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  • feedwordpress 16:00:00 on 2022/11/03 Permalink
    Tags: , Interview   

    Author Interview: Becky Blades 


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    Becky Blades is a writer, artist, and strategist. She has built an award-winning communications firm, launched creative marketing departments, and served as an advisor to growing companies. Her new book, Start More Than You Can Finish: A Creative Permission Slip to Unleash Your Best Ideas (Amazon, Bookshop) just hit shelves.

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Becky about happiness, habits, and creativity.

    Gretchen: What’s a never-miss habit that you’ve discovered makes you happier, healthier, or more creative?

    Becky: Every morning, before I journal, while my coffee is brewing, I walk through my yard to visit and tend to my plants. During winter or bad weather, I walk instead through my messy art studio to visit my works in progress. This, I’ve learned, starts my day happy. I connect with things that give me awe, curiosity and wonder. It removes me from whatever anxiety I might have about the looming responsibilities of the day. Over time, this routine has become an anchor that gives me a deep sense of confidence that everything is okay…that I can always find truth and beauty, or I can make my own.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    I’m a Questioner. No doubt. What a time-saver it is to know this! I’ve been intrigued by the fact that questioning is central to the creative process. With each layer and iteration, we need new information. But too much asking and planning stalls us. I work to replace questioning with experimenting. What I find out along the way satisfies my curiosity and builds new curiosities. It’s a tried and true source of imagination.

    You’ve made some fascinating discoveries about starting. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    It fascinates people to learn that even the most creative people put off beginning their best ideas. Not all creators are initiators! It doesn’t surprise any of us, however, to learn the reasons – that we ALL may keep our longings on the back burner because we’re not sure how our efforts will finish. We often feel certain that we don’t have enough to get our ideas where we want them to go. When we instead ask the question “Do I have everything I need to just start?” minds shift and answers change. Nearly everyone has enough to BEGIN acting on their ideas. Then, momentum and the creative process show up to help. My research is all personal interviews with people who know they are creative, which makes this finding all the more powerful.

    Is there a quotation or a question that you’ve found helpful?

    I like to ask people: “What would you start if you knew you could finish?” You’d be amazed how it helps separates longings and things we “want to do” from things we feel obligated or driven by ambition to “have done.”

    What’s something you know now about happiness and creativity that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    When I was 18, I just wanted to be 21…and to never reach 30. I thought the 20’s were the happy season and I thought I knew what 20-something me would wrangle from life. Of course, I was dead wrong. I now know that I’m clueless about what my future self is capable of…I’m happiest when I trust that she is smarter, more relaxed and has better judgment than I can fathom. Trusting future Becky makes me imagine bigger and lean into the mindful joy of creating. Respecting her makes relationships better, because I show up for the long game.

    Most important, now in my 60’s, I know that I’m not that important. Everything I begin is a partnership; I collaborate with a moment in time and whatever resources are available to me. I get neither full credit nor full blame for the finish. What a relief.

    Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

    Every book I read changes me! I’m a believer in the saying that “The difference between the person we are today and the person we will be five years from now depends on the people we share time with and the books we read.” Of course, WRITING my own books has changed me tremendously. That’s why I encourage people who have a book idea to get started.

    Studies over two decades show that 70 to 80 percent of people say they want to write a book, yet less than 15 percent ever begin. More than half of people surveyed think their own lives are worthy of a book. The world wants to read them! Telling our own stories or writing about something we know is a transformative process, regardless of the audience size it reaches. It’s wonderful to consume books, but creating one of our own is certain to impact us personally and deeply.

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits, your creativity, or your happiness?

    Early morning responsibilities scramble my mojo, so I try to keep mornings sacred. My centering habits happen in the morning, so a 7 a.m. coffee meeting across town that requires me to get up while it’s still dark is a heinous joy thief. It keeps me from talking to my journal and my plants. (Do they miss it as much as I do? I worry, you know?) Also, fretting that I will not get enough sleep keeps me from getting enough sleep. So answering an alarm at ‘zero dark-thirty’ is a double whammy – late to sleep, early awake. When I was younger, I could power through, but at age 60, messing with my sleep schedule is risky business. (If you’re reading this and have an early meeting scheduled with me, it’s not too late to make it happy hour.)

    Start More Than You Can Finish Book Cover

    The post Author Interview: Becky Blades appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:00 on 2022/09/29 Permalink
    Tags: , Interview   

    Author Interview: Alex Budak 


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    Alex Budak is a social entrepreneur, a faculty member at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the new book, Becoming a Changemaker (Amazon, Bookshop).

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Alex about happiness, habits, and leadership.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Alex: An evening walk! As a social entrepreneur, faculty member, author, and (most importantly!) a dad, solo time to think and reflect is all too rare right now. My wife and I both prioritize ensuring that each of us get a walk-in most nights, and we both come back healthier and happier as a result. Sometimes I will listen to music (ask me for my playlist!), but oftentimes I just let my mind wander.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    That happiness is something that can be shared. I love your Second Splendid Truth: “One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” I think we tend to focus so much on the individual, but I’ve absolutely found my greatest personal moments of happiness in making others happy and in sharing these moments together.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

    I’ve conducted the first ever longitudinal study – The Changemaker Index – that explores how individuals develop their capacity to lead positive change over time. One of my favorite findings is that there is no statistically significant difference in development based on one’s age. No matter one’s age, everyone develops at approximately the same rate. That means that no matter how young you are or how old, you can become a changemaker! How wonderful is that?

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger? 

    Perhaps it’s not a surprise since I teach changemaking for a living – but I am a rebel through and through!

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    The one quotation that has stuck with me since I was a child comes from Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” It’s a regular north star for me as I reflect on how I spend my time and remain in service to others.

    In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

    A lot of people think that leadership cannot be taught – that it’s an innate ability that one either has or does not have. My teaching at UC Berkeley has shown me the exact opposite. While “leaders” might be scarce (there will only be one CEO, after all), “leadership” is abundant. We can all learn to step up and lead positive change from where we are. I teach leadership through a combination of sharing empirical data and research from leading scholars; interactive case studies; hands-on, experiential exercises; and bringing in a diverse array of guest speakers to share stories and inspiration. I find it really inspiring to see just how much my students develop as leaders and how they step into their own leadership potential. If they can do it, so can any of us. That gives me a ton of hope for the future.

    Lastly, what does being a changemaker mean to you?

    I define changemaking in a boldly-inclusive way. Simply put, I believe a changemaker is someone who leads positive change from where they are. There’s no mention of roles, titles, or formal authority here. And crucial to this definition is the opportunity to lead change at any level and in any situation: we need not be a senior leader in order to lead change. In my book, Becoming a Changemaker, I include over 50 case studies showing how people from all walks of life have led positive change from where they are: from a Walmart associate fighting for equality in parental leave policies to a project manager who just really, really wanted his team to start composting. I believe that becoming a changemaker is an inclusive identity that we can all step into, in our own ways, and I’m so excited to see how people take these lessons and put them into practice!

    The post Author Interview: Alex Budak appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • feedwordpress 22:40:12 on 2022/09/22 Permalink
    Tags: , Interview   

    Author Interview: Liz Brown and Amy Impellizzeri 


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    Amy Impellizzeri (a lawyer-turned-novelist) and Liz Brown (a Harvard-grad-turned-law-partner-turned-undergrad-professor) feel strongly about the need for lawyers and law students to innovate and pivot. How to Leave the Law (Amazon), their co-authored follow-up to their respective books, Lawyer Interrupted (Amazon, Bookshop) and Life After Law (Amazon, Bookshop), just hit shelves.

    As a lawyer-turned-writer myself, I couldn’t wait to talk to Amy and Liz about happiness, habits, and career changes.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    AI: My morning ride! I’m an unapologetic Peloton addict – converted largely by fellow reformed litigator, Robin Arzon and company. But my (almost) daily ride is so much more than an act of physical exercise. A group of college friends (shout out to my Peloton Kappas!) and I text each other every night to suggest rides and then again in the morning to cheer each other on. The text thread has become our way of staying connected across the miles and a venue for placing our daily challenges and successes, and is, in many ways, much more important than the ride itself.

    LB: I pay a lot of attention to my morning coffee: buying good beans, using mugs I bought at craft fairs, making flavored syrups, etc. This week’s flavor is a spiced tahini simple syrup. I fit in at least some movement every day, and getting out of the house even if just to walk my little dog. Following visual artists and museums, and nobody else, on Instagram – the flow of creative images inspires me even when I don’t draw myself.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    AI: Part of me wishes I could go back and tell 18-year-old me that happiness is not a mirror image. That it has nothing to do with what you’re reflecting out into the world, and everything to do with that part of yourself you’re reluctant to show the world. But the other part of me is grateful it took me 50 long years to learn it. Maybe I won’t be so quick to forget it now!

    LB: It becomes both easier and harder to be happy when you get older. For me, happiness has become a quieter thing than it was when I was 18. I find it more in everyday things, especially in the consistency of things like old friendships. and less so in Big Adventures.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

    LB: To me, what’s intriguing is the extent to which many lawyers prioritize being successful, according to other people’s definitions of success, over being happy. We put so much effort into reaching certain goals that our profession lays out for us as targets – whether it is winning a motion for our clients or earning partnership for ourselves – that there is often no room for reflection about what all of these goals mean to us personally. That makes it hard for a lot of lawyers to carve out the space to ask whether they are genuinely happy or to value happiness in the first place.

    AI: My biggest surprise over the years of interviewing transitioning attorneys is that the one – and only one – demographic that expresses any regret about transitioning – is the group of lawyers that leave the law to become full-time caregivers. It’s this group of lawyers – largely women – that I believe are pushed out of the practice of law prematurely. HOW TO LEAVE THE LAW is as much for this group as the other lawyers clamoring to leave an unsatisfying lifestyle. It’s my hope that some people will be inspired to make changes from within the walls of the broken law firm culture, while the rest of us continue to help make changes from the outside.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    LB: I now have the habit of doing Peloton workouts regularly. To be honest, the Peloton app’s tracking function compels me to keep up with that. I don’t want to break my streak of consecutive workouts, even though nobody else is watching (at least, I hope nobody else is watching).

    AI: Ha! I already confessed my Peloton addiction, but the other biggest lifestyle change I’ve made in the last few years is to go gluten-free (ish) by choice. I went cold turkey at first and now, the way I continue the habit is by noticing how good I feel without gluten in my diet PLUS allowing myself “special occasion” gluten. A New York City bagel or a plate of homemade Pasta Bolognese or a slice of pizza now and then qualifies, but the longer I stay gluten-free (ish), the less I’m tempted even by these treats!

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    LB: The quiz says I am an Upholder, but I question those results, so I am going with being a Questioner.

    AI: According to the test, I’m an Obliger, and I confess … that’s probably right. I will set myself on fire to keep my inner circle warm. I’m working on that, frankly, but unlike gluten, I’m not likely to give it up cold turkey any time soon!

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    LB: Mothering a young teen challenges my ability to stay balanced. It makes me both wildly happy and deeply frustrated, often on the same day, which makes it even more important for me to maintain my habits as best I can. I really wish it were parties, though.

    AI: Oh, why can’t it be parties?! Yep, kids for me too. I’ve got three teens pulling me in different directions on any given day and while I work hard to keep balance, I’m perfectly imperfect on all my best days. It’s imperative to me, however, that they see me constantly working, constantly getting back up, and constantly moving forward. So in that sense, while they are my greatest challenges, they are also my greatest inspirations!

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    AI: Well, oddly enough, it took me almost a decade to respond to my own lightning bolt. I survived a residential plane crash on my New York City corner in 2001, which really made me want to reclaim my life and my voice, but I couldn’t find my way out of the law until I took a sabbatical in 2009. When I finally wrote a (fictional) story of survivor guilt and rebirth in the form of my sophomore novel, Secrets of Worry Dolls (Amazon, Bookshop), I realized that was the book I actually left the law in order to write.

    LB: Yes! I decided to leave my law partnership when I saw my newborn daughter. That was my lightning bolt moment. As it turned out, 2008 was not the greatest year to give up a lucrative job, but it was an important turning point and led to a much more satisfying second career.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    AI: “Be the Buffalo.” I learned recently that in storm conditions, cows try to outrun the rain, while buffalo, turn into the storm and run right through. That’s the kind of badass attitude I’d like to harness on my darkest days.

    LB: For me, it is “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” When I feel like complaining about something, that saying reminds me to take some action myself instead of expecting the change to come from other people. It has led me to take on leadership roles and challenges at work that I would otherwise have shied away from. It also led me to write my first book, Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have, because I wanted there to be a better self-help book for lawyers who were struggling with their career transitions like I had been. I still complain a lot, however.

    The post Author Interview: Liz Brown and Amy Impellizzeri appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • feedwordpress 20:23:25 on 2022/08/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , Interview, Tamar Haspel, To Boldly Grow   

    Tamar Haspel: “Time on the Steep Part of the Learning Curve Builds Confidence” 


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    Interview: Tamar Haspel

    Tamar Haspel writes the James Beard Award-winning Washington Post column "Unearthed," which looks at how our diet affects us and our planet. She’s also written for Discover, Vox, Slate, Fortune, Eater, and Edible Cape Cod. With journalist Mike Grunwald, she co-hosts the Climavores podcast, which examines food’s impact on climate and environment.

    Her book, To Boldly Grow: Finding Joy, Adventure, and Dinner in Your Own Backyard came out earlier this year.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Tamar about happiness, habits, and food.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Tamar: Doing something I’ve never done before because that first iteration – from zero to one – is where you learn more than any subsequent iteration. I can work and work – for decades! – at becoming a better writer, but the increments of improvement are small and uncertain. Undetectable, even.

    But over the last decade, I’ve built a chicken coop, grown shiitake mushrooms, caught fish, raised several kinds of livestock, and (this is a big one) learned to back up a trailer. What it taught me, besides those actual skills, of course, is that spending time on the steep part of the learning curve builds confidence and competence. It makes you ready to tackle the next thing.

    When the new things you tackle are food-related, it’s a self-improvement two-fer: your diet gets better, and your own self does, too.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    It doesn’t seek you out; you have to find it. You have to want it.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

    I write about food, and food is personal. The most intriguing – and, let’s face it, irritating – research findings are the ones that conflict with our preferences. The most hate mail I’ve ever gotten was when I wrote that all eggs taste the same. Yes, if you taste them blind (and it’s gotta be blind because eggs often look different) the ones from your backyard chickens – or mine – taste exactly like the lowest-common-denominator supermarket eggs.

    I care about the life of the hens that lay my eggs. I want them to know happiness to the extent a chicken can. The fact that their eggs taste like other eggs doesn’t change that.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    I am a Questioner (a sensible type for a journalist to be).

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? 

    I’m sorry to say that it’s laziness. I know, from long and varied experience, that I thrive on new activities, but sometimes I just stay on Twitter too long. I’m working on that.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book?

    In 2012 I read Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind. It’s a very compelling explanation of the shortcomings of human decision-making, and why facts are so stubbornly unpersuasive. As a journalist, I’m supposed to evaluate evidence for a living, and Haidt’s book convinced me that humans absolutely suck at that.

    That conviction changed my journalistic M.O. I learned to be skeptical of my own conclusions, to develop strategies to check my own bias, and to look for opportunities to change my mind. It has made me slower to form opinions, and to be less dug-in on them once they’re formed. Don’t get me wrong! There are still hills I will die on. Just not very many.

    In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

    Oh is there! It’s that food is the province of experts. The human species’ ability to feed itself has propelled us to planetary dominance, yet there’s a kind of learned helplessness about food in the modern, developed world. Growing it, cooking it, choosing which of it is good for us – those things just aren’t that hard, and we can generally handle it with minimal expert intervention.

    In a complex world, there aren’t many problems we can solve single-handedly. If something goes wrong with your job, or your marriage, or your finances, or even your dishwasher, chances are you can’t fix it all by yourself. But if you’re unhappy with your diet, that’s a problem you can solve.

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:49 on 2022/07/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , Ed Mylett, Interview, , The Power of One More   

    Ed Mylett: “I Spend Very Little Time Dwelling About the Past.” 


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    Interview: Ed Mylett

    Ed Mylett is an entrepreneur, performance coach, author, and host of The Ed Mylett Show podcast. His new book, The Power of One More: The Ultimate Guide to Happiness and Success (Amazon, Bookshop), is available now.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Ed about happiness, habits, and success

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Ed: I spend very little time dwelling about the past. We’re often weighed down by our past, and that can cripple what we want to do in the future. What’s done is done, and sometimes, the best you can do is catalog the event, learn from it, and use that knowledge to help you do better in the future.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    You don’t find true happiness in material possessions. You find true happiness by having close and loving relationships with your wife, children, pets, extended family members, friends, and most importantly, with God.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

    The beauty of what I do is that every day reveals itself in fascinating ways to me. I’m just as excited to talk to a health and wellness expert as I am talking to a music superstar or a pro athlete. I love hearing about interesting journeys that unlock new ways of doing things better, or how people have overcome adversity in their lives. The real payoff comes when I share it with my audience and they let me know how they’ve found value too.

    The bottom line…and this is not a cop-out…I mean it when I say everything surprises and intrigues me in one way or another.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    I have been a bodybuilder for several years now. The great thing about this type of healthy habit is that it’s entirely internal. It’s you versus the resistance of lifting dead weight. The other thing is that it allows me to keep a promise to myself to keep going with this habit even when I don’t feel like lifting, or I’ve got some minor injuries that I deal with from time to time. That’s an important part of maintaining my confidence, to work through adversity which feeds my self-esteem into and carries over to several other parts of my life.

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?

    There are a few things that come to mind and they revolve around my health.

    While I enjoy my down and quiet time at home, the habits I’ve developed mean that I’m very intense and in the moment when I do work. If I go for long periods like this, I’ll empty my physical and my mental gas tank. Sometimes, but not always, I’ll catch a bug or just feel wiped out for a couple of days. My recovery time is shorter than for most people though because I do eat the right way and always add exercise into my life by playing golf, working out, or going for walks.

    The other thing I could probably be better is learning how to say “no” more often. Unfortunately for me, I’m intensely curious, and saying “no” stifles that need to know.

    As far as happiness goes, nothing interferes with my decision to be happy. I recognize that I’m leading a blessed life and so I’m filled with gratitude in everything I do. Gratitude is a form of happiness.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    I’ve had a few but the one that stands out for me was early in my career. I had been struggling for a while to find any kind of success, and I was not having any luck. One night when I was hosting a seminar, I expected 40 people based on RSVPs. Only eight people showed up. I was crushed and I went home and had a talk with myself. That night’s events had put me at a crossroads. After a lot of deep thought and prayers, I decided not to give and make a change in my career. I dug my heels in and said I was going all-in on this with everything I had. On the surface, I did not change, but deep down, I did.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

    Absolutely! I continue to draw a lot of strength and inspiration from my favorite passage in the Bible, Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

    Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

    The Bible. My faith is the cornerstone of my life.

    In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

    There are a couple of things.

    The biggest thing I see is that many people think you must make huge changes in your life to get more success and happiness. Nothing could be further from the truth, which is exactly why I wrote The Power of One More. It’s based on the premise that you’re only one more try, emotion, relationship, or habit away from getting the life you deserve.

    The other thing is that I see many people who invest in all kinds of great material about being more successful or achieving peak performance. Some of them think that simply by reading or watching these materials, they’ll automatically reach their success goals.

    They completely miss the point that all we can do as teachers and mentors is give them a roadmap to a better life. It’s up to them to not only learn and think about a better life but to also jump into action and take the required steps. Action is the key.

    I would also, of course, shine a spotlight on anything that you’d particularly like to bring to readers’ attention.

    After my dad died a couple years ago, I was going through his personal items and I found a bunch of notecards each with just 2 letters and a single date on them. After a bit of investigative work, I discovered that they were the initials and the sobriety anniversary dates of dozens of people that my father helped to battle their struggle with alcohol. He often called these people to remind them of the power or staying sober for just “one more day.” That was the philosophy that he had used to transform him from being an alcoholic most of my childhood to then becoming my best friend and role model as he remained sober for 35 years.

    The “one more” philosophy was how he quit drinking. He tried “one more” time. And then he never committed to staying sober the rest of his life, but he did it by committing to do it for just “one more” day. God then used his own struggle and brokenness to bless the lives of others.

    I have applied that “one more” strategy to every part of my life and business. It’s helped me to accumulate millions of dollars and to also reach millions of people. So I recently wrote a book called The Power of One More where I teach how I’ve applied it to relationships, faith, money, success, health and many different aspects of my life. The book has already sold over 100k copies in the first few weeks and became a #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller. The book is dedicated to my father and a reminder to all of us about the transformative “Power of One More.”

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:34 on 2022/07/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Crying in the Bathroom, Erika L. Sanchez, Interview, ,   

    Erika Sánchez: “I Realized…You Can’t Achieve Your Way Out of Trauma.” 


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    Interview: Erika Sánchez

    Erika Sánchez is a poet, novelist, and essayist. Her debut poetry collection, Lessons on Expulsion (Amazon, Bookshop) was a finalist for the PEN America Open Book Award. Her debut young-adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (Amazon, Bookshop) is a New York Times bestseller, a National Book Awards finalist, and is currently being made into a Netflix film directed by America Ferrera. Her memoir, a collection of essays called Crying in the Bathroom (Amazon, Bookshop), just hit shelves.

    I've read both her novel and her memoir, and I couldn't wait to talk to Erika about happiness, habits, and mental health.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Erika: I have to take solitary walks to feel balanced. There’s a large park and river trail close to my house that I love. It’s a beautiful piece of nature in the city. I enjoy the trees, the birds, and the people, most of whom appear to be in a happy mood. Whenever I start to feel anxious or depressed, I make myself take a walk even if I don’t want to. By the end, I usually feel refreshed, and I have drawn some sort of conclusion or made a connection I didn’t expect. My imagination comes alive. My mind wanders in all directions because I’m present, which perhaps makes no sense to anyone but me.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    At that time, I thought that if I achieved enough success, my depression would magically disappear and that I would be happy for the rest of my life. It wasn’t until I had a mental breakdown after my first two books were published that I realized this wasn’t true. You can’t achieve your way out of trauma. At 18 I also hadn’t yet learned that I have a mental illness that requires medication. I now understand that I literally can’t experience happiness when my brain chemistry is not right. Thank you, science!

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    I don’t always particularly enjoy working out—it’s a love/hate relationship— but I force myself to do it because I know how relieved l will feel after the fact. My favorite form of exercising is running outdoors. I like to get fresh air and enjoy the scenery. There’s something very satisfying about exerting myself physically. I’ve also shifted my perspective on working out. I make myself move because it feels good, not to lose or maintain my weight. Even though I’m incredibly slow, I feel like I deserve a parade when I’m finished.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    I’m a Questioner!

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Social media is a real pain in the butt for me. Part of me wants to delete it forever, but another part of me enjoys it and believes it’s now necessary to my career. Sometimes I scroll mindlessly, and I hate myself for it. Sometimes it becomes a compulsion, and it makes me feel very gross. I’m still trying to figure out my relationship to it. I don’t want it to take up too much space in my brain. I want to be present in the world.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    This happens a lot when I’m reading or taking a walk. A few months ago, I was at the park and realized that I carried my female ancestors with me. Their flesh is my flesh. I believe both my rage and talent come from them. I’m the first woman in my family to have the opportunity to determine my own life. I had been working through a lot generational trauma, and that fact stunned me. I cried it out and felt stronger for it.

    Is there a particular quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

    “I stood at the border, stood at the edge and claimed it as central. l claimed it as central, and let the rest of the world move over to where I was.” –Toni Morrison

    Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

    Books change me all the time. One that comes to mind right now is When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron (Amazon, Bookshop). I read it when I was recovering from a very severe bout of depression. It helped me reconnect with my Buddhist faith and find meaning in my suffering.

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:05 on 2022/06/16 Permalink
    Tags: , , Finding Ecohappiness, Interview, , Sandi Schwartz   

    Sandi Schwartz: “Nature Stimulates Creativity.” 


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    Interview: Sandi Schwartz

    Sandi Schwartz is the founder and director of the Ecohappiness Project, and an author and journalist who specializes in parenting, environmental, and wellness topics.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Sandi about happiness, habits, and her new book, Finding Ecohappiness: Fun Nature Activities to Help Your Kids Feel Happier and Calmer (Amazon, Bookshop).

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Sandi: I treasure my morning walks, whether they are in my neighborhood, at a local park, or during the summer along the beach. Listening to the birds chirping, breathing in the fresh air, and mindfully viewing the colorful nature around me is my daily meditation. Getting this exercise and meditative time in kickstarts my day so I can clear my head. As a writer, I often come up with ideas for blog posts, articles, and other projects during my walks since nature stimulates creativity.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    The most fascinating aspect of happiness to me is that we each have our own baseline, and even when we have an amazing thing happen and we get a boost of happiness, we end up back at that set point. Genetics influence 50 percent of our happiness, while our life circumstances control 10 percent. That leaves us with 40 percent to take our own action to try to feel happier. Knowing this helped me understand my own personality and happiness level to accept what my baseline is and to recognize what I have some control over to change how I feel.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

    Everyone is always fascinated to learn that we can benefit from nature connection even through a screen or virtual reality. Scientists are closely studying this concept and are finding that simulated nature can have medicinal effects, although not as effective as being immersed in nature. In an analysis of over thirty studies that reviewed the effects of spending time in nature versus urban environments, researchers found that being exposed to nature led to people feeling happier whether they were outdoors or viewing nature on a screen. They also discovered that simulated environments with realistic images of nature, such as interactive VR, led to greater psychological benefits than less immersive choices like photographs.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    One of the most important habits that I am trying very hard to keep is writing in my brief evening journal. I write five bullet points: the most important aspect of my day, something social I did to connect with others, and three pieces of gratitude. I find that keeping this daily habit helps me feel more balanced and my emotions in check. My biggest challenge from the pandemic was getting way too comfortable being at home, so my goal these days is to try and be more social. Tracking this in my journal helps keep me on track.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger

    I am a Questioner; no surprise there. I am very self-motivated and tend to do what I want on a daily basis, minus my commitments to my husband, children, and work clients. I definitely wake up every day and think, “What needs to get done today, and why?” I am constantly updating my daily to-do lists and personal goals. I am also thirsty for knowledge and love asking questions and doing research to find the answers. I also resist doing anything that seems to lack purpose. Additionally, I am an INFJ and have a huge need and passion to change the world, which is evident by my focus on environmentalism and exploring how nature can improve well-being. If I am not living my purpose, I begin to struggle emotionally. I crave new challenges and goals.

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    I am a homebody and most effective in meeting my goals and sticking to my habits when I am at home with my routine. Therefore, anything that knocks me off my game, like travel or stressful situations, interferes with my ability to keep my healthy habits that improve my happiness.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    My husband taught me a very helpful phrase that I turn to often when my anxiety is acting up: “This too shall pass.” I find this quote very soothing, as it helps me shift my focus from the stressful situation that is freaking me out to realize that I have faced many similar challenges and was so upset, but time marched on and they are now distant memories. If we can master this type of shift in our thought process, then we can have more control over our strong emotions like anxiety.

    Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

    Many books have changed my life. I truly believe that books come into my life when I need them. I might just happen to see a book at the library or in a bookstore, or maybe a friend or someone in a Facebook group posts a recommendation. It’s as if the book calls out my name. Some examples include The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (Amazon, Bookshop), Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks by Barry McDonagh (Amazon, Bookshop); Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen (Amazon, Bookshop); and Gretchen’s book, The Happiness Project, which changed the trajectory of my career path to focus on positive psychology and ultimately the intersection of nature and mental health. [Gretchen: That's so wonderful to hear!]

    I also believe that authors write the books they need the most, and that’s what happened with me and my book, Finding Ecohappiness (Amazon, Bookshop).

     

     

     
  • feedwordpress 20:20:04 on 2022/05/26 Permalink
    Tags: , , , In the Early Times, Interview, Tad Friend   

    Tad Friend: “Happiness Comes from Immersion—in a Job, an Art Form, a Challenge, a Relationship.” 


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    Interview: Tad Friend

    Tad Friend is a staff writer at the New Yorker, and previously was a contributing editor at Esquire and Outside. He is the author of a memoir, Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor (Amazon, Bookshop), and Lost in Mongolia: Travels in Hollywood and Other Foreign Lands (Amazon, Bookshop), a collection of his articles. His latest memoir, In the Early Times: A Life Reframed (Amazon, Bookshop), hit shelves this month.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Tad about happiness, habits, and relationships.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Tad: Drinking way too much coffee. Fight me! But I’ll win because I’m teeming with caffeination.

    Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

    Let us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee (Amazon, Bookshop). I read Agee’s account of three Alabama tenant farming families struggling through the Great Depression when I was in college, and the book was a revelation. No one had thought tenant farmers worthy of much attention, but Agee made me care deeply about every aspect of their lives. His work made me realize that nothing is anything until a writer makes it something. And that it’s possible to report so thoroughly and write so passionately and empathetically that nonfiction rises to the level of art.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Happiness comes from immersion—in a job, an art form, a challenge, a relationship. But while you’re immersed it doesn’t even occur to you to assess your emotional state. Only later do you realize, “Oh, I was happy then.” The challenge of life is that it’s lived forward but understood backward.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    I’ve long been an Upholder with Questioner tendencies. I wanted to do the thing that people expect of me, but I also wanted to make sure that doing it made sense, and that I’d be rewarded. However, I’ve recently discovered that if someone I love really wants something, that alone is reason enough to do it, no questions asked, no reciprocity demanded. Reciprocity comes unsought, as selflessness turns out to be contagious.

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? 

    Rampant procrastination. I catch up on “Atlanta” or do the Spelling Bee instead of just tacking the onerous thing and rewarding myself later with a pop-culture treat. Using Pomodoro helps: I set the timer for 25 minutes and go, knowing that I’ll soon have 5 minutes to refill my coffee mug.

    Multitasking is another bad habit. Multitasking is actually just rapid focus switching, so I keep losing all the clarity and momentum that attends sustained attention. On the other hand, I have become quite adept at doing a crappy job on three things at once.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Yes, I stopped being unfaithful. My wife discovered my infidelities, and I so hated the monstrous me that I saw reflected in her eyes, and was so grateful to her for being willing to work this very thorny issue through together, that I reversed course, hard, overnight. Without her willingness to give me a second chance—if, and only if, I became an actual, you know, husband and partner—I would have remained lost. Amanda is not only my true love, she’s my hero. I write about all this in In the Early Times.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” It’s from Theodore Roosevelt’s Autobiography (Amazon, Bookshop), where he attributes it to someone else. I heard the maxim from a squash coach, and it absolutely applies to squash, to keeping your focus and playing within yourself when you feel outmatched. But it also struck me as a great motto for daily life. It’s both a recognition of imperfections and a summons to get the most out of your imperfect vehicle, nonetheless.

    If I had to pick a second quotation, it would be from Sigmund Freud: “Life, as we find it, is too hard for us.” It sounds glum, but once you realize, well, ok, life is too much for everyone, it’s actually curiously freeing. You’re going to lose eventually, so why not fight a strong rearguard action? And that fight, for me, is embodied by “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:16 on 2022/05/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Data science, Don't Trust Your Gut, Interview, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz   

    Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: “I Started Giving Myself a Life Report Card.” 


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    Interview: Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

    Seth Stephens-Davidowitz worked as a data scientist at Google and is currently a contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times. His first book, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us about Who We Really Are (Amazon, Bookshop), was a New York Times bestseller and an Economist Book of the Year. I loved his first book, and was very happy when I happened to meet Seth at an event here in New York.

    His new book is Don't Trust Your Gut: Using Data to Get What You Really Want in Life (Amazon, Bookshop). If you'd like to get a sense of his approach, he recently published the article "The One Parenting Decision That Really Matters: Almost none of the choices you make are as fraught as you think they are" in the Atlantic.

    I couldn't wait to read his new book and to ask him about happiness, habits, and the human psyche.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Seth: I started giving myself a Life Report Card. At the end of every month, I grade myself on 15 categories for that month, including “relationships with friends, relationships with family, financial performance, fitness, fun, career advancement, giving back, and learning. “When I tell people this, they say it sounds nerdy, high-pressure and insane. And maybe it is. But I find it helps me achieve balance. If, for a few months in a row, I get a very low grade in, say, fun, I make sure to schedule more fun things the next month. Also, discussing the report card with others has allowed me to learn of new areas for growth that I hadn’t realized. My girlfriend suggested I add a category for “emotional openness” and hinted that my grade in that category is very low. Now I am working on turning those Fs into Ds.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Happiness is more of a choice than I realized. My brilliant, life-changing therapist Rick told me I was choosing to be depressed. It was a somewhat shocking thing to say, and a lot of people would recoil at the suggestion. But it immediately registered with me. And my mood has improved by telling myself I can choose how I feel.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

    In researching Don’t Trust Your Gut, I became obsessed with the Mappiness project founded by George MacKerron and Susana Mourato. They pinged people on iPhones and asked them some simple questions: What are you doing? Who are you with? How happy are you? From this, they created a dataset containing more than 3 million data points.  The major lesson I took from their ground-breaking research is that the things that make people happy are really simple and obvious. As I summed up the research, the answer to happiness is “to be with your love, on an 80 degree and sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex.” The key to happiness, I concluded, is ignoring the noise from the world that over-complicates things.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    On my Life Report Card, I noticed the only category I was consistently getting A’s in was fitness. And that’s because I hired an awesome personal trainer, John. From this, I concluded the only way I can really stick to difficult habits is external pressure. I’m working on setting up systems that pressure me to do the (many) things I don’t want to do but should do.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger

    I’m a questioner and a rebel, which gave me a proud smile upon writing. Makes me seem like a badass. [Gretchen: Hmmm...from the way you answered the question above, I'm wondering about that.]

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? 

    My job is really isolating, which is not good for happiness. Research shows that both introverts and extroverts get a big mood boost from being around people.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    I get hit by lightning bolts like once a week. I have strong emotional responses to things I read; pretty much every time I read a book, I am tempted to make some massive change based on the content. Like yesterday, I read the book The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins (Amazon, Bookshop). It included the parable of The Monk and the Minister, which goes as follows:

    Two close boyhood friends grow up and go their separate ways. One becomes a humble monk, the other a rich and powerful minister to the king. Years later they meet. As they catch up, the portly minister (in his fine robes) takes pity on the thin and shabby monk.

    Seeking to help, he says: “You know, if you could learn to cater to the king, you wouldn’t have to live on rice and beans.”

    To which the monk replies: “If you could learn to live on rice and beans, you wouldn’t have to cater to the king.”

    That was a major lightning bolt and tempted me to quit the consulting work I do. But I think making big, dramatic decisions based on something you read or hear isn’t a great life strategy. I try to talk things over with people and be more deliberate.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    “This too shall pass” has gotten me through some rough times.

    Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

    I thought Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman (Amazon, Bookshop) was profound.

    In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

    My entire book is about correcting misconceptions. Here are some: that successful entrepreneurs tend to be young; that the average rich person works in tech; that joy and smiles are the way to sell products; that work makes people happy; that great businesses are due to luck; that lacrosse is a better path than baseball for getting a college scholarship; that it’s crazy to try to be a celebrity; that parents have a big impact on their kids; that lounging around makes people happy; and that marital happiness can be predicted.

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:49 on 2022/05/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Daniel Coyle, Interview, interviews, , , teamwork, The Culture Playbook   

    Daniel Coyle: “When You Shift into a New Narrative, You Are Opening Up an Entirely New Set of Possibilities” 


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    Interview: Daniel Coyle

    Daniel Coyle is a contributing editor for Outside Magazine and the author of six books, including the New York Times bestsellers Lance Armstrong's War (Amazon, Bookshop) and The Culture Code (Amazon, Bookshop). In his new book, The Culture Playbook: 60 Highly Effective Actions to Help Your Group Succeed (Amazon, Bookshop), he provides readers with sixty concrete skills to help any team build a strong, cohesive, positive culture.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Daniel about happiness, habits, and success.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Daniel: I find it deeply insane how much my internal state can be boosted by a hard physical workout. The simple, idiotic, Neanderthal act of putting your head down and pushing really hard for a few minutes shifts something deep inside you. It wakes you up in a new way. It’s your body saying, Hey, I’m down here, and the outside world saying, Me too! And those combine to get you out of your own head. It’s not that different from losing yourself in beautiful music.  

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Being young brings many happiness advantages because A) you don’t know much about the world; and B) you’re not actively trying to be happy. I find that the instant you start aiming for happiness as a goal, it evaporates. I think that’s why people who focus on happiness as an extrinsic goal (hello, wellness industry) project such a narrow, almost businesslike vibe. Now that I’m older, I focus less on happiness, and instead try to spot it out of the corner of my eye whenever it bubbles up. To pause and take it in for a second. Then get back to whatever it was that caused it to happen. Which usually involves some activity that is not centered on me – either absorbing work or doing something for someone else. 

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

    I’ve spent most of my career exploring big mysterious questions right under our noses – why do certain people and groups succeed, and others don’t? What is success, really? The continuing, everlasting surprise has been how much success is generated and governed by our internal narratives. To put it simply: success looks like a talent contest, but it turns out to be a story contest. Certain stories generate awareness and behaviors that generate virtuous spirals, producing creativity, well-being, and connection. Other stories generate the opposite effect. So story remains the strongest drug ever invented. When you shift into a new narrative, you are opening up an entirely new set of possibilities and pathways – which is sometimes a bummer but ultimately hopeful, especially considering the challenges we are facing as a species right now. 

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    For most of my life, I had a big-time sweet tooth. I would not want to estimate my glucose intake from ages 5-25, but it would be measured in metric tons. Over the past few years, I’ve dialed back a lot, mostly by noticing the chain of sensations – the desire and the taste and the feelings in the body afterwards -- and then thinking about what is really happening during each of these steps. Not that I didn’t eat an entire box of Milk Duds at a movie last night – but hey, at least I realized what was going on! 😉 

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger

    I’m an Upholder with my kids, an Obliger with colleagues, a Questioner with my siblings, but down deep I’d describe myself as a Rebel. I am attracted to boundaries and I like to push against them to see what happens. Maybe this is connected to spending my childhood in Alaska and visiting my parents’ homes in near St. Louis, Missouri, every summer. Early on, I was alert to the nearly-cartoonish contrast between the two places – one place wild and invented, with gravel roads and a culture of making up the rules as you went, the other tidy and traditional, where you color inside the lines (or else!). All that added up to create in me the unshakable idea that borders are most fun if they are discovered, stretched, and occasionally broken. 

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?

    Like everybody, I would put distraction at the top of the list. At the same time, I want to put a good word in for distraction, because I find that it can help with creativity. I know it’s not supposed to (the research on “switching time” is pretty definitive) but I have to confess: the little time spent watching a funny video while I’m from writing (even as I’m writing this) ends up leaving me a bit refreshed and able to see new pathways that I might have missed. I’d say that the key is in paying attention to the ways that you are distracted – and in being intentional about it, so that you use your distraction in a healthy way (as a lever), and not in an unhealthy way (as a perpetual escape).  

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Reading The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (Amazon, Bookshop) at age 15 set me onto this path of being a writer. For me, that experience was like when musicians of a certain age describe the feeling seeing the Beatles perform for the first time on television – a feeling a door opening to reveal an entirely new world — you mean people can get paid to do that? That book – that smart, fun, rollicking voice — lit me up and led to a set of questions that I’ve ended up exploring in various ways for my entire career: where does greatness come from? How do you get it? What is the price?

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    I like “Get up on the Roof.” You use it when you feel stuck in a situation or in a particularly narrow emotional reaction to a situation, and it works because it nudges you toward the truth: there exists a higher perspective, and all you have to do is take the time and step up onto it, and look around.  I also like the way it speaks to the magic inherent in perspective shifts. Unlike so many other progressions in life, which require sweat and grit and time, changes in perspective actually do happen in a micro-second. Life seems fixed and utterly irreversible and then — presto! — you get on the roof and see it in a new way that makes your old way of seeing seem like a distant memory. This mantra is doubly useful because it applies in both “good” and “bad” situations.  It reinforces the truth: our lives, no matter how dire or how wonderful, are never purely bad or good, but rather exist in multiple ways. 

    In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

    Most people – me included, for much of my life – walk around thinking that good books are about providing answers, that the role of the author is to be the deliverer of Big Secrets. I’ve come to think this is wrong. Great writers aren’t the ones with the answers; they are the ones with the enduring questions and the useful tools for exploration. 

    They are able to do this because they are in in touch with the inner lives and curiosities of their readers. They have a sense for what anxieties, dreams, and questions people are thinking about when they’re laying awake at 3 am. Then they find ways to explore those areas – mostly questions. In all, I think good writers are sort of like the divers who explore these great oceans inside of us, and then they hand you a snorkel and flippers or maybe even a scuba set so that you can do it yourself.

     
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