. So, you know, those days of working for one company for 30 years and feeling like, okay, I can check that box and kind of check out and go on autopilot, that does not exist in the startup world. And, I think most, for most industries and most companies, that doesn’t really exist anymore either. Even when you’re not working for a startup, we’ve now sort of awakened to this time where we’re like, hmm, maybe it’s not as stable or as safe as I thought it was. And, I think, you know, post-2008, especially, that is true for a lot of individuals in a lot of industries.

– It’s interesting, because you look at the law of the jungle and even if you’re the biggest, baddest lion on the block, you’ve still gotta fight your fight next day, next week, next year, and unless you’re pulling down deer, it’s not happening, right? Like, you are still hunting daily.

– And, you have to be or you will be hunted

– That’s it, you’re done, right, and that’s the law of the jungle.

– Yeah.

– And so, it almost seems like this era that we’re coming out of was a little too easy in some ways, like the survival genes, the survival instinct almost shut off

– Yeah.

– and now it’s like reality’s kind of coming back and it’s like, well, I don’t know if I have a pension. I don’t, like, Social Security, what’s that? Like, that’s gone.

– Right, that complacency, and I really think that, while, on the surface, that might be very jarring to a lot of people, especially of specific generations, but I think it’s a good thing because I don’t think we’re at our happiest when we’re just on autopilot. And so, you know, and I think that largely, again, that that notion of safety is really just an illusion. It’s just something that we’ve sort of sold ourselves. And, it’s not the key to a more satisfying relationship or a more fulfilling job or just a happier mindset.

– It isn’t, the statistics prove this? Like, this is what sociology says

– Yes.

– is when you look at these things,

– Yes.

– they don’t equate to happiness.

– That’s right. In fact, you know, when you’re finding flow which is, of course, what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Positive Psychology concept of flow states, when you’re finding flow, and the reason it makes us so happy, is that it’s challenging. It’s something that’s achievable. We have, we know what we’re working toward, but it’s not just a guarantee. We can’t phone it in. You don’t go into a flow state with things that require no effort and it’s that flow state in any aspect of your life that really creates a very sound sense of satisfaction. Now, that’s different than those momentary spikes of energy and elation. We’re talking about a long game version of happiness and finding ways where you can slip into a flow state, repeatedly, is what’s going to bring you the most happiness.

– That’s the hard part, right? ‘Cause yesterday’s win means nothing today, right? And so, you have the, like, I’m an alpine skiier

– Uh huh.

– and I ski on steep stuff in the middle of trees, all the time. And, I don’t care how well I did the last 10 turns, if I lose sight of what I’m doing and where I’m at, I’m hitting a tree and I’m dead.

– Yep.

– Right? And, that flow state is something that, you know, and I love it. I mean, it brings me to life.

– That’s right. And then, you know, afterwards, I go and get drinks, it’s fine, but during that thing,

– Yep.

– it is very intense.

– That’s right, you have to be present. I mean, and that’s the thing. Anything that demands our full presence puts us into a flow state and produces greater happiness. And, again, if you’re doing work where you’re half checked-out, that’s not going to make you happier, even if you’re making a fat paycheck. And, so, I think, too often, we think mentally; we’re led more by our pocketbooks than by the things that actually make us happy. And, that’s why, in the book, I really encourage people, you know, in the startup world, there’s this whole concept of an MVP, Minimum Viable Product, and I think the more that we can get back to operating like our own version of an MVP, the better our chances at creating flow and finding happiness on a regular basis.

– So, let’s tease this out a little bit.

– Yep.

– MVP in a business, I have some app that I’m launching and I take it to some university

– Yeah.

– and all of the sudden, it’s starting to share and people do it and I go, “Hello, we got something.”

Creativity Trumps Biography - @annaakbari via @Pedramshojai

– Yep.

– We got a Minimum Viable Product. Now, let’s go raise some money and go hit it, right? What does that look like in a personal life, like, for me, in my happiness?

– Right, well, so, some of the key things to remember about that MVP that you even pitched is that it’s not perfect. In fact, it probably has a lot of bugs and it might even be slightly embarrassing aesthetically, right, so, or a little clunky from it’s functional perspective. So, too often, we become obsessed with perfection before we allow ourselves to move forward or put ourselves out there in some way. I mean, that happens all the time and it seems like such a simple concept. And, yet, it holds us back again and again. And so, I’m not advocating for sloppiness, but, sometimes, good enough is what you have to, in a sense, settle for, momentarily, so you can finally get to great.

– I have a very good friend who has this very problem and, you know, basically is a failure to launch in a lot of things.

– Yes.

– And so, you know, I think about it a lot. It’s like, what is this, like some judgmental Dad in the background? Like, what kind of scripts are running? Like, how can you be anything less than perfect before starting, and, you know, the fact of the matter is, no one’s perfect and nothing’s ever perfect.

– No.

– So how does one step through that? How does one realize that, okay, it’s never gonna be perfect, but what is good enough?

– Well, I think you have to reconnect with your core. You know, what makes you happy? What really motivates you on a daily basis? What are the non-negotiables in your life, in your habits, in your lifestyles, in your values? And, that requires some active reflection and assessment on your own part, and this is true no matter what age you’re at. We’re not, you know, it’s called Startup Your Life, but this is not just for recent graduates. You know, my Mom, for instance, just retired this year and, by her calculations, she still has a third of her life left.

– [Pedram] Good for her.

– And,

– That’s a good outlook, yep.

– and she’s saying, “Okay, I’ve got this chunk of time. “What do I want to make of it?” You know, so, this is really applicable at any stage of your life and I use the example of Starbucks, actually, in the book because one of the paths to teasing out your MVP is through experimentation and learning through that sort of, observe, hypothesize, test, repeat formula. And, you know, sometimes we feel that we’re too big for that, that we’re too, we have too much to risk and you take a company like Starbucks, which isn’t currently a startup, but it has always operated with more of a startup mentality, even from its early days. And, you know, they will create these sort of experimental coffee shops, where they’re testing out new things like the menu and the decor and they’ll unbrand it, for a while, to really get a feel for, what happens if we do this. What if we step outside the boundaries in this way? And that, I mean, you can’t get, I can’t think of a more sort of iconic brand and think, okay, well, they wouldn’t want to challenge the bottom line, they’ve had a good thing going, they should just coast with it. And, I think they’re smart enough to know that if they do that, there’s going to be someone in their rear-view mirror, eventually.

– Well, I think there’s plenty of people in their rear-view mirror, all the time,

– Yeah.

– and so, they’re smart enough to realize that

– That’s right.

– you have to innovate in order, and to evolve,

– Yeah.

– in order to continue to stay on top.

– [Anna] Yeah.

– So, I think about the guys that, like, are sitting on their pension, working for the county, someone sitting in an office, you know, just kind of doing their job job, you know, watching videos while a spreadsheet is up and just not quite present because it sucks and they’ve just stopped that innovation.

– [Anna] Yeah.

– Where do you even start? Like, how do you look

– Yeah.

– at a Minimal Viable Product of some new happiness project in your life?

– Well, I mean, the first thing that you do is you unlearn a lot of the assumptions that you’ve made about who you are or what you need or the sort of truisms, you know, that we’re taught, these mental models that we construct and that are constructed automatically, for all of us, from the time that we’re born. And, sometimes, these mental models are great in that they help us to get from A to B smoothly because we can’t be hyper-vigilant about analyzing every single thing or we would trip ourselves up. So, the mental models serve a really great purpose, but they also ca be extremely limiting. And so, I think the minute we start to challenge our own assumptions, that’s when we start to break free and see things differently and you could be seeing things differently in a job that you had for 40 years and it could have something to do with your relationship with your boss. It could have something to do with the way you communicate with your clients. There’s so many different things that you can experiment with and challenge, mentally. And, I think that also helps us not to fall into that groupthink model which, in larger corporations and in a space where we’ve been operating like this and it’s worked for 40 years, you know, why break it? Well, because it’s not satisfying to us, it might not be maximally satisfying to your clients and let’s shake it up a little bit. But, you have to first embrace this notion of, I might initially fail, I might step back a little bit before I can move this forward in a way that’s gonna look like a win.

Sometimes You Need To Momentarily Settle For "Good Enough" Before You Get To Great. - @annaakbari via @Pedramshojai

– How do I look through the lens of my, like, so, if I have my life experience and I have my own mental models and I have my own kind of framework,

– Yeah.

– and this has been my storefront for years, how can I even step to the side, or something, to look at it tangentially

– Yep.

– to even question what might be able to be looked at differently?

– So, there’s a couple different ways. One can just be what you’re exposing yourself to. Sometimes, stepping outside the boundaries of our, whether it’s the culture we’re taking in or the people we’re having conversations with, that almost immediately starts to challenge your mental models and that can be as simple as, you know, you don’t have to go to a foreign country to do that. You might be taking in different documentaries or listening to different podcasts or putting yourself in a different neighborhood for an afternoon, I mean, things where you are forcing yourself to encounter things and people that are foreign in whatever way you want to define that, that you know are going to be different and challenging. And, that’s something that most of us don’t do on a regular basis. We cling to something that’s familiar, even if it underwhelms us, you know, because that safety, that perceived safety, even if it’s not satisfying, feels more comfortable than the promise of something great, but that is foreign.

– And, it’s full of fear.

– [Anna] Absolutely, it’s fear-based.

– So, I’m in this place of complacency and comfort,

– Yeah.

– and it starts to slowly lull me to sleep,

– Yeah

– and I’m no longer at my best.

– Right.

– And, I’m kind of idling at whatever I’m looking down, hoping I don’t get caught, you know, and get fired, right, and I’m not living my life to my potential, right?

– Right.

– There’s millions and millions and millions of people that fall into that bucket

– Absolutely.

– versus the people that are out there, and hitting it, and going and getting it, what, they’re not different. Like, genetically, I mean, sure, we have some variation, but you’re saying that these people are now challenging those assumptions and they’re kind of committed to grow and they’re leaning into the fear a little bit more, is what I’m hearing.

– Yeah, and I think, you know, I think, from a biological perspective, that some of us, we can argue how much of it is nature, how much of it is nurture, but I do think some of us have a greater appetite for risk and greater resilience. But, the interesting thing is, a lot of that resilience doesn’t come from an elite pedigree. The resilience sometimes comes from knowing what it means to struggle, from having experienced that. That’s why, in Silicon Valley, there’s this thing called FailCon. It’s actually a conference celebrating failures and that’s because there’s this mentality there that until you’ve failed, you haven’t really been tested. And, until you’ve been tested, you can’t really learn anything. Of course, I think, the caveat there is that just failing is not the way you learn. You have to, then, actively reflect on that and make something of it, to sort of fail up. But, this idea that, you know, someone who’s just seemingly been on this path that’s a win, you could convince yourself, and I don’t think you’d be wrong in doing so, that, gee, I’ve struggled in all these ways; how can I just reflect on that and harness the power of that to be a scrappy, resilient hustler in my life, in a lot of different ways?

– You’re seeing this with Silicon Valley startups, all the time.

– Yeah.

– What percentage of them make it to, like, actually are, you know, companies five, 10 years later?

– Oh, tiny, tiny percent. I mean, the number varies, what the actual statistic is, because it really depends on how you, like, how long you’re looking at it and how you define making it and whether they’re just in existence. Or, what, you know, does it count if they’ve pivoted in some way, or been acquired or whatnot? So, there’s lots of different metrics for success, but, you know, one of the examples I use in the book is the Angry Birds game and the studio, Rovio Entertainment, that created Angry Birds, they created 51 games before Angry Birds that were relatively unsuccessful, 51. That’s a lot of games.

– That is a lot of iterations, yeah.

– You know? And then, I use the example of someone like Thomas Edison or Ford, where we see these people who were not necessarily creating something altogether new, but they wanted to rework it, in a way, and they kept failing and failing and failing, but just kept going back at it, because they knew they’d learned so much, each time. And, again, this may sound like a sort of cliche lesson, but how many times do we tell ourselves, it’s just not practical to try again? Or, you know, this isn’t, clearly I’m not good at this, I shouldn’t do it. And so, instead of thinking about it that way, I would day, look at where your skill sets are, look at where your passion is, look at what your audience is telling you they have an appetite for and are receptive to, and then, bring those three things together: the passion, the practicality and what we might call your product market fit with your audience.

– Mm hmm, the feedback from the universe.

– [Anna] That’s right.

– So, I’m hearing a couple of things, here. One is, okay, look, if those things are lined up, then don’t take no for answer and just go get it, right? Go, keep iterating and find the right combination to make it happen?

– Mm hmm.

– But, what I’m also hearing is, if there is some sort of monkey wrench in there, don’t be afraid to pivot,

– That’s right.

– which is what successful startups and successful people do

– Yes.

– and just be like, okay, I’m going to reallocate my energy this way.

– Yeah.

– So, let’s talk about what a pivot, yeah.

– The pivot. Well, I mean, let’s be honest, ultimately, it’s a failure by society’s standards, but I love that it’s been this, you know, the notion of failure has been kind of reappropriated by the startup community and they’re like, “It’s, nothing’s really a failure, we’ll just pivot,” which is essentially a way of saying, let’s take what we started with, learn, and the learnings that we have from that and the team we’ve assembled, because that’s a huge part of it. The people in your life cannot be underestimated or, you know, undersold in this particular way because they’re what I call our life VCs, our life Venture Capitalists. You know, they’re really the people that invest in us in so many different ways and not just financially, and that support us and that help us to really spark these ideas and to form the trajectories we’re going to go on. So, you take all of that and then, you take a step back and you reflect, actively, and then you do more of the experimentation and the pushing out of the one feature, you know, you, I use the example of Instagram. You know, when Instagram was being launched, initially, it had all these features and it just wasn’t hitting. You know, it just felt too much. It wasn’t clear what they were going for. And then, they reeled it back and they made it this, really, just this one thing, images. And, you could like ’em or not And, you could like and comment and that was pretty much the extent of it and it wasn’t fancy and it really wasn’t all that groundbreaking, and yet, the simplicity really resonated with people. They had stripped it down to this core that was, and from a product market fit perspective, something that was sort of lacking.

– That’s a fascinating piece that I think a lot of people, even like in my business, too, it’s like, everything is just, you know, you want to show off about how complicated you can make everything, right?

– [Anna] That’s right.

– You have these huge mind maps, the whiteboards are covered in crap and it’s so complicated, you can’t even explain it.

– That’s right.

– Your audience, your viewer, whoever it is is probably not gonna understand it either. And, I see way too much of that.

– Yeah, you know, a lot of large companies will create a mission statement and the mission statement can be kind of clunky and maybe it’s a little bit long, but the Silicon Valley marketer, Guy Kawasaki, recommends that companies develop a mantra, instead. And so, I advocate for individuals to do that, as well, to find, you know, what is your mantra? What is the thing that no matter what you’re doing, no matter how many pivots you make, what is the thing that brings you back to what really matters in your life? To, again, what makes you get up in the morning? And, that mantra really shouldn’t change, but it is this kind of filter for the decisions that we make and for, “Okay, do I want to pivot “in this direction or this direction?” So, staying true to that, I think, is really important.

– So, you look through the lens of your mantra. What about people who don’t know what their mantra is? How does one get into that?

– I think most of us don’t, You know?

– Right.

– And I don’t think it’s something that needs to be shared with anyone in your life.

Learn Through Experimentation - @annaakbari via @Pedramshojai

– Sure.

– It’s not really something you should be posting on social media

– Right.

– I know that it’s hard, though.

– [Pedram] Which is what everyone does.

– Right, right.

– Yeah, yep.

– But, it’s that thing, when you’re, and maybe it’s not the most beautifully crafted sentence. It’s not about its sexiness. It’s about whether or not it feels right to you and I think being able to use that as the filter for many different decisions that you’re making is really important.

– I, you know, I come from a meditation background.

– Yeah.

– Obviously, you sit down, there’s introspection.

– Yeah.

– There’s reflection and you can sit by a river and kind of gather yourself and really get down to the essence of who you are.

– Yeah.

– And, there’s a lot of, I mean, there’s contemplative traditions in every religion,

– Yes.

– that do that.

– Yeah.

– But, in my experience, that stuff takes a minute, right? And, we’re in world that’s just so damn busy

– Yeah.

– that, like, people don’t even slow down to ask where they want to go, yet they just keep running, right?

– Mm hmm.

– And so, is there a period, like, I know with companies, you kind of like pull in and have meetings and retreats and kind of figure out who you are, how do you recommend that for an individual?

– [Anna] Finding that center?

– Yeah, find that center.

– Well, I think creating moments where we unplug and, you know, sometimes creating that simplicity is about eliminating distractions and that’s something that can be one of the biggest hurdles, I think, for people who want a mindfulness practice, is, they genuinely don’t believe that they can give themselves permission to be off-duty from all the pinging that’s happening, even for 20 minutes. And so, first of all, I think we all would need a reality check of, are we really that important that the world can’t do without us for 20 minutes? And then, also, say, “Well, if I am that important, “then I’m going to have that much more to offer. “If I give myself this 20 minutes, “I have a lot more to give, ultimately.” So, I think reminding ourselves of that, but eliminating the distractions. If you don’t eliminate the distractions, I don’t know, perhaps you know of a suggestion, but I don’t know how you will be able to reach that place and make decisions from a place that’s centered and mindful if you can’t find outlets for minimizing distraction.

– You can’t, and so there’s people that are better at being able to filter and eliminate the distractions

– Yeah.

– as they’re coming in because they’ve developed that mindfulness practice.

– [Anna] Yeah.

– But without actually doing the practice, it’s darn near impossible. I mean, you just,

– It is?

– you have to give yourself some mental real estate to press Pause to be able feel what it is that it feels like to be you

– Yeah.

– and then go down to what you’re talking about, is the mantra, which is that,

– Yeah.

– kind of that core operating principle that then, all your other pivots need to function around, right?

– Well, and I think that one of the things that I hear a lot whenever I talk about mindfulness is, “Oh, well I work out,” or, “I go to yoga class,” and those are clearly wonderful things to do, and I’m not saying, stop, stop doing those things, but that’s very different from sitting quietly. It really is incredibly different and just from a brain perspective, from neuroscience perspective, the effect on your brain is different when you just go to a yoga class, versus if you are doing meditation, you know, 20 minutes or 40 minutes a day.

– Yeah. Yeah, well and that stillness is something that our culture doesn’t emphasize enough because, you know,

– No.

– everything’s moving, everything’s spinning. I mean, look at us now. Like, so, biologically, we are in the Northern Hemisphere and biologically, what we should be doing right now is shutting down, right, cup of tea, sitting by the fire,

– Yeah.

– reading a book,

– Yeah.

– not doing much of anything, hibernating, right?

– Yeah.

– And, everyone’s out right now, like, trying to get holiday presents and just, you know, it’s just pandemonium, right?

– Chaos, uh huh.

– And so, like, even when biologically, we have these cues to slow down, culturally, it’s like I got New Years parties and I gotta go and get a stupid sweater for the stupid sweater party and it, it, just doesn’t stop.

– Yeah.

– And so, when, if society doesn’t stop, one must stop in society.

– That’s right, we have to carve out those little enclaves for ourselves and create our own rituals. I think the creation of and the adherence to ritual in our own lives is incredibly important. You know, the mythologist Joseph Campbell said that we have to stop, we have to stop planning and living for the life we’ve planned so that we can enjoy the life that awaits us. And, I think that’s really important and if it’s, if our lives are just one giant to-do list, it’s very hard to get out of our own way and see what the, sort of, for lack of a better word, magic that is unfolding in front of us, all these sort of unintended or unanticipated happy accidents that unfold. But, if we have too much of a tunnel vision perspective, it’s impossible for us to even absorb and take advantage of those.

When You Challenge Your Own Assumptions, You Break Free. - @annaakbari via @Pedramshojai

– Do you have examples of that in Silicon Valley, where, you know, it’s like, hey, we’re this company, we’re doing this one thing and then so-and-so had an idea at lunch or something, and then, all of the sudden, it’s just like, ah, this is what we do, now. Right, and there’s a lot of this stuff that I hear–

– Well, I think one of the biggest ways that that manifests itself in Silicon Valley is when users get a hold of it, because, and this is the problem with larger companies, is they’ll have their R and D that will have, they’ll have what they think is a great idea, and then, it’ll go into development for a year, or two years and then, when it’s finally released, it’s either dated or it turns out no one wanted it in the first place, even though it seemed like a great idea. And, one of the key elements, I think, that distinguishes Silicon Valley and pushes some of their products to be successful is that they’re always pushing it out. They’re always pushing stuff out, really early, and they are listening for feedback and they’re paying attention to what happens because it’s early and they can’t really anticipate. Okay, well we think this is gonna be our user base and we think it’s gonna be used this way, but then you see it do a sort of right turn, and that can help to change the way they develop, going forward.

– So, there’s a really important point in there, right, where you are waiting for the universe to give you feedback,

– Yeah.

– and then, you’re making, kind of, you’re taking actionable intel and then, making pivots on that. And, a lot of us, you know, I said this in my last book, it’s like we live in a proclamation society. It’s like, okay, well, you know, I’m 18 years old, I have to pick a major, I’m gonna be a doctor, right? And, that’s it and you just say, “This is what I’m doing,” and then you just do it and you never look back and it’s like, you hang out with doctor people the rest of your life and that’s just your path.

– [Anna] That’s right.

– And so, this is the opposite of that. It’s like, okay,

– That’s right.

– that seemed like a good idea, but now I’m here.

– Well, actually, to that end, I use the example of the lawyer default mentality, in the book, which could be, and I say, it could be doctor, it could be, you can insert anything

– Sure.

– that feels like the obvious safe choice for you. And, that’s not to say that people shouldn’t become doctors or lawyers.

– Sure.

– They’re wonderful, we need them,

– For the right reasons.

– some people are very happy doing that. But, there are a lot of people that do that and are really miserable because, again, they were, if we look at that practicality, passion and, then, the universe, they were looking at the practicality element and they might have been looking only partially, also, at their own skill set. It’s like, maybe they had the intelligence, but did the have the sort of niche skill set that really made that click for them, that could help to fuel their passion, as well? And so, I think what happens when you do that and you think, okay, well, I’m gonna get through school and maybe school was actually kind of fun. Law school can be fun or med school might be a really wonderful experience for a lot of people, but then they get into the real world, of practicing that, and sometimes that’s where the unhappiness really starts to settle in.

– Yep. That’s a tough pivot, though, ’cause now you’re like, look, I’m 10 years in,

– That’s right, you’re already invested.

– 200 grand in debt, you know, now I gotta do this job job.

– Which is all the more reason to really unlearn and challenge your assumptions before you go to a major graduate program like that.

– Yeah.

– And, I think that’s something that doesn’t happen enough in some of those professions. You know, because, especially when, at the end, the seeming light at the end of the tunnel is a pretty decent salary. You know, it’s not necessarily a Wall Street salary, but it is one where you feel, okay, I’m gonna be fine. I can pay off my debt. This is something that seems like a sound decision to make.

– Suitable.

– But, that alone, is not going to give you fulfillment, especially when you’re thinking 10, 20, 30 years down the line.

– There’s a thing in America, in particular, that is funny where we go straight from high school into college, declare a major and we go, whereas, like,

– Yeah.

– say, in Israel, in Australia, New Zealand,

– Yeah.

– they take a year or two and they just go find themselves, right?

– Yeah, there’s a lot of traveling that happens.

– Yeah.

– I actually spent most of this year in Australia and New Zealand and it’s interesting because one of their big critiques of Americans is that we don’t travel enough, that we’ve never been to all these sort of exotic and foreign, distant places. And, you know, I think there is something to be said for that. Many of us will do sort of a study-abroad semester, mostly in Spain or Italy or something, like maybe England. But then, beyond that, you know, I think there is a certain contingency that goes backpacking and might go through Southeast Asia or wherever, but I think for a lot of individuals, there’s a real tie to what we know and what’s very familiar to us. And, that is seen as an extravagance, here, that mind-expanding travel, whereas, there are people who are not in any way extravagantly wealthy in a lot of these other countries. But, for them, that is a necessary right of passage, you know?

– Mm hmm.

– And so, one of the things I talk about is that you know, if you’re in your 40s and you have a family, I’m not saying pick up and go,

– Dump it all.

– go to Thailand immediately or, you know, go wherever, but it isn’t too late, to, again, to go back to our earlier conversation, to start finding small ways close to home to expand your mind into those perspectives that maybe you would have gotten a bit earlier had you done some of that travel.

– How do you give people the spark, the enthusiasm that they need, because there’s so much inertia?

– [Anna] Yeah.

– You’re 50 years old,

– That’s right.

– you’ve lived this life for a long time, how the hell are you even gonna start changing?

– I think that fun has to be the answer. I think finding what makes you have fun, that isn’t just about, okay, how does this bit of fun fit into, you know, making me wealthy or helping pay for my kids’ college or whatever the practical thing is. I think allowing yourself outlets for fun puts your brain in a very different space and it opens you to things. And, I think that play is something that we largely get out of touch with in adulthood. It’s not on most of our lists of things to do, every day. And, if it is, it’s often done in a way, well, I’m doing this because I’m gonna get better at it. I’m gonna keep getting better. And, play is not really about being good at anything. It’s time out of time. And so, I would really encourage adults to make time for serious play and be really committed to it because I think that’s where, you know, our brains go into a different state and we learn new things about ourselves. It’s kind of that, that B-roll. It’s the thing that happens when you’re in the shower and you’re just kind of, your just, your mind is wandering and I think, during play, that can happen and it, while also really invigorating us.

– Yeah, and play is very trans-dimensional, right, and we’re so stuck on this path that we’ve picked for ourselves.

– Yeah.

– And so, I love the permission to play.

– Yes.

– It’s a hard one

– Very hard.

– for people in our culture, right?

– Yes, extremely.

– Like, I just, I got things to do. Like, look at the, like 15 emails just came in, right?

– Well, and in part, because some of your peers will be, will vocally judge you because they’re not giving themselves permission, so then they think, well, this isn’t a serious person or what do they think they’re doing that they can take this time to play and I am slaving away?

What Really Motivates You On A Daily Basis? - @annaakbari via @Pedramshojai

– Right.

– But, you really have to just, you know, be confident in your decision and deflect those criticisms because, ultimately, it’s going to pay off for you. You’re going to be better and stronger at these other things that might be seemingly totally unrelated because you’ve given yourself that downtime.

– You’ve been around a lot of serious people, in terms of, like,

– Yes.

– successful entrepreneurs

– Yeah.

– in Silicon Valley, what percentage of them would you say are fun and are allowing themselves to play and are in this kind of iterative growth process and live there?

– Well, you know, one of the big things that I noticed when I transitioned from New York to Silicon Valley was that there’s much more of a work life balance. You know, these individuals, I think anyone would argue, are still wildly successful and serious about the work that they do, but they make time to be outside. They make time to spend with their children. They make time to even have a family. And, this isn’t to throw New York under the bus, but I think that sometimes, there, it’s harder to locate that. It’s seen more from a party revelry perspective and I think that the way it manifests and I believe this is one of the keys to success of Silicon Valley and the little ecosystem that exists there and why, even though start up communities begin elsewhere, they’re not fully embracing this whole mentality, is because there really is that balance. There’s this sense of, ah, you know, I’m a whole person. I think it’s okay to spend my full day mountain biking in Marin or, you know, I’m really, I really value spending this time with my kids. And, of course, there are people in other communities that go and spend time outside and have great relationships with their children, but I would say, as a whole, that’s really nurtured there. And so, there’s more permission from the companies, from the top down, to do that because there’s a recognition and we see this at companies like Google, as well, where, you know, when there’s space to play, when there’s space to take a nap, to do these things that refresh us, we’re gonna be better at the ultimate task that we’ve been charged with.

– And, we’ve been seeing this. I mean, there are case studies

– Yeah.

– about this out there.

– Yeah.

– I mean, Google is, I mean, is it the biggest company in the world? I mean, it is and enormous,

– Pretty large.

– it’s an enormous, monster of an industry.

– [Anna] Yeah.

– And, by the way, this week, in the news, Google committed to, basically, getting carbon offsets and basically getting all of their energy from renewable for everything that they do. So, the amount

– Amazing.

– of global impact that comes from that is significant and this is a company that’s allowing you to play and not, like, walking by your cubicle going, where the hell are you, right?

– Well, I mean, anyone who’s ever walked through one of their offices knows what stark contrast it is to other more corporate offices. And, certainly, some of those things, we see a lot of that, well, we put it, replicated. We’ll see, this has a foosball table in it, so there you go, they’re innovative and creative. Well, there’s more to it than that.

– Right.

– So, taking it piecemeal doesn’t work and that’s what a lot of the more traditional corporations have tried to do, without actually buying into the mindset and I think that’s the challenge. It’s, you can’t just go through the motions and create a great looking knock-off. You actually have to believe. You have to have that core mantra. You have to really say, you know, I need to give my employees permission to be autonomous, to feel that if they need to go home and take care of their child, they have the space to do that and that they’re gonna be a more loyal and happier employee for knowing they have permission to do that.

– And, it’s paid off.

– That’s right.

– It’s paid off. People want to work there.

– Yes.

– People who work there, work their asses off because they love where they work.

– Yeah.

– Right, and so, and the company’s doing great work, so.

– Yeah.

– Okay, so looking a this and looking at how to hack happiness back into your life, what would be one of the easiest ways for one to get started? Like, do you have to identify what make you happy, first, in your own life? Or, is it just getting into the gnosis of just who you are and what you’re feeling like you need to be doing?

– I mean, you could just approach it from, you know, what’s your life’s current biggest pain point? What’s the thing that is holding back your happiness, if that’s easier? You know, if that’s more accessible for you, then you can start from that place and then, I would say, you go into that Observe, Hypothesize, Test, Repeat model. So, take a look at all the different components of that. And then, make some hypotheses about what would happen if I changed this or what would happen if I did this? And, start doing small experiments, very small experiments, in small choices that you’re making and then observing, what are the results of that. You’re getting some feedback, all the time. So, for instance, in, when I was teaching, I used to have my students engage in an experiment where they had to change some element of their appearance and go out in public with a particular purpose and then reflect on it. And, it seems like such a minor thing to do, but a lot of times, the experiment would be very mind shifting, paradigm shifting, for them because it would identify all the things they had been taking for granted. So, it could be a female who really identified with a particular product that she used or her long hair and changed that and did not feel that she was communicating with or being treated in the same way in the world. Or, they would play with gender or they would play with any number of variables that then brought them back to, oh, this is how I perceive of myself, this is what I need to do to get the feedback and the result that I wanted, or I never anticipated that this one change might open this particular door. And so, that’s kind of a more extreme example, but it could be anything in your life. And so, I think, again, starting from either a, I know I want this, and then looking at how you can invite it in or I have this pain point and what are the variables that can be played with, there, and then staging your own experiments is the simplest, easiest way to start.

– Great, and that’s the way roll because you do these little microexperiments, get data and feedback,

– That’s right.

– and then, basically, then, keep shifting. It’s like navigating a ship, right?

– Yeah.

– Like you keep finding your course and you plot it based on where your bearings are.

– And, that’s so different than saying, “Okay, I’m going to plan this, “then this and then, this is gonna happen “and that’s gonna lead up here,” because that’s going to disappoint and frustrate you and that’s also a really long arc.

– Yeah.

– And so, we want to focus on happiness today, not happiness someday,

– Yeah.

– and these small microexperiments, again, they keep it fresh, too. They keep your mind fresh. They keep you in it. They keep you engaged.

– So, there’s also these people that say, okay, what are your five-year plans, your one-year plans and all this,

– Yeah.

– and really kind of have you extrapolate what you want your life to look like, like in the far future.

– Yes.

– In Silicon Valley’s assessment, that seems to be a pretty insane game, because I don’t even know what’s happening tomorrow,

– Yeah.

– let alone three years from now.

– Well, it is, I mean, look, you’re still asked to do that by VCs. Say if you’re pitching for

– Right.

– and you’re raising an investment round, they will ask you to put together a spreadsheet of what you’re–

– Performance.

– Yeah, of what you’re projecting and they know, as well as you do, that that is largely, there’s like a 99% chance that those numbers are not actually gonna happen in that particular way. But, I think what that exercise does is it shows that you had the capacity to see how A could lead to B and B could lead to C and to see where your current vision is.

– So, they want to see how you’re thinking and they want to see the causality and they want to make sure, to test your logic in a lot of ways, I would assume.

– And, and also, what is, how practical is that? Is that something that actually could happen? Right, or is this just, oh, we’re gonna go public in the next five years. Okay, so what–

– What does that mean?

– Yeah, what are you basing that on?

– Right.

– So, I think going, so, from a personal perspective, I think going through that exercise can still be valuable. The problem, however, is when you go into that medical school, law school default, where you say, okay, I’m just going to, you know, get, I’m gonna finish my, do my residency here and I’m gonna have this specialization or I’m gonna be a partner at this firm, that doesn’t allow for a lot of happiness in those years in between and it also, it doesn’t allow for you to change a lot. If you haven’t really examined what that core is that makes you happy.

– Well, and that, but that’s the model, right? That’s the model we’re coning out of, is, you work your ass off for 40 years, you get your gold watch and your pension

– Yeah.

– and then you go retire and play golf. Nice life, right?

– Yeah.

– And so, it’s the same thing in medicine, it’s the same thing in all these things, it’s like this. You pay your dues,

– That’s right.

– and you’re miserable for a certain amount of years, but don’t worry, we have Prozac. And then, you come out and then you have, like, this magical retirement, but you’ve replaced your hip and your kidney isn’t working, so sorry, you stay home, right? And so, what we’re looking at now is a very different framework of saying, well, how can I be happy today and how can I find, really, some microadjustments that I can make to keep shifting towards happiness every day.

– And, think about the people who have had major successes in Silicon Valley. Few to none have retired. They have plenty of, if it’s just about money–

– [Pedram] They’re done.

– They could be done four companies ago, some of them. So, why do they stay in it? They stay in it because, ultimately, it’s not just about the money. It’s never just been about the money. It’s about what it does to your brain, the way it challenges you, the things, the people it connects you with. And, for many, I think, there’s this feeling of when you take yourself out of the game from that, then you stop feeling really satisfied. You stop finding that happiness. And, yet, our traditional model is very different from that. It is rally about living for retirement, and then, you get to retirement and you think, well, this isn’t that satisfying, you know, because I don’t want to play golf every day.

– This sucks, and I’m surrounded by boring people

– I want the option, but–

– who all just want to play golf all day and no one’s happy.

– And, right. Right, exactly. So, I think no matter where you’re at in life, it’s not to early to start thinking about this different perspective of how you want to live.

– You know, there’s, we’re live, so I’m gonna poke it, so if anyone has any questions for our guest today, let us know. Here’s the book, by the way. It’s called Startup Your Life, Anna Akbari, who is now living in Southern California and I’ll, if you have any questions, just go ahead and hit us. Sean will stop us and give us, stop us with it. Real quick, this reminds me of a story, historically, of Genghis Khan’s, I think, grandson, Tamerlane, Timur, we call him, and he would always, always sleep outside his tent on the floor, in the snow. And, the soldiers would be like, “Yo, you’re the man, “like, you got this really nice thing over there, “like, you know, we’ll send you wine,” and he’s like, “No, because the day I start sleeping in there “is the day I start to lose edge and it’s over.” And so, he just stayed, stayed, like, always in the snow. And, so, that, to me, is kind of like, you know, and I’m sure the Silicon Valley guys have nice wine and nice beds,

– Yeah, of course.

– but it’s the same kind of principle of, like,

– They’re still hungry.

– you know, yeah, what am I gonna do? I’m gonna be bored. Yeah, so Sean, I know, what have you got, a couple questions coming?

– Yeah, I got one for Kathleen, and it’s like, in terms of setting your goals and sticking to your goals, is there a difference between, like, eliminating the distractions that might distract you, or just not engaging with the surrounding distractions, or is it kind of one and the same, do you feel?

– Well, I don’t know that permanently eliminating the distractions is that practical, for most of us. You know, if we choose, if we say, okay, I do want to still function within everyday society and if I have people in my life that rely on me in some way, then, for any prolonged period of time, I don’t think, I don’t think, permanently eliminating them is really that practical. But, there certainly could be some distractions that could be eliminated, just not all of them, all the time, right? So, finding what is manageable for you, you know, there is a big unplugging movement and there is a National Day of Unplugging every year and, for some people, it’s, it started, really, with the Jewish tradition of the Sabbath and sundown and it, but it really has become this very secular movement about giving yourself that space and distance from technology. If it’s for an entire day, or even if it’s just for an hour, one of the things I’ll say to some of my clients is, I accept and you can accept that an entire 24 hour period where you have no connection to technology isn’t really a luxury that a lot of people have, but, can you carve out space each week, where you only have very, the technology you use, let’s say, is just music? Or, is, you know, you’re watching a film with your significant other? Or, but you don’t have any of the other distractions around you. So, just be mindful of that and eliminating and then sticking with it, I think, it’s really satisfying.

– Most people don’t have the experience of what that even feels like,

– Yeah.

– because once you do, oh it’s good. Oh, it’s good. We just did a show, I don’t think we’ve aired it yet, the Tech Cleanse show. We took, like, Abel James and Dave Asprey and, like, Kevin Gianni, we took a bunch of my Internet buddies out with families to this place where no cell phones worked,

– Oh, wow.

– and a couple people freaked out. It was about five, six days out there and we had a wilderness survival course, but I have to say, like, I was running the thing, so it was kind of like a pain in the ass for me,

– [Anna] Yeah.

– but, people to this day come up and say, “Wow, that was one of the most special weeks of my life.” I’m like,

– Yeah.

– “Oh, you don’t put your phone down, got it.” Right?

– That’s right.

– It really made an impact in people who were just too stuck on their tech.

– Well, that’s why we’ve also seen a rise of things like the Digital Detox movement of retreats coming out of Silicon Valley, you know, because there’s this sense of, I must always be accessible. But then, if I sign up for something and it’s not permitted, I can give myself permission or people will purposely seek our vacations where they know they’re gonna be out of cell phone range. And, because they feel, from their companies, I mean, this had been a growing trend where companies will say, “We’re not telling you how many vacation days you have. “You can just take as many, whatever you need.” But, what happens when do that is, sometimes, people feel that they need to,

– Guilt.

– they, yeah, and so, from a company perspective, in one respect, it’s really smart, but those people tend to take actually fewer vacations and tend not to really check out when they’re there.

– Interesting, I’ve, there’s a company we work with down here in San Diego, a big tech company who, they’re having this issue with their ’round the clock because they have people

– Yes.

– in Singapore, they have people in India, so, it’s like, you know, I come home at five o’clock, hang with my kids for a couple hours and then, you know, Japan comes online and then, it just keeps rolling.

– [Anna] That’s right.

– And so, people are just up in the middle of the night, doing emails, dealing with some thing with some team and they’re going crazy. Like, they just can’t let it go and that’s, you know, there’s a whole theme in our next movie about this, because the quarterly earnings

– Uh huh.

– that are expected from Wall Street and this kind of drive to constantly be growing things on a quarterly earning basis and putting up those numbers and putting up those numbers is destroying the people in the companies, it’s destroying the environment and it’s destroying the atmosphere where we could actually, you know, live a happy life. And so, what’s the point of any of it?

– Yeah, and I think, well, you know, look, when you’re dealing with multiple time zones, it does, it does make it more challenging.

– [Pedram] Oh, yeah.

– Absolutely, so, there just needs to be policies. I mean, we’ve seen that happen, I think, in Germany, we’ve seen it happen at the Huffington Post, where there’s just, you know, it has to come from the top down, where they say, “We want you to have that time. “We want you to feel that you don’t have to be accountable “after a certain hour or on the weekends,” because that’s one of the number one things I hear when I give talks on this is, people coming up to me with just this desperation, really, saying, “How can I do it? “How can I even just take Sunday and be with my family?” And, this is, it’s a real issue that people are grappling with.

– But, this is the issue of our time.

– Yeah.

– Like, we are going to go extinct if we can’t slow down, snap out of it and, like, start living life in a way that actually has some meaning and some value back in it.

– Yeah, and really disrupt that paradigm that seems to be pushing us right now, which is that speed equals better or, you know,

– Right.

– that’s going to, that’s gonna give us more of what we want and, you know the slow whatever movement and, you know, that’s been from food to anything else, is, I think, really, the counter to that.

– Yeah, yeah, there’s Slow Food, there’s Slow Money, there’s slow everything

– Yes.

– at this point.

– Yes.

– And, you know, it’s slowly growing.

– I bet it’s not–

– Appropriately so.

– [Pedram] Yeah, exactly, so, I know the book is out this month.

– Yes.

– It’s coming out later in December.

– Yes, but you can pre-order it, now.

– Great, great.

– Yep. And so, I love how you’ve blended this. I love how you blended your understanding of Silicon Valley with, just, happiness, ’cause the work I’ve seen from you prior to this book was all about research in happiness.

– [Anna] Yeah.

– So, you know, having worked in Silicon Valley and looked at some of their agile frameworks,

– Yeah.

– then looking how to apply that, there. I love models and I love frameworks, so, yeah, it’s helping.

– Yeah, well I hope, well, I hope it resonates with a lot of people and is something that they can really start integrating, immediately. You know, it’s a book that I couldn’t find when I was piecing a lot of things together, so I hope it fills a gap for a lot of people.

– [Pedram] Excellent, then those are the books that need to be written, right?

– Yeah

– Excellent. Well, thank you so much.

– Thank you, so much,

– Thank you for being here.

– for having me, appreciate it.

– Yeah, thank you. For those of you out there, let me know what you think. Leave some comments. We’ll have some questions, later, in the thread and keep it going. I’ll actually be on in about 20 minutes with another guest. We’re kind of stacking in a few more shows, before the holidays ’cause this guy’s gonna go spend some time with his family and relax because we all deserve to hibernate. I’ll see you next time.

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