Interview with Zach Mercurio – Crafting Your Purpose in Work and Life
I got to sit down with Zach Mercurio and talk about people discovering their purpose, in other words why do people do what they do? Humans are wired for purpose, but we seem to be able to go through life not knowing or realizing or defining our purpose. Zach points out that if you take the time to realize why you do the work you do, you’ll be happier and more effective. Zach is a speaker, researcher and adjunct professor at Colorado State University. He’s the author of the book, “The Invisible Leader: Transform Your Life, Work, and Organization with the Power of Authentic Purpose.” His focus is helping people craft their purpose in work and life. Just to give you a taste of what we cover today, we talk about how human beings are not sustainably motivated by money. We talk about how you can find purpose working in a carwash. We discuss whether purpose is paralyzing millennial job seekers, and whether people should craft their purpose right where they are, or if they should use their search for purpose to push them to explore a new career. Hope you enjoy!
The following text is a transcript of the podcast…
Ryan: Zach Mercurio here in, in the studio. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast, man. It’s awesome. Naveah
Zach: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Ryan: Been following you for a little while. And I think the first time I heard, well I followed you on Instagram for a long time. I kind of knew what you were doing and then our church sorta did like a mini-conference. You spoke, you know you’re invited to speak and you got up there and I don’t remember exactly how you phrased the question, but it was pretty, I think he basically said like, think of a way that the church has served. You maybe mean you tell me if I’m getting any of this wrong. But so people started thinking about stories of like the way that the church had served them and like, I mean, he hadn’t been up there for like five minutes and people are telling these amazing stories. People are like crying. I mean it’s, it was just, it was unbelievable. And I was like, dude, this is, this is amazing.
Ryan: Like, I’ve been in this church for 12 years and I’ve never, never heard these kinds of stories. You know, I’m aware, I was aware of the purpose movement a little bit, but I’m sort of fascinated by how everybody sort of knows what purpose is, but we don’t, like, we can’t articulate it very well. And so I think you’re, you know, really hitting a niche and allowing, giving people like the framework to articulate that. And I just think that’s amazing. And so anyway, that’s how I wanted to start out and just tell you thanks for doing that. And Yeah, of course. Yeah, it’s, it’s fascinating. So I’m sure you, yeah,
Zach: Isn’t that amazing though? 12 years you’ve been in the church and you had never heard stories like that, which is basically all of those stories were really why the church existed, right?
Ryan: Absolutely. And it’s like how much, I mean, how badly are people hurting for this, you know, this kind of information. You know, it’s interesting, I heard, I don’t know if you know who Jordan Peterson is. Yeah. And one of the things that really struck me about him is he’s sort of says like, life is suffering and the meaning of life is to live in such a way that makes the suffering worthwhile. And for him he would say meaning is like carrying the heavy, heaviest load that you can bear. Like it’s, and really that’s serving people like serving people in or adopting responsibility. So I think a lot about that one. I want to hear your stuff. So
Zach: Yeah, I mean Nietzsche said he who has a why to live can bear almost any how. And when you look at the context in which Victor Franklin’s search for meaning, he was in a concentration camp in the most deplorable conditions a human being could possibly be in. And he made a decision, an active decision to attach his survival to a bigger meaning, which was to serve his wife who is not in the camp. And he talks about how that is what pulled him through. And he was a psychiatrist by trade before he got put into a concentration camp. So he started studying why certain prisoners lived while he was in this concentration camp. It’s insane. Case study there and what he, what he found was that those who had this will to meaning this, this object of behavior that existed outside of themselves he found and he observed are more likely to survive and more more likely to actually thrive within the concentration camp.
Zach: Right. So just getting back to his wife that that was like, yeah, I was in his mind, he made that object of his behavior and his wife, which was outside of himself, the object of his behavior, you know, we call that self-transcendence. You know, when you can transcend the self to something or someone else, we become more optimal as human beings. I mean scientifically. And so really we’re would, whatever you call it, you can call it purpose, you can call it mission, you’d call it vocation calling, whatever you call it. The key concept of it to, to unlock those benefits is that it exists outside the cell. That it’s something bigger, it’s serving something else. And so are people yearning for it. Yeah. I think that people are yearning for meaning and mattering. You know more than ever and you see it just in that church example, all I asked was tell us an example of a story when the, his purpose impacted your life.
Zach: Okay. And all of a sudden you get these stories, you know, often these stories of meaning and mattering or locked away. Just cause our narrative doesn’t allow for a lot of everyday conversation around self-transcendence versus acquiring and achieving things. Right? Yeah. We don’t, why don’t we talk about self-transcendence more in everyday life? Well, I mean I’m like, I’ll give you, I can get into the science a little bit, but you have a brain and you have a neocortex and your, it’s easier for you to access facts than it is to access the Basal Ganglia, which is the part of the brain that processes emotion because that part of the brain, it actually has no connection to the part of the brain that controls for language. So that’s why you hear people say, Oh, I have a gut feeling about this because there’s no, it’s hard for us to put into words those things, but our neocortex files facts and figures away.
Zach: It’s why we educate people to create resumes because it’s easier for a hiring person to look at facts and figures than to determine truly if a person get the sense of who someone is, it’s easier for our brains to do that. And as humans, unfortunately our brains still think that we’re being chased by saber tooth tigers. Right? We haven’t really evolved much and our brains still tries to eliminate threats to our survival and maintain comfort. We want to be in the nice warm cave with the fire going. Right? And it’s more comfortable for us to know facts and figures than it is for us to really uncover, discover, and uncover these emotions and these bigger questions. Yeah, and so it’s just easier. It’s easier to start your day by looking at your calendar, being like, Hey, what am I going to do today? Versus, Hey, what is what I’m going to do today? I’m going to do for others as a great way to put it. It’s just easier to do that.
Ryan: It just shouldn’t be like, it’s such a rush to like talk about this. You know, people just, they just eat it up and like you wished that we didn’t, you wish it wasn’t so hard to be in that space. But it is. It’s so, it just like small talk is just are the fact though, you know, take something like this. Like, like if I were to just meet you on the street and be like, Hey Zach, what’s going on? Dude? Like we were necessarily like jumped into a conversation like this and we were talking about the podcast format earlier and that’s, you know, that’s probably one of the reasons why it’s going so crazy.
Zach: Yeah. You know, I’m not surprised that it’s hard for people in my kids in daycare and you know, he’s four years old, he just had a stem day. Okay. He’s four. I’m trying to track him into a career. If you look at our educational system, people are educated for success, so they’re educated to acquire and achieve things. Hey, you do well on this test, we’ll give you an arbitrary letter that determines your worth. As you accumulate more of those arbitrary letters, the average of those arbitrary things, we’ll develop a track for you and we’ll track you into, in what ways you can function to make as much money for other people as possible. And so what happens is, and I’m right now, like I work at a university and you know, after the recession people were like, well, what’s the value of a college education?
Zach: And so the universities freaked out and started saying, well, we need to create workforce ready people. So now we have for profit corporations telling educations, education what skills those people need so they can come out and make the corporation money. So we’re preparing little workers you know, spiritless specialists, but we’re not cultivating those bigger questions. Right? And just like, you know, we’re wired to learn language, right? When we’re biologically hardwired to learn language. But if we’re not in an environment that’s speaking, we’ll never speak. The same is true with purpose and contribution. You know, UCLA Semel Center for neuroscience finds we’re wired to contribute it to be altruistic and to serve something bigger than ourselves. Our brain rewards us when we do that. That’s is why he said, what did you say? It energizes you to talk about that. That’s like a dopamine oxytocin hit.
Zach: Like we’re, we’re right. Those are the neurotransmitters that control for social connection, mood, movement, motivation. Yeah. And so yeah, I mean we’re wired to contribute but if we’re not in an environment that around us that’s contributing and rewarding us for contributing and transcending, then we’re not going to transcend. Cause there’s some fear attached to it. Cause they’re like, you think, I mean if it gives us such a rush, like you’d think we’d be like a drug, we’d go have models for it. Yeah. I think it’s really to be honest with you. So, and then you get people going on these quests to find it. You know, like, you know, people will like leave it to go travel travels the answer. I’m, I’m all about travel and travel around the world, but someone’s like, Oh I don’t know my purpose. I’m going to go travel around the world to find it. Yeah. I really think what that is is a symptom of an environmental depletion of transcendence around them that people are not in an environment where people are not measuring them by what they’re acquiring and achieving. Huh. And so they’re searching for transcendence somewhere. And what’s ironic is that oftentimes when you go try to find it out there, you end up usually further away because [inaudible] is within you. I mean you have the ability to transcend at any moment of the day. Right. Okay. So we were, we were light stop. Yeah. That’s amazing.
Ryan: All right, so I think you touched a little bit on this. You know, millennials are getting, they’re just bashed all the time, which kind of just drives me crazy. But maybe like prior generations are creating these worker bees, millennials are sort of pushing back and like searching for purpose. I told you that story when we, when we talked or we were emailing earlier about my buddy, I actually started reading your book in Tokyo. I went to Tokyo reading your book on the train. I was traveling without kids, without my wife. Good friend of mine is a doctor and goes to a big city every year and invited me along. So I’m reading your book on the train, you know, as I’m like jam packed in like a sardine and he’s like, what are you reading? I was like, well let’s book on purpose and this guy, I know Zach.
Ryan: And so we started talking about it and he’s like, so a lot of kids approach him cause he’s a doctor sort of pillar in the community. Super thoughtful guy. And these kids come to them and they’re like, man, I’m out of college. Like I don’t know what to do. I really want to be find something, you know, that gives me meaning and purpose and Yada Yada. And it was his feeling that this was paralyzing kids cause they want it to find the exact right thing. It had to be purposeful and he’s like, you got to get down to work. Like, I don’t, you know, he’s sort of, which I was really surprised that he’s such a thoughtful guy that he sort of was like, this whole purpose thing is just like whatever. And I’m like, you’re like fish. Okay, you’re a fish and the purpose is water and you have so much of it. He’s a big fan. He’s like five kids, great wife, you know, he has all the stuff that like, I think he’s contributing
Zach: Lot of transplants are a lot of trees said as life saturation. Like you can’t just tell people that
Ryan: They shouldn’t be searching for purpose because you have so much of it you can’t, you know? Interesting. So we really like, we really got into it, you know, I was, I was actually pretty frustrated with them and, and actually weeks later he came back to me, he’s like, we have to talk again about that. And we actually haven’t talked again. So I was gonna like send him this podcast and be like, dude, listen to this here. I’m talking about you and we need to have that conversation again. But anyway, back to that millennial thing. Like those kids come up to you? I’m sure.
Zach: Yeah. All the time. Just get down to work or well, how do I find my purpose is I think the wrong question. Okay. Because you can’t go out and find your purpose because then implies that it’s somewhere beyond you somewhere that you lost. Okay. Like you lost it. Like you lost a set of car keys and so now you gotta go find it. Right. I think it’s more uncovering and discovering it. So I do think you have to get to work to do that. I mean, I’ve been talking more and if I were to rewrite the book right now, I would talk about more about the craft of purpose, you know, of, of not finding your purpose, but crafting your purpose over time. Because if purpose is contribution, then in multiple contexts you contribute in different ways. Okay. So your strengths are activated to contribute in a different way.
Zach: If something were to happen in my family tomorrow, there’s a, say I had to become a caregiver. Okay. My strengths would be activated in very different ways tomorrow. Right. And the key is being able to reflect on that. And when you think about your life, what are, what are those things that keep coming, those ways where your unique strengths match up to making a human impact. And that’s where I think purpose really arises from. And I do think it’s a craft over time, but then I’ll go back to your friend who’s listening and hey friend, I hope you’re listening. And I would say that I don’t think it’s as much about finding purpose as it is about being purposeful. You can create a purpose statement, you can have a big sense of purpose, but if you’re not purposeful, and what I mean by purposeful is contributions centered thinking, feeling in doing, then it doesn’t matter.
Zach: I mean on this week I’m going to speak to people. Who would you think you would think have tremendous purpose? They’re all veterinarians, Huh? But you can have a purpose and not be purposeful in your everyday thinking. And so I think people should get to work, but I think they should do it by thinking about what they are contributing through what they’re doing and how they’re using their strengths in that moment to contribute versus I’m going to take this job to get a line on my resume. I’m going to take this job to get a paycheck. All of those things are result. They’re not purpose. Yeah. So I think every job, almost every job you could argue has purpose. I was going to ask you about that almost every job cause you, I don’t know, I’m not sure if this is right, but it seems like one of your focuses is working with people that you know, like you, you have the janitor anecdote in your book.
Zach: Is that, was that one of the things that you kind of focus on is those types of jobs that maybe some people will be like you’re just cleaning bathrooms, you know? Is that part of your work and focus on that side of the American workforce is in low wage service work. Okay. The researchers call that low choice careers. Okay. So they’re in careers where honestly it’s a, you’re getting a job based on necessity. I was interviewing a janitor here at Colorado State University for a research project and he said to me, you know, exact people treat me like I’m just here for a paycheck. That may be why I work, but it’s not why I want to keep coming to work. Wow. And what we see consistently, whether we’re interviewing mechanics, bus drivers, people on the front lines doing everyday work, which again is the majority of the world.
Zach: It’s working for us. Right. What we find is that there’s people who are able to uncover the purpose in what they’re doing right where they are. And typically what they’re able to do is they’re systems thinkers. They’ll, they’ll, they’ll able to say, like, I was just working with a group of plumbers and this plumber said, you know, I go to work everyday so that you don’t have to drink cross contaminated water. Cause he cleaned sewer pipes right on the street. Like you were saying on the street. You walk past that guy and he says, people say to them, oh, you’re just a plumber, why don’t you do anything else? But what he does every day is probably more important than anything I will do for human beings. For other people. Right? Yeah. So when I say being purposeful, there are people that tell him he’s just a plumber.
Zach: There’s an organization that can treat him like a turnover statistic. So the environment again is like I said earlier is his saying that all we are is what we achieve, acquire, all of that stuff are the pay. All he is is the paycheck. He gets his pay scale. But he was able to develop a purpose centered mindset that was able to say so that I do this. So that what he was able to focus on the human being, that’s inevitably at the end of his everyday work. So whether you’re getting to work, discovering purpose and you’re working at seven 11 and there’s a family who comes in every week and gets a slush slushy together, you are essentially serving frozen happiness. The result is that you get a paycheck. Like we only have results because of contribution. Like it’s a classic business principle, right? Whether you call it value creation or whatever.
Zach: If you, if you solve a human problem, fill a human need, you exist, your, your job exists, your job doesn’t exist to pay you, no job exists to pay you. There’d be some really bad managers who are just like, hey, let’s create a job to give people money. Every job exists to fill a human need, solve a human problem. Purposeful people focus on the human problem and they’re relentlessly caused, driven and they trust that the effects will follow versus trying to create an effect by pursuing an effect. Wow. Which doesn’t work. So to the guy, to the doctor who is obviously very purposeful, I think it’s, as long as people can understand the, so that of what they’re doing, continue to ask that questions over time, over time, when they are continuing to reflect, they will find, you will find that there are unique ways in which your strengths make those contributions.
Zach: And so over time, I think when people reflect, they’ll find a sense of, of bigger purpose. You know, just like that plumber, did you think those limited choice, is that what you call them, those little low choice low choice gurus yet? Do you think people are more prone to articulate a purpose in those positions than like a doctor who doesn’t ever, like he never gets a hard time from people about just being a doctor? Yeah, well like the veterinarians I’m speaking to on this week, and I always say this when I speak to people who are in these inherent like helping professions, right? The water’s all around them, right? But they don’t think they have anything to drink. The good work can very easily become routine work when it’s not maintained. One of the big findings in my research is that meaningfulness needs to be maintained.
Zach: So like I go to corporate clients a lot and they say, Zach, well it must be easy in healthcare and education. Two of my biggest clients right now are large hospital system and a school district. Because what I find is that when you take for granted that you’re doing good work, you’re almost more susceptible for it to become routine work. You know, like I tell my wife, you know, one of my clients is a big agency government agency and they do amazing work, you know, basic scientific work around maintaining our national parks. And when I tell my wife, where are you going to work today? I go, I’m going to work with the National Park Service. And she says, oh, that’s awesome, but I’m going in to do a session on reconnecting with [inaudible].
Zach: And I think that when you’re in it, when you’re doing it, it can become routine and normal, you know? And I think that why, what the question, why does is it jolts you out of the routine if you’ve ever been around a toddler, which I know you have. Yeah. We’re wired to ask that question from when we learn language to make sense of the world and it’s jolting. Like my kid comes into my Home Office all the time, what are you doing dad? I’m working. Why? Well shoot, I was supposed to be asking those questions and then I say, why? Why? Well and I tried to explain, well, these people will really benefit from what I have to say. And he looks at me, he says, why? How does that relate to me? But I have to pause, right? And say like, why am I doing this? And so my goal for people from being purposeful is just to implant. You know why asking toddler in your brain to start crafting purpose by jolting people out of the routine and focusing on that contribution, the human that’s at the end of what you’re doing. And if there isn’t a human at the end of it, and if it doesn’t benefit somebody, if it doesn’t solve a problem, I would question whether you should be doing it as a business.
Ryan: Mr Everson. Okay. So my kid asks me all the time like, why are you going to work? And it’s so funny, we were talking about, you know, you talked so much about how our culture is driving us to work for things. And he asked me, why are you going to work? And I’m sitting there struggling to like articulate that and he’s obsessed with cars. So I’m like, I’m going to work so we can seek them, buy more cars and buy food. And like Matt,
Zach: As soon as you said that, I’m like, I’m telling them the wrong thing, you know? I mean, so you’re in real estate, right? Yeah. You essentially are in human beings sometimes most exciting value. You’re helping human beings create spaces that are homes for other human beings. Right? Right. And the result of that is that you get to buy him cars. Right. Because you, you fulfill that contribution. Okay.
Ryan: Yeah. I think I need to, I need to reword that a little bit
Zach: Cause that’s, that’s just natural, right? I mean, I did it all the time. I mean, yeah, when he, when my, in that, that toddler stories are real stories sort of messed with me because I had been burned. I get burned out, I work, all I do is work on purpose and meaning and I had gone three months, probably not even thinking about the human beings that would be in that room that I was speaking at it. My routine, my mundane was crafting my research into a consumable format for people. I was tinkering with a PowerPoint presentation. We all have our routines that had been mine and I had, I had gotten away from that and then he came in and I was like, why are you work? And I, and I realized, you know, because of these people, yeah. In this room. And it was the first time I had thought about them in like three months. But when I did, when I really did, I got re-energized and re motivated and, and that’s what we know happens when you either actively contribute or you think about your contribution. We get that boost of neurotransmitters, dopamine, Serotonin and oxytocin. It makes us, we’re suboptimal as humans when we’re not on purpose. That’s scientifically clear at this point, right?
Ryan: I mean I think that’s probably an interesting lesson. Like go back to the millennial thing. A guy like you, somebody could probably point to Zach and say, this guy helps people find their reason for living. Like it doesn’t get any better than that. You know, people pay him to come and like help them find or I’m not using the right terminology, maybe articulate or or whatever, but even you, you know, need to, you get sucked into that routine and you need to kind of rediscover your, your purpose. And so I think that’s a good lesson and people get so caught up into what they’re doing and like, am I doing the right thing? And like you could be doing a lot of different things and think anything can become mundane for a long time. I thought, you know, like is real estate my passion? I mean I love like serving people, but there’s, you know, this big self help push and you, it just makes you like think like, am I doing the right thing?
Ryan: Is this my passion? Is this my purpose? You know, I’m so unique. People will tell you, you’re so unique. Nobody in the world is like you. You have to be doing like this one thing that nobody else can do, that only you can do and that your meaning and purpose. But I’m like, anything you do can become a grind, you know? And like I have some buddies that are fishing guides, you know and like they love fishing more than anything in the world, but you could see like day in and day out, you know you’d do something, it’s going to be a grind no matter what. So that’s cool to hear you.
Zach: Interesting. Yeah, so I think that we live in this world of this, this if then argument and it’s really destructive. Okay. If I get through the week then I’ll be happy if I get, if I close this deal then everything will be good. Yeah. If I get this salary increase then things will be good. If I get this particular job then I’ll be happy. The problem is is that after that then there’s usually nothing. There’s usually emptiness, right? And psychologists call this the arrival fallacy. It’s a cycle of despair that happens when we achieve so we can achieve, you can sell the business and then what? Right now the boomers are retiring and they’re collectively asking this then what now? What question? Yeah. Which is I think been a key driver actually. The purpose movement recently, and so we have to face the fact that what we’ve known since the 50s from motivation research is that no human being has been sustainably motivated over time from an extrinsic external reward. Getting something okay. It’s just we know that fulfillment and motivation and longterm motivation comes from internal feelings of, of, of meaningfulness. For example, it’s, it’s the happiness versus meaningfulness question, right? Happiness is a transient state. It’s short lived. That can go to a concert, feel happy, but I have to go to another concert to feel happy. Yeah, meaningfulness. If I know that I’m helping people uncover they’re on purpose or the a sense of purpose, I can never finish that,
Speaker 3: Right?
Zach: It’s going to be really hard. It’s not going to happen every day. It’s going to be a journey, but you know, a meaningful living is, is hard,
Speaker 3: Right?
Zach: Happy Happiness is easy. The meaningfulness lasts a lot, a lot longer because again, the object of your behavior is outside of yourself. Before we went on, we were talking about this idea of funeral virtues in a resume. Virtues, right? David Brooks, the New York Times columnists talks about resume virtues are the things that you acquire and achieve in your life. And most of us live based on resume virtues. Even when we’re like even in a purpose person, I’m still like, oh did I get that research publication? You know those our resume virtues, funeral virtues are the things that people talk about about you at your funeral. And the only way to leave a legacy is through contribution in my opinion. Yeah. No I think it’s, I think that’s right. And you know, you listened to kind of these high achieving guys and they’ll talk about what you were talking about.
Zach: Like once you achieve something then you know you kind of get depressed and you’re like, why did I do that? And they say like you need to fall in love with the process, but I don’t think that’s really, I don’t think that’s right. I think you need to fall in love with like, you know how you’re serving people that needs, cause you can make the process of thing. Yeah. How well that process is an achievement. They do. I see that in the, in the sort of guru health self help culture right now. Oh yeah. It’s everywhere. Like every, everybody’s a coach, right? I mean cause you, you know, fall in love with this process. This process is the holy ground. Yeah. I mean if I give them a one more Instagram ad about some sort of journal that will transform my day and it’s really the same journal, you know, I’m going to lose my mind.
Zach: Right? We can idolize these processes, but really I think it goes back to what you just said. I think it’s about every day, the three habits, right? The habits of thinking. Am I thinking in a way where I think about where I’m contributing, where I can be most useful, right? The habits of being, am I showing up being a useful person to other people and am I doing things, am I approaching my tasks in a way where yeah, maybe doing this mundane paperwork or maybe booking this flight, but I know that it’s so that I can go speak to these people and that these people are at the end of this. And I think that’s, for me, that’s what being purposeful is. Huh. All right. So you talked in the book about belief like for us to really sort of manifest all this like purpose talk, like we really have to believe, you know, I can make a mission statement and I think a lot of mission statements are pretty canned.
Zach: You know, I was trying to think of one for our, for gray rock realty and, and it’s like I need to believe it. Right. And you were talking, I think if I’m saying this right, that stories and anecdotes are a huge part of like believing that. And so I could tell a lot of stories about ways that I felt like the get me really excited about my job because I felt like I serve my clients in a way that, you know, was pretty profound in the real estate space. And a lot of times that is helping them like walk away from a house, you know, when it’s not the right house. I feel like I need to bring, and you said in your book that we should be bringing in those folks to like talk and so I was like, that’s a great
Ryan: Idea. But then I started to think that’s kind of a big ask, you know? And so any advice for me, like do I just call up clients and be like, Hey, this is, this is what we’re trying to do. Like would you be interested in like coming and talking to our, our team about this particular instance when I felt like I served you? Well, you know, I mean it just, maybe I just need to ask them. But I guess my question to you is, is that something you just do? Like when you’re talking to these companies, you’re like, hey, go find a customer that has a great story and just ask them to come in.
Zach: So the, yeah, these moments of like mattering and meaning are, are everywhere, right? You just have to ask the right questions. Then just like the church example, it was a simple question. How has grew the purpose of grace changed your life? Right? But yet no people hadn’t been asked that question. I bet if you look back or like on the history of the church, you’d never find that question being asked in a survey. Right? Like often, like I would ask, maybe you’re doing this, I don’t know. But for other people out there too, if you, when people leave a business, normally what we do is we, I call them happy sheets. We ask if people were satisfied, how likely are you to recommend me to a beer? You know, and, and that’s not really psychologically motivating for people. Your net promoter score or whatever it is, just ask them in a followup survey about your services.
Zach: How has gray rock and the experience with gray rock changed your life? Improved your life. Okay. Give them an open ended prompt. And just like you were so shocked as to what happened with that initial exercise we talked about at the beginning. The stories that come out, you’ll be shocked. You’ll be shocked at the stories you hear of how deep your impact goes. It was a, I talk about it in the book, but I really, this really hit home for me when I was working with that supply chain management group in Denver and they supply really small electronic widgets that go into part of an MRI machine and then that MRI machine is put together somewhere else and distributed somewhere else. So look, three or four steps removed and I asked this group of people, why are you here? Why, why does your job even exist?
Zach: And this one woman started like tearing up in the front and she, she said, you know, I really hadn’t thought about it ever before, but I’m thinking about it right now. I was diagnosed with cancer last month. Wow. I’ve been at the company for 12 years and I remember looking up at the MRI machine and I remember seeing that logo on the boxes that are in our distribution centers and she said, I’ve realized that my job exists. It has existed for the last 12 years to save my own life. You talk about like an antidote to employee disengagement, right? The whole room changed. That story was there. It would have never come out if they w if she wasn’t asked the question. Right, right. And so I think your customer stories are out there in almost any industry. I work with a carwash and we started asking people why they get their car washed.
Zach: Right. You the car wash purpose. Hmm. Maybe that’s, maybe that’s one of those walls. He said almost every, every job as a campus. It was profound what we discovered. So one guy said in his car, I’m getting my car wash because my daughter’s the first in our family to go to college and I want the car to look nice when I drop her off. Oh my gosh, that’s awesome. And we say, oh my gosh. But that’s, that’s why people get their car washed or to feel good. It’s this other woman said that she’s getting her car washed because her sister passed away two days ago and had to wash the car cause they had to put it on craigslist to sell it to pay her rent. Oh my gosh. Because her husband passed away. I mean you, if there’s a human being that’s involved in, in whatever business you’re in and you have them, you have to imagine that that human being has a life as vivid and complex and important as your own.
Zach: And at any given point, you are part of that person’s complex, vivid life in that point. And if you can ask the questions that get, get people to, to share what it was like to have you be part of their lives, it’s, it’s the only motivation you need in organizations and that that becomes embedded. So if you say you hiring people, right? If you’re hiring an agent or whatever and they, I think the first person they should talk to is a customer. Okay. Because you know, I always say organizations right now are telling me exactly we want to do skills based hiring. And I always say skills without the energy to use them are useless. So you can tell people how to do what they need to do as much as you want. But if they don’t know why it matters, have the internal energy to do it, it doesn’t matter.
Zach: So if I’m hiring, the first thing I should do is to have my potential candidates. Okay. Easier said when I’m not doing your job. Right. Right, right. But I think so or some way to have them understand why it matters in real estate. Like I hope maybe your competitors are listening, but I think it’s the ultimate competitive advantage for, for a real estate agency. Yeah. Because how many people are sitting down having the conversations of why are we doing this daily. Right. Yeah. I mean we wanted, we, I think I basically, I’ve really rough in our purpose statement was like we wanted to create a safe place for people to make real estate decisions that are right for them without regard to how it affects us. Like yeah. Cause there’s so many different times when we can influence a deal. There’s a lot of times when my clients are working through inspection issues or trying to figure out whether or not this is the right house and it’s like we have a lot of control over that. I mean, not obviously people are their own person and they, they make the decisions they want to make and if they’re not going to, you know, they don’t like the house, they’re not going to buy it. But they constantly are asking us should we buy this house and is this an inspection issue that we should terminate over or should we work through it? And my goodness, it’s like, you know, that’s, I think
Ryan: What I want to articulate to people for our company and like to my agents is that we gotta let people feel comfortable. Like we can, we can sort of like not a lot of agents will really pressure people, but at the same time they can like passively pressure people into buying a house that may not be right for them. And so, you know, that’s what my mind keeps going back to trying to do the right thing for them and not, you know, it’s not all about us and getting them to buy the, this house. Cause there’s, we can tell you how many times the client has walked away from a house or two or three houses. I mean a lot of times it’s a six or eight month process. Then the last thing they need from me is like to feel that pressure. You know?
Ryan: And a lot of times the first thing they’ll say to me is, Ryan, like we’re going to be really picky. And I’m like, man, everybody, you know, you have the right to be picky. You’re going to spend a few hundred thousand dollars or half a million dollars or more. Like everybody’s picky. And then further down the line, if they’ve looked at 25 homes, they’ll come up to us and say, okay, we like, we know that we’re your worst clients ever. They start to get this like guilt, you know? And so we have to just reassure them and say, as long as it takes, you know, it doesn’t matter. Like this is our job. We do this every day. This is a lot more stressful for you than it is for us. So that’s something that I never put into words. You know, before we started reading your book, and actually we did a real estate podcast about that and I think that really resonates with people. And a lot of times when I first sit down with somebody, I say, look, this is, this is how it is. You know, this is what you can expect from us. Never feel pressured to buy a house as long as it takes as many homes as it takes. You’re going to get tired of this before I will. I don’t ever want you to feel that guilt. And you can always walk away from a home without, you know, pressure from us and you can kind of see them like relax, you know? So
Zach: Yeah, I mean, I would say that’s that purpose in action. I mean, in when, so I do say this, that nobody really cares. Like why you say you exist unless you prove it every day. I mean, that’s what the difference between a statement having a purpose statement and being purposeful through repeated and repeatable behaviors and habits. How do you turn purpose into habits? But I just wanted to go back and just for people listening of one question that I ask people and if I use you as an example where I am like you mentioned that what your idea of your purpose is. I would even ask another question, you know, to help people feel comfortable in their real estate decision making process at this to that. So that what there’s, so that are the two most powerful words when you’re thinking about the purpose of what you’re doing.
Zach: I’m like, you know, think about anything that you do, any tasks that you’re doing and you think it’s just a task add. So, so that, so that was so that they can do what so that people can think, feel, do, be or have what as a result of that. So like I want to make a, I want to feel comfortable making a real estate decision so that I can make a home for my kids. Like so I can live like live somewhere, have a place to be. It’s not work, you know? So I think when you, when you add that, so that at the end of even the most traditional sort of mission statements, you start digging actually into purpose, which is the actual impact that you’re trying to enable people to me through doing work with you. So when I think about that, I mean I think about it in three layers.
Zach: So there’s purpose, the, the human problem you exist to solve what people will be able to think, feel, be, do, or have as a result of you. There’s your mission, which is how you do that. So the things that you do, you help people feel comfortable in their decision making process. That’s habits, that’s how you do it. And then the vision is what would it be like if you fulfilled your purpose? What would it be like if everybody in northern Colorado, for example, were comfortable in their real estate decisions and had a home, what would the, what would the community be like? That’s the vision. So when you start getting down to the strategy level of this, it’s a purpose that’s so that, what’s the problem you exist to solve? What will people be able to do, feel, think, be or have as a result of you, the mission is how you do it and the vision is what w what would it be like if you were done.
Zach: And I think that’s a useful structure for people to think through some of these things with. That’s awesome. You know, you help people find purpose or discover purpose, right. Where they are. Is there a time when we should use a search or a desire for more purpose in our vocation to push us out of space that we’re in right now do another job. Yeah. So like here’s the caveat to everything I’ve been saying. If you have the means to be able to find a better system that can deliver your own sense of purpose and use your strengths better, go do that. Okay. Like go do it. Because that’s where I get into the, the whole, you know, get, discover your purpose and pursue it relentlessly. Yeah. I try to avoid that language normally because most people just don’t have the luxury to do that. I mean, we’re trying to like live messy, busy lives.
Zach: I mean, and so we have to be able to learn how to be purposeful where we are, if we ever want to be purposeful where we want to go. Right? But if you have the ability to really stop and to think about options that will help you deliver your purpose and you know what that, that intersection of your strengths and your impact are, then I do think that you should pursue, pursue that delivery system. Because I think like college majors, your job, your career, those are all delivery mechanisms of your contribution, not necessarily your, your contribution that you might want to make. For example, I could be, I could have my purpose to help people discover and enact their purpose and I could be a doctor or I could be a mechanic and I just, that’s how I am. A mechanic is through that. So it just happens, you know, like I love southwest airlines.
Zach: Like you know, their purpose is like, their purpose is to democratize the sky’s, to provide access to air travel to people. You know, it just happens. They have a low cost airline, but that would be their mission. That was his mission. Herb Kelleher, the founder’s mission from the start, he wrote on a Napkin. The impetus for southwest airlines is why can only 15% of Americans fly? What can we do about it? The solution, one solution was the low cost airlines known as southwest airlines. The result was the profit, but the purpose for him was that bigger, that bigger question. He was ready to do work, government work, FAA work, you know to do that. But yeah, I think that if you’re going to go, if you are able to like take the time to really reflect on those things, I mean there’s some ways you can do and I mean one of them is just look at every day, look for seven days, keep a log, write down some notes about three questions.
Zach: I mean, what did you love doing that day? Everything. Like if you love doing this Bob guest or you loved having a conversation with a friend and then ask yourself, what did I love about that? Like I always ask people, I, I always ask people this question, think about a time in the last seven days where you most experienced a sense of purpose. And everybody says like a lot of people with kids say, Oh, when I help my kids with their homework, and then I always say, well what about helping kids with their homework was purposeful for you? Well then you get down to, well, I just like to seeing him become more confident. Oh, so you really like helping people become more confident. A way you do that is through helping your kid do their homework and then you get, you get into these, these passions.
Zach: So that question, what did I love to do? And dig into that a little bit. The second question is, what was I good at? So what was I just good at? Like that’s like a talent, something that you’re good at that nobody else is good at. Like I am just really, really good at doing Google searches. Okay. Like I’m really good at putting different, disparate pieces of information together, right? For an outcome. Like the systems thinking. I’ve just said I’m good at it. And I like when my wife and I are trying to search for something, she’ll be like, hey, can you search for, cause I can just like find it and I’m just really good at. So what were you good at that day? And those are your talents. So the first is your passions, things you love to do. The second is your talents.
Zach: And then the third question is what? What did, there’s two questions actually. How did I contribute today? How did I make people’s lives better? Or, and what did I notice that I think could be better about the world today? And at the end of the seven days, you’ll have 21 lists and the overlap between your passions and your talents, those are the, those are your psychologic, your strengths. And the impact is where you can most use those strengths. That third question, that contribution. And you can start really developing some data about yourself that can, can lead you in a path where your strengths can be most useful. That’s awesome. But I would be careful of trying to find people, try to find the delivery system before they find their contribution. You know, it’s a basic design. If you’ve heard of the phrase form follows function, why don’t we apply that to ourselves as human beings, we need to know our usefulness, know our contribution, know our function before we plan our lives if we have the privilege to do so.
Zach: And so that’s why I think going back to the schooling, you know, I’m on a mission to, to just basic design principle and implement into education. That form should follow function. So when students need to uncover what their unique function and contribution is in the world before they’re following someone else’s plan for their lives, it sounds like you have a little like an engineer type mindset. A little bit [inaudible] rational mindset. Yeah. Like in a lot of people come to me and they’ll tell me things like you know, they’ll tell me things like, Zach, like I’m, I’m an engineer, I’m an accountant, or I just think linearly, this stuff doesn’t vibe for me. Okay. But you know, I have that rational linear mindset and when I logically deduce this stuff, it just makes sense that we should know our, our function before our forum. We plan our forum. That’s awesome. I’m just fascinated at
Ryan: How you got started, how you, what the book process was. Like you said you took a bunch of time off to write a book. I mean to me I liked this podcast for example, as something I’ve been wanting to do for so long, but I’ve been talking about podcasting for more than a year and it took that long for me to actually like start blocking out time cause it just would like eat away at me.
Ryan: Writing a book is, is a monumental effort. It’s a great book and it’s called the invisible leader and yeah. Yup.
Zach: I think it’s, it’s doing really well and yeah. So tell us about that. Yeah, I mean I don’t have any sort of like really interesting path at all. I mean, I always tell, you know, you always hear people who like have these dramatic things happen to them in their lives. And I just don’t, I think I have just a normal path. Like I’ve had three careers already. I was in advertising sales when I came out of college because I was educated to be sued. I was educated to be successful, so I was educated to make money. Okay. And that’s what happened. And I was miserable because I didn’t understand why I was doing what I was doing. If I knew what I knew now that first job out of college, I was doing advertising sales. I was like helping people grow their businesses. If I were just able to ask that.
Zach: So that question, you know, I probably could have found purpose where I was then. Right? But I had some chance encounters with people who, you know, I always have said that the most extraordinary people do ordinary things with an extraordinary perspective and they’re all around us. Like there’s people. And for me in that time, I wrote about it in the book. Who was that cab driver when I was in DC and I was on a lunch break and I’ve met with this cat. I met up with this cab driver because we were in the same parking lot in a park in d c and he just said, how’s your day going? And I was just like griping, was it almost a weekend yet? And it was like Tuesday at the time and I asked him how his, his day is going and he just was like so excited about driving this cab.
Zach: It’s such a great story. And I was like, how do you learn to be like that? Like he was talking about how he would drive new people around. He was saying that he was people’s parents, they didn’t talk to their friends, they never have like that’s how he saw his work and really, I mean that’s what he did. He was a travelling conversationalists right. He just happened to drive calves. And I was like, okay, something’s broken because everybody I hear is talking about the weekend, which is two sevenths of their lives, 28% of our waking lives. So the days that begin with the letter s and it’s shocking and disturbing how many people live for that right now. So, so that, it was at that point where I was like, I want to go into higher education and make sure nobody ends up like me. So I tried to go into higher ed and sort of disrupt that system and it went okay and it was interesting and I got to do a lot of training and development and explore this stuff more.
Zach: But then I started seeing really the need to do training and development work like outside the higher ed setting and in organizations where most people spend their time and sure. And that’s where it led to, you can then research this stuff right, of how people work and what motivates them at work and what compels people in life. And, and that’s what led me to where I’m at in the book, was simply an expression of that. And the way I wrote the book was I went to a session at a conference and there was a pretty well known author who gave a session. And after the session I said, you know, I’ve been thinking about writing a book. Maybe you know, we say those things, right? I’ve been thinking about writing a book. How did you do it? It was the dumbest question I could think of because he gave me this answer.
Zach: He goes write a book. I go, what do you mean? He goes, write a book. And I, I, that was the advice that led me to write the book because he was just like, block out an hour a day and write the book. Right. And that’s what I did. And I wrote the book. So you’ve been doing research before that? Yeah, I had, because I got into my phd program and I was like, I’m not going to just like put this research on a flash dry on a USB drive for no one else to ever see it. Yeah. That’s where my thesis is. Right. And so I was like, I want to, I want to want people to be able to, I want people to consume this stuff because there’s so much research out there on meaningfulness and purpose that is sort of like psychobabble [inaudible].
Zach: It’s like if you get into like the actual psychological research, nobody can access that. And so my goal is to make that accessible for people. And I just wrote every day for about an hour. That’s how I finished my dissertation is if you do, it’s amazing how much I think we underestimate what we, I think we overestimate what we can accomplish in a day and we underestimate what we can accomplish in a hundred days. So it’s just like that taking those small steps, it’s really powerful to see, cause you know you’re on the journey. Yeah. That’s how it happened for me. So was that, you talked about blogging earlier and how you sort of address like a, you kinda rode a wave of like Google searches or wasn’t a lot of content on purpose and meaning and you just were every week writing and he did that for how many years?
Zach: Four years. Yeah, like four years. I wrote every week during the time when blogs were like, cool. Yeah. And but I think that what was really powerful about it, and I’ve noticed this in my life, is that whenever I do something for the thing itself and not for the result of the thing, the results of the thing or about are better. Right? Like so like I was blogging because I already had a job, so I was like moonlighting. I mean I was just like blogging I was passionate about was interesting. I thought people use this stuff, they usefulness fees and it turned into a career. Versus if I would be like, Hey, I’m going to be a purpose full blogger for a purpose and meaning blogger and I’m going to quit everything and start this blog to get likes and shares, then I probably would have been, I’m not, would not be where I am now and it’s funny, almost everything in my life when I forget about the thing that I get for doing it, I do the thing better.
Zach: Right, so true. With the blogging, did you use a lot of that content for the book where you writing? Some of some of the blogs are pretty painful to go back and read. Right. That’s the good stuff. I don’t know. I mean, I think, and I’m still figuring things out. I mean, I don’t know. Like if you’re asking me exactly what do you want to do? Why do you want to do it? I don’t know if I could clearly answer that question. I know that I want people to be able to, I want people to be able to access meaning and purpose in their lives in a normalized way. I want those conversations to be normalized. That like you meet somebody and they tell you about the problem they’re trying to solve or what they’re working on versus what they do. You know, I just, I want that to be a normal thing, right?
Zach: Like I want people in organizations to normally talk about that everyday you come here, you don’t need married to tell you that she had cancer and your machine’s shave save her life every 12 years that every day you come here, you know that this is the, that the end of all of this as a person. And people think about those people that are at the end of it. Huh. So how would we pose that question? Instead of saying like, what do you do for work? What should we say? W I, you know, one of the questions I like asking now is like when I, when I meet somebody, I was like, what have we been like really working on this week? Or you know, what, what’s like a big project that, that you’re working on? I mean, even that, it’s like, it’s a totally different conversation, right?
Zach: Or, or like, what are you really into right now? I tried to like, what are you really into right now? Yeah. What’s got you excited? Or you know, when did you, when did you really feel like what you did this week matters like, right? What’d you feel a sets of mattering this week? Meaning, yeah, I can all, I can already see like you’d be afraid of like someone not having the words to articulate. Yeah. Now. Right? So like, I think maybe what are you into would be a, instead of saying like, well, how are you giving back and serving? What’s your purpose?
Zach: How’s that for small talk? Yeah. No, I know that that’s not practical, but I think just re reframing that language. Yeah. Even in like hiring discussions, I was working with a company and I was looking at job descriptions and they’re like, job descriptions are ridiculous because they’re just facts and figures, right? It’s what to do and how to do it and what skills you need. And I think we should just be listing, here are the human problems we solve and we’re looking for people who can solve them. Right? Instead of, because then in that, even in an interface with like a new person who might work for, you can say, hey, give me an example of one of these human problems that you’ve solved in the past and how you did that. It’s a different conversation. Then share with me a time where you got negative feedback, you know, and not why did you recover from that?
Zach: But when you orient people to the bigger contribution you, you see how they use their strengths to make an impact, which is purpose. That’s where purpose comes from. That’s awesome. So were these companies that you work with and cut me off if you need to? Yeah. Did they just start approaching you and saying, Hey Zach, will you come speak with us or [inaudible] you had the China doing free stuff. I mean it was kind of like, again, the things that I did that I didn’t, I was like, Hey, let me go try this stuff out. I make a talk about this stuff. I did a lot of, I think in my first year I did like probably like 30 or 40 free speaking gigs. I mean, you know, I still do that stuff. Sometimes I’ll be in a, I could be in a hotel ballroom in San Francisco in front of a big fortune 500 company, but in the next day I could be at a local networking group with four people in the basement of a building talking about the same thing.
Zach: Wow, that’s awesome. That’s what’s exciting for me is being able to see it in action. When you have that systems thinking perspective that you, you know that if you impact somebody here, they will go on and have a day, right. In which they will interact with other people and they will, they will be different because they interacted with you and if you seek out those opportunities versus like, Hey, what’s my speaking fee going to be? The speaking fees always follow Contra, the contribution. You May, this is what I always say like, and I was saying this earlier, but every result is the result of a contribution like just no, no effect without a cost, no result without contribution. No achievement without purpose. Sure. So that’s how I started just doing free. A lot of free free talks. I always tell people, if you were to tell anybody anything in 30 minutes, what would you tell them?
Zach: And just go do that wherever you can. What do you mean? If you were to tell anybody, like people always say, how do I get started? Like speaking or like, you know, sharing my message. I would be like, if you were to create a 30 minute talk and talk about anything we can talk about, put it together and go do it. That’s great advice. Yeah, it’s really powerful. And then I always, I was in front of some really, I mean I’m always in front of purpose. Skeptics. I mean my iPhone life stories. So my other, this is not the topic of this podcast, but public speaking tip is I go into every room and assume nobody wants to be there. Huh? Like I go into, everyone just assumed no one wants to be there. That really fires me up. Meetings, even me, the excited going into conference calls assumed no one wants to be there.
Zach: Interesting. Did I read right that you’re kind of an introvert and like how does that, how does that work with public speaking? I mean was that like a big fear or the one thing that I’ve been able to master is not master, but I know like you know that concept of flow when you’re doing something and you forget the time. I’m really good at that. Okay. I can sort of, when I go on stage I sort of blank out and I just know what to say and you know, I just pick up on audience cues and things like that. It’s just sort of something that I go into a flow state now that happened because I did 30 or 40 preparations. Yeah, just immersed in the content. Once you get into that flow, like you probably have that, it’s just in real estate, you’re meeting with a new client.
Zach: It’s just what you do. I mean, you’re just in it. This is great. It’s such a great, it’s such a great, you can make anything. You know, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into being in being able to be in flow. Right. But yeah. So like if that has no bearing on introversion, extroversion or whatever knows, and it’s a great point. Yeah. It takes a lot of failure to get to that point. Just like starting, like you said, like what you would say, give a presentation and you know, yeah. Iteration and there’s been some stuff. I mean, I done so much stuff that it’s like cringeworthy. Yeah. You know, and I have a rejections folder in my inbox because I like going in and seeing all my rejections. I probably have a rejection email today from some major publication, you know? Huh. I’ve learned to just be really excited for rejections.
Zach: Interesting. Because like, I’m getting feedback, some, any feedback. I’m putting something out there in a Seth Godin and I don’t know if he does say, you know, he that, you know, Seth, but no upset building. He always has this philosophy of just ship it out there, like just ship your ideas out. Yeah. And perfection is the enemy of shit. Yeah. I’ve had to really work on that and get over that. Yeah. Well Dude, this has been amazing. Yeah. Thank you so much for taking the time. Know you’re very busy and I’m just thankful that you’re doing what you’re doing and giving people like the words to talk about this stuff and why they do what they do and it’s desperately needed and I hope that you continue to do it and look forward to seeing what you do next. He got like another book coming out or what are you going to do now?
Zach: Just sort of like think so. So I just finished my phd and I wrote this dissertation that no one could in their right mind other than that person either doing it or on the committee. And this is my whole goal, like part of my whole life is in academia. So my goal is to make that stuff accessible to people. So at the level of the workforce or any education level is to be able to make that research accessible. And my research was on what makes work meaningful to people across occupations. And so I’m going to be writing more on that and maybe it’s going to be above, but I’m really into this idea of meaningfulness and the state of meaningfulness and what environments elicit the experience of meaningfulness and how we can cultivate and design environments that make it easier for people to experience meaningfulness.
Zach: I think like just like we said with the whole language thing, we know we’re wired for meaning and we’re wired for language. We only learned language because people are speaking. We only learn how about sort of awaken and unlock our own meaning and meaningfulness if people around us are doing it. So that environmental piece is key. So that’s what I’ve been focusing on. Okay. Well can’t wait to see how that shakes out. Keep us posted. Yeah. Thanks for having to be on. Yeah, Dude. Well yeah, let’s do it again sometime next time. You got more time. Thanks again for coming on the show. Of course. All right.
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