(see link to audio below)
Hi it’s Brett Cowell and this is the Total Life Complete podcast, Season 1 Wrap Edition
coming to you from Dallas, Texas.
Back in October I signed off from Episode 21, and promised that I’d be back with a wrap up covering what we’d heard and experienced so far.
Well, wrapping up became a journey in itself, and three months later here we are!
Part of the reason it took so long is that there were so many insights, that it was hard to summarise without the results sounding generic.
Also context is as important as content, to understand what the guest said, in their own words
and the relevance to you in what you take away. As Thomas Riccio said in Episode 1, in life “you see what you need to see”, when you need to see it…the best way to get the insights is to listen to the episodes individually, and to take notes.
I’ve decided to take the approach of highlighting what I thought were the most uncommon or easily missed aspects, and the bigger picture of what happened outside the podcast. The result is an experiential summary, perhaps a bit different from what you might have expected.
I want you to think of the metaphor of a meal or perhaps a banquet. Each course is unique but it is arranged in a way that has a logical flow to it, and a cumulative effect.
I’m going to present this like you’re at the chef’s table, I’ll announce each course and tell you a little bit of a story, then after a little time to digest, we’ll move on to the next course.
As you’ll hear the podcast became a case of life imitating art. As I began to look into what we covered, in increasing levels of detail, I began to reflect on what was happening in my own life and work. I met and collaborated with several of the guests after our interview, and so for me and the guests at least, what the podcast meant and our experience extended way beyond the audio.
Here are the nine courses on the menu for today:
Course 1 – Identity
Course 2 – Energy
Course 3 – Common Wisdom
Course 4 – Virtues and Traits
Course 5 – Flow and Creative Practices
Course 6 – Quotes
Course 7 – Different Truths
Course 8 – Beautiful Consciousness
Course 9 – Conclusion
Let’s get going!
Course 1 – Identity
“How do you introduce yourself at a party when people ask who you are?”
This was the question that started each episode, one that turned out to go to the heart of how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us. There were some great answers, perhaps my favourite being Tom Riccio’s in Episode 1 “I’m just a guy”… I still have trouble answering the question, which comes up several times every day. I usually answer that “I help people and companies make the world a better place in a creative way”. This usually elicits further questions, and has led to some beautiful conversations and even some friendships. I guess how you introduce yourself can either open you up or close down your connection with people. I think that there is value in seeing your intro as a window into your heart and soul. If you open than window you’ll be amazed at what comes in.
Course 2 – Energy
To prepare this wrap I listened back to the almost 1 full day (around 23 hours) of audio from Season 1, and took detailed notes. What jumped out first wasn’t what the guests were saying but how they said it.
They were upbeat, engaged, articulate, honest, humble and often playful -- their energy was infectious. It made interviewing them easy, and I was keen to find out what made them this way.
It was clear that I was having a good time as well. Letting myself be in the moment. Hopefully that came across in the audio.
I want to highlight something that you might have only noticed subconsciously… the energy and power of role models to influence us in a positive way. Everyone can be a role model, and being one doesn’t mean that you’re perfect… it’s more important to be real. Particularly in the times we live in.
It made me feel good to know that there were people with the right attitude roaming this city that I live in, and it really made me realize that actions speak louder than words. I’ve made a conscious effort to stay aware that what I do and what I say affects others, not only the people I meet, but people who meet people I’ve met, and people that interact with the stuff I create.
The society we live in is, to a large extent therefore, the product of the interaction of the energies we give off through what we say, and who we are.
Course 3 – Common Wisdom
OK so, perhaps reassuringly, in addition to covering some unexpected ground, we also reinforced some of what I’ll call common wisdom. While I say it is common wisdom, it might be something we’ve heard or intuitively know, but don’t always remember, or regularly put into practice.
I’ve combined this wisdom into five maxims, the type that might be spoken by some sort of
“Frankenstein Oracle”, channelling the guest’s wisdom (hey that’s a good name for a band). Here we go:
You can see it as a cliché but life really is a journey. And if it doesn’t seem like a journey then you’re probably suffering from inertia, and it’s time to take control and set a new direction based on something that you really care about.
Course 4 – Virtues and Traits
Virtues aren’t something that we probably think about every day. We might even think that the idea is old fashioned or obsolete… but we definitely notice when virtues are not there, particularly in others.
For example, humility is something that was demonstrated by the guests. Once I recognized that I began to see humility, or the lack of it, all around me, all the time.
With further reading, I saw that Saint Augustine and Confucius, both identified humility as the foundation of all the other virtues. And Aristotle in his Ethics saw “complete” virtue as the foundation of happiness and being associated with a complete experience of life.
Going in, I kind of had a rock n roll idea of the podcast, that somehow we could just live and be alive, and not have to read personal development books, or work on ourselves. So how do virtues fit into that?
It turns out that virtues are not about somehow being goody goody. Humility can be, and often is, earned from a series of painful failures, and learned by realising ones own limitations, and recognising the contributions of others.
Authenticity, gratitude, and work ethic also came up again and again. A twist on work ethic is the idea of craft building. Not only working hard, but trying to be the best or most unique you can be, pushing the boundaries of the medium or field. Showing others what is possible. I like idea that we are crafting our own lives, with love and care and increasing skill… not just trying to live someone else’s dream, or trying buy our life off the shelf, when we should be tailoring it ourselves.
A virtue that didn’t come up a lot, but I was glad it did, was the ability to forgive, or forgiveness. Karl Krayer mentioned it in Episode 5, and it came up again with Rawlins Gilliland in EP13&14. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person at all I think, although that’s a common misconception, but it’s about allowing you to move on.
We’re all carrying baggage: from parents, relationships or perhaps old bosses, critics or whatever. This baggage can sometimes seem like it is driving us, but such negative motivators inevitably become drag, and bring us to focus on external factors to make us happy , “I’ll show them!”, we say, rather than “I’ll show myself what I can do”, being driven by what is really in our hearts. Without forgiveness, we become less humble since we’re self-protecting, and that has a cascading effect, since humility is such a key ingredient to living with self-love.
Course 5 - Flow and Creative Practices
I probably should have anticipated this given the focus of the podcast on Art, Business and Community… but one of the overall realizations I came to was that life, and work, are fundamentally creative and spiritual endeavours.
There are a lot of areas that you could focus on to live a better life. Your health, relationships and how get and do a good job are all important in a good life… but to really get the most out of life, and even the areas I just talked about, I find that I’m increasingly digging into what I’d call creative and spiritual practices.
Perhaps it is exactly because a lot of us view creativity and spirituality as only mystical (not processes) that we fail to fully engage, and really understand what they’re about, and how they apply to all of us in really practical ways.
The guests showed how creativity was less of a flash of inspiration but rather a process, or even a way of life. So I want to share a few examples now, and you’ll hear in the next episode how I plan to build in a more explicit thread in creativity and spirituality in Season 2 of the podcast and in Total Life Complete as a business.
Jennifer Wester (EP19), former professional ice skater turned artist, writes down her dreams and ideas, the best of which slowly evolve into projects. Then the projects take shape when their time is right. The process of writing down is an often-overlooked act of manifestation. It is amazing to me, for example, how many corporate people say that they want to be entrepreneurs, but have never written that down, and never tried to sell anything, even their idea to someone else. Small actions beget bigger results.
Justin Nygren (in EP6) introduced me to the idea of accelerated serendipity, or more frequent “happy accidents”, in the context of co-working spaces.
I liked the idea that we can take something most of us see as mythical and magical i.e. serendipity, and get the results of it more consistently and sooner. In co-working spaces this happens through the community manager who knows and connects people, also the curation of presentation topics and events bringing new people into the space, and also by fostering the right culture. All of these maximize quality connections of people, subject and skill.
The best way to apply this idea outside of a co-working space is to know what is really important or fascinating to you, the boats you wise to find favourable currents for, and to have the confidence to integrate these into the many chance encounters we all have. You’ll be surprised that even talking to someone you’ve known for ages about a new topic or from a new perspective can lead to surprising results. Of course, the other side to this is listening actively to what others are saying, and looking for natural opportunities to help them out.
Shawn Scott (EP11) equips kids with technology skills, and says that while resources and skills were important, actually just giving the kids permission, to share an idea for an App, for example, and telling them “you can do it” was key to unlocking their confidence to create, rather than just be passive consumers of others ideas. Why not actually ask yourself what ideas you have? (Doing so flicks a switch in your brain). Why not give yourself permission to start?
Dustin Blocker (EP7), spent many years as a musician, running a small indy label and working other jobs. After getting serious, in his words, about finding a creative direction that would also support his family, he happened across an idea that became a brand new vinyl pressing plant in Dallas. This sentiment has been expressed before, in books like Steve Pressfield’s Turning Pro, and others, but if we want to get creative outcomes in our life we first must change our minds about creativity.
Course 6 – Quotes
Sometimes, a single line from an interview jumped out as packing a significant and poetic punch, and stuck around in my mind. Here are some of my lines that the guests said or quoted, and I think they speak for themselves.
"When I die, I want the sky to miss me." - Thomas Riccio EP1
“Keep aiming to get better. Treat people with love and kindness and never be arrogant.” – Randy Mayeux EP3
"Your only job security is your ability to learn." - Dr Karl Krayer EP5
"If no door that you knock on opens, well then you build a door." – Justin Nygren EP6
“A high tide rises all boats.” – Dustin Blocker EP7 (also JFK)
“If we didn't win today, let's win tomorrow.” - Brent Thompson EP12
“I don’t almost go places, I tend to.” – Rawlins Gilliland EP13
"You can really enjoy life with very few things and have a very intense way of living." - Javier Garcia del Moral EP18
“The social space…are using hammers and nails. My goal…is to give them power tools.” – Suzanne Smith EP20
“Caring about things gives life purpose” – Kate Siamro EP21
The words from Kate, some of the last in Season One, were a great way to finish: simple but not simplistic. How many of us fill our days with things we really care about? How many of us have purpose in life, not just a sense of purpose because we keep ourselves busy, but an actual purpose?
Kate’s words continued to ring in my ears for weeks and months afterwards. I pondered what role purpose had in feeling alive and minimizing regrets. Quite a large role as it turns out, but also not in a monolithic way. There are many levels of purpose that I saw from the guests on the podcast. As I read and reflected on purpose I saw that it was a process and not a thing. A process of meaning-making that happens continuously as we assimilate new ideas and experiences. I see meaning making, defined this way, as being a cornerstone of spirituality. There is a lot more to say about this going forward in Season 2 and in written form. Best way to stay in touch on this is to join the mailing list at www.tlcpod.com
A wonderful side-effect of active listening (rather than waiting to talk) is that you pick up all sorts of beautiful ad meaningful nuances in conversations with people, that challenge your own mental model of the world, and let you learn and grow.
Course 7 – Different Truths
We’ve been going a while but we’ve reached the main course. I mentioned at the start that I expected that producing the wrap episode might take a couple of weeks but ended up taking months. Another reason, was that I had a gut feeling that there were some deeper insights in, or implied by, what we’d talked about in the podcast, but just couldn’t see them.
One of these insights ended up being hidden in plain sight, that we see truths differently depending on where we sit, and how we think. The simplest example is from a question I didn’t think to ask i.e. “what is important, and how do you measure it?”, but was implicit in what the guests talked about. The artists talked about “originality” and “making people feel something”, the truth for them. Entrepreneurs talked about “financial success and growth” and those working in non-profits the truth is that what is really important is social impact.
Another example of different truths, would come from the question of “what is the foundation of your success” (another one I didn’t ask).
Many of the guests shared a truth that hard work is the foundation of where they are now. Those working in the community also recognized luck (around which zipcode you were born in and to which parents) as being a more fundamental factor in determining likelihood of success. Most of us only see the good things we don’t have, rather than the good ones we do have, that others don’t.
Our truths are limited by our own experience and have blind spots, even though we might have the impression that our knowledge is complete.
That’s why the question about Dallas as a city ended up being so insightful. And probably the funniest was about how few people knew that there was a giant forest near downtown Dallas. Since then, I’ve taken my guest Rawlins Gilliland up on an offer to see the forest, and I can say that it’s definitely there. It made me wonder what other metaphorical hidden forests we have in our lives, that we’re not aware of, and haven’t been to.
My reading and experience took me deeper, into what I’ll call the simultaneous dualisms that exist in the world: left and right brained thinking, yin and yang, masculine and feminine energy and even literary ones like Nietzsche’s Apollo and Dionysus.
We all have the capacity to think and be holistic, but our habits and lifestyle force us to live only in part of our full selves, but having the impression that this is all there is.
A very practical example was the intuitive creative techniques described not only by the artists but also entrepreneurs in the show. I think many of us are looking for creative opportunities in our life, but by only using the analytical part of our brain. Perhaps the biggest mind trick (a kind of convenient truth) is to believe that people were born into their current job or life situation, rather than knowing it is a result of many missteps, and much dedication. It wouldn’t take much imagination to see me as a podcast host, but I wasn’t this time last year. I wasn’t 5 seconds before I pushed record for the first time. I’d never published a book or started a company or designed a website until I had. That’s not to say that I’m anything special, except that I was able to muddle through, to change the objective truth, by believing a new one. You can too.
Course 8 – Beautiful Consciousness
After a ride at White Rock Lake in Dallas one morning (I was sitting at a gas station and eating a taco), I became aware of an intense sense of wellbeing. More than just the usual boost you get from working out. It seemed that by meditating on the insights from the podcast, the pieces of my own life were coming together in a beautiful way.
In setting out to get a new perspective on life, to benefit others, I recognized that my own life had improved immeasurably. Some of the guests had become my collaborators, mentors and friends outside the podcast. This was something that took me very much by surprise since I was so focused on getting through the work of running a weekly podcast. Meeting new and different people can instantly change the reality (the truths) of your life.
I realized that I’d changed. I felt a good energy inside. You’ve heard of the idea of flow, a peak experience when you’re immersed in an activity. This was like flow, but when I was just sitting around. I still have grumpy days, I still get angry or frustrated, but that frustration is more like a single flash of lightening on a clear day, than the gathering of dark storm clouds.
I’d set out on the podcast to explore what it meant to feel alive and to minimize regrets. Like so many things in this past 6 months I didn’t expect that feeling alive might be sitting at a gas station eating a taco with everything in life being how it should be. I decided on the spot to call this state Beautiful Consciousness, and to set out to investigate what caused it and how others could begin to experience this feeling for themselves.
For now, Beautiful Consciousness is something to log away in your mind, and we’ll come back to it in Season 2, and in other writings. I kind of want to understand the link between our feeling states and creativity and productivity. Do we have to be anxious and with a gun against our head in the form of a deadline to do our best work, and life our best life? Or can we get more out of life without the over-caffeinated roller coaster ride? Stay tuned to find out.
Course 9 – Conclusion - Total Life Complete
If there is one thing to take away from this episode, it is to see your life as a developmental journey, of a fundamentally creative and spiritual nature. Thinking about your life in this way is the common thread to all of the insights I’ve talked about.
We began with identity, and reminded ourselves that we’re more than our jobs, and that identity can and should be fluid, as life itself is flowing.
Next you heard about energy, and the, I think it’s fair to say, spiritual aspect of being a role model. Recognizing that you’re always transmitting to others.
Humility is the foundation of other virtues and often earned by taking some risks. Forgiveness might be a quick win to help drop the baggage that is holding you back from living your life to the full.
We talked about creativity as a process and a mindset, rather than just a flash of inspiration. Write down your dreams and ideas, and give yourself permission to create personal projects. Convince your own mind that you are serious about making a living from a creative idea.
Caring about things does give life purpose, and purpose is a continuous process not a thing, that process is called meaning-making.
Different truths exist in subjective reality, and we begin to undercover more fundamental truths by using holistic thinking, and different types of energy to see in a more complete way.
Finally you heard that the payoff from working on life in a creative and spiritual way is a new normal state of being and becoming. That everything is as it should be, and your barriers are down to becoming your own true self. I called that state, beautiful consciousness.
Well, that was my attempt to wrap up what happened in Season One. I hope you found something useful, and please take the time to listen to deeply listen to the episodes in Season One. They might just change your life.
I’ve already begun to confirm guests for Season Two, and planning something special for the first new episode. I’ll be sharing the intro episode for Season Two next week.
I want to once again thanks all my guests, and of course to thank you, the listeners. As I record this, the podcast is getting the most listens of any month ever, and now in 35 countries, this is so so humbling particularly as we haven’t been recording since October. Please continue tell your friends about the podcast, and sign up to the mailing list at: www.tlcpod.com, that’s “w w w dot t l c p o d .com”
If you’ve listened so far, you’ll know that we’re trying to do something special here. Something completely of the times we live in, but timeless… to try to advance humanity and make the cities we live in kinder, fairer and more sustainable. And we’ll do that together.
Until next time, all the best!
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