In this episode, we discuss:
- How we spend too much of our lives believing what other people have told us, and that there comes a point when you realize they aren’t always right, nor do you have to listen to them
- Why being overly focused on one passion may hinder your growth and make it harder to connect with purpose and meaning
- Why trying to “fix” ourselves is a misguided effort
- Why the goal should be to expand your comfort zone and bring more things inside it, rather than accepting being uncomfortable as a means of growth
- The tendency to spend too much time wondering if we’re talented enough and not enough time building the skills we need
- Why boredom is a good thing
Hey, everybody, Chris Kresser here. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. Most of us, at some point in our lives, either consciously or unconsciously, have swallowed other people’s ideas about what’s best for us, what kind of life we should live, [or] what direction our work or personal journey should take. And if these ideas are not questioned and interrogated, we can find ourselves living a life that isn’t right for us and not the life that we want to live.
I’m really excited to discuss this topic with Terri Trespicio. She’s an award-winning writer, speaker, brand advisor, and the author of Unfollow Your Passion; How to Create a Life That Matters to You. Her TEDx Talk, Stop Searching for Your Passion, has received seven and a half million views as of today. It’s pretty clear that [the] topic has struck a nerve, and that’s because this idea of following your passion as a means toward happiness and fulfillment is so deeply ingrained in our culture that few of us even question it anymore. But what if that’s not the best approach? What if following your passion is not a viable path for many people? What if we don’t even know what our passion is to begin with? What if building skill and developing capacity in a particular area can be a pathway to discovering passion that you didn’t know you had? And what if exploring your own creativity, memory, and intuition is the best way to unlock your own unique path to meaning, while also confronting the challenges that can get in the way, like boredom, fear, hesitation, or loss?
These are some of the topics that I’m going to explore in this conversation with Terri. I really enjoyed it. These are things that I’ve thought a lot about in my life because my life has taken some very unexpected twists and turns that I never could have planned and yet delivered me to a destination that I am extremely happy with and that I find really rewarding and fulfilling. So I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. Let’s dive in.
Chris Kresser: Terri, thank you so much for being here. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show.
Terri Trespicio: Thank you.
Chris Kresser: So, you and I have known each other for quite a while. [We’ve] had a fantastic working relationship, and I’ve been aware of your TEDx Talk from 2015, for many years, called Stop Searching for Your Passion. It’s clearly struck a nerve, it [has] over seven and a half million views now, and this is a topic that I’ve been interested in for many years. I read Cal Newport’s book, which covered some similar ground. I had him on the podcast and I’ve followed his work in other areas. And I’m in a totally different arena of life. I’m someone who questions the status quo, and you are that person, as well. And this is a pretty popular idea, whether we’re talking about young people who are just graduating from college or people at any age, that the way to achieve happiness is to follow your passion. Identify your passion and then pursue it doggedly until the end of time. Happily ever after, right? But you raised some questions about that in your talk. Why [do] you think that talk struck such a nerve, given our culture’s obsession with this idea of pursuing our passion?
Terri Trespicio: Well, it works in my favor with [search engine optimization] because so many people are Googling “how do I find my passion,” because there’s this cultural rule that this is how you will find happiness and fulfillment. So when people search it, they find that talk where I say, “Stop. Stop searching for it.” And it’s so counterintuitive. Of course, not by accident. You and I both know that being counterintuitive is the way to disrupt people’s patterns of thinking. But I wasn’t just trying to be contrary. I really don’t love the advice. What happens is, people find that talk, it’s 10 minutes [long], and people have written to me from all over the world for the past seven years, saying it changed their life.
Now, it’s not because I’m some kind of scientist or I invented something, like we think that those rare geniuses are the ones who change our lives. All I did was help them push back against the idea. And the reason they love it and share it and why it still is watched by so many people is because it’s a relief. We want to watch and consume things that don’t make life harder. They make us realize that we weren’t doing it wrong. And this fear that if I don’t find my passion, hurry up and find it like a hidden Easter egg, then I fail. That my life won’t be as good as someone else’s life. That’s the fear. The reason I hate it is because I really dislike advice that’s very facile. It’s very good in retrospect, too. People will say, “Oh, how did I get here? I followed my passion, of course.” Well, going forward, as Steve Jobs says in that famous commencement speech, you only know that when you look back.
Chris Kresser: Absolutely. I mean, Functional Medicine clinician was not on my short list of professions that I was going to find myself in when I was a kid. And I was that kid who, when you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer changed literally every day. I probably had five or six different answers.
Terri Trespicio: Surfer.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, exactly. Pro surfer and skateboarder did not work out. Maybe [that’s] what would have been a number one choice, but maybe not. Things change over time, right? And that’s a big theme of your work that we’re going to come back to later. But I remember distinctly, even at that young time in my life, feeling envious of the other kids who were asked that question who had one answer, and that answer was the same every year they were asked in school. I have one guy in mind, actually. It was a little weird because even in middle school and high school, he was reading the financial section of the Wall Street Journal.
Terri Trespicio: He sounds like a lot of fun.
Chris Kresser: And you’ll never guess where he ended up, on Wall Street. Now he works in M&A, mergers and acquisitions, and for that guy, he was clear from day one what he wanted to do, what he was passionate about, [and] what direction his life was going to take. And I remember [that] I was pretty clear at that time that I didn’t want to end up doing what he wanted to do. But I was envious of the single-minded purpose and the passion that he had. When I looked around and I saw other people [who] had that kind of singular focus, I thought something was missing for me because I didn’t have that. So I can definitely relate on a personal level. I know a lot of people in my life that can relate. And clearly, there’s more than seven and a half million people who are relating to what you said in that TEDx Talk. That obviously eventually became something bigger for you. You wrote a book called Unfollow Your Passion. This evolved into something much more than a TEDx Talk. So what does that mean, to unfollow your passion?
Terri Trespicio: Well, I have to hack up on you for that guy, the 10-year-old reading the Financial Times. The funny thing is, he’s the one you remember.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Terri Trespicio: That most people weren’t, right?
Chris Kresser: Oh, for sure. He was an anomaly.
Terri Trespicio: He was an anomaly. And here’s the thing, some people tell themselves, “I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up. Why? Because I like to help people.” Turns out, there’s a lot of ways to help people. Sometimes being a doctor is one of the hardest ways to help people. But people who cling to this idea, which is what I’ll get to why Unfollow Your Passion matters, they cling to it for whatever reason. It doesn’t always mean it’s the correct divine answer. Later on in life, when they realize all they thought they wanted to be was a lawyer or something, and then they realize they hate it, it’s harder to unpack and to leave. Because they feel like maybe they’ve lived a lie. I’d rather discover new truths along the way than feel that I have done something that was a lie or that I didn’t really want to do. So that’s the heart of it.
I mean, to be honest, when I wrote this book, it didn’t have a title until the very end. I knew that it had to connect to that talk because the talk did so well. And of course, my publisher was like, “You can’t ignore that monster of a thing,” and I was like, “Okay.” But you can watch the talk in 10 minutes and you’ll get the gist of it. The book is not just going on about that one point. The reason I wrote the book was because that’s just one piece of advice that we’re fed. But when we break that down, we have to start to look at all the things we’ve been told about what we should do to lead a meaningful and fulfilling life. So the book was really my taking down [of] one idea after the other. How I even came up with a TEDx Talk idea [was], I heard there was a spot at this TEDx event first. I didn’t [say], “Oh, my whole life, I wanted to give this talk.” No, I didn’t. I wanted to give a TEDx talk. I was like, “I’d love to do that. I wonder what I’ll talk about.” And this wonderful, brilliant curator of this TEDx event, one of the biggest in the country at the time, said, “Well, what are you going to do a talk about?” And I was like, “Well, I’ll tell you, some advice [that] I really hate is this ‘follow your passion’ advice.” And he was like, “Tell me more.” Then he said, “Well, what’s the answer?” I said, “I don’t know yet, but I’ll write the talk and we’ll figure it out.” That isn’t how you would normally pitch a TEDx Talk. But he said, “I like this idea. I really like it.” I discovered it as I unpacked it myself, but because that was under my skin as a thing that really bothered me, it was really easy to write a lot of pages about something that bothers me. The heart of it is [that] unfollowing your passion does not mean that you don’t follow your passion, [or] that you give up on finding one or on having it in your life. The point of it is [that] we have to recognize that we don’t have to have, know, or be a thing to live a life that is incredibly rewarding and fun and worth living, [and] so that you don’t think you are one ticket short of the full ride.
Chris Kresser: I love that idea. And there are definitely some parallels to Functional Medicine that we’ve talked about in the past. I think one is [that] you have to have the diagnosis before you have the cure. You talk about this in the book, in terms of taking an inventory on all the things that we’ve swallowed—other people’s ideas, other people’s beliefs, other people’s purposes and principles and plans and strategies, and the ways they think that you should be in the world and set up your life. A lot of that is unconscious because it goes back really far, maybe even to preverbal times when we were so young [that] we weren’t even conceptualizing what we were taking in and processing.
Realizing You’ve Swallowed Other People’s Ideas
Chris Kresser: So what does that diagnostic process look like for you, when you work with people in your workshops and what you talk about in the book? Because I think that’s a really important starting place that people can gloss over.
Terri Trespicio: I think that we live in [an] expert-driven culture. [We think that] if we go to enough experts, someone’s going to give us the answer. I tell people right off the bat, I don’t have one answer for you. If I did, you should get your money back because that’s not fair. I don’t have an answer to your life. But what I tend to hear is people saying, “I’m stuck. I can’t find my way, find my voice. I can’t do this.” I have ideas about it, not because they can’t do it, but because they don’t see these walls that are around them [and] that are maintained by them. They were put there by other people, internalized [criticism], cultural expectations, all the things. When someone says to me, because I hear this all the time, “I’m stuck; I’m just stuck,” I’m like, “Are you stuck?” If you’re on a road and it splits in two different directions, are you stuck? No. You [just] can’t go any further until you pick a direction.
And we think, “Well, [I] have to pick the right one, [and] I don’t know what the right one is, so I can’t move forward.” The ‘stuck’ is often an indecision, unless you are in a country where you are under Taliban rule [or] something, where you literally are going to risk your life to do this. That’s crazy. And even those brave souls find ways, some of them, to get out from under it. But I’m talking about people who are feeling stuck around things that they’re in their head about. The problem is [that] if they decide on what they want to do, usually it’s between what they want and what other people expect or want of them. The fear is not that I can’t do something I want to do. It’s that if I do, I will disappoint [someone]. And the one trade-off is, if you’re going to live a life that is yours, that you really want and love, [then] you better believe you’re going to have to disappoint some people. Some people would rather not ever do that. And if you don’t, if the biggest goal is [that] I will please, serve, and fail to disappoint anyone, then that’s okay. But that’s the life you’re choosing. You cannot choose a thing, make everyone love and accept it, and [then] only do that when everything’s perfect. That’s the trade-off. That’s the trade, but a lot of people aren’t willing to make it.
Chris Kresser: It’s also, I think, ultimately impossible. If you’re trying to please everyone, not everyone is pleased in the same way. So you’re going to end up bending yourself into a pretzel shape, and probably even failing at that, because it’s an impossible goal to achieve.
The other thing that stands out to me about what you said is [that] we have a very linear concept of getting from point A to point B. Sometimes the fastest way to get from point A to point B is a straight line. But that’s not always true, right? Sometimes the route is much more circuitous and nonlinear, and even fractal. So this concept of being lost, I think, is somewhat tied to that linear conception of how you get from one goal to the next. Certainly, when I look back on my life, I [would see] long stretches of time where, if you’re looking at it from the outside in, it would not have been clear how it was going to end up where I [ended] up. It certainly wasn’t clear to me. I had no idea at various times where I was going to end up. And if I had sat down with my journal and tried to plan that out as a career path, [there’s] absolutely no way that I could have conceived of it and figured it out. No possible way. It was a very organic [process] of putting one foot in front of the other, in sometimes very incremental baby steps, and sometimes steps backward or to the side or around in circles, even. But the destination that I arrived at was a far better fit for me and far more enriching and satisfying and rewarding than anything I could have planned for myself.
Terri Trespicio: I mean, would you have said, “You know what I’ll do? Maybe if I get sick, something will happen and it’ll change my life.” I mean, that was a horrible thing. No one would want to go through what you went through and be sick for so long. But how many people endure a horrible health condition or an accident, and it’s not that they switch [to] a career like that, but they start to gain an insight into something, maybe a problem that they see could be solved that they couldn’t have imagined solving, because they didn’t know it was a problem before. Some people might say, “Well, you were meant to do this.” It’s like, okay, but if you had a different thing happen to you, you’d probably be doing something different, right?
The example I give in the book is Barbara Corcoran, who’s one of the biggest names in real estate. I saw her live at the 92nd Street Y here in Manhattan. She was there with a couple of her friends from Shark Tank, and they were talking about their success. Someone, of course, raised their hand in the audience and said, “What role has passion played in your success?” And two of the male sharks said, “Well, of course, I’ve always been passionate about dada dada. And I’ve always been, oh, yes, it’s so important,” which is often what people tell you when they had a really good run and they don’t know how to tell you how to do what they did. And then they turned to Barbara and said, “Well, Barbara, you must be incredibly passionate about real estate because you’re one of the biggest names in the business.” And she said, “No,” in her Barbara Corcoran way. “No, not really.” And they said, “That’s impossible. You couldn’t do as well without passion.” She goes, “I didn’t really care about real estate. I loved building a team. I loved sales, I loved making money.” She said, “I loved having my face in the paper. I was compelled and propelled by growing something big.”
When Barbara Corcoran first moved to New York City, she got a job answering phones at a real estate company, Giffuni Brothers’ real estate. And she looked around and was like, “Okay, I guess I’ll do this.” If she had been answering phones at a shoe company, she’d be one of the biggest makers of shoes. So, to my mind, that was evidence right there, and I wanted to stand up and give her a standing ovation for that, is that [with] passion, you’re like a lit match. Anything you come into contact with, you can burn that or you can burn something else. But the idea, and I hear this a lot from people who are usually younger than me, “Well, I wasn’t passionate about it, so I couldn’t do it.” [I’m] like, “Is that it?” I mean, you have passion in you. You can find something there. Not that you have to stay at a job you hate, but the idea that someone better supply [you] with it is backwards.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, and the idea that passion just hits you like a lightning bolt and it’s a binary thing, [and] you have it or you don’t.
Terri Trespicio: Great story.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, [and that] you [must] start with, like you said, something that you’re passionate about to begin with. Whereas, as you point out in your book, and Cal Newport writes about this, too, passion is often something that you grow into [and] that develops over time, as a result of more familiarity [and] more skill, which I want to come back to, rather than necessarily talent. As you develop skill in something over time, you develop more of a passion for it because you experience yourself as having some capacity [or] expertise, [and] you see how that’s able to be useful for other people. That really is something that comes about over time instead of just something that happens right off the bat.
Terri Trespicio: Oh, absolutely.
Chris Kresser: That’s a huge shift for a lot of people, I think. Especially young people, if they’re graduating from college and they’re like, “Wait, I don’t have that one passion that some people seem to have. What paths are open to me?”
Terri Trespicio: It’s almost like if the only goal was [that] you have to make money. I know that’s a big goal because you can’t live without it. But if that were the only thing people were told, then they’d probably be looking at that. But the culture is like, “Oh, loving what you do.” There’s incredible pressure to be in love all the time. In fact, one of the studies I found the most interesting, which got a lot of attention, and everyone I knew sent it to me, is a study that was published in Psychological Science. Carol Dweck and Paul O’Keefe and their team were studying people [and] wanted to know if people with a fixed mindset about passion fared differently than people with a growth mindset. Of course, [with a] fixed mindset, you’re dyed in the wool; this is who you are. Growth mindset, I can evolve and learn from my mistakes and also discover new things about myself. I have potential. Now, we’re fixed and growth mindset about different things. But this was specifically about passion. And the people who had a fixed mindset about passion believed that it was set. That they were meant to do it. They also expected they would have boundless motivation once they found it, which is an unfair expectation of anything.
What happened was, they would give people a fun video about astronomy and then give them a really hard academic paper about astronomy. And when the people who believed they were meant to do astronomy, for instance, were given this difficult task, a lot of them said, “Oh, I must have the wrong passion; this must not be the right thing.” And they’d have to stop and start again. In fact, people who have a fixed mindset about passion are more likely to quit when things get tough. In my world, I know a lot of people writing for a living. If you really think you’re a writer and after one rejection, you’re done, then this isn’t the life you want, first of all.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, if you think writing is going to be easy every time you sit down and do it, good luck with that.
Terri Trespicio: But anyone will look at that and go, “I don’t want that to be me.” You can see how that built-in belief works against us because we expect too much of it. Whereas the growth mindset people [are] like, “Maybe I’ll be a writer and I’ll do this, and I’ll do that.” It was just a real eye-opener for me.
Why You Should Unfollow Your Passion
Chris Kresser: What about the flip side, where following something you’re passionate about might not be the best choice in terms of a career path, or maybe getting overly fixated on your passion could blind you to other possibilities or something that might be a better fit for you for other reasons. Maybe following your passion is not the best thing to do in some cases.
Terri Trespicio: Well, there’s also pressure in our culture to monetize what you love. That if you really love it, if you’re really that good, then you must make your living from it, and the majority of your living from it. So if Denise makes amazing cookies, someone in the room is going to go, “You should sell these. You should open a cookie shop.” And it’s like, does Denise want to run a cookie shop? Maybe she just likes making cookies. But if Denise goes, “Yeah, I’m going to quit my job and open the shop, and it’s going to be great,” what Denise is doing most of the time is [sitting] in the backroom, worrying about how she’s going to pay the rent and doing spreadsheets and accounting and running a business. She’s not making cookies. Whereas making cookies every week and giving them away might be a lot of fun. So this idea of having to make a living from a thing is worth questioning. Because who said you had to get paid a lot of money to do something when it can still compensate you with a life full of fulfillment?
Chris Kresser: Well, yeah. Going back to pro surfing, not that I could have been a pro surfer, but I don’t think I would have wanted to be [one] because it takes something that I was doing purely for the joy of doing it, and [changes] the experience of it. I was just having this conversation with a dear friend who has a vision for doing in-person retreats with a particular audience and demographic, and he’s really good at this. He’s passionate about it. He’s already done this work. And he was thinking about scale, [and] the sort of Silicon Valley idea that everything that is worth doing needs to be scaled up and turned into a unicorn billion dollar business. I think that has done such a disservice to so many people, this idea that [the] model for Dropbox or Facebook should just be rubber stamped onto every possible human endeavor that we might want to explore.
As we were having this conversation, he got to the place where he realized that all the efforts and the thinking that he was going through with his partner to try to think about how to make it into a big business were totally disconnecting him from the core of what really mattered to him about it. And he was starting to become disconnected from the whole idea and thinking about not doing it at all. Then, in the process of this conversation, we came around to, no, this is totally worth doing. But it’s worth just doing, and can still even be profitable, but it’s probably something that will not grow hugely over time. It won’t require outside investors. Not everything that we do falls into that category.
Terri Trespicio: You have to ask yourself, if that’s the vision of what success must be, that everyone has to be a disrupter and everyone has to be a star founding CEO, first of all, there would be nothing left to disrupt. And secondly, how do you know that’s a happier place to be? I write about my sister in the book. My sister’s an amazing singer. Anyone who would sit and listen to her sing would [say], “Oh, my, you could have made a living doing this.” Of course she could have. She knows she has the voice. She’s gotten the attention. And she said, “If I try to make a living from this voice, I will resent it. Because then the voice rules me. I can’t drink and I have to have warm things around my throat. And definitely, I can’t shout.” Then she said, “On top of that, I’d have to be at a theater every night, if I’m lucky. If I’m lucky enough to make a living doing this, I either have to be in a theater every night, or I have to be on tour. I don’t want either of those things.” She said, “The idea of being on a tour bus and being a big success [is a] nightmare. I want to have a job, be done, [and] be on my couch with my kids and a dog by five o’clock every night and in bed by 8:30. You can’t do that and be a recording artist.” But when people say to her now, “Oh, you could have been something,” she takes that [as] offensive. She says, “I made the life I wanted, and I’m incredibly happy.” Why do people think “oh, she could have”? That is a cultural thing. We’re all to blame for that. But it doesn’t bode well for actually making a decent and fine living and doing things you love that don’t make you a unicorn. I can’t think of things I’d rather be less right now.
Chris Kresser: Absolutely. There’s a lot of downsides that come with that scale, as anyone who’s been through that process could tell you. It does strike me that I think there is kind of a gestalt that that’s just the expectation of what comes with success. You even are seeing that in young kids now. Kids are starting their own YouTube channels or they’re becoming TikTok influencers. If they went out and did a lemonade stand and it was successful, then they’re scaling their lemonade stand to multiple, different neighborhoods. It’s an insidious idea that has become so woven into our culture that few people even question it now. And it’s right up there with this idea of self-improvement, which you talk about in your book.
Stop Fixing What Isn’t Broken
Chris Kresser: I want to talk about your perspective about this. For me, this has always been a little bit of a razor’s edge because on the one hand, I’m deeply invested in developing and growing in my life. I want to be able to communicate better with my wife and my daughter. I want to be able to connect with them more deeply. I want to become aware of the ways that I get in my own way, and to have the satisfaction that comes with being a clear vessel [and] being able to function in my highest purpose and connect with people to be a better listener. Some people would call that self-improvement. But in my way of thinking about it, that’s just growing into myself. Becoming more myself, essentially. But it’s really tricky because there’s this whole industry out there [that] is based on the idea that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you, with us, with me, and that, in order to be happy, we need to fix all those things that are broken. It might seem like a subtle difference, but it’s, I think, a huge difference and [the] difference between being happy and being miserable, when it comes down to it. So, yeah, break that down, how you look at that.
Terri Trespicio: Well, self-improvement is tricky because we always have to remember the culture and society we live in. It’s an industry, [and] people are making money off books that help them be their best selves. I’m one of them. I understand it. People are selling courses [and] doing all these things. I think that it’s one of those things where most of the people who are in that space talking about this are well-intentioned. I believe most of them are. I don’t think everyone’s out to trick people. No one wants that, right? But the tricky thing is the word “fix.” It’s about where you begin from. If I begin from a place of lack, “I don’t know anything, so everyone has to fill me with their knowledge and tell me how to do stuff,” I either come empty and useless until someone puts that meaning inside me, which is not really true at all, or I am this thing, but I’m damaged and broken because of things that happened to me and I can never unkink that hose and I’ll never be right. So there’s that idea. Both negative ideas.
The word “fix” is something I’ve gotten hung up on because I really like to look at the words [and] look at the language that we’re using to describe these things. To fix is to secure in place. If you have a pipe that’s loose and water is spraying, you need to fix it because it needs to be secured in place. But the idea that you, in order to be a better person [or] be a happier person, have to be fixed means that you have to be secured in place. And it’s the opposite. We already talked about how being fixed around things doesn’t help us at all. In fact, what we often [need] is the opposite. We need to let go. We need to loosen the grip on who we think we can be [and] what we think will happen or should happen. Our big plans. All the things we have on the list of what we’re going to achieve. Letting go of that has been one of the most powerful things for me, personally, as someone who, like many people, suffers from a generalized anxiety disorder. I’m [always] nervous about something. But my mother always said to me my whole life, “Honey, just try to go with the flow of it. Just try to flow with it.” I was like, “Trying, trying.” But that is true. Flow is the opposite of fix.
So it’s fine. Read the books. They inspire you, [and] they make you feel good. If something makes you feel bad, it’s probably not right. But the idea that you are the problem is not the problem. Our culture is sick, sick, sick, sick, and we’re trying to thrive inside of it, as you do in your world of health, of knowing that we’ve overdone everything in our world and need to achieve health by going back to our ancestral roots. I feel like that sense of wholeness is what I would like people to feel. You asked me earlier, and I didn’t answer the question. I didn’t get to it. You said, “Well, what do you do? What do you say to people you work with in workshops?” I think it’s pretty important to mention this now. I lead workshops for people who want to, as I have come to say, be self-expressed. They want to say things, write things, [and] do things in the world, and communicate those things. Not everyone wants to do that, but a lot of people do. Some call themselves writers. Others say, “I’m not a writer, but I want to do those things.” The key here is that I was trained in a method. This changed my life; I didn’t come up with it. It’s a method called the gateless method. It was created by a woman named Suzanne Kingsbury, who’s an editor, and she works with writers. The writers were all blocked, [and she asked herself], “How do I get them to tap the genius part?” She’s done a lot of study on this, and I learned from her that focusing on what’s working [and] not on what’s not working is the best way to get yourself in flow to create, to communicate, [and] to do all the things we want to do.
Most workshops, coaching, whatever, say, “Well, let’s look at what you did. Let’s look at that flaw.” Talk therapy often focuses on, “Let’s look at and talk about what went wrong.” There’s always a place to address problems and conflicts, but in the work I do, [I feel that] my role is to get people on fire. To generate and create whatever it is that will bring them meaning. As a critical person myself, I had to unlearn looking for flaws. And we teach what we most need to learn, right? So in these workshops, I’ve gotten to be a better person because we emphasize listening, we write something on the spot, even people who don’t write it all, [and] we read what we wrote out loud. [It sounds] terrifying, but [it’s] not. Because we don’t say, “You know what I would have written and what you should have said?” Or, “Why did you do that?” There’s none of that. We look at the work itself and we focus on what was strong. I love that moment when this happens. “What a fantastic use of that detail.” And the person, rather than feeling judged, feels completely seen. Not, “Oh, am I pretty enough?” But like, not looking at your appearance anyway, it’s the work. And what do we want? Fulfilling work. How do we do that? We have to look at what’s working. This changed my life. It’s really how I was able to write a book. I was like, “I wouldn’t write a book; no one’s going to read a book by me.” That went away when I learned to just write. I mention it because [of] your whole comment about linearity, and, “We have to go in this direction; we have to do this.” What happens when you really open up and allow people to come into their own thoughts and get them on the page is that they discover all the rabbit holes [and] all the intuitive and undiscovered paths that lead them to things they love, that you cannot find linearly.
Is “follow your passion” bad advice? In this episode of Revolution Health Radio, you’ll learn why you don’t have to know or follow your passion to find purpose in your life and have an impact on the world. #chriskresser #unfollowyourpassion
Chris Kresser: Yeah, this is really resonating. I think you know this, Terri, from our work together, but this is one of the primary differences between health coaching, or any kind of coaching, and therapy or being a doctor. Doctors give advice and they try to fix what’s broken. That’s sort of inherent in the expectation that the patient comes in with. “Hey, this is broken. It’s not working the way I want it to. You, doctor, fix this.” That’s the implicit agreement. Whereas health coaching, or any kind of coaching, is based on positive psychology. Which is what you’re referring to—the idea that we get bigger gains when we build on what’s already working, rather than trying to fix what’s broken. I think where people get stuck is the idea that, “Oh, well that means I’m just going to have to live with those things that are broken for the rest of my life and never expect any progress.” I think that straw man thing happens. But what really happens, [and] what you were alluding to, is that, when we are able to transfer skills or apply what we know [from] areas in our life where we thrive to the areas of our life where we’re more challenged, that’s a more likely way to make progress than approaching it from the, “It’s broken; I’m broken,” kind of framework.
It’s more like, “How can I take what I’m really good at over here and study that and see why [I] am good at this, how [I] am good at this, and how [I] can take those things that I already know and do well and apply them to this thing that I want to improve over here?” Again, [it] might seem like a subtle shift or even just semantics, but it’s so not. It makes all the difference in the world.
Terri Trespicio: Absolutely, because it’s validating. That’s why it’s important in a coaching relationship, in a group, [or] any of those [types of] things. On a team at work, most people do not spend the time or effort to validate what’s working or what’s good. They assume you know what’s good, [so] let’s save time and just go to the problems. But, if in the spirit of productivity, you want to just go, “Fix, fix, fix,” what you’re really doing, and this is particular with teams, [is] you’re nipping things down to the bud. You’re not allowing ideas to take root. The minute you cut someone off, and tell them, “That idea, we tried that last year, Louise. It didn’t work, remember?” Well, now Louise isn’t going to say anything. We get pushed down. What you’re saying [is] why coaches are so important. [The reason] why the workshops I lead and other teachers like me lead are important is because [if] no one [points] out what was working, how are we supposed to know to do more of [that]? If I say, “Chris, your skill here is so powerful. Do you ever think of doing that over here?” It’s a forward movement, as you’re saying. It’s a way to point out what’s working, which most of us never do.
The Goal Is Comfort, Not Discomfort
Chris Kresser: Yeah, it’s a paradigm shift that I’m seeing happen in a lot of different areas, which is great. I’m encouraged by that because I think it’s going to serve people so much better. While we’re on the topic of debunking some pretty persistent myths about how we can live this life that we want to create for ourselves, what about this idea of getting out of our comfort zone? I think this is another razor’s edge because I can objectively look at my life and say [that] there were lots of times up until very recently, and I imagine this will continue, where there was a direction [that I knew that in my gut] I wanted to move in, and yet, there was some fear or resistance that came up. And I didn’t let that stop me. I moved forward. And it was huge. That’s maybe slightly different than what we’re talking about with our comfort zone, like if I’m naturally an introverted person and I don’t enjoy being in situations where I’m constantly having to talk to a bunch of strangers, then should I constantly put myself in situations where I need to talk to strangers because that’s getting out of my comfort zone?
So again, I’m just setting that up. Those are two different ways that I think about it, where in the first case, there’s actually a benefit to moving through the fear or the hesitation. But in the second case, there’s no real benefit to continuing to put myself in those situations if I’m just more comfortable being in a smaller group of people or just one-on-one with people. What do you think?
Terri Trespicio: Well, I think probably, in your line of work, since you’re a known entity, once or twice a year, you’re going to have to be in a room of people [that] you don’t know. We all have to do that because it serves another goal. But the idea that I should do that more because I don’t do [it] enough, we already know our society favors the extroverted and wonders what’s wrong with the introverts who would really rather stay home. My theory about the comfort zone comes from, again, something that annoys me—when people tell me I should be [uncomfortable] and be okay with being uncomfortable. This rides the line of, and I’m going to say it, privilege. Because people who have to deal with real hardship and real discomfort don’t make a pastime of seeking discomfort because it’s great for personal growth. That is the playground of the privileged.
If you have to find ways to be uncomfortable, you’re very lucky. Most of us spend most of our time slightly uncomfortable, even in your house. [Think] about [a] Sunday night. How many people are up [and] can’t sleep, just because Monday is coming? The assumption is that most of us are too comfortable, and in the name of progress and self-improvement, you should get out there and work harder and be scared. Do something every day that scares you. Getting out of bed is pretty scary, considering. So this idea, I’m just flipping it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take risks [and] that you should be complacent. I don’t do either of those things. I don’t favor staying where you are because it’s too scary out there in the world. My perspective is [that] the goal isn’t discomfort; the goal is comfort. Even the dudes who are going to go into those overheated tents and meditate, or do whatever they do, walk on hot coals. If they, on the way home, are upgraded to first class, they’re going to take it. Because we love comfort. We like to dabble in [discomfort] to test ourselves. You want to do that, fine. But Chris, as a woman, I’m going to say, I don’t like when men tell me I should be uncomfortable and be okay with being uncomfortable. [There’s] something very dangerous there. I mean, that’s going [down] a train that we weren’t going to cover anyway, but I think it’s important for women to realize it’s not okay to just tolerate discomfort. Which, by the way, women through all of time have. And I say to men who tell women to be uncomfortable, you wouldn’t last a day in my skin. We’re uncomfortable, trust [me]. My goal is to expand the comfort zone so that I am more comfortable in more places.
For instance, I took a stand-up comedy class years ago, and I started doing it for a couple [of] years. Talk about doing something for fun and not because you’re earning any money. Stand-up comedy is a great hobby, if you’d like to try that. You will not make a dime. But I didn’t do it because [I thought], “You know what’s scary? Stand-up.” Which it is. “I think I’m going to do that just to get out of my comfort zone.” That’s not why I did it. [I did it] because I’m also a professional public speaker, and I think comedians are some of the best public speakers ever. And I wanted to learn that skill. I didn’t [do it] to discover [if] I have some secret crazy talent. I know what I sound like, [and] I know what my humor is. I [wanted] to learn how to engineer a joke and deliver it on stage. So I learned it. But [on] that first day, we were getting up to do it, and we’re like, “All right, why are you here? Why are you here?” One guy’s like, “Well, it’s on my bucket list.” And I was like, “Oh, okay, so you’re just here for the day.” You’re not really in it. When you say that, when you say, “Oh, I’m just going to try it. It doesn’t really mean anything,” then you’re not all in.
I am committing to continuing to be uncomfortable enough that when I get on stage next time, I am more comfortable doing that. So the idea for not letting Chris Kresser sit in a box in his house and never leave would be that he has to go out occasionally so that it is a little more comfortable than it was last time. But comfort, ultimately. Look at everything we spend money on. [I’m] pretty sure we want to be comfortable, and there’s no shame in doing it. Which is another reason why, [in] the workshops that I run, I say, “This is the comfort zone.” Not because I’ll coddle you, because I will not. Not because I’ll compliment you, because that’s not helpful. But because when people say it’s a safe space, they’re not clear, usually, [whether it’s] safe for you or safe for me. Really, a safe space is [where] we don’t judge you, we look at the work, [and] we support and listen to what your ideas are. To me, that’s the ultimate in comfort, knowing I’m not going to be criticized. The rest of the world isn’t like that.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, I just want to emphasize again, because I do think I’ve seen a lot of people get stuck here and I think it’s worth riffing on a little bit more, [that] I’m not saying, and I don’t think you’re saying, that if you feel drawn to move in a certain direction for good reasons and there’s fear that comes up or hesitation that comes up and it’s uncomfortable to move forward, that [it’s] not worth doing, in some cases.
Terri Trespicio: Oh, you’re right. Of course.
Chris Kresser: I’m not saying that you’re saying this, but I know that some people will interpret it this way. That’s our monkey minds doing the monkey mind thing. The difference, going back to positive psychology, this is a fundamental tenet of positive psychology, is that if there’s something that comes easily to you and it’s easy for you to get into a flow state with and you’re naturally good at, there’s nothing wrong with building that [and] moving in that direction. I think there’s this pervasive mentality in our culture that, instead of applying more effort in [the] direction of something we’re already good at and that already comes [as] easy, we’d be better off focusing on something that we’re not good at and trying to bring that up to some level of parity with something that we’re good at.
Terri Trespicio: Like what? Like accounting? Because I’m not going to do that.
Chris Kresser: That’s what I’m saying. My understanding of this, and I think we’re on the same page, is that there’s value in moving through fear and hesitation if we’re going in a direction that we want to go in and that we’re drawn to go in for whatever reason. But just getting out of your comfort zone for the heck of getting out of your comfort zone, or in a way that fundamentally goes against a natural innate quality that you have, that’s just pointless suffering. That goes back to walking on hot coals, or sleeping on a bed of nails, just to prove that you can do that.
Terri Trespicio: Bungee jumping. I’ll never do it, and I don’t think I’m missing out on anything.
Chris Kresser: I disagree. Just kidding. I’ve bungee jumped and it was really fun. But that’s a great example. That came easily and naturally to me. There was fear and hesitation, of course, because if there’s not, [then] there’s something wrong with you. You’re going to jump off a bridge. But I really wanted to do it. I didn’t do it because it was about getting out of my comfort zone or overcoming that fear. It was about, “Hey, that looks fun.”
Terri Trespicio: Oh my God, I’d rather deliver a keynote naked than jump off a bridge. Absolutely. But the thing is, you’ve taught me a lot about coaching, about specifically how health coaching works and doesn’t work. I know you’ve trained lots of people in that. You know that in order for someone to move forward, the discomfort of staying where you are has to be bigger than the fear of moving forward. There’s always fear in moving forward. I’m afraid of everything and I do it anyway, knowing that I want to make that something that’s mine, too. If you don’t move forward because you’re afraid, but where you are becomes untenable or annoying and you say, “But it’s easier to stay here,” you will just stew in resentment your whole life because you’d rather do that than encounter a moment of fear to try something else. I’m someone who will try, not everything, clearly, but some things. I get uncomfortable when I’m stuck somewhere too much.
So if you’re feeling stuck and if you’re feeling uncomfortable in what was comfortable before, that’s all the more reason to push out and try something else. I think I just don’t like the bravado of it. I think that’s what it is. That vibe where I’m like, “I want to do it so that I’m more comfortable later,” that’s the goal. Make it so that I expand my comfort zone so big that, at the end of my life, it’s a lot bigger than it was when I started.
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Chris Kresser: Yeah, that makes sense. Sometimes I think the flip side of this is that discomfort can be a sign that something is not right. If we’re in, for example, a certain relationship or career or doing something, and we’re noticing constant discomfort, it’s worth checking into that and seeing what that’s about. Not [necessarily] just bailing, but if it consistently comes up, then it might be a sign that something needs to change or we need to move in a different direction.
Terri Trespicio: Agreed. The discomfort is a sign. That’s exactly what it is, and you listen to it. But the world is a scary place. There’s fear whether you push ahead or not. If you’re trying to avoid all discomfort, you’re not going to be able to do it. So if you’re going to endure a little in order to be more comfortable, make sure it’s in a direction you’re doing intentionally.
Skill vs. Talent
Chris Kresser: We touched very briefly earlier on skill and how developing skill can help build passion, even in something that you weren’t originally passionate about. This is another area where I think there’s a real celebration of the wrong thing in our culture. Talent is what is celebrated most, like, “Wow, that guy’s got talent or she’s got talent. She’s amazing. She’s so talented.” Which is, in some way, insulting. You see someone who’s gotten to a really high level in some endeavor in life, and you say, “Wow, you’re so talented. You must really be talented,” as if they haven’t worked their ass off, for decades, in most cases, to get to where they [are]. Certainly, in some cases, natural talent plays a pretty big role. I was a good basketball player. I almost played in college, and I worked really hard. [But] I don’t think that if I worked three times as hard, I would have been LeBron James. So we have to recognize that there is some role for talent, but I think we [drastically] underestimate the importance of skill and skill building.
Terri Trespicio: Because skills work. That’s why. We want magic. “Oh, they’re magically talented. Oh, that person just has talent.” It lets us off the hook because it says, “Well, they’re talented. I can’t do what they do.” Let’s look at comedians. I would be like, “Oh, well, they were born with a special gene and they’re meant to do that. I couldn’t do that.” One teacher I had said, “You think comedians have to have good personalities? Most of them have horrible personalities. They’re not even funny.” He’s like, “All you have to do is learn how to tell a joke. Write a joke, deliver a joke, [and] you’re a comedian.” He’s like, “This big personality business is not actually the business of comedy.” We think, “Oh, they’re just funny. Oh, I can be a comic. I’m funny.” Are you willing to do the work? Because it’s a nightmare. Clearly.
Yeah, talent is overestimated. Skill means that we’d have to be willing to work at it. And you don’t have to work at all the things you could do. There’s only so many things we’re going to do. People say to me, “You’re so good on stage and you’re just a natural.” I am not a natural. It appealed to something in me. It appeals to me to speak in public. But to say someone is a natural is very insulting, in a way. Not very insulting, but it’s an oversight. I would much rather [they] say, “Wow, clearly, you’ve worked very hard on your craft and you’ve worked hard to be that good.” When you say natural, you undermine your ability and my work. It’s just not right. It’s not helpful.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. Well, I think we have time for one more myth.
Terri Trespicio: Pick one. Pick a myth, any myth.
Why Boredom Is Good
Chris Kresser: I like it. You know, Terri, [that] way back in the day, I was “The Healthy Skeptic” before [my website] was ChrisKresser.com. This one is something I’ve talked about a lot, both with Cal Newport and Tim Kendall, who used to be the president of Pinterest. I’ve talked about it more in the context of screens and how much screens interfere with this. [It’s] boredom. Boredom gets a very bad rap. We hear it from kids at a very early [age], “I’m bored, dad.” I think we have an entire industrial complex that has almost excused us from boredom. These days, if you so choose, and I don’t recommend this and we’ll get to that in a second, you could probably almost never be bored. As long as you’ve got your smartphone and an internet connection, then you could do your best to [never] be bored. What’s the problem with that?
Terri Trespicio: Well, the expert I turn to who inspired this chapter of the book is a guy named Dr. Mark Hawkins, who wrote The Power of Boredom. He says, “People will say, ‘Oh, I wish I could be bored. I’m just so busy. I’m so important.’ If you’re busy,” he says, “you are very bored. You just don’t know it.” And it’s this kind of busy, busy thing, like scrolling and typing. We have a lot to keep us busy, [and] a lot to keep us distracted. But what we’re not doing is getting in touch with the boredom. We’re running away from it. The fear of boredom is actually the real problem. He describes [boredom] as just space. It’s where all meaning falls away. You can have all the shows on TV, you can have all the things and be like, “I don’t feel like watching any of it.” We all go through that. It is part of the human condition, [and] it cannot be engineered out. The risk of not allowing yourself some boredom is that, then there is no space. There is no place for your unicorn idea to emerge. There is no space to wonder what actually matters. If you’re saying, “I’m so busy because everything is so important,” we all know that means nothing is important. If you were to stop and have nothing [but] quiet, I mean nothing playing, doing nothing, [then] you face the void. And that’s so terrifying that people would rather be busy. Because if you stop and you take one whole day, you don’t do any work, and the world doesn’t fall apart, the question is, “Is anything I’m doing really meaningful? Does it matter?”
The busyness is a way to reassert the importance of everything, including ourselves. But if we’re willing to sit in the boredom, that’s where, speaking of magic, things emerge. One of the stories I heard about in a documentary was that Walt Disney came up with the idea for Disney when he was sitting at a park and his kid was playing, and he did not have a phone and there was nothing to do. And he said, “Wouldn’t it be fun if there [was] a place where parents and their kids can play together? Because this sucks, sitting on this bench.” We don’t allow that [creativity]. We put a cache on creativity [and] innovation, [and] we don’t give ourselves any space to do it. After I read that book, I sat there and I did nothing. I said, “I’m going to set a timer. I’m just going to sit here.” It was terrifying. I sat there and I did absolutely nothing. I did fall asleep for a minute. But I mean, it was really important. And since I have gotten this in my head about boredom, thanks to him, I make sure there’s a portion of my walk where I listen to nothing and do nothing but walk. What are we missing out on if we’re just watching replays of everyone else’s ideas instead of coming up with our own?
Chris Kresser: Yeah. That’s been true for me for many years. And when I was 17, I started [a] meditation practice. My dad introduced me to it. Most people [were] not familiar with that, especially at that time. It was not people [at] Google and everyone else talking about meditation. They were like, “Wait, you’re doing what? You’re doing a retreat where you’re sitting and facing a wall and staring at the wall for 14 hours a day? Are you insane? What are you thinking?”
Terri Trespicio: It does sound crazy.
Chris Kresser: And now, most of my best ideas come when I’m on my mountain bike or I’m skiing. Personally, I never listen to podcasts or music [when I’m doing] those kinds of things because I know that space that opens up when I do that is what allows for those new ideas or reflection, [and] making sense of our own experience. The default mode network kicks in, where there’s self-review and all this stuff. The brain is incredibly active in those periods. That’s what we know. We think that boredom is a state of nothingness or nothing’s happening. On the contrary, there’s a ton of stuff [happening]. They’ve done brain scans on people, and they see [that] all this really rich stuff is happening. It’s just not stuff that we’re necessarily consciously guiding or directing ourselves [to] or that’s even coming to us in the form of thoughts that we can interpret. So I love that you included that in your book because I feel like the lack of this is a huge experiment that we’re performing on ourselves as the human race with very unknown results, and probably not good ones.
Terri Trespicio: Well, it brings us back to the idea [that] I should have boundless motivation. I should be passionate. No one is passionate every second of the day. It is metabolically exhausting, and we could not sustain it. No one’s ecstatic all the time. We need those periods of fallowness, of rest, and thinking and reflection. Without it, we are going to lose something vital.
Chris Kresser: Absolutely. Well, Terri, this has been such a fun conversation.
Terri Trespicio: So fun.
Chris Kresser: I love the book and I love all of the work. Where can people learn more about it and dig in if they’d like to?
Terri Trespicio: I wanted to have something special for the Chris Kresser community because I feel [like] I’m secretly part of it, right?
Chris Kresser: You definitely are.
Terri Trespicio: So I created a special link, TerriTrespicio.com/Adapt where you will find a little free something called Write Your Next Chapter. It is a standalone guide, though it’s also nice as a companion to the Unfollow Your Passion book. If you go there and you put your [information] in, I will be in touch to send you that download. And it is essentially all the things we’re talking about. Time for you, the reader or the listener, to talk about it. It gives you guidance to the method I talked about to express and to see what comes up.
Chris Kresser: Terri, thank you so much. I really enjoyed this. Everyone who’s listening, [I] highly recommend the book. I think it’ll really, in a compassionate but clear way, help you get clarity on maybe some beliefs or assumptions or ideas that you’ve been carrying with you that may not be serving you and you may not even be aware that you’re carrying and aren’t serving you. That’s a really powerful step toward more clarity and forward progress in your life. So thank you for writing this book, Terri, [and] thanks for being on the show.
Terri Trespicio: Thank you.
Chris Kresser: Thanks, everyone, for listening. Keep sending your questions to ChrisKresser.com/podcastquestion. We’ll talk to you next time.
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