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Podcast Ep. 58: Creating a Work/Life Wellness Culture with Organizational Psychologist, Avina Gupta, PhD

In this episode

This month’s theme in the Yes Collective is work/life wellness, and we’re diving even deeper with an outstanding leader in organizational psychology and leadership development, Dr. Avina Gupta. She’s pioneered leadership and coaching engagements in organizations from small family-owned businesses to billion dollar multi-national corporations. She’s a former consultant with Deloitte, has founded 2 boutique leadership development firms, and has taught courses across the globe, from Vienna to New York City.

Born and raised in Canada, Avina is fluent in Hindi and can ask for a beer and directions in both German and French. She met her German-born husband Sebastian on a mountain in South Africa; and is Mom to their delightful 4-year-old son, Sai and 4-month old baby girl, Lani Mae. Avina and company currently live in Atlanta GA.

In this episode, we talk about Avina's professional journey, how she helps companies create cultures of authenticity, connection, and meaning, and the different ways we all can care for our mental and emotional health across the work/life continuum.

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About our guest

Dr. Avina Gupta is an expert in organizational psychology and leadership development. She’s pioneered leadership and coaching engagements in organizations from small family-owned businesses to billion dollar multi-national corporations. She’s a former consultant with Deloitte, has founded 2 boutique leadership development firms, and has taught courses across the globe, from Vienna to New York City.

Transcript highlights

Justin Wilford (JW)

We are. We are we are longtime friends. And so I would love to just begin by you and Audra kind of telling the story, like how you met, where this friendship began.

Avina Gupta (AG)

I love it.

Audra DiPadova (AD)

Oh, I do too. That is so awesome. Vina We met in 2000.

AG

2004 or five?

AD

Oh, my God. That's earlier than I thought. I thought for some reason, I thought we moved here to New York, and, you know, we moved away in 2005. That's what it was.

AG

Gosh, you're only there for a year.

JW

Well, you know, we moved there in 2003.

AG

Right. So we only had a year together in New York. That is crazy to me, because what a fast friendship, right? And like, what a deep friendship. Like, in just a year, I thought you'd been there. I thought we'd been there together for years. So that is really interesting.

AD

It is incredible, isn't it? Like, it seems like so much more than that and. Yeah. Do you do you feel like I noticed this when I started working at, you know, at colleges and universities as an administrator? Like the fast friendships at that age, it's so beautiful the way that we're almost just, like, wired to openly connect. And we kind of I feel like we lose it as we get older and have our families, our kids to experience that to.

AG

100%. And so, you know, you've got two kids that are a little bit older than our kids. Our kids are younger, but it's this you know, we've sort of been on a quest to make those same deep friendships. And, you know, Sebastian, my husband keeps saying like it doesn't happen the same way anymore. Like, you know, those friendships you have when you're younger, when you're in college, to your point, you don't.

AG

You are just you have all of that discretionary time that you were constantly together, right? And like in it and like, you don't know your ass from your elbow and like, you don't know what you're doing. And you're kind of in this, like, in this adventure together of something. So powerful about it. And I think, you know, the days feel longer, the months feel longer, but in a good way.

Like, you know, yeah, the friendships go deep. Now, you were two of my great greatest friends. Like, even if we didn't see each other for years, which we probably didn't talk for years, that you probably didn't when you were out in California, like, you know, you know, like you said, you just know some people are in your heart and on your heart.

That's definitely how I feel about you guys.

AD

Oh, I feel the same way. And and speaking of the fast friendship, because Justin wants us to dish we so we were at Teachers College at Columbia University together working in residential life.

And shout out to Sophia Pertuz who. Yes. Works with us on yes collective just. Yeah, totally amazing. Like there's so many beautiful tie ins like it was such a formative period in my life. It was such a powerful time in my life personally and to to connect with you and build this. It was such a deep connection and one that I think I just knew, I mean, and hoped it would be a lifelong collection, but its connection has proved to be that.

And it I just feel so grateful for that intense time we had together. But working together. And as friends and you always endlessly fascinated me because your you were in the org psych program, right?

And I was doing philosophy and education. You were in a doctoral program and I was in a master's program, hence our short time together. Yeah. And I remember just being endlessly fascinated with your interest in your work and what you were learning. Because organizations are organisms unto themselves.

Endlessly fascinating. And so that was like I just remember being super curious about what you were doing and learning and what your interests are, and that has never waned. I have remained endlessly curious about your work because you're an expert in a field that I feel like is deeply tied to the future of human flourishing.

AG

Mm hmm. Wow. That's very powerful and very humbling. I do remember. Yeah, I feel I've always felt passionate about my work, even when I didn't know that's what I wanted to do, or it didn't have a name, which, you know, I guess we'll talk about it in a little bit. But, you know, going back to the friendship, I do remember where I was like when I got the text, you know, I'm going to get emotional here for a second.

But like, I remember where I was when I got the text about Max. Oh, I remember, you know, like I was on the beach, you know, in Coney Island. And I got this text and I remember feeling like like someone had, like, thrown a stone on my chest, you know, like, I remember, like, I remember these moments. I remember going to visit you in California and like, you know, just these these moments like that standstill in time, sort of, you know.

Yeah. So our friendship and I remember on a lighter note, the long walks with the two of you to Shake Shack in.

AD

We still talk about that. And we tell the kids, you know, we're like, you know, we used to walk just the one shake shack for one, and we would walk 100 blocks, you know, with bears teasing us. You know, obviously they weren't open in the snow, but still in the hot summer, you know, and we would then stand in line for 2 hours.

AG

And that's what you did as a New Yorker, right? That was like. And that was your whole day. That was your whole weekend. Yes.

JW

And now you can get Shake Shack in a mall or an airport everywhere. These kids these days.

AG

They don't need to walk 100 blocks in the heat and wait in line for 2 hours.

JW

That's right. So, I mean, I, I will apologize to the listeners because I say this on almost every podcast, but I am the in what they call the radio business. I'm the driver, you know, and the address, the personality. And so I try to keep the train on the track so perfect. Well, yeah. So I wanted to throw that curveball at the beginning and have you guys talk about the friendship, but and I'm sure more is going to come up about this, but I would love to dove into the topic. So this month we're talking about all the ways that we can support emotional and mental wellness so that we can both be more present, connected and more in the flow at work and bring more of ourselves home at the end of the day.

And so we'll be diving into this from all different angles with you. But before we do, you touched on it briefly. We'd love to find out more like how did you get into organizational psychology and leadership development? What does your professional journey look like to you now? You know, as you've you've had all this experience, you've done all this amazing work: basically, how do you make sense of it all?

AG

Oh, that's a great question. So it's so fun to be able to talk talk about the journey. I always think about how Steve Jobs said in one of his commencement speeches that moving forward, you never really know exactly what you're doing. And then you look back and all the dots just connect right into a beautiful story. So it's really it's really such a privilege to be able to to think about the work and talk about it with you.

So I'll start here. I don't know if you have many Indian immigrant friends, but, you know, my parents are a huge influence on me and we're very big part of my life and they're first generation immigrants. They moved from India to Canada. And there's one profession that is acceptable in this community, at least when I was growing up.

And that's to be a doctor, a real doctor, just not like you and like.

JW

Audra bought me a t shirt years ago that says "Not a real doctor."

AG

Totally I that you need to send one of those to me or maybe to my parents like my know parents of not a real doctor. But you know, there's a couple of problems I fake when I get my blood drawn and I am just not built for a clinical setting. I love people, but not when they're sick. I'm not.

That's not where I'm at my best. You know, we're talking about flourishing, right? But I love, love people. And in high school, I had a boyfriend, which was also very taboo in our in our culture. But I had a boyfriend. He was wonderful. And his mother was a psychologist. So that was my first foray into like, oh, there is a different way.

And she was wildly successful, raised three boys and had a private practice. And so, you know, when I start to think about what was really like who I am and what I wanted to do, I studied psychology and I didn't know anything like work psychology or organizational psychology existed. But my first work experience, which was right around the time of September 11th, when everything was kind of just falling apart, I found this job as a recruiter for a housewares company in New Jersey and really felt aligned with their core values.

And I was like, This is the company for me. The leaders were incredible. Some of the managers like endowment funds for the biggest universities, and they were just like, you work hard, you have like these really good homegrown values. I was like, I'm all about it. And then I go out there and it was a disaster. It was a nightmare.

People were embezzling money. They had us working six days a week, like 14 hour days. And the facade just crumbled. You know, the impression I was left with was, well, how much time do we spend at work? More. We spend more time at work than we do anywhere else, right then with their families sleeping, eating and walking to Shake Shack.

So how can we find a better way to lead? And I was just I wanted to know. I wanted to learn for myself, but also to try and build better leaders, to have better influence so that we could live better lives. I wasn't that kind of naive perspective of it all, and even back then feels even more naive and also more true right now.

I really believe that you could do this through practice of love, even in a professional setting and the keep, you know, in my old age, my middle age now I keep coming back to this concept that, you know, it was born of someone very naive. And now here we are coming back to the idea of talking about wellness, flourishing, caring for each other.

Love is how I think about it. So that was, you know, sort of how I got there. I didn't plan it, but looking back, all the dots really connect, you know? And I've loved what I've been able to do and been allowed to do in the last 20 years or so.

AD

It's very wise of, you know, the like you, you know, you, you see those early days as being naive. But sometimes those early days are when you can see the heart of the matter. Right. It's the least foggy time, right? The least jaded, you know.

JW

And also when you probably have more most clarity around your North Star, you know? Yeah, yeah. This is a mm hmm.

AG

In a real raw way, right? Like before it kind of gets, you know, like, worked on and sculpted by, like, who you're supposed to be and how you're supposed to sound and look like.

AD

It's so true. I remember when we lived in Tempe, and Jess and I were walking to gentle strength are like little co-op that was there. And I remember being like Jess and I were so into like economic democracy and and we're like, I want to have like, found a completely like, worker owned business one day and then have a pamphlet about it, hear a gentle strength that others can can use to, like, start their own, you know?

And yeah, seems super naive, but I think I'm still working towards that today.

AG

I know it sounds like it right? Yeah. You've just expanded beyond gentle strength. Yeah.

AD

And beyond the pamphlet, you know. But so I mean, that it's just, it's so beautiful. And then I mean, knowing you, too, I mean, you've always been really passionate about health and wellness. And so you've always had like, I mean, you were a physical trainer at one point. And it's always been something I mean, I have learned about with you along the way, and that's powerful to me to think of like how you've brought these interests together, like, so beautifully.

And it is all unified by love.

AG

Mm hmm. I couldn't agree more. Yeah, that is sort of like the bottom line, you know? Yeah.

JW

Yeah. So. All right, so let's move into this idea of work/life wellness or mental and emotional wellness at work. And so I'll just start by asking you a Veena. What what does work life wellness mean to you? Maybe, what does it look like? Why is it important you can take it from any angle that that feels alive for you.

AG

Yeah, I know. It's such a it's such a good question. And I've been thinking about this a lot, as, you know, just COVID, the pandemic being shut in, being released back out into the world and navigating kind of work life with small children. I've been thinking a lot about this question, and I think it kind of boils down to three things for me.

And the first, when I think about work in organizations, you know, I think about fit and are you a fit for the organization? You know, I talked a little bit about company values and not just what it looks like from the outside, but when you get in there, like, do you really feel like you fit and you belong and you can be who you are, honestly, right?

And that you can just strive for something that the organization is striving for. And then, you know, so fit is the first one. I think about function. Does your role and does your organization allow you to function like really function in a healthy way, like at home, at work, with friends are you able to take time off to have your kids?

Are you supported in that? Are you able to go see family, be there when someone gets sick? You know, like just can you can your life function well in terms of the role that you're in? And then I think about future and you know, Audra, you gave me such a nice compliment at the beginning of the podcast of thinking about the future of learning, but the third thing for me is future.

Are you building the future that you want to build that you will be proud of, that will be your legacy, that will help you, you know, raise your children well, right. Like there if you have children, like those are the things I think about. So when I think about mental and emotional health, it's such a wide, broad topic and there's so many there's mental wellness and breaking down the barriers of I think we have moved into kind of a time where we can talk much more openly about mental illness, about mental wellness.

All of that was shuttered right under kind of this like tough suit of professionals ism. And I think, you know, breaking down some of those barriers and being able to talk about it honestly in a safe place doesn't mean, you know, the workplace is not your therapist office. Right. I think we're very clear about that. But also being able to say like, hey, I'm struggling right now and I need some support, I need some resources.

I think that honesty is part of that functioning. Does your organization allow you to do that and do you have the courage to be able to step up and say, hey, I have a need and can we address the need?

JW

And then I'm imagining that as companies build these resources and these mental and emotional health resources become more available, that who who fits and how they fit broadens the cycle, right? So we can now create a different sort of environment.

AG

Yeah, absolutely. Right.

AD

Yeah, yeah. I feel like I mean, I want to throw this out there. You know, you and I have walked down our professional paths together for a long time, and I think at the various times we've been able, we've we've connected around things. I think I shared with you a lot of my difficulties often over the years, working in an institutional, you know, work environment.

And I think I'm understanding it better now. I think I'm understanding I feel like we are in the midst of a paradigm shift and you are one of the leaders in in the paradigm shifting. And it's one thing that I love about you when we talked, you are our friend and yes, coach of collaborator Jenn Cornelius about this.

I cannot wait for you to meet Jenn. I just want to be a fly on the wall. When that happens, it's going to be amazing. And we were talking about this shift, you know, into a really people focused work environment. And and when I take a broader lens and I think about the dysfunctional places that I've been in, in not old places I've been in, where we're really kind of performing these roles where we're like the show severance like we are, you know, humans coming in to perform, you know, the write the algorithm or make the widget or whatever.

You know, I can understand so much of what was happening in these places. It's just a boiling underneath the surface, right? And it's like everyone's coming in hot, triggered, unaware, everything going on, right? All of our backgrounds, everything, no matter what the workplace try to do to sever us. You can't. We're coming in with it all and we don't realize it half the time.

Because. Because in these days, for me, this is pre Bernie Brown, right? This is like when we did it realize that our, you know, emotional worlds are so we we haven't I mean, first of all, mental health and mental wellness have been so stigma. Ed, throughout all this time. And I know for me, I didn't realize what was happening.

I'm in this arranged marriage with people, right? Embattled, triggered. It's everything but the actual issue at hand usually. And now I feel like far enough back from this to see what's happening in a good amount of these control centered environments. It's like a, you know, boiling pot of dysfunction. And I can understand why I see that with complete compassion.

Like we haven't had the tools to. Right? We haven't had we haven't like we stopped learning these tools in pre-K. I feel like we never, you know, student life maybe gave us some of them later on a little bit, you know, barely. But we haven't used it 100%.

So help me with this. Am I on the right track?

AG

Yes, I share a lot of a lot of what you just, you know, reference. And I think that you talk to most people out there and I do just want to add like a caveat, like, you know, folks who have are in a position of privilege, right? Because we have the privilege to be able to sculpt our lives, talk about do we want this role?

That role? We're not you know, most of us are not struggling for food and money and that sort of thing. So I just want to put that caveat out there. But I do think that that's the majority of experience is out there, that the majority of people are having this experience of feeling less than not seen, not heard, not supported, belittled, humiliated and yet their livelihood depends on their performance, right?

And their ability to put food on the table for their kids and pay their mortgages and that sort of thing. And I don't I think that that dysfunction that sits in organizations is is just absolute parallel to the dysfunction that sits in families and. Right. And so and I think that's a lot of the work that you're doing.

And so I think what we're starting to see and I completely agree, I feel it in my bones that we are in a paradigm shift. And of course there's just a few people kind of out there talking about this, the majority, right? Like on that standard deviation curve, like they're there, right there, kind of churning and burning. And they're like, but I did everything I was told to do and I put my head down and I was a good soldier and I check my emotions at the door, like, why do I still feel so yuck?

And well, it's because we're not. Yeah, we're not.

JW

I mean, I love that. Like, yeah. So I'm feeling, you know, like I was a good soldier. I checked my emotions at the door, and so why am I feeling so yuck? And, you know, doing this work now for as long as I have with so many amazing therapists and psychologists. And the answer just a minute comes up is like, oh, it's because you checked like it's because you had to check all that at the door because you had to repress this.

I mean, in psychotherapy, it's a lot like this, you know, for 100 years, this is a quote from Carl Jung, essentially. But what we repress or what we resist persists. Yeah. So. Yeah, and and and so how do we as companies, as organizations provide a safer, supportive or safer supportive spaces and resources so that we don't have to cut ourselves off?

AG

Like, that's such a good question. I think we're trying to get there. I think what I've experienced in most of the places I've been in so far is that there's still so much fear, there's still so much fear driving decision making and, you know, leadership behavior that we're not able to truly do some of that. I think people are afraid that it's just going to be a free for all.

There's going to be pandemonium. It's can be chaos, can be mental illness spilling out all over the place, you know, oh, my gosh, a vignette.

JW

So this is what I love. So, so in my work as an emotional health coach, this is why this is like the most common fear inside we have. We have parts that are like, oh, if I really open up, I'm going to be overwhelmed. It's going to be chaos. You know what's going to hit the fan? Everything's going to fall apart.

And it's like, Oh, I mean, seeing how universal all this fear is. And they were just that is like, Oh, and it's showing up in our, in our families at every realizations and like really everywhere.

AG

Yeah. And so you're talking about it from an individual standpoint, right, that individuals have this fear and so they've checked their emotions. Right. But organizations like Otter said, organizations truly are living organisms. I mean, they have their own kind of culture. They create like a feeling. They, you know, when one part moves, the other part is affected. They're kind of living, breathing beings.

And they're in their own way, you know, kind of as a metaphor. But still. And so organizations also have this fear and leaders have this fear of they lead these organizations that are that just these like, you know, Kumbaya, like, you know, come to work and bring your whole selves to work, whether it's in a thong or whether it's in a suit or whether it's in a lake.

But that's not that's not what we're talking about. Most people are highly intelligent and highly able to manage themselves. You know, it's like if you give them a little bit of room to breathe and you do set parameters, you do set professional parameters which are necessary containers exactly. Than most. You might have the, you know, a couple of odd occasions where there's someone who needs more help than the workplace can offer.

That's okay. There are ways to get help to to people who need that kind of help. And so I think there's this the fear that drives individuals, that drives organizations is what we'll have to overcome to be able to actually practice and a lot of this is going to take practice. We're not going to be perfect at it.

We're going to have to practice what it means to be in relationship with each other professionally, you know, and so it's going to be a big experiment. But, you know, like you got to strap in, right? Put your seatbelt on, your hat, your hardhat, whatever it is, because it's not going to be easy. It's going to be messy.

And I think a lot of leaders and organizations and people, they don't want the messy. They want the remote work. Two years, go to a good school, graduate from a college, get a good degree, get a good job, you know, work the job, get the car, the white picket fence, the two kids, the one and a half dog and get promoted every couple of years.

And, you know, it just does not work that way.

JW

One of the ways that I started to see how this could work in organizations and it's so small, but just hearing this now and hearing from you of it is like, oh, wow, this this actually was kind of a shift for me several years ago. I was listening to a podcast by a well-known business coach, Jerry Colonna, and he and so what he does in all of his meetings, whether it's executive teams, whatever it is, he starts with a green, yellow, red check in.

And so it's you know, everybody checks in. Are you coming in green that is resourced and feeling here, you know, president or yellow? Are you, you know, like kind of distracted? What your day is not going so hot, whatever it is or are you red like, are you triggered? Are you just not here? And then the thing that got me is then he said, and you can show up.

However, like this is not a judgment part. This is just green, yellow, red. You can say a little bit about it whatever you want, but it's just coming into connection and just and just letting everybody know where you're at. And I thought, Wow, like that feels really vulnerable and dangerous. Like, I can imagine people not wanting to come in and check in red or even check it like everybody wants to check in green.

But we've been using this in a bunch of different contexts with a bunch of different groups and a bunch of different organizations. And it works. It's like, Oh my gosh. And so this idea that like, you've just set this little container for people to show up exactly as they are. It's not like people are going crazy. I'm ready.

I'm going to just start smashing things, you know, and just the feeling that I can show up here exactly as I am now.

AG

And also without disclosing too many details. Right? Like what a beautiful way. What a beautiful invitation in to say we invite you and whatever it is, it's going on for you. And you don't have to share the the kind of the messy details behind the curtain unless you want to. And I think that's that's really powerful. But there is there is fear.

And so who's going to go first to say, I'm red, you know, when everyone's like, oh, green, green, great, doing great. You know, you remind us of Alan Mulally, right? When he took over at Ford and he was saying, hey, like something is not going right and you all keep coming to my meetings and green, green, green. He uses also a similar system, mostly for accountability.

And it was the first time someone was like, Red, this is bad. We're not meeting our targets. The deadline has come and gone like we are failing. And instead of, you know, like Austin Powers, you know, like Dr. Evil, he didn't get like, you know, drop through a trap door and disappear. Yeah. He, you know, he was like, thank you.

Thank you for your honesty. And that's when things started to turn around because there's got to be there's got to be a sincere offer or invitation. It can't just be, you know, we're inviting you to be vulnerable and then we're going to come down hard on whoever is honest. So the invitation has to be authentic, and then we have to be courageous to take the step and say, you know, this is what's going on for us.

AD

A what was coming up for me in this conversation really strong. That is that I just want to share is that I've had a broad amount of work experience from the service industry, you know, as a cook, a line cook server and a bartender and then moving into a like a quote unquote professional, you know, work environment. And in the last conversation, we had this podcast that we will be sharing very soon with our friend Jen.

We were very much talking about the start up work environment, these work environments that are much more interested in being in growing into a fully people focused, you know, environment. My experience in the service industry was not that, you know, it was not, you know, I experience, you know, sexual harassment and verbal assaults like, you know, all of the all of the extreme things that you can imagine were normalized in the nineties. And so on. And so when I think about this conversation, it always comes up for me, like I love, love, love talking about our paradigm shift. I love talking about this hope on the horizon. I love talking about this change.

You have a lot of experience in the space. Do you is this just a change in the most privileged spaces or is this a change that we can hope to see? That's a fundamental shift in how we structure our work environments. Is there hope for us all?

AG

I think there has to be hope. Without hope, there's just despair. So I think, you know, overall, I'll say that, but I do think you touch on something really pivotal, I think, in those dark spaces, you know, kitchens, the back of kitchens, the back of restaurants like the back of hotels at behind the Shining Glimmering cities like Dubai and other places where there's, you know, everyone working and working and hustling and not being able to make ends meet.

Like, I don't know. I don't think this paradigm shift has reached those places when we have enlightened leaders, not just in businesses, but in politics, you know, that's when maybe some of that will start to change. But the suffering, you know, that untold billions of people are encountering, you know, work and otherwise, I think we have to have hope.

But I think we also have to be realistic. I don't I don't think it's reached some of those places quite yet.

JW

Do you think it will? I guess what I'm saying is, do you think that we have the capacity to do this type of work, knowing what you know, of organizational structures, let's say, even just in the U.S.? Set aside, I mean, the worldwide challenges. Yes. But just in the U.S., looking at the structures of of workplaces, whether it's, you know, an Amazon warehouse or, you know, a hotel, a commissary, like do you see any glimmer of potential for us to become more people centered in all of the work that we do?

AG

I do. And I think some of what I see giving me hope is that it doesn't have to just come from the top down, right? It doesn't just have to come from executive committees and CEOs and, you know, people who are, quote unquote, in charge. But it can come from the masses. And so you see Starbucks, you see Amazon, you see people coming together and standing up for their rights and for each others rights.

And, you know, I'm not going to say I'm pro-union or pro-business. I personally I think that that is a losing kind of frame. Right. I think that we have to be for each other. And how can we really enter into a relationship and enter into partnerships that honor, like honor each person and honor the roles that they're in and allow them to to live a healthy, flourishing life.

So, yeah, I do I do see hope on the horizon.

AD

I am so grateful for that. Davina, you know, this is something that being a part of that paradigm shifting, like you really want to take like one organization in and of itself, can't possibly solve all the problems, right? But we need to network and link arms and ensure that what we're doing has lasting like rippling effects and partnerships and things like that so that we can get there together.

Because I believe, too, that everybody should I believe in in that dignity of being seen and heard and valued as a person that is in partnership, really. It's business partnership. When you're an employee, you're in partnership, too, you know? Right?

AG

Yes.

AD

Yes. And I we should be dignified by like really being valued for that.

AG

100%. It also makes me think of what you all did with, you know, Max Love from, you know, my outside perspective of what I understand you all did is I think you also looked above and beyond where the typical boundaries lie, right? Like we are patients, we're a cancer family, we interface with the doctor occasionally with insurance. But you took it to a completely different level and you said this is about health overall.

Health is about mental well-being, this is about food. This is about, you know, being with animals and horses. And like, I think that is the kind of mentality we need when we think about relationship and we think about flourishing. You know, there's we sort of put in a lot of very false boundaries where things start and end. And I think that we need to to rethink that a little.

I'm not saying that we invite, you know, organizations into our homes and things like that, but they are in our homes, right? Like we all bring work back with us. So I think just thinking about things a little bit differently, it doesn't have to be either or. It's not, you know, us versus them, but it's like us in it together and like, I know those are nice words, but we have to figure out together what that looks like and that means we have to test it and kick the tires and experiment.

AD

I love that. I love that. Are there any organizations out there that you think are kicking those tires and that are really challenging these boundaries like or this concept of of these boundaries?

AG

I think they're trying I do think that there's some out there who are really trying and maybe it's the smaller ones that are having more success. I do think there's something that happens when you grow and become so large. It's hard to keep that humanness, that human centric, you know, focus. And so there is something about size, their scale, which is important, you know, for business success.

But how do you keep the humanity as you scale. I think that's, that's a huge question.

JW

Mm. Yeah. Okay. So we yeah. That's a, that's a great way to I think transition into the next topic. So you know, you both we're talking about some really large scale stuff, like some big things. And so I want to kind of drill down into some root causes here. And so a vignette when we talked last week, something you said like really stuck with me because we were we were we were going deep.

And you said something to the effect that attachment wounds are at the heart of many that you see in leadership in the workplace in general. And I just love that. And I would love for you to talk a little bit more about that.

AG

Oh, I could talk at length about this subject. Is it is is for where I am in my life right now. It is the it is the kind of like flashing light that just like the sign, the neon sign, that's like, duh, like, how could we have missed this for so long? You know? But I think that's the process of, you know, just getting better and making those connections.

And so, yeah, I it's my personal perspective and I think if shared by many researchers out there, but I do really feel, you know, that attachment theory as a framework is, is very powerful. It essentially just gives us a roadmap for looking at, you know, our childhood, our family dynamics, the roles that we played in those families and, you know, kind of the unresolved wounds that were left remaining because of those interactions with no blame placed, at least without knowing the details.

I don't hold parents as responsible. I don't hold, you know, grandparents responsible in certain cases they are. But in general, it's not about blame. It's more about awareness and understanding. And for each, it's about empowerment to say, hey, look, this is this is what I really heard growing up and it still hurts. And so when I am dismissed or not seen at work or passed up for this project or, you know, someone talks over me and that comes up for me again, and that's just a trigger.

And the more we can understand that, the more we can befriend that. No one is saying that you have to go and have a two hour long meeting with your boss to share your deepest, darkest secrets. But if you can feel that trigger, you can recognize that heat. You know, you then have choice in how you behave and what decisions you make that is so dang powerful.

JW

It's like awareness and this is something that we've been working on a lot in Jazz Collective with all our experts and just this idea that awareness in itself is really transformative. And so I'm imagining as you're talking just even bringing this awareness into the workplace that like, hey, your triggers around feedback are your triggers around, you know, whatever like that, that there are parts of you that are triggered because of what happened when you were five years old and when you were ten and, and so so I think just this awareness and exact.

You're exactly right. Like we don't need to then go talk to the boss. We're like, okay, well, actually, I was transferring my relationship with my mom onto you, right? No, I mean, there is just a little bit of spaciousness and a little bit of freedom inside that opens up with this awareness.

AD

Justin, you know, what that brings up for me is, is talking with Jenny Walters. Jenny Abena is one of our dear friends of yours collective. You know her right through. Yeah. And Jenny will talk about a good amount of what she does in depth psychology and in her work as a therapist is psychoeducation. Right. So if you are someone in this country usually facing a mental health crisis, you will hopefully be able to find your way to therapy.

But very often not. We know the issues in this country for someone who is, you know, kind of like coping, operating fairly typically. You may never find your way to therapy and you therefore may never find your way to psychoeducation, and you therefore may never find your way to even knowing what a trigger is or what it feels like.

And I know for me, I mean, it wasn't really until recently, more recently that we got into this work and I'm like, that's what is happening. And all of this time in the workplace, had I just known, like what is going on inside, this is confusing, why am I feeling this way? Right? And it seems to be to me just essential are we doing this if we don't have this background and support?

Like I don't even know how we are showing up.

AG

We're hanging on by. By like our fingernails. Literally nails. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Or we just shutdown, right? So I've also been reflecting on, you know, the people I see ascending in organizations being promoted, you know, leading other people generally. And this is not this is not an in-depth research study. Right. This has no data behind is just observational.

I see them being more reserved. I see them kind of holding back and just sort of being that good soldier. Right. And so and some of them are brilliant and very effective and they do care, but they they know the game and they know how to fit and they know how to function. But you have to wonder what part of them is impacted by that.

You know, a part of them that's severed piece wears the severed head. It's somewhere it's running around somewhere.

AD

Athena That's beautiful and generous and coming from higher education, my experience was that the folks who ascended were more of the narcissist tendency and the ones who had true potential in really transformative leadership dropped out.

AG

100%, just like politics. Mm hmm. Yeah, yep, yep, yeah.

JW

Well, but yeah. So in my experience of seen as like that description immediate was like, oh, there are so many in my career in academia, it's like, Oh, there are so many really high like it, whether they're high achieving professors or act or administration administrators who I think fit that to a T and now that I'm doing this work, I hear this emotional health coaching work.

I do have several executives that I've had the fortune of working with. And as we started to dig deeper into this, like, oh, wow, so much, so much protection, so much, you know, armor.

Just armor had to be taken on for you to get to where you were. And and and then they look around, they're like, oh, I don't have any relationships in my life that I really value. I don't know how to connect. I'm, you know, and.

AD

And this armor is heavy and it hurts and it's exhausting. Yeah, right. Yeah, yeah.

JW

Yes. And so oh, my gosh, I so Avina do you have in your mind and you know, you don't need to call anybody out, but like have you come across leaders who you feel have done this work, who've gone through and who've done this work and are showing up and with more authenticity, more connection, more presence?

AG

Yes, definitely. You know, and I see individual leaders in big organizations. I haven't met a lot of them on be completely honest, but I have definitely met my fair share. And then I do think in smaller businesses when you have younger my in my experience younger executive teams, whether they're successors, you know, generational successors to family businesses, that's broke for me.

A lot of hope comes because I see these, you know kind of younger generation leaders being really open to looking in the mirror and saying, it starts with me and I want to have a different organization. I want to create and grow a different organization, and I need help. And it's that's not you know, it's not stigmatized to the degree it was probably before, I think, what those individual leaders and these larger multinational organizations that I've seen, you know, that are big and and doing very well and very successful, you know, financially they are not the ones who ascend necessarily.

So they may be high up in the organization, but they're they're generally not the people I see being elevated to executive committees and boards. So I think we're still in that paradigm shift. MM.

JW

Is it, is it what's holding them back. Is it that they aren't playing the game in the right way or what.

AG

What. Yes, I think we're not ready for them, you know, like I can't remember what that you know, first they will, you know, ridicule you, then they will beat you, then they will join you like I'm totally ed that quote.

JW

But like right there is. But but like there is this this arc, too. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. There's a paradigm shift.

All right, so with our time left, I'm wondering if we can dig into some practices. So, like, what are some of the things that individuals can can do at work to support their own mental and emotional? Well, so I guess we can start with just individually and then I would love to hear like, what can organizations do?

AG

Mm hmm. Yeah, that's such a good question. I think individually, I think the first thing is just really knowing what you want. What is it that you want in your in your phase of life with whatever your family looks like, wherever you live, like what's going to fulfill you? I think sometimes we jump so quickly into solutions, you know, like, I'm going to buy a peloton or I'm going to go get a, you know, a membership, a gentle strength or whatever it is, you know, like, like before we do that, like, is that.

JW

Actually will solve a lot of problems, the gentle strength part.

AG

But yeah, so what is it that you want? And then I think being honest about where you work and like how that fits you and suits you and where that's lacking. And then can you shore up some resources for yourself, whether it can can you actually afford to go see a therapist? There's more affordable options or even a coach, right?

Can you do something online that's a little bit more affordable, you know, and how can you really start to address some of those things that maybe you've pushed away for many, many, many decades? I would say that's probably one of the first things. And, you know, the other piece, I think that I'm coming to accept more is work really shouldn't define your worst.

And I think that for the longest time and I will speak from personal experience, my work, I have allowed it. I have nurtured it to actually tell me how about my worth? It has defined me, defined my value, defined my worth, and almost like a cadre of people is behind me going, Look at her. She didn't do this and she didn't get that.

Or, you know, or Look, she's on a video now or she is, you know, on a podcast. So, you know, how can we stop letting external things define ourselves and how can we really come back to the center of who we are? And that's really hard. That's ego work, right? That's that's getting rid of some of that that fills the ego and feeds the ego.

So I think there's two things. They're looking for what you want, seeing where you are falling short and some of what you need, and then can you get some of those needs met. And then also really thinking about who you are, what you value and you know, kind of almost stepping back a little from being so embroiled and so engrossed in work.

There are other parts of life that we sometimes forget to pay attention to.

AD

I have two things with that that come up for me listening to you of being and I couldn't agree more the first with like like the the first part of caring for oneself, right? Seeing what you need, doing that assessment. When I felt most stuck at the various points in my work life along the way, I fixated so much on what the organization wasn't doing right or was doing whatever it was so much on the organization.

And it wasn't until I realized like, Hey, I can't change this, but I have capacity for change, expansion, whatever. And it was in that space that I realized like, wait a minute, my about I don't have good boundaries. What if I try this? What if I try being angry? What if I try not answering those emails? You know, what if I you know, and and today, me today would get help with it.

Me today I would be able to look at that and say, Hey, I need more resources and support for that. Yeah, but that's something that didn't occur to me in my most stark places. And so we could like put a pin in that for, for folks who are feeling super, super stuck. They don't know how to get out of a very, very unhappy or difficult work situation.

You know, obviously a process there and that's layered with ones privilege and access and things like that. But where possible, to be able to find the support to oneself.

AG

I hear you talking about mindset, right? And no matter where you are, right? Like when you think about the most inspiring leaders through Framestore, when you think about Mandela stuck in that prison for like 32 years and you think about Viktor Frankl, right? It comes to mind and you think if they could shift their mindset, that's not that's not to condone an abusive environment or abusive boss or anything like that.

That sucks if that is what you're going through. But what can you do to bring peace to yourself how can you maybe take the personal out of some of it? Even if that person wants to make it personal, they want to make it about you and your failings or you didn't do this. Where can you step back and say, like, this actually isn't about, Yeah, and I'm going to do the best I.

AD

Can and that's really powerful. Thank you for that. Because itis I envision, you know, as we're having this conversation on this podcast about this type of growth and in our work and the sorts of organizations that are people focused and really care and are trying what it's like to be at an organization that isn't. And you really are stuck.

You know, you really aren't in the position to just get another job right now, you know?

AG

No. And yep, yep, yep, nope. And there are plenty of those organizations out there. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they don't know any better. But that doesn't mean that makes experience any better.

JW

So we have a11 last kind of big question and then we'll go into our three rapid fire question. But Veena, is there anything right now that is new and challenging in your own personal growth journey, like just just stuff that you're working right now that's new, challenging, exciting and kind of moving you into growth.

AG

So it's really exciting for me, but it's not an exciting answer. And so I'll tell you, you know, you know, having entered officially entered middle age, even though hopefully that number keeps shifting so soon, like 100 will be like middle age. You know what I'm doing in my life right now? I'm chasing consistency. I'm chasing consistency in that.

Like, it's not new, right? I'm not I'm not trying to do something crazy. I'm not taking up hover boarding or whatever it is. Like, I'm just trying to I'm just trying to do what I know fills me and fulfills me most days. I'm not going to say every day because it doesn't happen every day, but and I'm nowhere near doing it consistently, but meditating, taking 10 minutes on calm or headspace or simply being or whatever the app you want to use or no app.

And I do that most days, 10 minutes. I can't I haven't been able to manage it so far. Whatever your form of exercise is, walking tai chi, peloton, running, canoeing, whatever it is, can you do that? Most days, you know? So I'm chasing consistency and being present with my kids. I would like to say every day on that one.

But in every, you know, at least in some moments every day, I'm chasing consistency because I've started so many things and the only way I've ever seen results. So keep at it. You keep at it. You keep at it. So that's that's what I'm doing.

AD

I'm trying thank you for that of I resonate with that in my middle age as well. Very, very much. And as a parent, I think that's a mother like layer to it, right. Yeah. I want to jump out because I had forgotten there were two things and in the last conversation we had and the one thing that you mentioned is, is in investing too much of of one's self-worth in work.

And it just reminded me Adam Grant posted the other day I thought it was so great. He said employers shouldn't discourage side hustles or hesitate to hire people who have them. ADA After engaging, even after engaging evenings on their side, these people perform better the next day in their full time jobs. Side hustles aren't a distraction. They're a source of energy and empowerment.

And I could not agree more when I started a project and I was working full time Max the project enlivened my work life and brought so many I felt more resourced day in and day out and better at what I did. I was learning a whole nother avenue and into my colleagues who were so overly invested in the institution and in battled and like these small battles meant everything to them.

I remember thinking at the time, Man, these people need a side hustle, right? It should be like a thing. It should be something that we ask, you know, we could not agree more.

Do you think something like that, like having this this interest outside of that one central thing that you that you do, if you're lucky to have that is a part of not investing in this one side of yourself. Oh, everything. And yes.

AG

So in one resounding answer. Yes. So first Adam Grant, brilliant. Right up there with Brené Brown. I think for both of us. Right, in terms of inspiration and just speaking truth to power, like truly like I know that's such a overused phrase, but I really feel like, you know, they're they're pinnacle leaders and people. They have followers and they have people that look up to them and people listen to them.

And I love that they are sharing, you know, sharing honestly, like a database like research based are both researchers and professionals. I could not agree with you more. I absolutely think that when you have a side hustle, it gives it enlivens you. Like you said, you remember that you are capable and that you are creative and, that you have so much left to do right, and that you are not just your job, you are not just your title, you are not just your salary.

When you don't have that other outlet, you just it becomes everything to you. You lose perspective, you get tunnel vision, right? All of those small battles become enormous. They become a battlefield. Right. And that's all you're fighting for. And that is hugely stressful. And we've all been there. I've been there. You've been there. Justin's been there. Everyone listening has probably been there.

It doesn't feel good when you have that side hustle. It's like a door opens and some fresh air comes in and you get to be capable. Competent, you get to be creative. I think. I think it's a brilliant idea and I think organizations probably are probably turning a blind eye. But everyone I talk to these days has a side hustle.

JW

All right. So our last three questions we ask everyone. First of Ina, if you could put a big Post-it note on everyone's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say?

AG

A Post-it note. So Post-it notes are small, so it won't be my dissertation I think. Which was the entire fridge, right. I would say just breathe and notice that's what I would say. Just breathe and notice.

JW

Avina, what's the last quote that you read or heard that changed the way you think or feel?

AG

This past spring, I lost one of my she was really an acquaintance, someone who was in the doctoral program with with me probably a couple of years after I started. I honestly can't even say whether or not I physically met this woman in person, but I know that when I had my son was my first child, we texted and she was a huge source of support and inspiration, even though she was younger than me.

She's just one of these women who are larger than life. And she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January and June 15th. She passed away and her name is Naomi. And I remember just that really hit me in a different way, whether it's age, whether it's she, she has a six year old son. I was just devastated by her death.

And I kept searching for something to give give comfort to her family members that remain to give comfort to me. Like, I don't know. I couldn't understand why I was so to say, seismically shifted by her by her death. And I started reading some of Mary Oliver's poetry and her last line and one of her most famous poems is just, you know, resonated with me and stayed with me.

And it simply says, so tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? And yeah, so that that gets me every time because I think it's a reminder of this is not permanent, this is not constant. And we have some really big choices to make if we want to live the way, if we want to create the lives that we envision.

And we've got to work at it every day. And we are so much more powerful than we give ourselves credit for. It's beautiful.

AD

Beautiful. Oh, beautiful. Avina Do you even want to ask the other question?

JW

Yes. So my third one. Yeah, because it's I mean, it's beautifully connected. So Avina, what is one thing giving you hope right now?

AG

Well, it's such a cliche answer, but, you know, for me, my hope is in the future and in the faces of my kids and their little right now. And so they are just so precious to me. So it's my kids that are giving me hope. And this work right here, this work that they have been my greatest teachers, like bar none, so humbling and so fun.

And so this work with you all learning from them and watching them grow and hoping against all hope that like the world we creating will be better for them, you know?

Podcast Ep. 58: Creating a Work/Life Wellness Culture with Organizational Psychologist, Avina Gupta, PhD

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Podcast Ep. 58: Creating a Work/Life Wellness Culture with Organizational Psychologist, Avina Gupta, PhD

Organizational psychologist, Avina Gupta, PhD, joins Audra and Justin to talk about companies can create cultures of authenticity, connection, and meaning, and the ways we all can care for our emotional health at work.

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In this episode

This month’s theme in the Yes Collective is work/life wellness, and we’re diving even deeper with an outstanding leader in organizational psychology and leadership development, Dr. Avina Gupta. She’s pioneered leadership and coaching engagements in organizations from small family-owned businesses to billion dollar multi-national corporations. She’s a former consultant with Deloitte, has founded 2 boutique leadership development firms, and has taught courses across the globe, from Vienna to New York City.

Born and raised in Canada, Avina is fluent in Hindi and can ask for a beer and directions in both German and French. She met her German-born husband Sebastian on a mountain in South Africa; and is Mom to their delightful 4-year-old son, Sai and 4-month old baby girl, Lani Mae. Avina and company currently live in Atlanta GA.

In this episode, we talk about Avina's professional journey, how she helps companies create cultures of authenticity, connection, and meaning, and the different ways we all can care for our mental and emotional health across the work/life continuum.

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About our guest

Dr. Avina Gupta is an expert in organizational psychology and leadership development. She’s pioneered leadership and coaching engagements in organizations from small family-owned businesses to billion dollar multi-national corporations. She’s a former consultant with Deloitte, has founded 2 boutique leadership development firms, and has taught courses across the globe, from Vienna to New York City.

Transcript highlights

Justin Wilford (JW)

We are. We are we are longtime friends. And so I would love to just begin by you and Audra kind of telling the story, like how you met, where this friendship began.

Avina Gupta (AG)

I love it.

Audra DiPadova (AD)

Oh, I do too. That is so awesome. Vina We met in 2000.

AG

2004 or five?

AD

Oh, my God. That's earlier than I thought. I thought for some reason, I thought we moved here to New York, and, you know, we moved away in 2005. That's what it was.

AG

Gosh, you're only there for a year.

JW

Well, you know, we moved there in 2003.

AG

Right. So we only had a year together in New York. That is crazy to me, because what a fast friendship, right? And like, what a deep friendship. Like, in just a year, I thought you'd been there. I thought we'd been there together for years. So that is really interesting.

AD

It is incredible, isn't it? Like, it seems like so much more than that and. Yeah. Do you do you feel like I noticed this when I started working at, you know, at colleges and universities as an administrator? Like the fast friendships at that age, it's so beautiful the way that we're almost just, like, wired to openly connect. And we kind of I feel like we lose it as we get older and have our families, our kids to experience that to.

AG

100%. And so, you know, you've got two kids that are a little bit older than our kids. Our kids are younger, but it's this you know, we've sort of been on a quest to make those same deep friendships. And, you know, Sebastian, my husband keeps saying like it doesn't happen the same way anymore. Like, you know, those friendships you have when you're younger, when you're in college, to your point, you don't.

AG

You are just you have all of that discretionary time that you were constantly together, right? And like in it and like, you don't know your ass from your elbow and like, you don't know what you're doing. And you're kind of in this, like, in this adventure together of something. So powerful about it. And I think, you know, the days feel longer, the months feel longer, but in a good way.

Like, you know, yeah, the friendships go deep. Now, you were two of my great greatest friends. Like, even if we didn't see each other for years, which we probably didn't talk for years, that you probably didn't when you were out in California, like, you know, you know, like you said, you just know some people are in your heart and on your heart.

That's definitely how I feel about you guys.

AD

Oh, I feel the same way. And and speaking of the fast friendship, because Justin wants us to dish we so we were at Teachers College at Columbia University together working in residential life.

And shout out to Sophia Pertuz who. Yes. Works with us on yes collective just. Yeah, totally amazing. Like there's so many beautiful tie ins like it was such a formative period in my life. It was such a powerful time in my life personally and to to connect with you and build this. It was such a deep connection and one that I think I just knew, I mean, and hoped it would be a lifelong collection, but its connection has proved to be that.

And it I just feel so grateful for that intense time we had together. But working together. And as friends and you always endlessly fascinated me because your you were in the org psych program, right?

And I was doing philosophy and education. You were in a doctoral program and I was in a master's program, hence our short time together. Yeah. And I remember just being endlessly fascinated with your interest in your work and what you were learning. Because organizations are organisms unto themselves.

Endlessly fascinating. And so that was like I just remember being super curious about what you were doing and learning and what your interests are, and that has never waned. I have remained endlessly curious about your work because you're an expert in a field that I feel like is deeply tied to the future of human flourishing.

AG

Mm hmm. Wow. That's very powerful and very humbling. I do remember. Yeah, I feel I've always felt passionate about my work, even when I didn't know that's what I wanted to do, or it didn't have a name, which, you know, I guess we'll talk about it in a little bit. But, you know, going back to the friendship, I do remember where I was like when I got the text, you know, I'm going to get emotional here for a second.

But like, I remember where I was when I got the text about Max. Oh, I remember, you know, like I was on the beach, you know, in Coney Island. And I got this text and I remember feeling like like someone had, like, thrown a stone on my chest, you know, like, I remember, like, I remember these moments. I remember going to visit you in California and like, you know, just these these moments like that standstill in time, sort of, you know.

Yeah. So our friendship and I remember on a lighter note, the long walks with the two of you to Shake Shack in.

AD

We still talk about that. And we tell the kids, you know, we're like, you know, we used to walk just the one shake shack for one, and we would walk 100 blocks, you know, with bears teasing us. You know, obviously they weren't open in the snow, but still in the hot summer, you know, and we would then stand in line for 2 hours.

AG

And that's what you did as a New Yorker, right? That was like. And that was your whole day. That was your whole weekend. Yes.

JW

And now you can get Shake Shack in a mall or an airport everywhere. These kids these days.

AG

They don't need to walk 100 blocks in the heat and wait in line for 2 hours.

JW

That's right. So, I mean, I, I will apologize to the listeners because I say this on almost every podcast, but I am the in what they call the radio business. I'm the driver, you know, and the address, the personality. And so I try to keep the train on the track so perfect. Well, yeah. So I wanted to throw that curveball at the beginning and have you guys talk about the friendship, but and I'm sure more is going to come up about this, but I would love to dove into the topic. So this month we're talking about all the ways that we can support emotional and mental wellness so that we can both be more present, connected and more in the flow at work and bring more of ourselves home at the end of the day.

And so we'll be diving into this from all different angles with you. But before we do, you touched on it briefly. We'd love to find out more like how did you get into organizational psychology and leadership development? What does your professional journey look like to you now? You know, as you've you've had all this experience, you've done all this amazing work: basically, how do you make sense of it all?

AG

Oh, that's a great question. So it's so fun to be able to talk talk about the journey. I always think about how Steve Jobs said in one of his commencement speeches that moving forward, you never really know exactly what you're doing. And then you look back and all the dots just connect right into a beautiful story. So it's really it's really such a privilege to be able to to think about the work and talk about it with you.

So I'll start here. I don't know if you have many Indian immigrant friends, but, you know, my parents are a huge influence on me and we're very big part of my life and they're first generation immigrants. They moved from India to Canada. And there's one profession that is acceptable in this community, at least when I was growing up.

And that's to be a doctor, a real doctor, just not like you and like.

JW

Audra bought me a t shirt years ago that says "Not a real doctor."

AG

Totally I that you need to send one of those to me or maybe to my parents like my know parents of not a real doctor. But you know, there's a couple of problems I fake when I get my blood drawn and I am just not built for a clinical setting. I love people, but not when they're sick. I'm not.

That's not where I'm at my best. You know, we're talking about flourishing, right? But I love, love people. And in high school, I had a boyfriend, which was also very taboo in our in our culture. But I had a boyfriend. He was wonderful. And his mother was a psychologist. So that was my first foray into like, oh, there is a different way.

And she was wildly successful, raised three boys and had a private practice. And so, you know, when I start to think about what was really like who I am and what I wanted to do, I studied psychology and I didn't know anything like work psychology or organizational psychology existed. But my first work experience, which was right around the time of September 11th, when everything was kind of just falling apart, I found this job as a recruiter for a housewares company in New Jersey and really felt aligned with their core values.

And I was like, This is the company for me. The leaders were incredible. Some of the managers like endowment funds for the biggest universities, and they were just like, you work hard, you have like these really good homegrown values. I was like, I'm all about it. And then I go out there and it was a disaster. It was a nightmare.

People were embezzling money. They had us working six days a week, like 14 hour days. And the facade just crumbled. You know, the impression I was left with was, well, how much time do we spend at work? More. We spend more time at work than we do anywhere else, right then with their families sleeping, eating and walking to Shake Shack.

So how can we find a better way to lead? And I was just I wanted to know. I wanted to learn for myself, but also to try and build better leaders, to have better influence so that we could live better lives. I wasn't that kind of naive perspective of it all, and even back then feels even more naive and also more true right now.

I really believe that you could do this through practice of love, even in a professional setting and the keep, you know, in my old age, my middle age now I keep coming back to this concept that, you know, it was born of someone very naive. And now here we are coming back to the idea of talking about wellness, flourishing, caring for each other.

Love is how I think about it. So that was, you know, sort of how I got there. I didn't plan it, but looking back, all the dots really connect, you know? And I've loved what I've been able to do and been allowed to do in the last 20 years or so.

AD

It's very wise of, you know, the like you, you know, you, you see those early days as being naive. But sometimes those early days are when you can see the heart of the matter. Right. It's the least foggy time, right? The least jaded, you know.

JW

And also when you probably have more most clarity around your North Star, you know? Yeah, yeah. This is a mm hmm.

AG

In a real raw way, right? Like before it kind of gets, you know, like, worked on and sculpted by, like, who you're supposed to be and how you're supposed to sound and look like.

AD

It's so true. I remember when we lived in Tempe, and Jess and I were walking to gentle strength are like little co-op that was there. And I remember being like Jess and I were so into like economic democracy and and we're like, I want to have like, found a completely like, worker owned business one day and then have a pamphlet about it, hear a gentle strength that others can can use to, like, start their own, you know?

And yeah, seems super naive, but I think I'm still working towards that today.

AG

I know it sounds like it right? Yeah. You've just expanded beyond gentle strength. Yeah.

AD

And beyond the pamphlet, you know. But so I mean, that it's just, it's so beautiful. And then I mean, knowing you, too, I mean, you've always been really passionate about health and wellness. And so you've always had like, I mean, you were a physical trainer at one point. And it's always been something I mean, I have learned about with you along the way, and that's powerful to me to think of like how you've brought these interests together, like, so beautifully.

And it is all unified by love.

AG

Mm hmm. I couldn't agree more. Yeah, that is sort of like the bottom line, you know? Yeah.

JW

Yeah. So. All right, so let's move into this idea of work/life wellness or mental and emotional wellness at work. And so I'll just start by asking you a Veena. What what does work life wellness mean to you? Maybe, what does it look like? Why is it important you can take it from any angle that that feels alive for you.

AG

Yeah, I know. It's such a it's such a good question. And I've been thinking about this a lot, as, you know, just COVID, the pandemic being shut in, being released back out into the world and navigating kind of work life with small children. I've been thinking a lot about this question, and I think it kind of boils down to three things for me.

And the first, when I think about work in organizations, you know, I think about fit and are you a fit for the organization? You know, I talked a little bit about company values and not just what it looks like from the outside, but when you get in there, like, do you really feel like you fit and you belong and you can be who you are, honestly, right?

And that you can just strive for something that the organization is striving for. And then, you know, so fit is the first one. I think about function. Does your role and does your organization allow you to function like really function in a healthy way, like at home, at work, with friends are you able to take time off to have your kids?

Are you supported in that? Are you able to go see family, be there when someone gets sick? You know, like just can you can your life function well in terms of the role that you're in? And then I think about future and you know, Audra, you gave me such a nice compliment at the beginning of the podcast of thinking about the future of learning, but the third thing for me is future.

Are you building the future that you want to build that you will be proud of, that will be your legacy, that will help you, you know, raise your children well, right. Like there if you have children, like those are the things I think about. So when I think about mental and emotional health, it's such a wide, broad topic and there's so many there's mental wellness and breaking down the barriers of I think we have moved into kind of a time where we can talk much more openly about mental illness, about mental wellness.

All of that was shuttered right under kind of this like tough suit of professionals ism. And I think, you know, breaking down some of those barriers and being able to talk about it honestly in a safe place doesn't mean, you know, the workplace is not your therapist office. Right. I think we're very clear about that. But also being able to say like, hey, I'm struggling right now and I need some support, I need some resources.

I think that honesty is part of that functioning. Does your organization allow you to do that and do you have the courage to be able to step up and say, hey, I have a need and can we address the need?

JW

And then I'm imagining that as companies build these resources and these mental and emotional health resources become more available, that who who fits and how they fit broadens the cycle, right? So we can now create a different sort of environment.

AG

Yeah, absolutely. Right.

AD

Yeah, yeah. I feel like I mean, I want to throw this out there. You know, you and I have walked down our professional paths together for a long time, and I think at the various times we've been able, we've we've connected around things. I think I shared with you a lot of my difficulties often over the years, working in an institutional, you know, work environment.

And I think I'm understanding it better now. I think I'm understanding I feel like we are in the midst of a paradigm shift and you are one of the leaders in in the paradigm shifting. And it's one thing that I love about you when we talked, you are our friend and yes, coach of collaborator Jenn Cornelius about this.

I cannot wait for you to meet Jenn. I just want to be a fly on the wall. When that happens, it's going to be amazing. And we were talking about this shift, you know, into a really people focused work environment. And and when I take a broader lens and I think about the dysfunctional places that I've been in, in not old places I've been in, where we're really kind of performing these roles where we're like the show severance like we are, you know, humans coming in to perform, you know, the write the algorithm or make the widget or whatever.

You know, I can understand so much of what was happening in these places. It's just a boiling underneath the surface, right? And it's like everyone's coming in hot, triggered, unaware, everything going on, right? All of our backgrounds, everything, no matter what the workplace try to do to sever us. You can't. We're coming in with it all and we don't realize it half the time.

Because. Because in these days, for me, this is pre Bernie Brown, right? This is like when we did it realize that our, you know, emotional worlds are so we we haven't I mean, first of all, mental health and mental wellness have been so stigma. Ed, throughout all this time. And I know for me, I didn't realize what was happening.

I'm in this arranged marriage with people, right? Embattled, triggered. It's everything but the actual issue at hand usually. And now I feel like far enough back from this to see what's happening in a good amount of these control centered environments. It's like a, you know, boiling pot of dysfunction. And I can understand why I see that with complete compassion.

Like we haven't had the tools to. Right? We haven't had we haven't like we stopped learning these tools in pre-K. I feel like we never, you know, student life maybe gave us some of them later on a little bit, you know, barely. But we haven't used it 100%.

So help me with this. Am I on the right track?

AG

Yes, I share a lot of a lot of what you just, you know, reference. And I think that you talk to most people out there and I do just want to add like a caveat, like, you know, folks who have are in a position of privilege, right? Because we have the privilege to be able to sculpt our lives, talk about do we want this role?

That role? We're not you know, most of us are not struggling for food and money and that sort of thing. So I just want to put that caveat out there. But I do think that that's the majority of experience is out there, that the majority of people are having this experience of feeling less than not seen, not heard, not supported, belittled, humiliated and yet their livelihood depends on their performance, right?

And their ability to put food on the table for their kids and pay their mortgages and that sort of thing. And I don't I think that that dysfunction that sits in organizations is is just absolute parallel to the dysfunction that sits in families and. Right. And so and I think that's a lot of the work that you're doing.

And so I think what we're starting to see and I completely agree, I feel it in my bones that we are in a paradigm shift. And of course there's just a few people kind of out there talking about this, the majority, right? Like on that standard deviation curve, like they're there, right there, kind of churning and burning. And they're like, but I did everything I was told to do and I put my head down and I was a good soldier and I check my emotions at the door, like, why do I still feel so yuck?

And well, it's because we're not. Yeah, we're not.

JW

I mean, I love that. Like, yeah. So I'm feeling, you know, like I was a good soldier. I checked my emotions at the door, and so why am I feeling so yuck? And, you know, doing this work now for as long as I have with so many amazing therapists and psychologists. And the answer just a minute comes up is like, oh, it's because you checked like it's because you had to check all that at the door because you had to repress this.

I mean, in psychotherapy, it's a lot like this, you know, for 100 years, this is a quote from Carl Jung, essentially. But what we repress or what we resist persists. Yeah. So. Yeah, and and and so how do we as companies, as organizations provide a safer, supportive or safer supportive spaces and resources so that we don't have to cut ourselves off?

AG

Like, that's such a good question. I think we're trying to get there. I think what I've experienced in most of the places I've been in so far is that there's still so much fear, there's still so much fear driving decision making and, you know, leadership behavior that we're not able to truly do some of that. I think people are afraid that it's just going to be a free for all.

There's going to be pandemonium. It's can be chaos, can be mental illness spilling out all over the place, you know, oh, my gosh, a vignette.

JW

So this is what I love. So, so in my work as an emotional health coach, this is why this is like the most common fear inside we have. We have parts that are like, oh, if I really open up, I'm going to be overwhelmed. It's going to be chaos. You know what's going to hit the fan? Everything's going to fall apart.

And it's like, Oh, I mean, seeing how universal all this fear is. And they were just that is like, Oh, and it's showing up in our, in our families at every realizations and like really everywhere.

AG

Yeah. And so you're talking about it from an individual standpoint, right, that individuals have this fear and so they've checked their emotions. Right. But organizations like Otter said, organizations truly are living organisms. I mean, they have their own kind of culture. They create like a feeling. They, you know, when one part moves, the other part is affected. They're kind of living, breathing beings.

And they're in their own way, you know, kind of as a metaphor. But still. And so organizations also have this fear and leaders have this fear of they lead these organizations that are that just these like, you know, Kumbaya, like, you know, come to work and bring your whole selves to work, whether it's in a thong or whether it's in a suit or whether it's in a lake.

But that's not that's not what we're talking about. Most people are highly intelligent and highly able to manage themselves. You know, it's like if you give them a little bit of room to breathe and you do set parameters, you do set professional parameters which are necessary containers exactly. Than most. You might have the, you know, a couple of odd occasions where there's someone who needs more help than the workplace can offer.

That's okay. There are ways to get help to to people who need that kind of help. And so I think there's this the fear that drives individuals, that drives organizations is what we'll have to overcome to be able to actually practice and a lot of this is going to take practice. We're not going to be perfect at it.

We're going to have to practice what it means to be in relationship with each other professionally, you know, and so it's going to be a big experiment. But, you know, like you got to strap in, right? Put your seatbelt on, your hat, your hardhat, whatever it is, because it's not going to be easy. It's going to be messy.

And I think a lot of leaders and organizations and people, they don't want the messy. They want the remote work. Two years, go to a good school, graduate from a college, get a good degree, get a good job, you know, work the job, get the car, the white picket fence, the two kids, the one and a half dog and get promoted every couple of years.

And, you know, it just does not work that way.

JW

One of the ways that I started to see how this could work in organizations and it's so small, but just hearing this now and hearing from you of it is like, oh, wow, this this actually was kind of a shift for me several years ago. I was listening to a podcast by a well-known business coach, Jerry Colonna, and he and so what he does in all of his meetings, whether it's executive teams, whatever it is, he starts with a green, yellow, red check in.

And so it's you know, everybody checks in. Are you coming in green that is resourced and feeling here, you know, president or yellow? Are you, you know, like kind of distracted? What your day is not going so hot, whatever it is or are you red like, are you triggered? Are you just not here? And then the thing that got me is then he said, and you can show up.

However, like this is not a judgment part. This is just green, yellow, red. You can say a little bit about it whatever you want, but it's just coming into connection and just and just letting everybody know where you're at. And I thought, Wow, like that feels really vulnerable and dangerous. Like, I can imagine people not wanting to come in and check in red or even check it like everybody wants to check in green.

But we've been using this in a bunch of different contexts with a bunch of different groups and a bunch of different organizations. And it works. It's like, Oh my gosh. And so this idea that like, you've just set this little container for people to show up exactly as they are. It's not like people are going crazy. I'm ready.

I'm going to just start smashing things, you know, and just the feeling that I can show up here exactly as I am now.

AG

And also without disclosing too many details. Right? Like what a beautiful way. What a beautiful invitation in to say we invite you and whatever it is, it's going on for you. And you don't have to share the the kind of the messy details behind the curtain unless you want to. And I think that's that's really powerful. But there is there is fear.

And so who's going to go first to say, I'm red, you know, when everyone's like, oh, green, green, great, doing great. You know, you remind us of Alan Mulally, right? When he took over at Ford and he was saying, hey, like something is not going right and you all keep coming to my meetings and green, green, green. He uses also a similar system, mostly for accountability.

And it was the first time someone was like, Red, this is bad. We're not meeting our targets. The deadline has come and gone like we are failing. And instead of, you know, like Austin Powers, you know, like Dr. Evil, he didn't get like, you know, drop through a trap door and disappear. Yeah. He, you know, he was like, thank you.

Thank you for your honesty. And that's when things started to turn around because there's got to be there's got to be a sincere offer or invitation. It can't just be, you know, we're inviting you to be vulnerable and then we're going to come down hard on whoever is honest. So the invitation has to be authentic, and then we have to be courageous to take the step and say, you know, this is what's going on for us.

AD

A what was coming up for me in this conversation really strong. That is that I just want to share is that I've had a broad amount of work experience from the service industry, you know, as a cook, a line cook server and a bartender and then moving into a like a quote unquote professional, you know, work environment. And in the last conversation, we had this podcast that we will be sharing very soon with our friend Jen.

We were very much talking about the start up work environment, these work environments that are much more interested in being in growing into a fully people focused, you know, environment. My experience in the service industry was not that, you know, it was not, you know, I experience, you know, sexual harassment and verbal assaults like, you know, all of the all of the extreme things that you can imagine were normalized in the nineties. And so on. And so when I think about this conversation, it always comes up for me, like I love, love, love talking about our paradigm shift. I love talking about this hope on the horizon. I love talking about this change.

You have a lot of experience in the space. Do you is this just a change in the most privileged spaces or is this a change that we can hope to see? That's a fundamental shift in how we structure our work environments. Is there hope for us all?

AG

I think there has to be hope. Without hope, there's just despair. So I think, you know, overall, I'll say that, but I do think you touch on something really pivotal, I think, in those dark spaces, you know, kitchens, the back of kitchens, the back of restaurants like the back of hotels at behind the Shining Glimmering cities like Dubai and other places where there's, you know, everyone working and working and hustling and not being able to make ends meet.

Like, I don't know. I don't think this paradigm shift has reached those places when we have enlightened leaders, not just in businesses, but in politics, you know, that's when maybe some of that will start to change. But the suffering, you know, that untold billions of people are encountering, you know, work and otherwise, I think we have to have hope.

But I think we also have to be realistic. I don't I don't think it's reached some of those places quite yet.

JW

Do you think it will? I guess what I'm saying is, do you think that we have the capacity to do this type of work, knowing what you know, of organizational structures, let's say, even just in the U.S.? Set aside, I mean, the worldwide challenges. Yes. But just in the U.S., looking at the structures of of workplaces, whether it's, you know, an Amazon warehouse or, you know, a hotel, a commissary, like do you see any glimmer of potential for us to become more people centered in all of the work that we do?

AG

I do. And I think some of what I see giving me hope is that it doesn't have to just come from the top down, right? It doesn't just have to come from executive committees and CEOs and, you know, people who are, quote unquote, in charge. But it can come from the masses. And so you see Starbucks, you see Amazon, you see people coming together and standing up for their rights and for each others rights.

And, you know, I'm not going to say I'm pro-union or pro-business. I personally I think that that is a losing kind of frame. Right. I think that we have to be for each other. And how can we really enter into a relationship and enter into partnerships that honor, like honor each person and honor the roles that they're in and allow them to to live a healthy, flourishing life.

So, yeah, I do I do see hope on the horizon.

AD

I am so grateful for that. Davina, you know, this is something that being a part of that paradigm shifting, like you really want to take like one organization in and of itself, can't possibly solve all the problems, right? But we need to network and link arms and ensure that what we're doing has lasting like rippling effects and partnerships and things like that so that we can get there together.

Because I believe, too, that everybody should I believe in in that dignity of being seen and heard and valued as a person that is in partnership, really. It's business partnership. When you're an employee, you're in partnership, too, you know? Right?

AG

Yes.

AD

Yes. And I we should be dignified by like really being valued for that.

AG

100%. It also makes me think of what you all did with, you know, Max Love from, you know, my outside perspective of what I understand you all did is I think you also looked above and beyond where the typical boundaries lie, right? Like we are patients, we're a cancer family, we interface with the doctor occasionally with insurance. But you took it to a completely different level and you said this is about health overall.

Health is about mental well-being, this is about food. This is about, you know, being with animals and horses. And like, I think that is the kind of mentality we need when we think about relationship and we think about flourishing. You know, there's we sort of put in a lot of very false boundaries where things start and end. And I think that we need to to rethink that a little.

I'm not saying that we invite, you know, organizations into our homes and things like that, but they are in our homes, right? Like we all bring work back with us. So I think just thinking about things a little bit differently, it doesn't have to be either or. It's not, you know, us versus them, but it's like us in it together and like, I know those are nice words, but we have to figure out together what that looks like and that means we have to test it and kick the tires and experiment.

AD

I love that. I love that. Are there any organizations out there that you think are kicking those tires and that are really challenging these boundaries like or this concept of of these boundaries?

AG

I think they're trying I do think that there's some out there who are really trying and maybe it's the smaller ones that are having more success. I do think there's something that happens when you grow and become so large. It's hard to keep that humanness, that human centric, you know, focus. And so there is something about size, their scale, which is important, you know, for business success.

But how do you keep the humanity as you scale. I think that's, that's a huge question.

JW

Mm. Yeah. Okay. So we yeah. That's a, that's a great way to I think transition into the next topic. So you know, you both we're talking about some really large scale stuff, like some big things. And so I want to kind of drill down into some root causes here. And so a vignette when we talked last week, something you said like really stuck with me because we were we were we were going deep.

And you said something to the effect that attachment wounds are at the heart of many that you see in leadership in the workplace in general. And I just love that. And I would love for you to talk a little bit more about that.

AG

Oh, I could talk at length about this subject. Is it is is for where I am in my life right now. It is the it is the kind of like flashing light that just like the sign, the neon sign, that's like, duh, like, how could we have missed this for so long? You know? But I think that's the process of, you know, just getting better and making those connections.

And so, yeah, I it's my personal perspective and I think if shared by many researchers out there, but I do really feel, you know, that attachment theory as a framework is, is very powerful. It essentially just gives us a roadmap for looking at, you know, our childhood, our family dynamics, the roles that we played in those families and, you know, kind of the unresolved wounds that were left remaining because of those interactions with no blame placed, at least without knowing the details.

I don't hold parents as responsible. I don't hold, you know, grandparents responsible in certain cases they are. But in general, it's not about blame. It's more about awareness and understanding. And for each, it's about empowerment to say, hey, look, this is this is what I really heard growing up and it still hurts. And so when I am dismissed or not seen at work or passed up for this project or, you know, someone talks over me and that comes up for me again, and that's just a trigger.

And the more we can understand that, the more we can befriend that. No one is saying that you have to go and have a two hour long meeting with your boss to share your deepest, darkest secrets. But if you can feel that trigger, you can recognize that heat. You know, you then have choice in how you behave and what decisions you make that is so dang powerful.

JW

It's like awareness and this is something that we've been working on a lot in Jazz Collective with all our experts and just this idea that awareness in itself is really transformative. And so I'm imagining as you're talking just even bringing this awareness into the workplace that like, hey, your triggers around feedback are your triggers around, you know, whatever like that, that there are parts of you that are triggered because of what happened when you were five years old and when you were ten and, and so so I think just this awareness and exact.

You're exactly right. Like we don't need to then go talk to the boss. We're like, okay, well, actually, I was transferring my relationship with my mom onto you, right? No, I mean, there is just a little bit of spaciousness and a little bit of freedom inside that opens up with this awareness.

AD

Justin, you know, what that brings up for me is, is talking with Jenny Walters. Jenny Abena is one of our dear friends of yours collective. You know her right through. Yeah. And Jenny will talk about a good amount of what she does in depth psychology and in her work as a therapist is psychoeducation. Right. So if you are someone in this country usually facing a mental health crisis, you will hopefully be able to find your way to therapy.

But very often not. We know the issues in this country for someone who is, you know, kind of like coping, operating fairly typically. You may never find your way to therapy and you therefore may never find your way to psychoeducation, and you therefore may never find your way to even knowing what a trigger is or what it feels like.

And I know for me, I mean, it wasn't really until recently, more recently that we got into this work and I'm like, that's what is happening. And all of this time in the workplace, had I just known, like what is going on inside, this is confusing, why am I feeling this way? Right? And it seems to be to me just essential are we doing this if we don't have this background and support?

Like I don't even know how we are showing up.

AG

We're hanging on by. By like our fingernails. Literally nails. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Or we just shutdown, right? So I've also been reflecting on, you know, the people I see ascending in organizations being promoted, you know, leading other people generally. And this is not this is not an in-depth research study. Right. This has no data behind is just observational.

I see them being more reserved. I see them kind of holding back and just sort of being that good soldier. Right. And so and some of them are brilliant and very effective and they do care, but they they know the game and they know how to fit and they know how to function. But you have to wonder what part of them is impacted by that.

You know, a part of them that's severed piece wears the severed head. It's somewhere it's running around somewhere.

AD

Athena That's beautiful and generous and coming from higher education, my experience was that the folks who ascended were more of the narcissist tendency and the ones who had true potential in really transformative leadership dropped out.

AG

100%, just like politics. Mm hmm. Yeah, yep, yep, yeah.

JW

Well, but yeah. So in my experience of seen as like that description immediate was like, oh, there are so many in my career in academia, it's like, Oh, there are so many really high like it, whether they're high achieving professors or act or administration administrators who I think fit that to a T and now that I'm doing this work, I hear this emotional health coaching work.

I do have several executives that I've had the fortune of working with. And as we started to dig deeper into this, like, oh, wow, so much, so much protection, so much, you know, armor.

Just armor had to be taken on for you to get to where you were. And and and then they look around, they're like, oh, I don't have any relationships in my life that I really value. I don't know how to connect. I'm, you know, and.

AD

And this armor is heavy and it hurts and it's exhausting. Yeah, right. Yeah, yeah.

JW

Yes. And so oh, my gosh, I so Avina do you have in your mind and you know, you don't need to call anybody out, but like have you come across leaders who you feel have done this work, who've gone through and who've done this work and are showing up and with more authenticity, more connection, more presence?

AG

Yes, definitely. You know, and I see individual leaders in big organizations. I haven't met a lot of them on be completely honest, but I have definitely met my fair share. And then I do think in smaller businesses when you have younger my in my experience younger executive teams, whether they're successors, you know, generational successors to family businesses, that's broke for me.

A lot of hope comes because I see these, you know kind of younger generation leaders being really open to looking in the mirror and saying, it starts with me and I want to have a different organization. I want to create and grow a different organization, and I need help. And it's that's not you know, it's not stigmatized to the degree it was probably before, I think, what those individual leaders and these larger multinational organizations that I've seen, you know, that are big and and doing very well and very successful, you know, financially they are not the ones who ascend necessarily.

So they may be high up in the organization, but they're they're generally not the people I see being elevated to executive committees and boards. So I think we're still in that paradigm shift. MM.

JW

Is it, is it what's holding them back. Is it that they aren't playing the game in the right way or what.

AG

What. Yes, I think we're not ready for them, you know, like I can't remember what that you know, first they will, you know, ridicule you, then they will beat you, then they will join you like I'm totally ed that quote.

JW

But like right there is. But but like there is this this arc, too. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. There's a paradigm shift.

All right, so with our time left, I'm wondering if we can dig into some practices. So, like, what are some of the things that individuals can can do at work to support their own mental and emotional? Well, so I guess we can start with just individually and then I would love to hear like, what can organizations do?

AG

Mm hmm. Yeah, that's such a good question. I think individually, I think the first thing is just really knowing what you want. What is it that you want in your in your phase of life with whatever your family looks like, wherever you live, like what's going to fulfill you? I think sometimes we jump so quickly into solutions, you know, like, I'm going to buy a peloton or I'm going to go get a, you know, a membership, a gentle strength or whatever it is, you know, like, like before we do that, like, is that.

JW

Actually will solve a lot of problems, the gentle strength part.

AG

But yeah, so what is it that you want? And then I think being honest about where you work and like how that fits you and suits you and where that's lacking. And then can you shore up some resources for yourself, whether it can can you actually afford to go see a therapist? There's more affordable options or even a coach, right?

Can you do something online that's a little bit more affordable, you know, and how can you really start to address some of those things that maybe you've pushed away for many, many, many decades? I would say that's probably one of the first things. And, you know, the other piece, I think that I'm coming to accept more is work really shouldn't define your worst.

And I think that for the longest time and I will speak from personal experience, my work, I have allowed it. I have nurtured it to actually tell me how about my worth? It has defined me, defined my value, defined my worth, and almost like a cadre of people is behind me going, Look at her. She didn't do this and she didn't get that.

Or, you know, or Look, she's on a video now or she is, you know, on a podcast. So, you know, how can we stop letting external things define ourselves and how can we really come back to the center of who we are? And that's really hard. That's ego work, right? That's that's getting rid of some of that that fills the ego and feeds the ego.

So I think there's two things. They're looking for what you want, seeing where you are falling short and some of what you need, and then can you get some of those needs met. And then also really thinking about who you are, what you value and you know, kind of almost stepping back a little from being so embroiled and so engrossed in work.

There are other parts of life that we sometimes forget to pay attention to.

AD

I have two things with that that come up for me listening to you of being and I couldn't agree more the first with like like the the first part of caring for oneself, right? Seeing what you need, doing that assessment. When I felt most stuck at the various points in my work life along the way, I fixated so much on what the organization wasn't doing right or was doing whatever it was so much on the organization.

And it wasn't until I realized like, Hey, I can't change this, but I have capacity for change, expansion, whatever. And it was in that space that I realized like, wait a minute, my about I don't have good boundaries. What if I try this? What if I try being angry? What if I try not answering those emails? You know, what if I you know, and and today, me today would get help with it.

Me today I would be able to look at that and say, Hey, I need more resources and support for that. Yeah, but that's something that didn't occur to me in my most stark places. And so we could like put a pin in that for, for folks who are feeling super, super stuck. They don't know how to get out of a very, very unhappy or difficult work situation.

You know, obviously a process there and that's layered with ones privilege and access and things like that. But where possible, to be able to find the support to oneself.

AG

I hear you talking about mindset, right? And no matter where you are, right? Like when you think about the most inspiring leaders through Framestore, when you think about Mandela stuck in that prison for like 32 years and you think about Viktor Frankl, right? It comes to mind and you think if they could shift their mindset, that's not that's not to condone an abusive environment or abusive boss or anything like that.

That sucks if that is what you're going through. But what can you do to bring peace to yourself how can you maybe take the personal out of some of it? Even if that person wants to make it personal, they want to make it about you and your failings or you didn't do this. Where can you step back and say, like, this actually isn't about, Yeah, and I'm going to do the best I.

AD

Can and that's really powerful. Thank you for that. Because itis I envision, you know, as we're having this conversation on this podcast about this type of growth and in our work and the sorts of organizations that are people focused and really care and are trying what it's like to be at an organization that isn't. And you really are stuck.

You know, you really aren't in the position to just get another job right now, you know?

AG

No. And yep, yep, yep, nope. And there are plenty of those organizations out there. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they don't know any better. But that doesn't mean that makes experience any better.

JW

So we have a11 last kind of big question and then we'll go into our three rapid fire question. But Veena, is there anything right now that is new and challenging in your own personal growth journey, like just just stuff that you're working right now that's new, challenging, exciting and kind of moving you into growth.

AG

So it's really exciting for me, but it's not an exciting answer. And so I'll tell you, you know, you know, having entered officially entered middle age, even though hopefully that number keeps shifting so soon, like 100 will be like middle age. You know what I'm doing in my life right now? I'm chasing consistency. I'm chasing consistency in that.

Like, it's not new, right? I'm not I'm not trying to do something crazy. I'm not taking up hover boarding or whatever it is. Like, I'm just trying to I'm just trying to do what I know fills me and fulfills me most days. I'm not going to say every day because it doesn't happen every day, but and I'm nowhere near doing it consistently, but meditating, taking 10 minutes on calm or headspace or simply being or whatever the app you want to use or no app.

And I do that most days, 10 minutes. I can't I haven't been able to manage it so far. Whatever your form of exercise is, walking tai chi, peloton, running, canoeing, whatever it is, can you do that? Most days, you know? So I'm chasing consistency and being present with my kids. I would like to say every day on that one.

But in every, you know, at least in some moments every day, I'm chasing consistency because I've started so many things and the only way I've ever seen results. So keep at it. You keep at it. You keep at it. So that's that's what I'm doing.

AD

I'm trying thank you for that of I resonate with that in my middle age as well. Very, very much. And as a parent, I think that's a mother like layer to it, right. Yeah. I want to jump out because I had forgotten there were two things and in the last conversation we had and the one thing that you mentioned is, is in investing too much of of one's self-worth in work.

And it just reminded me Adam Grant posted the other day I thought it was so great. He said employers shouldn't discourage side hustles or hesitate to hire people who have them. ADA After engaging, even after engaging evenings on their side, these people perform better the next day in their full time jobs. Side hustles aren't a distraction. They're a source of energy and empowerment.

And I could not agree more when I started a project and I was working full time Max the project enlivened my work life and brought so many I felt more resourced day in and day out and better at what I did. I was learning a whole nother avenue and into my colleagues who were so overly invested in the institution and in battled and like these small battles meant everything to them.

I remember thinking at the time, Man, these people need a side hustle, right? It should be like a thing. It should be something that we ask, you know, we could not agree more.

Do you think something like that, like having this this interest outside of that one central thing that you that you do, if you're lucky to have that is a part of not investing in this one side of yourself. Oh, everything. And yes.

AG

So in one resounding answer. Yes. So first Adam Grant, brilliant. Right up there with Brené Brown. I think for both of us. Right, in terms of inspiration and just speaking truth to power, like truly like I know that's such a overused phrase, but I really feel like, you know, they're they're pinnacle leaders and people. They have followers and they have people that look up to them and people listen to them.

And I love that they are sharing, you know, sharing honestly, like a database like research based are both researchers and professionals. I could not agree with you more. I absolutely think that when you have a side hustle, it gives it enlivens you. Like you said, you remember that you are capable and that you are creative and, that you have so much left to do right, and that you are not just your job, you are not just your title, you are not just your salary.

When you don't have that other outlet, you just it becomes everything to you. You lose perspective, you get tunnel vision, right? All of those small battles become enormous. They become a battlefield. Right. And that's all you're fighting for. And that is hugely stressful. And we've all been there. I've been there. You've been there. Justin's been there. Everyone listening has probably been there.

It doesn't feel good when you have that side hustle. It's like a door opens and some fresh air comes in and you get to be capable. Competent, you get to be creative. I think. I think it's a brilliant idea and I think organizations probably are probably turning a blind eye. But everyone I talk to these days has a side hustle.

JW

All right. So our last three questions we ask everyone. First of Ina, if you could put a big Post-it note on everyone's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say?

AG

A Post-it note. So Post-it notes are small, so it won't be my dissertation I think. Which was the entire fridge, right. I would say just breathe and notice that's what I would say. Just breathe and notice.

JW

Avina, what's the last quote that you read or heard that changed the way you think or feel?

AG

This past spring, I lost one of my she was really an acquaintance, someone who was in the doctoral program with with me probably a couple of years after I started. I honestly can't even say whether or not I physically met this woman in person, but I know that when I had my son was my first child, we texted and she was a huge source of support and inspiration, even though she was younger than me.

She's just one of these women who are larger than life. And she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January and June 15th. She passed away and her name is Naomi. And I remember just that really hit me in a different way, whether it's age, whether it's she, she has a six year old son. I was just devastated by her death.

And I kept searching for something to give give comfort to her family members that remain to give comfort to me. Like, I don't know. I couldn't understand why I was so to say, seismically shifted by her by her death. And I started reading some of Mary Oliver's poetry and her last line and one of her most famous poems is just, you know, resonated with me and stayed with me.

And it simply says, so tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? And yeah, so that that gets me every time because I think it's a reminder of this is not permanent, this is not constant. And we have some really big choices to make if we want to live the way, if we want to create the lives that we envision.

And we've got to work at it every day. And we are so much more powerful than we give ourselves credit for. It's beautiful.

AD

Beautiful. Oh, beautiful. Avina Do you even want to ask the other question?

JW

Yes. So my third one. Yeah, because it's I mean, it's beautifully connected. So Avina, what is one thing giving you hope right now?

AG

Well, it's such a cliche answer, but, you know, for me, my hope is in the future and in the faces of my kids and their little right now. And so they are just so precious to me. So it's my kids that are giving me hope. And this work right here, this work that they have been my greatest teachers, like bar none, so humbling and so fun.

And so this work with you all learning from them and watching them grow and hoping against all hope that like the world we creating will be better for them, you know?

In this episode

This month’s theme in the Yes Collective is work/life wellness, and we’re diving even deeper with an outstanding leader in organizational psychology and leadership development, Dr. Avina Gupta. She’s pioneered leadership and coaching engagements in organizations from small family-owned businesses to billion dollar multi-national corporations. She’s a former consultant with Deloitte, has founded 2 boutique leadership development firms, and has taught courses across the globe, from Vienna to New York City.

Born and raised in Canada, Avina is fluent in Hindi and can ask for a beer and directions in both German and French. She met her German-born husband Sebastian on a mountain in South Africa; and is Mom to their delightful 4-year-old son, Sai and 4-month old baby girl, Lani Mae. Avina and company currently live in Atlanta GA.

In this episode, we talk about Avina's professional journey, how she helps companies create cultures of authenticity, connection, and meaning, and the different ways we all can care for our mental and emotional health across the work/life continuum.

Listen here

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About our guest

Dr. Avina Gupta is an expert in organizational psychology and leadership development. She’s pioneered leadership and coaching engagements in organizations from small family-owned businesses to billion dollar multi-national corporations. She’s a former consultant with Deloitte, has founded 2 boutique leadership development firms, and has taught courses across the globe, from Vienna to New York City.

Transcript highlights

Justin Wilford (JW)

We are. We are we are longtime friends. And so I would love to just begin by you and Audra kind of telling the story, like how you met, where this friendship began.

Avina Gupta (AG)

I love it.

Audra DiPadova (AD)

Oh, I do too. That is so awesome. Vina We met in 2000.

AG

2004 or five?

AD

Oh, my God. That's earlier than I thought. I thought for some reason, I thought we moved here to New York, and, you know, we moved away in 2005. That's what it was.

AG

Gosh, you're only there for a year.

JW

Well, you know, we moved there in 2003.

AG

Right. So we only had a year together in New York. That is crazy to me, because what a fast friendship, right? And like, what a deep friendship. Like, in just a year, I thought you'd been there. I thought we'd been there together for years. So that is really interesting.

AD

It is incredible, isn't it? Like, it seems like so much more than that and. Yeah. Do you do you feel like I noticed this when I started working at, you know, at colleges and universities as an administrator? Like the fast friendships at that age, it's so beautiful the way that we're almost just, like, wired to openly connect. And we kind of I feel like we lose it as we get older and have our families, our kids to experience that to.

AG

100%. And so, you know, you've got two kids that are a little bit older than our kids. Our kids are younger, but it's this you know, we've sort of been on a quest to make those same deep friendships. And, you know, Sebastian, my husband keeps saying like it doesn't happen the same way anymore. Like, you know, those friendships you have when you're younger, when you're in college, to your point, you don't.

AG

You are just you have all of that discretionary time that you were constantly together, right? And like in it and like, you don't know your ass from your elbow and like, you don't know what you're doing. And you're kind of in this, like, in this adventure together of something. So powerful about it. And I think, you know, the days feel longer, the months feel longer, but in a good way.

Like, you know, yeah, the friendships go deep. Now, you were two of my great greatest friends. Like, even if we didn't see each other for years, which we probably didn't talk for years, that you probably didn't when you were out in California, like, you know, you know, like you said, you just know some people are in your heart and on your heart.

That's definitely how I feel about you guys.

AD

Oh, I feel the same way. And and speaking of the fast friendship, because Justin wants us to dish we so we were at Teachers College at Columbia University together working in residential life.

And shout out to Sophia Pertuz who. Yes. Works with us on yes collective just. Yeah, totally amazing. Like there's so many beautiful tie ins like it was such a formative period in my life. It was such a powerful time in my life personally and to to connect with you and build this. It was such a deep connection and one that I think I just knew, I mean, and hoped it would be a lifelong collection, but its connection has proved to be that.

And it I just feel so grateful for that intense time we had together. But working together. And as friends and you always endlessly fascinated me because your you were in the org psych program, right?

And I was doing philosophy and education. You were in a doctoral program and I was in a master's program, hence our short time together. Yeah. And I remember just being endlessly fascinated with your interest in your work and what you were learning. Because organizations are organisms unto themselves.

Endlessly fascinating. And so that was like I just remember being super curious about what you were doing and learning and what your interests are, and that has never waned. I have remained endlessly curious about your work because you're an expert in a field that I feel like is deeply tied to the future of human flourishing.

AG

Mm hmm. Wow. That's very powerful and very humbling. I do remember. Yeah, I feel I've always felt passionate about my work, even when I didn't know that's what I wanted to do, or it didn't have a name, which, you know, I guess we'll talk about it in a little bit. But, you know, going back to the friendship, I do remember where I was like when I got the text, you know, I'm going to get emotional here for a second.

But like, I remember where I was when I got the text about Max. Oh, I remember, you know, like I was on the beach, you know, in Coney Island. And I got this text and I remember feeling like like someone had, like, thrown a stone on my chest, you know, like, I remember, like, I remember these moments. I remember going to visit you in California and like, you know, just these these moments like that standstill in time, sort of, you know.

Yeah. So our friendship and I remember on a lighter note, the long walks with the two of you to Shake Shack in.

AD

We still talk about that. And we tell the kids, you know, we're like, you know, we used to walk just the one shake shack for one, and we would walk 100 blocks, you know, with bears teasing us. You know, obviously they weren't open in the snow, but still in the hot summer, you know, and we would then stand in line for 2 hours.

AG

And that's what you did as a New Yorker, right? That was like. And that was your whole day. That was your whole weekend. Yes.

JW

And now you can get Shake Shack in a mall or an airport everywhere. These kids these days.

AG

They don't need to walk 100 blocks in the heat and wait in line for 2 hours.

JW

That's right. So, I mean, I, I will apologize to the listeners because I say this on almost every podcast, but I am the in what they call the radio business. I'm the driver, you know, and the address, the personality. And so I try to keep the train on the track so perfect. Well, yeah. So I wanted to throw that curveball at the beginning and have you guys talk about the friendship, but and I'm sure more is going to come up about this, but I would love to dove into the topic. So this month we're talking about all the ways that we can support emotional and mental wellness so that we can both be more present, connected and more in the flow at work and bring more of ourselves home at the end of the day.

And so we'll be diving into this from all different angles with you. But before we do, you touched on it briefly. We'd love to find out more like how did you get into organizational psychology and leadership development? What does your professional journey look like to you now? You know, as you've you've had all this experience, you've done all this amazing work: basically, how do you make sense of it all?

AG

Oh, that's a great question. So it's so fun to be able to talk talk about the journey. I always think about how Steve Jobs said in one of his commencement speeches that moving forward, you never really know exactly what you're doing. And then you look back and all the dots just connect right into a beautiful story. So it's really it's really such a privilege to be able to to think about the work and talk about it with you.

So I'll start here. I don't know if you have many Indian immigrant friends, but, you know, my parents are a huge influence on me and we're very big part of my life and they're first generation immigrants. They moved from India to Canada. And there's one profession that is acceptable in this community, at least when I was growing up.

And that's to be a doctor, a real doctor, just not like you and like.

JW

Audra bought me a t shirt years ago that says "Not a real doctor."

AG

Totally I that you need to send one of those to me or maybe to my parents like my know parents of not a real doctor. But you know, there's a couple of problems I fake when I get my blood drawn and I am just not built for a clinical setting. I love people, but not when they're sick. I'm not.

That's not where I'm at my best. You know, we're talking about flourishing, right? But I love, love people. And in high school, I had a boyfriend, which was also very taboo in our in our culture. But I had a boyfriend. He was wonderful. And his mother was a psychologist. So that was my first foray into like, oh, there is a different way.

And she was wildly successful, raised three boys and had a private practice. And so, you know, when I start to think about what was really like who I am and what I wanted to do, I studied psychology and I didn't know anything like work psychology or organizational psychology existed. But my first work experience, which was right around the time of September 11th, when everything was kind of just falling apart, I found this job as a recruiter for a housewares company in New Jersey and really felt aligned with their core values.

And I was like, This is the company for me. The leaders were incredible. Some of the managers like endowment funds for the biggest universities, and they were just like, you work hard, you have like these really good homegrown values. I was like, I'm all about it. And then I go out there and it was a disaster. It was a nightmare.

People were embezzling money. They had us working six days a week, like 14 hour days. And the facade just crumbled. You know, the impression I was left with was, well, how much time do we spend at work? More. We spend more time at work than we do anywhere else, right then with their families sleeping, eating and walking to Shake Shack.

So how can we find a better way to lead? And I was just I wanted to know. I wanted to learn for myself, but also to try and build better leaders, to have better influence so that we could live better lives. I wasn't that kind of naive perspective of it all, and even back then feels even more naive and also more true right now.

I really believe that you could do this through practice of love, even in a professional setting and the keep, you know, in my old age, my middle age now I keep coming back to this concept that, you know, it was born of someone very naive. And now here we are coming back to the idea of talking about wellness, flourishing, caring for each other.

Love is how I think about it. So that was, you know, sort of how I got there. I didn't plan it, but looking back, all the dots really connect, you know? And I've loved what I've been able to do and been allowed to do in the last 20 years or so.

AD

It's very wise of, you know, the like you, you know, you, you see those early days as being naive. But sometimes those early days are when you can see the heart of the matter. Right. It's the least foggy time, right? The least jaded, you know.

JW

And also when you probably have more most clarity around your North Star, you know? Yeah, yeah. This is a mm hmm.

AG

In a real raw way, right? Like before it kind of gets, you know, like, worked on and sculpted by, like, who you're supposed to be and how you're supposed to sound and look like.

AD

It's so true. I remember when we lived in Tempe, and Jess and I were walking to gentle strength are like little co-op that was there. And I remember being like Jess and I were so into like economic democracy and and we're like, I want to have like, found a completely like, worker owned business one day and then have a pamphlet about it, hear a gentle strength that others can can use to, like, start their own, you know?

And yeah, seems super naive, but I think I'm still working towards that today.

AG

I know it sounds like it right? Yeah. You've just expanded beyond gentle strength. Yeah.

AD

And beyond the pamphlet, you know. But so I mean, that it's just, it's so beautiful. And then I mean, knowing you, too, I mean, you've always been really passionate about health and wellness. And so you've always had like, I mean, you were a physical trainer at one point. And it's always been something I mean, I have learned about with you along the way, and that's powerful to me to think of like how you've brought these interests together, like, so beautifully.

And it is all unified by love.

AG

Mm hmm. I couldn't agree more. Yeah, that is sort of like the bottom line, you know? Yeah.

JW

Yeah. So. All right, so let's move into this idea of work/life wellness or mental and emotional wellness at work. And so I'll just start by asking you a Veena. What what does work life wellness mean to you? Maybe, what does it look like? Why is it important you can take it from any angle that that feels alive for you.

AG

Yeah, I know. It's such a it's such a good question. And I've been thinking about this a lot, as, you know, just COVID, the pandemic being shut in, being released back out into the world and navigating kind of work life with small children. I've been thinking a lot about this question, and I think it kind of boils down to three things for me.

And the first, when I think about work in organizations, you know, I think about fit and are you a fit for the organization? You know, I talked a little bit about company values and not just what it looks like from the outside, but when you get in there, like, do you really feel like you fit and you belong and you can be who you are, honestly, right?

And that you can just strive for something that the organization is striving for. And then, you know, so fit is the first one. I think about function. Does your role and does your organization allow you to function like really function in a healthy way, like at home, at work, with friends are you able to take time off to have your kids?

Are you supported in that? Are you able to go see family, be there when someone gets sick? You know, like just can you can your life function well in terms of the role that you're in? And then I think about future and you know, Audra, you gave me such a nice compliment at the beginning of the podcast of thinking about the future of learning, but the third thing for me is future.

Are you building the future that you want to build that you will be proud of, that will be your legacy, that will help you, you know, raise your children well, right. Like there if you have children, like those are the things I think about. So when I think about mental and emotional health, it's such a wide, broad topic and there's so many there's mental wellness and breaking down the barriers of I think we have moved into kind of a time where we can talk much more openly about mental illness, about mental wellness.

All of that was shuttered right under kind of this like tough suit of professionals ism. And I think, you know, breaking down some of those barriers and being able to talk about it honestly in a safe place doesn't mean, you know, the workplace is not your therapist office. Right. I think we're very clear about that. But also being able to say like, hey, I'm struggling right now and I need some support, I need some resources.

I think that honesty is part of that functioning. Does your organization allow you to do that and do you have the courage to be able to step up and say, hey, I have a need and can we address the need?

JW

And then I'm imagining that as companies build these resources and these mental and emotional health resources become more available, that who who fits and how they fit broadens the cycle, right? So we can now create a different sort of environment.

AG

Yeah, absolutely. Right.

AD

Yeah, yeah. I feel like I mean, I want to throw this out there. You know, you and I have walked down our professional paths together for a long time, and I think at the various times we've been able, we've we've connected around things. I think I shared with you a lot of my difficulties often over the years, working in an institutional, you know, work environment.

And I think I'm understanding it better now. I think I'm understanding I feel like we are in the midst of a paradigm shift and you are one of the leaders in in the paradigm shifting. And it's one thing that I love about you when we talked, you are our friend and yes, coach of collaborator Jenn Cornelius about this.

I cannot wait for you to meet Jenn. I just want to be a fly on the wall. When that happens, it's going to be amazing. And we were talking about this shift, you know, into a really people focused work environment. And and when I take a broader lens and I think about the dysfunctional places that I've been in, in not old places I've been in, where we're really kind of performing these roles where we're like the show severance like we are, you know, humans coming in to perform, you know, the write the algorithm or make the widget or whatever.

You know, I can understand so much of what was happening in these places. It's just a boiling underneath the surface, right? And it's like everyone's coming in hot, triggered, unaware, everything going on, right? All of our backgrounds, everything, no matter what the workplace try to do to sever us. You can't. We're coming in with it all and we don't realize it half the time.

Because. Because in these days, for me, this is pre Bernie Brown, right? This is like when we did it realize that our, you know, emotional worlds are so we we haven't I mean, first of all, mental health and mental wellness have been so stigma. Ed, throughout all this time. And I know for me, I didn't realize what was happening.

I'm in this arranged marriage with people, right? Embattled, triggered. It's everything but the actual issue at hand usually. And now I feel like far enough back from this to see what's happening in a good amount of these control centered environments. It's like a, you know, boiling pot of dysfunction. And I can understand why I see that with complete compassion.

Like we haven't had the tools to. Right? We haven't had we haven't like we stopped learning these tools in pre-K. I feel like we never, you know, student life maybe gave us some of them later on a little bit, you know, barely. But we haven't used it 100%.

So help me with this. Am I on the right track?

AG

Yes, I share a lot of a lot of what you just, you know, reference. And I think that you talk to most people out there and I do just want to add like a caveat, like, you know, folks who have are in a position of privilege, right? Because we have the privilege to be able to sculpt our lives, talk about do we want this role?

That role? We're not you know, most of us are not struggling for food and money and that sort of thing. So I just want to put that caveat out there. But I do think that that's the majority of experience is out there, that the majority of people are having this experience of feeling less than not seen, not heard, not supported, belittled, humiliated and yet their livelihood depends on their performance, right?

And their ability to put food on the table for their kids and pay their mortgages and that sort of thing. And I don't I think that that dysfunction that sits in organizations is is just absolute parallel to the dysfunction that sits in families and. Right. And so and I think that's a lot of the work that you're doing.

And so I think what we're starting to see and I completely agree, I feel it in my bones that we are in a paradigm shift. And of course there's just a few people kind of out there talking about this, the majority, right? Like on that standard deviation curve, like they're there, right there, kind of churning and burning. And they're like, but I did everything I was told to do and I put my head down and I was a good soldier and I check my emotions at the door, like, why do I still feel so yuck?

And well, it's because we're not. Yeah, we're not.

JW

I mean, I love that. Like, yeah. So I'm feeling, you know, like I was a good soldier. I checked my emotions at the door, and so why am I feeling so yuck? And, you know, doing this work now for as long as I have with so many amazing therapists and psychologists. And the answer just a minute comes up is like, oh, it's because you checked like it's because you had to check all that at the door because you had to repress this.

I mean, in psychotherapy, it's a lot like this, you know, for 100 years, this is a quote from Carl Jung, essentially. But what we repress or what we resist persists. Yeah. So. Yeah, and and and so how do we as companies, as organizations provide a safer, supportive or safer supportive spaces and resources so that we don't have to cut ourselves off?

AG

Like, that's such a good question. I think we're trying to get there. I think what I've experienced in most of the places I've been in so far is that there's still so much fear, there's still so much fear driving decision making and, you know, leadership behavior that we're not able to truly do some of that. I think people are afraid that it's just going to be a free for all.

There's going to be pandemonium. It's can be chaos, can be mental illness spilling out all over the place, you know, oh, my gosh, a vignette.

JW

So this is what I love. So, so in my work as an emotional health coach, this is why this is like the most common fear inside we have. We have parts that are like, oh, if I really open up, I'm going to be overwhelmed. It's going to be chaos. You know what's going to hit the fan? Everything's going to fall apart.

And it's like, Oh, I mean, seeing how universal all this fear is. And they were just that is like, Oh, and it's showing up in our, in our families at every realizations and like really everywhere.

AG

Yeah. And so you're talking about it from an individual standpoint, right, that individuals have this fear and so they've checked their emotions. Right. But organizations like Otter said, organizations truly are living organisms. I mean, they have their own kind of culture. They create like a feeling. They, you know, when one part moves, the other part is affected. They're kind of living, breathing beings.

And they're in their own way, you know, kind of as a metaphor. But still. And so organizations also have this fear and leaders have this fear of they lead these organizations that are that just these like, you know, Kumbaya, like, you know, come to work and bring your whole selves to work, whether it's in a thong or whether it's in a suit or whether it's in a lake.

But that's not that's not what we're talking about. Most people are highly intelligent and highly able to manage themselves. You know, it's like if you give them a little bit of room to breathe and you do set parameters, you do set professional parameters which are necessary containers exactly. Than most. You might have the, you know, a couple of odd occasions where there's someone who needs more help than the workplace can offer.

That's okay. There are ways to get help to to people who need that kind of help. And so I think there's this the fear that drives individuals, that drives organizations is what we'll have to overcome to be able to actually practice and a lot of this is going to take practice. We're not going to be perfect at it.

We're going to have to practice what it means to be in relationship with each other professionally, you know, and so it's going to be a big experiment. But, you know, like you got to strap in, right? Put your seatbelt on, your hat, your hardhat, whatever it is, because it's not going to be easy. It's going to be messy.

And I think a lot of leaders and organizations and people, they don't want the messy. They want the remote work. Two years, go to a good school, graduate from a college, get a good degree, get a good job, you know, work the job, get the car, the white picket fence, the two kids, the one and a half dog and get promoted every couple of years.

And, you know, it just does not work that way.

JW

One of the ways that I started to see how this could work in organizations and it's so small, but just hearing this now and hearing from you of it is like, oh, wow, this this actually was kind of a shift for me several years ago. I was listening to a podcast by a well-known business coach, Jerry Colonna, and he and so what he does in all of his meetings, whether it's executive teams, whatever it is, he starts with a green, yellow, red check in.

And so it's you know, everybody checks in. Are you coming in green that is resourced and feeling here, you know, president or yellow? Are you, you know, like kind of distracted? What your day is not going so hot, whatever it is or are you red like, are you triggered? Are you just not here? And then the thing that got me is then he said, and you can show up.

However, like this is not a judgment part. This is just green, yellow, red. You can say a little bit about it whatever you want, but it's just coming into connection and just and just letting everybody know where you're at. And I thought, Wow, like that feels really vulnerable and dangerous. Like, I can imagine people not wanting to come in and check in red or even check it like everybody wants to check in green.

But we've been using this in a bunch of different contexts with a bunch of different groups and a bunch of different organizations. And it works. It's like, Oh my gosh. And so this idea that like, you've just set this little container for people to show up exactly as they are. It's not like people are going crazy. I'm ready.

I'm going to just start smashing things, you know, and just the feeling that I can show up here exactly as I am now.

AG

And also without disclosing too many details. Right? Like what a beautiful way. What a beautiful invitation in to say we invite you and whatever it is, it's going on for you. And you don't have to share the the kind of the messy details behind the curtain unless you want to. And I think that's that's really powerful. But there is there is fear.

And so who's going to go first to say, I'm red, you know, when everyone's like, oh, green, green, great, doing great. You know, you remind us of Alan Mulally, right? When he took over at Ford and he was saying, hey, like something is not going right and you all keep coming to my meetings and green, green, green. He uses also a similar system, mostly for accountability.

And it was the first time someone was like, Red, this is bad. We're not meeting our targets. The deadline has come and gone like we are failing. And instead of, you know, like Austin Powers, you know, like Dr. Evil, he didn't get like, you know, drop through a trap door and disappear. Yeah. He, you know, he was like, thank you.

Thank you for your honesty. And that's when things started to turn around because there's got to be there's got to be a sincere offer or invitation. It can't just be, you know, we're inviting you to be vulnerable and then we're going to come down hard on whoever is honest. So the invitation has to be authentic, and then we have to be courageous to take the step and say, you know, this is what's going on for us.

AD

A what was coming up for me in this conversation really strong. That is that I just want to share is that I've had a broad amount of work experience from the service industry, you know, as a cook, a line cook server and a bartender and then moving into a like a quote unquote professional, you know, work environment. And in the last conversation, we had this podcast that we will be sharing very soon with our friend Jen.

We were very much talking about the start up work environment, these work environments that are much more interested in being in growing into a fully people focused, you know, environment. My experience in the service industry was not that, you know, it was not, you know, I experience, you know, sexual harassment and verbal assaults like, you know, all of the all of the extreme things that you can imagine were normalized in the nineties. And so on. And so when I think about this conversation, it always comes up for me, like I love, love, love talking about our paradigm shift. I love talking about this hope on the horizon. I love talking about this change.

You have a lot of experience in the space. Do you is this just a change in the most privileged spaces or is this a change that we can hope to see? That's a fundamental shift in how we structure our work environments. Is there hope for us all?

AG

I think there has to be hope. Without hope, there's just despair. So I think, you know, overall, I'll say that, but I do think you touch on something really pivotal, I think, in those dark spaces, you know, kitchens, the back of kitchens, the back of restaurants like the back of hotels at behind the Shining Glimmering cities like Dubai and other places where there's, you know, everyone working and working and hustling and not being able to make ends meet.

Like, I don't know. I don't think this paradigm shift has reached those places when we have enlightened leaders, not just in businesses, but in politics, you know, that's when maybe some of that will start to change. But the suffering, you know, that untold billions of people are encountering, you know, work and otherwise, I think we have to have hope.

But I think we also have to be realistic. I don't I don't think it's reached some of those places quite yet.

JW

Do you think it will? I guess what I'm saying is, do you think that we have the capacity to do this type of work, knowing what you know, of organizational structures, let's say, even just in the U.S.? Set aside, I mean, the worldwide challenges. Yes. But just in the U.S., looking at the structures of of workplaces, whether it's, you know, an Amazon warehouse or, you know, a hotel, a commissary, like do you see any glimmer of potential for us to become more people centered in all of the work that we do?

AG

I do. And I think some of what I see giving me hope is that it doesn't have to just come from the top down, right? It doesn't just have to come from executive committees and CEOs and, you know, people who are, quote unquote, in charge. But it can come from the masses. And so you see Starbucks, you see Amazon, you see people coming together and standing up for their rights and for each others rights.

And, you know, I'm not going to say I'm pro-union or pro-business. I personally I think that that is a losing kind of frame. Right. I think that we have to be for each other. And how can we really enter into a relationship and enter into partnerships that honor, like honor each person and honor the roles that they're in and allow them to to live a healthy, flourishing life.

So, yeah, I do I do see hope on the horizon.

AD

I am so grateful for that. Davina, you know, this is something that being a part of that paradigm shifting, like you really want to take like one organization in and of itself, can't possibly solve all the problems, right? But we need to network and link arms and ensure that what we're doing has lasting like rippling effects and partnerships and things like that so that we can get there together.

Because I believe, too, that everybody should I believe in in that dignity of being seen and heard and valued as a person that is in partnership, really. It's business partnership. When you're an employee, you're in partnership, too, you know? Right?

AG

Yes.

AD

Yes. And I we should be dignified by like really being valued for that.

AG

100%. It also makes me think of what you all did with, you know, Max Love from, you know, my outside perspective of what I understand you all did is I think you also looked above and beyond where the typical boundaries lie, right? Like we are patients, we're a cancer family, we interface with the doctor occasionally with insurance. But you took it to a completely different level and you said this is about health overall.

Health is about mental well-being, this is about food. This is about, you know, being with animals and horses. And like, I think that is the kind of mentality we need when we think about relationship and we think about flourishing. You know, there's we sort of put in a lot of very false boundaries where things start and end. And I think that we need to to rethink that a little.

I'm not saying that we invite, you know, organizations into our homes and things like that, but they are in our homes, right? Like we all bring work back with us. So I think just thinking about things a little bit differently, it doesn't have to be either or. It's not, you know, us versus them, but it's like us in it together and like, I know those are nice words, but we have to figure out together what that looks like and that means we have to test it and kick the tires and experiment.

AD

I love that. I love that. Are there any organizations out there that you think are kicking those tires and that are really challenging these boundaries like or this concept of of these boundaries?

AG

I think they're trying I do think that there's some out there who are really trying and maybe it's the smaller ones that are having more success. I do think there's something that happens when you grow and become so large. It's hard to keep that humanness, that human centric, you know, focus. And so there is something about size, their scale, which is important, you know, for business success.

But how do you keep the humanity as you scale. I think that's, that's a huge question.

JW

Mm. Yeah. Okay. So we yeah. That's a, that's a great way to I think transition into the next topic. So you know, you both we're talking about some really large scale stuff, like some big things. And so I want to kind of drill down into some root causes here. And so a vignette when we talked last week, something you said like really stuck with me because we were we were we were going deep.

And you said something to the effect that attachment wounds are at the heart of many that you see in leadership in the workplace in general. And I just love that. And I would love for you to talk a little bit more about that.

AG

Oh, I could talk at length about this subject. Is it is is for where I am in my life right now. It is the it is the kind of like flashing light that just like the sign, the neon sign, that's like, duh, like, how could we have missed this for so long? You know? But I think that's the process of, you know, just getting better and making those connections.

And so, yeah, I it's my personal perspective and I think if shared by many researchers out there, but I do really feel, you know, that attachment theory as a framework is, is very powerful. It essentially just gives us a roadmap for looking at, you know, our childhood, our family dynamics, the roles that we played in those families and, you know, kind of the unresolved wounds that were left remaining because of those interactions with no blame placed, at least without knowing the details.

I don't hold parents as responsible. I don't hold, you know, grandparents responsible in certain cases they are. But in general, it's not about blame. It's more about awareness and understanding. And for each, it's about empowerment to say, hey, look, this is this is what I really heard growing up and it still hurts. And so when I am dismissed or not seen at work or passed up for this project or, you know, someone talks over me and that comes up for me again, and that's just a trigger.

And the more we can understand that, the more we can befriend that. No one is saying that you have to go and have a two hour long meeting with your boss to share your deepest, darkest secrets. But if you can feel that trigger, you can recognize that heat. You know, you then have choice in how you behave and what decisions you make that is so dang powerful.

JW

It's like awareness and this is something that we've been working on a lot in Jazz Collective with all our experts and just this idea that awareness in itself is really transformative. And so I'm imagining as you're talking just even bringing this awareness into the workplace that like, hey, your triggers around feedback are your triggers around, you know, whatever like that, that there are parts of you that are triggered because of what happened when you were five years old and when you were ten and, and so so I think just this awareness and exact.

You're exactly right. Like we don't need to then go talk to the boss. We're like, okay, well, actually, I was transferring my relationship with my mom onto you, right? No, I mean, there is just a little bit of spaciousness and a little bit of freedom inside that opens up with this awareness.

AD

Justin, you know, what that brings up for me is, is talking with Jenny Walters. Jenny Abena is one of our dear friends of yours collective. You know her right through. Yeah. And Jenny will talk about a good amount of what she does in depth psychology and in her work as a therapist is psychoeducation. Right. So if you are someone in this country usually facing a mental health crisis, you will hopefully be able to find your way to therapy.

But very often not. We know the issues in this country for someone who is, you know, kind of like coping, operating fairly typically. You may never find your way to therapy and you therefore may never find your way to psychoeducation, and you therefore may never find your way to even knowing what a trigger is or what it feels like.

And I know for me, I mean, it wasn't really until recently, more recently that we got into this work and I'm like, that's what is happening. And all of this time in the workplace, had I just known, like what is going on inside, this is confusing, why am I feeling this way? Right? And it seems to be to me just essential are we doing this if we don't have this background and support?

Like I don't even know how we are showing up.

AG

We're hanging on by. By like our fingernails. Literally nails. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Or we just shutdown, right? So I've also been reflecting on, you know, the people I see ascending in organizations being promoted, you know, leading other people generally. And this is not this is not an in-depth research study. Right. This has no data behind is just observational.

I see them being more reserved. I see them kind of holding back and just sort of being that good soldier. Right. And so and some of them are brilliant and very effective and they do care, but they they know the game and they know how to fit and they know how to function. But you have to wonder what part of them is impacted by that.

You know, a part of them that's severed piece wears the severed head. It's somewhere it's running around somewhere.

AD

Athena That's beautiful and generous and coming from higher education, my experience was that the folks who ascended were more of the narcissist tendency and the ones who had true potential in really transformative leadership dropped out.

AG

100%, just like politics. Mm hmm. Yeah, yep, yep, yeah.

JW

Well, but yeah. So in my experience of seen as like that description immediate was like, oh, there are so many in my career in academia, it's like, Oh, there are so many really high like it, whether they're high achieving professors or act or administration administrators who I think fit that to a T and now that I'm doing this work, I hear this emotional health coaching work.

I do have several executives that I've had the fortune of working with. And as we started to dig deeper into this, like, oh, wow, so much, so much protection, so much, you know, armor.

Just armor had to be taken on for you to get to where you were. And and and then they look around, they're like, oh, I don't have any relationships in my life that I really value. I don't know how to connect. I'm, you know, and.

AD

And this armor is heavy and it hurts and it's exhausting. Yeah, right. Yeah, yeah.

JW

Yes. And so oh, my gosh, I so Avina do you have in your mind and you know, you don't need to call anybody out, but like have you come across leaders who you feel have done this work, who've gone through and who've done this work and are showing up and with more authenticity, more connection, more presence?

AG

Yes, definitely. You know, and I see individual leaders in big organizations. I haven't met a lot of them on be completely honest, but I have definitely met my fair share. And then I do think in smaller businesses when you have younger my in my experience younger executive teams, whether they're successors, you know, generational successors to family businesses, that's broke for me.

A lot of hope comes because I see these, you know kind of younger generation leaders being really open to looking in the mirror and saying, it starts with me and I want to have a different organization. I want to create and grow a different organization, and I need help. And it's that's not you know, it's not stigmatized to the degree it was probably before, I think, what those individual leaders and these larger multinational organizations that I've seen, you know, that are big and and doing very well and very successful, you know, financially they are not the ones who ascend necessarily.

So they may be high up in the organization, but they're they're generally not the people I see being elevated to executive committees and boards. So I think we're still in that paradigm shift. MM.

JW

Is it, is it what's holding them back. Is it that they aren't playing the game in the right way or what.

AG

What. Yes, I think we're not ready for them, you know, like I can't remember what that you know, first they will, you know, ridicule you, then they will beat you, then they will join you like I'm totally ed that quote.

JW

But like right there is. But but like there is this this arc, too. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. There's a paradigm shift.

All right, so with our time left, I'm wondering if we can dig into some practices. So, like, what are some of the things that individuals can can do at work to support their own mental and emotional? Well, so I guess we can start with just individually and then I would love to hear like, what can organizations do?

AG

Mm hmm. Yeah, that's such a good question. I think individually, I think the first thing is just really knowing what you want. What is it that you want in your in your phase of life with whatever your family looks like, wherever you live, like what's going to fulfill you? I think sometimes we jump so quickly into solutions, you know, like, I'm going to buy a peloton or I'm going to go get a, you know, a membership, a gentle strength or whatever it is, you know, like, like before we do that, like, is that.

JW

Actually will solve a lot of problems, the gentle strength part.

AG

But yeah, so what is it that you want? And then I think being honest about where you work and like how that fits you and suits you and where that's lacking. And then can you shore up some resources for yourself, whether it can can you actually afford to go see a therapist? There's more affordable options or even a coach, right?

Can you do something online that's a little bit more affordable, you know, and how can you really start to address some of those things that maybe you've pushed away for many, many, many decades? I would say that's probably one of the first things. And, you know, the other piece, I think that I'm coming to accept more is work really shouldn't define your worst.

And I think that for the longest time and I will speak from personal experience, my work, I have allowed it. I have nurtured it to actually tell me how about my worth? It has defined me, defined my value, defined my worth, and almost like a cadre of people is behind me going, Look at her. She didn't do this and she didn't get that.

Or, you know, or Look, she's on a video now or she is, you know, on a podcast. So, you know, how can we stop letting external things define ourselves and how can we really come back to the center of who we are? And that's really hard. That's ego work, right? That's that's getting rid of some of that that fills the ego and feeds the ego.

So I think there's two things. They're looking for what you want, seeing where you are falling short and some of what you need, and then can you get some of those needs met. And then also really thinking about who you are, what you value and you know, kind of almost stepping back a little from being so embroiled and so engrossed in work.

There are other parts of life that we sometimes forget to pay attention to.

AD

I have two things with that that come up for me listening to you of being and I couldn't agree more the first with like like the the first part of caring for oneself, right? Seeing what you need, doing that assessment. When I felt most stuck at the various points in my work life along the way, I fixated so much on what the organization wasn't doing right or was doing whatever it was so much on the organization.

And it wasn't until I realized like, Hey, I can't change this, but I have capacity for change, expansion, whatever. And it was in that space that I realized like, wait a minute, my about I don't have good boundaries. What if I try this? What if I try being angry? What if I try not answering those emails? You know, what if I you know, and and today, me today would get help with it.

Me today I would be able to look at that and say, Hey, I need more resources and support for that. Yeah, but that's something that didn't occur to me in my most stark places. And so we could like put a pin in that for, for folks who are feeling super, super stuck. They don't know how to get out of a very, very unhappy or difficult work situation.

You know, obviously a process there and that's layered with ones privilege and access and things like that. But where possible, to be able to find the support to oneself.

AG

I hear you talking about mindset, right? And no matter where you are, right? Like when you think about the most inspiring leaders through Framestore, when you think about Mandela stuck in that prison for like 32 years and you think about Viktor Frankl, right? It comes to mind and you think if they could shift their mindset, that's not that's not to condone an abusive environment or abusive boss or anything like that.

That sucks if that is what you're going through. But what can you do to bring peace to yourself how can you maybe take the personal out of some of it? Even if that person wants to make it personal, they want to make it about you and your failings or you didn't do this. Where can you step back and say, like, this actually isn't about, Yeah, and I'm going to do the best I.

AD

Can and that's really powerful. Thank you for that. Because itis I envision, you know, as we're having this conversation on this podcast about this type of growth and in our work and the sorts of organizations that are people focused and really care and are trying what it's like to be at an organization that isn't. And you really are stuck.

You know, you really aren't in the position to just get another job right now, you know?

AG

No. And yep, yep, yep, nope. And there are plenty of those organizations out there. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they don't know any better. But that doesn't mean that makes experience any better.

JW

So we have a11 last kind of big question and then we'll go into our three rapid fire question. But Veena, is there anything right now that is new and challenging in your own personal growth journey, like just just stuff that you're working right now that's new, challenging, exciting and kind of moving you into growth.

AG

So it's really exciting for me, but it's not an exciting answer. And so I'll tell you, you know, you know, having entered officially entered middle age, even though hopefully that number keeps shifting so soon, like 100 will be like middle age. You know what I'm doing in my life right now? I'm chasing consistency. I'm chasing consistency in that.

Like, it's not new, right? I'm not I'm not trying to do something crazy. I'm not taking up hover boarding or whatever it is. Like, I'm just trying to I'm just trying to do what I know fills me and fulfills me most days. I'm not going to say every day because it doesn't happen every day, but and I'm nowhere near doing it consistently, but meditating, taking 10 minutes on calm or headspace or simply being or whatever the app you want to use or no app.

And I do that most days, 10 minutes. I can't I haven't been able to manage it so far. Whatever your form of exercise is, walking tai chi, peloton, running, canoeing, whatever it is, can you do that? Most days, you know? So I'm chasing consistency and being present with my kids. I would like to say every day on that one.

But in every, you know, at least in some moments every day, I'm chasing consistency because I've started so many things and the only way I've ever seen results. So keep at it. You keep at it. You keep at it. So that's that's what I'm doing.

AD

I'm trying thank you for that of I resonate with that in my middle age as well. Very, very much. And as a parent, I think that's a mother like layer to it, right. Yeah. I want to jump out because I had forgotten there were two things and in the last conversation we had and the one thing that you mentioned is, is in investing too much of of one's self-worth in work.

And it just reminded me Adam Grant posted the other day I thought it was so great. He said employers shouldn't discourage side hustles or hesitate to hire people who have them. ADA After engaging, even after engaging evenings on their side, these people perform better the next day in their full time jobs. Side hustles aren't a distraction. They're a source of energy and empowerment.

And I could not agree more when I started a project and I was working full time Max the project enlivened my work life and brought so many I felt more resourced day in and day out and better at what I did. I was learning a whole nother avenue and into my colleagues who were so overly invested in the institution and in battled and like these small battles meant everything to them.

I remember thinking at the time, Man, these people need a side hustle, right? It should be like a thing. It should be something that we ask, you know, we could not agree more.

Do you think something like that, like having this this interest outside of that one central thing that you that you do, if you're lucky to have that is a part of not investing in this one side of yourself. Oh, everything. And yes.

AG

So in one resounding answer. Yes. So first Adam Grant, brilliant. Right up there with Brené Brown. I think for both of us. Right, in terms of inspiration and just speaking truth to power, like truly like I know that's such a overused phrase, but I really feel like, you know, they're they're pinnacle leaders and people. They have followers and they have people that look up to them and people listen to them.

And I love that they are sharing, you know, sharing honestly, like a database like research based are both researchers and professionals. I could not agree with you more. I absolutely think that when you have a side hustle, it gives it enlivens you. Like you said, you remember that you are capable and that you are creative and, that you have so much left to do right, and that you are not just your job, you are not just your title, you are not just your salary.

When you don't have that other outlet, you just it becomes everything to you. You lose perspective, you get tunnel vision, right? All of those small battles become enormous. They become a battlefield. Right. And that's all you're fighting for. And that is hugely stressful. And we've all been there. I've been there. You've been there. Justin's been there. Everyone listening has probably been there.

It doesn't feel good when you have that side hustle. It's like a door opens and some fresh air comes in and you get to be capable. Competent, you get to be creative. I think. I think it's a brilliant idea and I think organizations probably are probably turning a blind eye. But everyone I talk to these days has a side hustle.

JW

All right. So our last three questions we ask everyone. First of Ina, if you could put a big Post-it note on everyone's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say?

AG

A Post-it note. So Post-it notes are small, so it won't be my dissertation I think. Which was the entire fridge, right. I would say just breathe and notice that's what I would say. Just breathe and notice.

JW

Avina, what's the last quote that you read or heard that changed the way you think or feel?

AG

This past spring, I lost one of my she was really an acquaintance, someone who was in the doctoral program with with me probably a couple of years after I started. I honestly can't even say whether or not I physically met this woman in person, but I know that when I had my son was my first child, we texted and she was a huge source of support and inspiration, even though she was younger than me.

She's just one of these women who are larger than life. And she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January and June 15th. She passed away and her name is Naomi. And I remember just that really hit me in a different way, whether it's age, whether it's she, she has a six year old son. I was just devastated by her death.

And I kept searching for something to give give comfort to her family members that remain to give comfort to me. Like, I don't know. I couldn't understand why I was so to say, seismically shifted by her by her death. And I started reading some of Mary Oliver's poetry and her last line and one of her most famous poems is just, you know, resonated with me and stayed with me.

And it simply says, so tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? And yeah, so that that gets me every time because I think it's a reminder of this is not permanent, this is not constant. And we have some really big choices to make if we want to live the way, if we want to create the lives that we envision.

And we've got to work at it every day. And we are so much more powerful than we give ourselves credit for. It's beautiful.

AD

Beautiful. Oh, beautiful. Avina Do you even want to ask the other question?

JW

Yes. So my third one. Yeah, because it's I mean, it's beautifully connected. So Avina, what is one thing giving you hope right now?

AG

Well, it's such a cliche answer, but, you know, for me, my hope is in the future and in the faces of my kids and their little right now. And so they are just so precious to me. So it's my kids that are giving me hope. And this work right here, this work that they have been my greatest teachers, like bar none, so humbling and so fun.

And so this work with you all learning from them and watching them grow and hoping against all hope that like the world we creating will be better for them, you know?

In this episode

This month’s theme in the Yes Collective is work/life wellness, and we’re diving even deeper with an outstanding leader in organizational psychology and leadership development, Dr. Avina Gupta. She’s pioneered leadership and coaching engagements in organizations from small family-owned businesses to billion dollar multi-national corporations. She’s a former consultant with Deloitte, has founded 2 boutique leadership development firms, and has taught courses across the globe, from Vienna to New York City.

Born and raised in Canada, Avina is fluent in Hindi and can ask for a beer and directions in both German and French. She met her German-born husband Sebastian on a mountain in South Africa; and is Mom to their delightful 4-year-old son, Sai and 4-month old baby girl, Lani Mae. Avina and company currently live in Atlanta GA.

In this episode, we talk about Avina's professional journey, how she helps companies create cultures of authenticity, connection, and meaning, and the different ways we all can care for our mental and emotional health across the work/life continuum.

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About our guest

Dr. Avina Gupta is an expert in organizational psychology and leadership development. She’s pioneered leadership and coaching engagements in organizations from small family-owned businesses to billion dollar multi-national corporations. She’s a former consultant with Deloitte, has founded 2 boutique leadership development firms, and has taught courses across the globe, from Vienna to New York City.

Transcript highlights

Justin Wilford (JW)

We are. We are we are longtime friends. And so I would love to just begin by you and Audra kind of telling the story, like how you met, where this friendship began.

Avina Gupta (AG)

I love it.

Audra DiPadova (AD)

Oh, I do too. That is so awesome. Vina We met in 2000.

AG

2004 or five?

AD

Oh, my God. That's earlier than I thought. I thought for some reason, I thought we moved here to New York, and, you know, we moved away in 2005. That's what it was.

AG

Gosh, you're only there for a year.

JW

Well, you know, we moved there in 2003.

AG

Right. So we only had a year together in New York. That is crazy to me, because what a fast friendship, right? And like, what a deep friendship. Like, in just a year, I thought you'd been there. I thought we'd been there together for years. So that is really interesting.

AD

It is incredible, isn't it? Like, it seems like so much more than that and. Yeah. Do you do you feel like I noticed this when I started working at, you know, at colleges and universities as an administrator? Like the fast friendships at that age, it's so beautiful the way that we're almost just, like, wired to openly connect. And we kind of I feel like we lose it as we get older and have our families, our kids to experience that to.

AG

100%. And so, you know, you've got two kids that are a little bit older than our kids. Our kids are younger, but it's this you know, we've sort of been on a quest to make those same deep friendships. And, you know, Sebastian, my husband keeps saying like it doesn't happen the same way anymore. Like, you know, those friendships you have when you're younger, when you're in college, to your point, you don't.

AG

You are just you have all of that discretionary time that you were constantly together, right? And like in it and like, you don't know your ass from your elbow and like, you don't know what you're doing. And you're kind of in this, like, in this adventure together of something. So powerful about it. And I think, you know, the days feel longer, the months feel longer, but in a good way.

Like, you know, yeah, the friendships go deep. Now, you were two of my great greatest friends. Like, even if we didn't see each other for years, which we probably didn't talk for years, that you probably didn't when you were out in California, like, you know, you know, like you said, you just know some people are in your heart and on your heart.

That's definitely how I feel about you guys.

AD

Oh, I feel the same way. And and speaking of the fast friendship, because Justin wants us to dish we so we were at Teachers College at Columbia University together working in residential life.

And shout out to Sophia Pertuz who. Yes. Works with us on yes collective just. Yeah, totally amazing. Like there's so many beautiful tie ins like it was such a formative period in my life. It was such a powerful time in my life personally and to to connect with you and build this. It was such a deep connection and one that I think I just knew, I mean, and hoped it would be a lifelong collection, but its connection has proved to be that.

And it I just feel so grateful for that intense time we had together. But working together. And as friends and you always endlessly fascinated me because your you were in the org psych program, right?

And I was doing philosophy and education. You were in a doctoral program and I was in a master's program, hence our short time together. Yeah. And I remember just being endlessly fascinated with your interest in your work and what you were learning. Because organizations are organisms unto themselves.

Endlessly fascinating. And so that was like I just remember being super curious about what you were doing and learning and what your interests are, and that has never waned. I have remained endlessly curious about your work because you're an expert in a field that I feel like is deeply tied to the future of human flourishing.

AG

Mm hmm. Wow. That's very powerful and very humbling. I do remember. Yeah, I feel I've always felt passionate about my work, even when I didn't know that's what I wanted to do, or it didn't have a name, which, you know, I guess we'll talk about it in a little bit. But, you know, going back to the friendship, I do remember where I was like when I got the text, you know, I'm going to get emotional here for a second.

But like, I remember where I was when I got the text about Max. Oh, I remember, you know, like I was on the beach, you know, in Coney Island. And I got this text and I remember feeling like like someone had, like, thrown a stone on my chest, you know, like, I remember, like, I remember these moments. I remember going to visit you in California and like, you know, just these these moments like that standstill in time, sort of, you know.

Yeah. So our friendship and I remember on a lighter note, the long walks with the two of you to Shake Shack in.

AD

We still talk about that. And we tell the kids, you know, we're like, you know, we used to walk just the one shake shack for one, and we would walk 100 blocks, you know, with bears teasing us. You know, obviously they weren't open in the snow, but still in the hot summer, you know, and we would then stand in line for 2 hours.

AG

And that's what you did as a New Yorker, right? That was like. And that was your whole day. That was your whole weekend. Yes.

JW

And now you can get Shake Shack in a mall or an airport everywhere. These kids these days.

AG

They don't need to walk 100 blocks in the heat and wait in line for 2 hours.

JW

That's right. So, I mean, I, I will apologize to the listeners because I say this on almost every podcast, but I am the in what they call the radio business. I'm the driver, you know, and the address, the personality. And so I try to keep the train on the track so perfect. Well, yeah. So I wanted to throw that curveball at the beginning and have you guys talk about the friendship, but and I'm sure more is going to come up about this, but I would love to dove into the topic. So this month we're talking about all the ways that we can support emotional and mental wellness so that we can both be more present, connected and more in the flow at work and bring more of ourselves home at the end of the day.

And so we'll be diving into this from all different angles with you. But before we do, you touched on it briefly. We'd love to find out more like how did you get into organizational psychology and leadership development? What does your professional journey look like to you now? You know, as you've you've had all this experience, you've done all this amazing work: basically, how do you make sense of it all?

AG

Oh, that's a great question. So it's so fun to be able to talk talk about the journey. I always think about how Steve Jobs said in one of his commencement speeches that moving forward, you never really know exactly what you're doing. And then you look back and all the dots just connect right into a beautiful story. So it's really it's really such a privilege to be able to to think about the work and talk about it with you.

So I'll start here. I don't know if you have many Indian immigrant friends, but, you know, my parents are a huge influence on me and we're very big part of my life and they're first generation immigrants. They moved from India to Canada. And there's one profession that is acceptable in this community, at least when I was growing up.

And that's to be a doctor, a real doctor, just not like you and like.

JW

Audra bought me a t shirt years ago that says "Not a real doctor."

AG

Totally I that you need to send one of those to me or maybe to my parents like my know parents of not a real doctor. But you know, there's a couple of problems I fake when I get my blood drawn and I am just not built for a clinical setting. I love people, but not when they're sick. I'm not.

That's not where I'm at my best. You know, we're talking about flourishing, right? But I love, love people. And in high school, I had a boyfriend, which was also very taboo in our in our culture. But I had a boyfriend. He was wonderful. And his mother was a psychologist. So that was my first foray into like, oh, there is a different way.

And she was wildly successful, raised three boys and had a private practice. And so, you know, when I start to think about what was really like who I am and what I wanted to do, I studied psychology and I didn't know anything like work psychology or organizational psychology existed. But my first work experience, which was right around the time of September 11th, when everything was kind of just falling apart, I found this job as a recruiter for a housewares company in New Jersey and really felt aligned with their core values.

And I was like, This is the company for me. The leaders were incredible. Some of the managers like endowment funds for the biggest universities, and they were just like, you work hard, you have like these really good homegrown values. I was like, I'm all about it. And then I go out there and it was a disaster. It was a nightmare.

People were embezzling money. They had us working six days a week, like 14 hour days. And the facade just crumbled. You know, the impression I was left with was, well, how much time do we spend at work? More. We spend more time at work than we do anywhere else, right then with their families sleeping, eating and walking to Shake Shack.

So how can we find a better way to lead? And I was just I wanted to know. I wanted to learn for myself, but also to try and build better leaders, to have better influence so that we could live better lives. I wasn't that kind of naive perspective of it all, and even back then feels even more naive and also more true right now.

I really believe that you could do this through practice of love, even in a professional setting and the keep, you know, in my old age, my middle age now I keep coming back to this concept that, you know, it was born of someone very naive. And now here we are coming back to the idea of talking about wellness, flourishing, caring for each other.

Love is how I think about it. So that was, you know, sort of how I got there. I didn't plan it, but looking back, all the dots really connect, you know? And I've loved what I've been able to do and been allowed to do in the last 20 years or so.

AD

It's very wise of, you know, the like you, you know, you, you see those early days as being naive. But sometimes those early days are when you can see the heart of the matter. Right. It's the least foggy time, right? The least jaded, you know.

JW

And also when you probably have more most clarity around your North Star, you know? Yeah, yeah. This is a mm hmm.

AG

In a real raw way, right? Like before it kind of gets, you know, like, worked on and sculpted by, like, who you're supposed to be and how you're supposed to sound and look like.

AD

It's so true. I remember when we lived in Tempe, and Jess and I were walking to gentle strength are like little co-op that was there. And I remember being like Jess and I were so into like economic democracy and and we're like, I want to have like, found a completely like, worker owned business one day and then have a pamphlet about it, hear a gentle strength that others can can use to, like, start their own, you know?

And yeah, seems super naive, but I think I'm still working towards that today.

AG

I know it sounds like it right? Yeah. You've just expanded beyond gentle strength. Yeah.

AD

And beyond the pamphlet, you know. But so I mean, that it's just, it's so beautiful. And then I mean, knowing you, too, I mean, you've always been really passionate about health and wellness. And so you've always had like, I mean, you were a physical trainer at one point. And it's always been something I mean, I have learned about with you along the way, and that's powerful to me to think of like how you've brought these interests together, like, so beautifully.

And it is all unified by love.

AG

Mm hmm. I couldn't agree more. Yeah, that is sort of like the bottom line, you know? Yeah.

JW

Yeah. So. All right, so let's move into this idea of work/life wellness or mental and emotional wellness at work. And so I'll just start by asking you a Veena. What what does work life wellness mean to you? Maybe, what does it look like? Why is it important you can take it from any angle that that feels alive for you.

AG

Yeah, I know. It's such a it's such a good question. And I've been thinking about this a lot, as, you know, just COVID, the pandemic being shut in, being released back out into the world and navigating kind of work life with small children. I've been thinking a lot about this question, and I think it kind of boils down to three things for me.

And the first, when I think about work in organizations, you know, I think about fit and are you a fit for the organization? You know, I talked a little bit about company values and not just what it looks like from the outside, but when you get in there, like, do you really feel like you fit and you belong and you can be who you are, honestly, right?

And that you can just strive for something that the organization is striving for. And then, you know, so fit is the first one. I think about function. Does your role and does your organization allow you to function like really function in a healthy way, like at home, at work, with friends are you able to take time off to have your kids?

Are you supported in that? Are you able to go see family, be there when someone gets sick? You know, like just can you can your life function well in terms of the role that you're in? And then I think about future and you know, Audra, you gave me such a nice compliment at the beginning of the podcast of thinking about the future of learning, but the third thing for me is future.

Are you building the future that you want to build that you will be proud of, that will be your legacy, that will help you, you know, raise your children well, right. Like there if you have children, like those are the things I think about. So when I think about mental and emotional health, it's such a wide, broad topic and there's so many there's mental wellness and breaking down the barriers of I think we have moved into kind of a time where we can talk much more openly about mental illness, about mental wellness.

All of that was shuttered right under kind of this like tough suit of professionals ism. And I think, you know, breaking down some of those barriers and being able to talk about it honestly in a safe place doesn't mean, you know, the workplace is not your therapist office. Right. I think we're very clear about that. But also being able to say like, hey, I'm struggling right now and I need some support, I need some resources.

I think that honesty is part of that functioning. Does your organization allow you to do that and do you have the courage to be able to step up and say, hey, I have a need and can we address the need?

JW

And then I'm imagining that as companies build these resources and these mental and emotional health resources become more available, that who who fits and how they fit broadens the cycle, right? So we can now create a different sort of environment.

AG

Yeah, absolutely. Right.

AD

Yeah, yeah. I feel like I mean, I want to throw this out there. You know, you and I have walked down our professional paths together for a long time, and I think at the various times we've been able, we've we've connected around things. I think I shared with you a lot of my difficulties often over the years, working in an institutional, you know, work environment.

And I think I'm understanding it better now. I think I'm understanding I feel like we are in the midst of a paradigm shift and you are one of the leaders in in the paradigm shifting. And it's one thing that I love about you when we talked, you are our friend and yes, coach of collaborator Jenn Cornelius about this.

I cannot wait for you to meet Jenn. I just want to be a fly on the wall. When that happens, it's going to be amazing. And we were talking about this shift, you know, into a really people focused work environment. And and when I take a broader lens and I think about the dysfunctional places that I've been in, in not old places I've been in, where we're really kind of performing these roles where we're like the show severance like we are, you know, humans coming in to perform, you know, the write the algorithm or make the widget or whatever.

You know, I can understand so much of what was happening in these places. It's just a boiling underneath the surface, right? And it's like everyone's coming in hot, triggered, unaware, everything going on, right? All of our backgrounds, everything, no matter what the workplace try to do to sever us. You can't. We're coming in with it all and we don't realize it half the time.

Because. Because in these days, for me, this is pre Bernie Brown, right? This is like when we did it realize that our, you know, emotional worlds are so we we haven't I mean, first of all, mental health and mental wellness have been so stigma. Ed, throughout all this time. And I know for me, I didn't realize what was happening.

I'm in this arranged marriage with people, right? Embattled, triggered. It's everything but the actual issue at hand usually. And now I feel like far enough back from this to see what's happening in a good amount of these control centered environments. It's like a, you know, boiling pot of dysfunction. And I can understand why I see that with complete compassion.

Like we haven't had the tools to. Right? We haven't had we haven't like we stopped learning these tools in pre-K. I feel like we never, you know, student life maybe gave us some of them later on a little bit, you know, barely. But we haven't used it 100%.

So help me with this. Am I on the right track?

AG

Yes, I share a lot of a lot of what you just, you know, reference. And I think that you talk to most people out there and I do just want to add like a caveat, like, you know, folks who have are in a position of privilege, right? Because we have the privilege to be able to sculpt our lives, talk about do we want this role?

That role? We're not you know, most of us are not struggling for food and money and that sort of thing. So I just want to put that caveat out there. But I do think that that's the majority of experience is out there, that the majority of people are having this experience of feeling less than not seen, not heard, not supported, belittled, humiliated and yet their livelihood depends on their performance, right?

And their ability to put food on the table for their kids and pay their mortgages and that sort of thing. And I don't I think that that dysfunction that sits in organizations is is just absolute parallel to the dysfunction that sits in families and. Right. And so and I think that's a lot of the work that you're doing.

And so I think what we're starting to see and I completely agree, I feel it in my bones that we are in a paradigm shift. And of course there's just a few people kind of out there talking about this, the majority, right? Like on that standard deviation curve, like they're there, right there, kind of churning and burning. And they're like, but I did everything I was told to do and I put my head down and I was a good soldier and I check my emotions at the door, like, why do I still feel so yuck?

And well, it's because we're not. Yeah, we're not.

JW

I mean, I love that. Like, yeah. So I'm feeling, you know, like I was a good soldier. I checked my emotions at the door, and so why am I feeling so yuck? And, you know, doing this work now for as long as I have with so many amazing therapists and psychologists. And the answer just a minute comes up is like, oh, it's because you checked like it's because you had to check all that at the door because you had to repress this.

I mean, in psychotherapy, it's a lot like this, you know, for 100 years, this is a quote from Carl Jung, essentially. But what we repress or what we resist persists. Yeah. So. Yeah, and and and so how do we as companies, as organizations provide a safer, supportive or safer supportive spaces and resources so that we don't have to cut ourselves off?

AG

Like, that's such a good question. I think we're trying to get there. I think what I've experienced in most of the places I've been in so far is that there's still so much fear, there's still so much fear driving decision making and, you know, leadership behavior that we're not able to truly do some of that. I think people are afraid that it's just going to be a free for all.

There's going to be pandemonium. It's can be chaos, can be mental illness spilling out all over the place, you know, oh, my gosh, a vignette.

JW

So this is what I love. So, so in my work as an emotional health coach, this is why this is like the most common fear inside we have. We have parts that are like, oh, if I really open up, I'm going to be overwhelmed. It's going to be chaos. You know what's going to hit the fan? Everything's going to fall apart.

And it's like, Oh, I mean, seeing how universal all this fear is. And they were just that is like, Oh, and it's showing up in our, in our families at every realizations and like really everywhere.

AG

Yeah. And so you're talking about it from an individual standpoint, right, that individuals have this fear and so they've checked their emotions. Right. But organizations like Otter said, organizations truly are living organisms. I mean, they have their own kind of culture. They create like a feeling. They, you know, when one part moves, the other part is affected. They're kind of living, breathing beings.

And they're in their own way, you know, kind of as a metaphor. But still. And so organizations also have this fear and leaders have this fear of they lead these organizations that are that just these like, you know, Kumbaya, like, you know, come to work and bring your whole selves to work, whether it's in a thong or whether it's in a suit or whether it's in a lake.

But that's not that's not what we're talking about. Most people are highly intelligent and highly able to manage themselves. You know, it's like if you give them a little bit of room to breathe and you do set parameters, you do set professional parameters which are necessary containers exactly. Than most. You might have the, you know, a couple of odd occasions where there's someone who needs more help than the workplace can offer.

That's okay. There are ways to get help to to people who need that kind of help. And so I think there's this the fear that drives individuals, that drives organizations is what we'll have to overcome to be able to actually practice and a lot of this is going to take practice. We're not going to be perfect at it.

We're going to have to practice what it means to be in relationship with each other professionally, you know, and so it's going to be a big experiment. But, you know, like you got to strap in, right? Put your seatbelt on, your hat, your hardhat, whatever it is, because it's not going to be easy. It's going to be messy.

And I think a lot of leaders and organizations and people, they don't want the messy. They want the remote work. Two years, go to a good school, graduate from a college, get a good degree, get a good job, you know, work the job, get the car, the white picket fence, the two kids, the one and a half dog and get promoted every couple of years.

And, you know, it just does not work that way.

JW

One of the ways that I started to see how this could work in organizations and it's so small, but just hearing this now and hearing from you of it is like, oh, wow, this this actually was kind of a shift for me several years ago. I was listening to a podcast by a well-known business coach, Jerry Colonna, and he and so what he does in all of his meetings, whether it's executive teams, whatever it is, he starts with a green, yellow, red check in.

And so it's you know, everybody checks in. Are you coming in green that is resourced and feeling here, you know, president or yellow? Are you, you know, like kind of distracted? What your day is not going so hot, whatever it is or are you red like, are you triggered? Are you just not here? And then the thing that got me is then he said, and you can show up.

However, like this is not a judgment part. This is just green, yellow, red. You can say a little bit about it whatever you want, but it's just coming into connection and just and just letting everybody know where you're at. And I thought, Wow, like that feels really vulnerable and dangerous. Like, I can imagine people not wanting to come in and check in red or even check it like everybody wants to check in green.

But we've been using this in a bunch of different contexts with a bunch of different groups and a bunch of different organizations. And it works. It's like, Oh my gosh. And so this idea that like, you've just set this little container for people to show up exactly as they are. It's not like people are going crazy. I'm ready.

I'm going to just start smashing things, you know, and just the feeling that I can show up here exactly as I am now.

AG

And also without disclosing too many details. Right? Like what a beautiful way. What a beautiful invitation in to say we invite you and whatever it is, it's going on for you. And you don't have to share the the kind of the messy details behind the curtain unless you want to. And I think that's that's really powerful. But there is there is fear.

And so who's going to go first to say, I'm red, you know, when everyone's like, oh, green, green, great, doing great. You know, you remind us of Alan Mulally, right? When he took over at Ford and he was saying, hey, like something is not going right and you all keep coming to my meetings and green, green, green. He uses also a similar system, mostly for accountability.

And it was the first time someone was like, Red, this is bad. We're not meeting our targets. The deadline has come and gone like we are failing. And instead of, you know, like Austin Powers, you know, like Dr. Evil, he didn't get like, you know, drop through a trap door and disappear. Yeah. He, you know, he was like, thank you.

Thank you for your honesty. And that's when things started to turn around because there's got to be there's got to be a sincere offer or invitation. It can't just be, you know, we're inviting you to be vulnerable and then we're going to come down hard on whoever is honest. So the invitation has to be authentic, and then we have to be courageous to take the step and say, you know, this is what's going on for us.

AD

A what was coming up for me in this conversation really strong. That is that I just want to share is that I've had a broad amount of work experience from the service industry, you know, as a cook, a line cook server and a bartender and then moving into a like a quote unquote professional, you know, work environment. And in the last conversation, we had this podcast that we will be sharing very soon with our friend Jen.

We were very much talking about the start up work environment, these work environments that are much more interested in being in growing into a fully people focused, you know, environment. My experience in the service industry was not that, you know, it was not, you know, I experience, you know, sexual harassment and verbal assaults like, you know, all of the all of the extreme things that you can imagine were normalized in the nineties. And so on. And so when I think about this conversation, it always comes up for me, like I love, love, love talking about our paradigm shift. I love talking about this hope on the horizon. I love talking about this change.

You have a lot of experience in the space. Do you is this just a change in the most privileged spaces or is this a change that we can hope to see? That's a fundamental shift in how we structure our work environments. Is there hope for us all?

AG

I think there has to be hope. Without hope, there's just despair. So I think, you know, overall, I'll say that, but I do think you touch on something really pivotal, I think, in those dark spaces, you know, kitchens, the back of kitchens, the back of restaurants like the back of hotels at behind the Shining Glimmering cities like Dubai and other places where there's, you know, everyone working and working and hustling and not being able to make ends meet.

Like, I don't know. I don't think this paradigm shift has reached those places when we have enlightened leaders, not just in businesses, but in politics, you know, that's when maybe some of that will start to change. But the suffering, you know, that untold billions of people are encountering, you know, work and otherwise, I think we have to have hope.

But I think we also have to be realistic. I don't I don't think it's reached some of those places quite yet.

JW

Do you think it will? I guess what I'm saying is, do you think that we have the capacity to do this type of work, knowing what you know, of organizational structures, let's say, even just in the U.S.? Set aside, I mean, the worldwide challenges. Yes. But just in the U.S., looking at the structures of of workplaces, whether it's, you know, an Amazon warehouse or, you know, a hotel, a commissary, like do you see any glimmer of potential for us to become more people centered in all of the work that we do?

AG

I do. And I think some of what I see giving me hope is that it doesn't have to just come from the top down, right? It doesn't just have to come from executive committees and CEOs and, you know, people who are, quote unquote, in charge. But it can come from the masses. And so you see Starbucks, you see Amazon, you see people coming together and standing up for their rights and for each others rights.

And, you know, I'm not going to say I'm pro-union or pro-business. I personally I think that that is a losing kind of frame. Right. I think that we have to be for each other. And how can we really enter into a relationship and enter into partnerships that honor, like honor each person and honor the roles that they're in and allow them to to live a healthy, flourishing life.

So, yeah, I do I do see hope on the horizon.

AD

I am so grateful for that. Davina, you know, this is something that being a part of that paradigm shifting, like you really want to take like one organization in and of itself, can't possibly solve all the problems, right? But we need to network and link arms and ensure that what we're doing has lasting like rippling effects and partnerships and things like that so that we can get there together.

Because I believe, too, that everybody should I believe in in that dignity of being seen and heard and valued as a person that is in partnership, really. It's business partnership. When you're an employee, you're in partnership, too, you know? Right?

AG

Yes.

AD

Yes. And I we should be dignified by like really being valued for that.

AG

100%. It also makes me think of what you all did with, you know, Max Love from, you know, my outside perspective of what I understand you all did is I think you also looked above and beyond where the typical boundaries lie, right? Like we are patients, we're a cancer family, we interface with the doctor occasionally with insurance. But you took it to a completely different level and you said this is about health overall.

Health is about mental well-being, this is about food. This is about, you know, being with animals and horses. And like, I think that is the kind of mentality we need when we think about relationship and we think about flourishing. You know, there's we sort of put in a lot of very false boundaries where things start and end. And I think that we need to to rethink that a little.

I'm not saying that we invite, you know, organizations into our homes and things like that, but they are in our homes, right? Like we all bring work back with us. So I think just thinking about things a little bit differently, it doesn't have to be either or. It's not, you know, us versus them, but it's like us in it together and like, I know those are nice words, but we have to figure out together what that looks like and that means we have to test it and kick the tires and experiment.

AD

I love that. I love that. Are there any organizations out there that you think are kicking those tires and that are really challenging these boundaries like or this concept of of these boundaries?

AG

I think they're trying I do think that there's some out there who are really trying and maybe it's the smaller ones that are having more success. I do think there's something that happens when you grow and become so large. It's hard to keep that humanness, that human centric, you know, focus. And so there is something about size, their scale, which is important, you know, for business success.

But how do you keep the humanity as you scale. I think that's, that's a huge question.

JW

Mm. Yeah. Okay. So we yeah. That's a, that's a great way to I think transition into the next topic. So you know, you both we're talking about some really large scale stuff, like some big things. And so I want to kind of drill down into some root causes here. And so a vignette when we talked last week, something you said like really stuck with me because we were we were we were going deep.

And you said something to the effect that attachment wounds are at the heart of many that you see in leadership in the workplace in general. And I just love that. And I would love for you to talk a little bit more about that.

AG

Oh, I could talk at length about this subject. Is it is is for where I am in my life right now. It is the it is the kind of like flashing light that just like the sign, the neon sign, that's like, duh, like, how could we have missed this for so long? You know? But I think that's the process of, you know, just getting better and making those connections.

And so, yeah, I it's my personal perspective and I think if shared by many researchers out there, but I do really feel, you know, that attachment theory as a framework is, is very powerful. It essentially just gives us a roadmap for looking at, you know, our childhood, our family dynamics, the roles that we played in those families and, you know, kind of the unresolved wounds that were left remaining because of those interactions with no blame placed, at least without knowing the details.

I don't hold parents as responsible. I don't hold, you know, grandparents responsible in certain cases they are. But in general, it's not about blame. It's more about awareness and understanding. And for each, it's about empowerment to say, hey, look, this is this is what I really heard growing up and it still hurts. And so when I am dismissed or not seen at work or passed up for this project or, you know, someone talks over me and that comes up for me again, and that's just a trigger.

And the more we can understand that, the more we can befriend that. No one is saying that you have to go and have a two hour long meeting with your boss to share your deepest, darkest secrets. But if you can feel that trigger, you can recognize that heat. You know, you then have choice in how you behave and what decisions you make that is so dang powerful.

JW

It's like awareness and this is something that we've been working on a lot in Jazz Collective with all our experts and just this idea that awareness in itself is really transformative. And so I'm imagining as you're talking just even bringing this awareness into the workplace that like, hey, your triggers around feedback are your triggers around, you know, whatever like that, that there are parts of you that are triggered because of what happened when you were five years old and when you were ten and, and so so I think just this awareness and exact.

You're exactly right. Like we don't need to then go talk to the boss. We're like, okay, well, actually, I was transferring my relationship with my mom onto you, right? No, I mean, there is just a little bit of spaciousness and a little bit of freedom inside that opens up with this awareness.

AD

Justin, you know, what that brings up for me is, is talking with Jenny Walters. Jenny Abena is one of our dear friends of yours collective. You know her right through. Yeah. And Jenny will talk about a good amount of what she does in depth psychology and in her work as a therapist is psychoeducation. Right. So if you are someone in this country usually facing a mental health crisis, you will hopefully be able to find your way to therapy.

But very often not. We know the issues in this country for someone who is, you know, kind of like coping, operating fairly typically. You may never find your way to therapy and you therefore may never find your way to psychoeducation, and you therefore may never find your way to even knowing what a trigger is or what it feels like.

And I know for me, I mean, it wasn't really until recently, more recently that we got into this work and I'm like, that's what is happening. And all of this time in the workplace, had I just known, like what is going on inside, this is confusing, why am I feeling this way? Right? And it seems to be to me just essential are we doing this if we don't have this background and support?

Like I don't even know how we are showing up.

AG

We're hanging on by. By like our fingernails. Literally nails. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Or we just shutdown, right? So I've also been reflecting on, you know, the people I see ascending in organizations being promoted, you know, leading other people generally. And this is not this is not an in-depth research study. Right. This has no data behind is just observational.

I see them being more reserved. I see them kind of holding back and just sort of being that good soldier. Right. And so and some of them are brilliant and very effective and they do care, but they they know the game and they know how to fit and they know how to function. But you have to wonder what part of them is impacted by that.

You know, a part of them that's severed piece wears the severed head. It's somewhere it's running around somewhere.

AD

Athena That's beautiful and generous and coming from higher education, my experience was that the folks who ascended were more of the narcissist tendency and the ones who had true potential in really transformative leadership dropped out.

AG

100%, just like politics. Mm hmm. Yeah, yep, yep, yeah.

JW

Well, but yeah. So in my experience of seen as like that description immediate was like, oh, there are so many in my career in academia, it's like, Oh, there are so many really high like it, whether they're high achieving professors or act or administration administrators who I think fit that to a T and now that I'm doing this work, I hear this emotional health coaching work.

I do have several executives that I've had the fortune of working with. And as we started to dig deeper into this, like, oh, wow, so much, so much protection, so much, you know, armor.

Just armor had to be taken on for you to get to where you were. And and and then they look around, they're like, oh, I don't have any relationships in my life that I really value. I don't know how to connect. I'm, you know, and.

AD

And this armor is heavy and it hurts and it's exhausting. Yeah, right. Yeah, yeah.

JW

Yes. And so oh, my gosh, I so Avina do you have in your mind and you know, you don't need to call anybody out, but like have you come across leaders who you feel have done this work, who've gone through and who've done this work and are showing up and with more authenticity, more connection, more presence?

AG

Yes, definitely. You know, and I see individual leaders in big organizations. I haven't met a lot of them on be completely honest, but I have definitely met my fair share. And then I do think in smaller businesses when you have younger my in my experience younger executive teams, whether they're successors, you know, generational successors to family businesses, that's broke for me.

A lot of hope comes because I see these, you know kind of younger generation leaders being really open to looking in the mirror and saying, it starts with me and I want to have a different organization. I want to create and grow a different organization, and I need help. And it's that's not you know, it's not stigmatized to the degree it was probably before, I think, what those individual leaders and these larger multinational organizations that I've seen, you know, that are big and and doing very well and very successful, you know, financially they are not the ones who ascend necessarily.

So they may be high up in the organization, but they're they're generally not the people I see being elevated to executive committees and boards. So I think we're still in that paradigm shift. MM.

JW

Is it, is it what's holding them back. Is it that they aren't playing the game in the right way or what.

AG

What. Yes, I think we're not ready for them, you know, like I can't remember what that you know, first they will, you know, ridicule you, then they will beat you, then they will join you like I'm totally ed that quote.

JW

But like right there is. But but like there is this this arc, too. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. There's a paradigm shift.

All right, so with our time left, I'm wondering if we can dig into some practices. So, like, what are some of the things that individuals can can do at work to support their own mental and emotional? Well, so I guess we can start with just individually and then I would love to hear like, what can organizations do?

AG

Mm hmm. Yeah, that's such a good question. I think individually, I think the first thing is just really knowing what you want. What is it that you want in your in your phase of life with whatever your family looks like, wherever you live, like what's going to fulfill you? I think sometimes we jump so quickly into solutions, you know, like, I'm going to buy a peloton or I'm going to go get a, you know, a membership, a gentle strength or whatever it is, you know, like, like before we do that, like, is that.

JW

Actually will solve a lot of problems, the gentle strength part.

AG

But yeah, so what is it that you want? And then I think being honest about where you work and like how that fits you and suits you and where that's lacking. And then can you shore up some resources for yourself, whether it can can you actually afford to go see a therapist? There's more affordable options or even a coach, right?

Can you do something online that's a little bit more affordable, you know, and how can you really start to address some of those things that maybe you've pushed away for many, many, many decades? I would say that's probably one of the first things. And, you know, the other piece, I think that I'm coming to accept more is work really shouldn't define your worst.

And I think that for the longest time and I will speak from personal experience, my work, I have allowed it. I have nurtured it to actually tell me how about my worth? It has defined me, defined my value, defined my worth, and almost like a cadre of people is behind me going, Look at her. She didn't do this and she didn't get that.

Or, you know, or Look, she's on a video now or she is, you know, on a podcast. So, you know, how can we stop letting external things define ourselves and how can we really come back to the center of who we are? And that's really hard. That's ego work, right? That's that's getting rid of some of that that fills the ego and feeds the ego.

So I think there's two things. They're looking for what you want, seeing where you are falling short and some of what you need, and then can you get some of those needs met. And then also really thinking about who you are, what you value and you know, kind of almost stepping back a little from being so embroiled and so engrossed in work.

There are other parts of life that we sometimes forget to pay attention to.

AD

I have two things with that that come up for me listening to you of being and I couldn't agree more the first with like like the the first part of caring for oneself, right? Seeing what you need, doing that assessment. When I felt most stuck at the various points in my work life along the way, I fixated so much on what the organization wasn't doing right or was doing whatever it was so much on the organization.

And it wasn't until I realized like, Hey, I can't change this, but I have capacity for change, expansion, whatever. And it was in that space that I realized like, wait a minute, my about I don't have good boundaries. What if I try this? What if I try being angry? What if I try not answering those emails? You know, what if I you know, and and today, me today would get help with it.

Me today I would be able to look at that and say, Hey, I need more resources and support for that. Yeah, but that's something that didn't occur to me in my most stark places. And so we could like put a pin in that for, for folks who are feeling super, super stuck. They don't know how to get out of a very, very unhappy or difficult work situation.

You know, obviously a process there and that's layered with ones privilege and access and things like that. But where possible, to be able to find the support to oneself.

AG

I hear you talking about mindset, right? And no matter where you are, right? Like when you think about the most inspiring leaders through Framestore, when you think about Mandela stuck in that prison for like 32 years and you think about Viktor Frankl, right? It comes to mind and you think if they could shift their mindset, that's not that's not to condone an abusive environment or abusive boss or anything like that.

That sucks if that is what you're going through. But what can you do to bring peace to yourself how can you maybe take the personal out of some of it? Even if that person wants to make it personal, they want to make it about you and your failings or you didn't do this. Where can you step back and say, like, this actually isn't about, Yeah, and I'm going to do the best I.

AD

Can and that's really powerful. Thank you for that. Because itis I envision, you know, as we're having this conversation on this podcast about this type of growth and in our work and the sorts of organizations that are people focused and really care and are trying what it's like to be at an organization that isn't. And you really are stuck.

You know, you really aren't in the position to just get another job right now, you know?

AG

No. And yep, yep, yep, nope. And there are plenty of those organizations out there. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they don't know any better. But that doesn't mean that makes experience any better.

JW

So we have a11 last kind of big question and then we'll go into our three rapid fire question. But Veena, is there anything right now that is new and challenging in your own personal growth journey, like just just stuff that you're working right now that's new, challenging, exciting and kind of moving you into growth.

AG

So it's really exciting for me, but it's not an exciting answer. And so I'll tell you, you know, you know, having entered officially entered middle age, even though hopefully that number keeps shifting so soon, like 100 will be like middle age. You know what I'm doing in my life right now? I'm chasing consistency. I'm chasing consistency in that.

Like, it's not new, right? I'm not I'm not trying to do something crazy. I'm not taking up hover boarding or whatever it is. Like, I'm just trying to I'm just trying to do what I know fills me and fulfills me most days. I'm not going to say every day because it doesn't happen every day, but and I'm nowhere near doing it consistently, but meditating, taking 10 minutes on calm or headspace or simply being or whatever the app you want to use or no app.

And I do that most days, 10 minutes. I can't I haven't been able to manage it so far. Whatever your form of exercise is, walking tai chi, peloton, running, canoeing, whatever it is, can you do that? Most days, you know? So I'm chasing consistency and being present with my kids. I would like to say every day on that one.

But in every, you know, at least in some moments every day, I'm chasing consistency because I've started so many things and the only way I've ever seen results. So keep at it. You keep at it. You keep at it. So that's that's what I'm doing.

AD

I'm trying thank you for that of I resonate with that in my middle age as well. Very, very much. And as a parent, I think that's a mother like layer to it, right. Yeah. I want to jump out because I had forgotten there were two things and in the last conversation we had and the one thing that you mentioned is, is in investing too much of of one's self-worth in work.

And it just reminded me Adam Grant posted the other day I thought it was so great. He said employers shouldn't discourage side hustles or hesitate to hire people who have them. ADA After engaging, even after engaging evenings on their side, these people perform better the next day in their full time jobs. Side hustles aren't a distraction. They're a source of energy and empowerment.

And I could not agree more when I started a project and I was working full time Max the project enlivened my work life and brought so many I felt more resourced day in and day out and better at what I did. I was learning a whole nother avenue and into my colleagues who were so overly invested in the institution and in battled and like these small battles meant everything to them.

I remember thinking at the time, Man, these people need a side hustle, right? It should be like a thing. It should be something that we ask, you know, we could not agree more.

Do you think something like that, like having this this interest outside of that one central thing that you that you do, if you're lucky to have that is a part of not investing in this one side of yourself. Oh, everything. And yes.

AG

So in one resounding answer. Yes. So first Adam Grant, brilliant. Right up there with Brené Brown. I think for both of us. Right, in terms of inspiration and just speaking truth to power, like truly like I know that's such a overused phrase, but I really feel like, you know, they're they're pinnacle leaders and people. They have followers and they have people that look up to them and people listen to them.

And I love that they are sharing, you know, sharing honestly, like a database like research based are both researchers and professionals. I could not agree with you more. I absolutely think that when you have a side hustle, it gives it enlivens you. Like you said, you remember that you are capable and that you are creative and, that you have so much left to do right, and that you are not just your job, you are not just your title, you are not just your salary.

When you don't have that other outlet, you just it becomes everything to you. You lose perspective, you get tunnel vision, right? All of those small battles become enormous. They become a battlefield. Right. And that's all you're fighting for. And that is hugely stressful. And we've all been there. I've been there. You've been there. Justin's been there. Everyone listening has probably been there.

It doesn't feel good when you have that side hustle. It's like a door opens and some fresh air comes in and you get to be capable. Competent, you get to be creative. I think. I think it's a brilliant idea and I think organizations probably are probably turning a blind eye. But everyone I talk to these days has a side hustle.

JW

All right. So our last three questions we ask everyone. First of Ina, if you could put a big Post-it note on everyone's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say?

AG

A Post-it note. So Post-it notes are small, so it won't be my dissertation I think. Which was the entire fridge, right. I would say just breathe and notice that's what I would say. Just breathe and notice.

JW

Avina, what's the last quote that you read or heard that changed the way you think or feel?

AG

This past spring, I lost one of my she was really an acquaintance, someone who was in the doctoral program with with me probably a couple of years after I started. I honestly can't even say whether or not I physically met this woman in person, but I know that when I had my son was my first child, we texted and she was a huge source of support and inspiration, even though she was younger than me.

She's just one of these women who are larger than life. And she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January and June 15th. She passed away and her name is Naomi. And I remember just that really hit me in a different way, whether it's age, whether it's she, she has a six year old son. I was just devastated by her death.

And I kept searching for something to give give comfort to her family members that remain to give comfort to me. Like, I don't know. I couldn't understand why I was so to say, seismically shifted by her by her death. And I started reading some of Mary Oliver's poetry and her last line and one of her most famous poems is just, you know, resonated with me and stayed with me.

And it simply says, so tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? And yeah, so that that gets me every time because I think it's a reminder of this is not permanent, this is not constant. And we have some really big choices to make if we want to live the way, if we want to create the lives that we envision.

And we've got to work at it every day. And we are so much more powerful than we give ourselves credit for. It's beautiful.

AD

Beautiful. Oh, beautiful. Avina Do you even want to ask the other question?

JW

Yes. So my third one. Yeah, because it's I mean, it's beautifully connected. So Avina, what is one thing giving you hope right now?

AG

Well, it's such a cliche answer, but, you know, for me, my hope is in the future and in the faces of my kids and their little right now. And so they are just so precious to me. So it's my kids that are giving me hope. And this work right here, this work that they have been my greatest teachers, like bar none, so humbling and so fun.

And so this work with you all learning from them and watching them grow and hoping against all hope that like the world we creating will be better for them, you know?

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