Welcoming new life experiences will increase the depth of one’s knowledge because there’s a lesson in every risk that we choose to take. This is the core belief of Dr. James Kelley, author of The Crucible’s Gift: 5 Lessons from Authentic Leaders and the host of the Executives After Hours Podcast. In this episode, Dr. Kelley dives into the value of curating a life of experiences. He also walks us through the quest for belonging and self-awareness that equipped him to bring great value to the world of executive leadership. Discover the one thread that ties together the leaders of today and learn more about authenticity and compassion as driving forces of leadership.
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Curating A Life Of Experiences with Dr. James Kelley
I’ve got an incredible guest. It’s right here in the middle of the perfect period in my life to be exploring seasons. Maybe even in our conversation, we’ll talk a little bit about the seasons and how the seasons are such a great metaphor for life, for our businesses, for the cycles of our lives and every aspect of that. Dr. James Kelley is the author of an incredible book called The Crucibles Gift: 5 Lessons From Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity. We all understand what it’s like to experience adversity, but to be able to thrive in adversity is a different skill set, different experience, different intention and different results. He brings a fresh perspective to leadership, coaching and keynotes. His journey from a humble home in Portland, Oregon to earning his PhD and living near Dubai with his wife and four children is full of adversity. James also has a keen interest in the adversity that shapes great leaders around the world. We are living in tumultuous times, disruptive times or pivot times, which would be more on brand message for us is putting it mildly. There’s a depth to that bio that I am looking forward to getting into with you, James. Thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show.
Thank you. I’ve got to say, if it wasn’t for your voice, I’m not sure your audience will know who is who in this conversation because we look similar.
What is not written in that bio that you would love for people to know about you?
I’m a passionate person. As the book probably entails or states in the title, authentic. It’s a word that’s bantered around quite a lot nowadays, but for me what’s important is being a good person and being a good version of myself. I have a saying that goes, “If I lost my arms and legs, you won’t be wiping my ass, my wife and family will be.” They’re always first at the center of the choices that I make and often that’s with business or speaking, whatever. My thought process first goes to how does it impact them, and then I work out from there in terms of what I do next. I’m very passionate and family-oriented individual. I’m just a good guy that’s out to have a good time and don’t take life too seriously at the end of the day.
You live near Dubai. You and I were having a little chuckle about this because I said to you, that’s not the norm for people to live near. I’ve introduced somebody that lives in Chicago or Canada. Sometimes we get some Australians here, things that people can envision for themselves like, “I’d love to live in Sydney someday.” Most people couldn’t pick out where Dubai is on the map.
Dubai is a city in the country of United Arab Emirates. We just had two days of rain that we’ll get for the entire year, and we’ve very grateful for that. It won’t rain again for another 354 days. That’s about it.
Certain things keep coming up. They call it the reticular activating system or something like that, where you start to notice that you might want to buy a Volkswagen and the next thing you see Volkswagens everywhere. You didn’t notice them before but all of a sudden everybody’s driving that Volkswagen that you’re so interested in. Dubai has come up and a buddy of mine, Steve Farber, who’s also an author, he got a new book coming out, which I love the title, Love Is Just Damn Good Business. He came back from Dubai. He has a speaking gig there and now we’re in line to do the same keynote for this banking organization. I haven’t been to Dubai personally, but I have a feeling it’s in my future. I’ve got another friend with four kids living near Dubai. I want to start with this journey from Portland, Oregon to living near Dubai. That’s a vast landscape both physically and I’m sure on the emotional scale and in every which way, that’s a lot of miles. Where do you want to start to navigate that for us?
My life has been circuitous that I wouldn’t even know where to begin. My journey is probably the same as many as your audience in terms of I grew up in a lower-middle-class house in Portland. Both my parents worked. I was the last kid in third grade. I was the youngest by five years. I was in my own head a lot. My parents did not have a lot of desire to entertain their child. Carlsbad is well-known for swimming and water polo. If you’re a swimming family, you know what that means. My family was a swimming family. At the end of the day, my brothers were gone from sun up to sunset. I was by myself a lot until I started the stupid sport as well. I was out the door at sunrise and back at sunset.
When you have parents that don’t want to entertain you, both were working, both were unhealthy, not a lot of money, you’re left to your own device to sort yourself out mentally. That would have been great if I had a confident and focused mom and dad, but that was not the case. My mom was pessimistic and have a deficit approach. My dad was just there. The building blocks of success weren’t there. I barely got into college. I went to the University of Dayton and I got in only because I played water polo. That was it. I was on probation. I take rudimentary classes and left after a year.
I was selling new and used cars at nineteen years old in Portland. I moved back to Portland at that time and my parents had left Portland to live in Chicago. I remember a vivid day in March, there was a used car shack. I walked in and two guys were bent over at a table, a dollar bill rolled up. They looked at me and there was white powder on the ground and they said, “Do you want to try some?” That was a huge pivot moment for me because you know those movies that you see where they fast forward and all scenes of jail. I saw myself living in a dumpster, in a van down by the river. I saw my life going the wrong way.
I walked out of that shack straight to the phone and called my mom. I said I want to go off to college next year. She was like whatever she could do to do it, she would get it done. If she had to mortgage the house, she was going to do it so I could go back to university. That was a conscious choice for me at that moment to say, “This is not a path that I want to go on. I need an education.” I don’t know what that meant. I wasn’t good at school, but I knew I needed whatever that would give me. I went to the University of Dayton. I finished up there. I still don’t know what I want to do. I moved to Chicago and I started a grad program there.
Halfway through, I left that and I opened up an office in Portland, Oregon for an advertising agency. I’m 24, no business opening in office. It’s a national chain, no business. I had to find a place, hire the staff. I had to get furniture. I had no business being in that job whatsoever. The whole fake it until you make it and so I did. I did okay at it. Eventually about a year and a half, I left and moved to San Jose. That’s where I got another conscious pivot where I got fired from my job. I took a job over another office there. There was a whole bunch of issues.
This was in 2000 when the internet was still fairly new. Viruses were quite common and sometimes you would get these emails that would pique your interest and you know you shouldn’t click on the link but I did. About 25 minutes later, I knocked out twenty of the 22 offices in the network based on the link. Two weeks later I was fired. It didn’t last long. I was six months in. That was 2000 to 2001. I was living in New York next and I got my MBA at a small liberal arts college called Wagner College. I thought I wanted to coach water polo for a living. That’s what I grew up with. That’s what I did. That’s what I knew.
There’s a great water polo team that plays in New York City called NYAC, which is this private club. I don’t even know if you know this about us because it’s funny we have this similar haircut. You played water polo and so did I. I ended up in swimming in my junior high school, and a lot of the kids were already burned out. I know when you were saying earlier about a swimming family that up at 6:00, we used to go out. You grew up in a place that was chilly in the winter, just like me. I’d get outside to either walk to the high school or take the bus, and by the time we got there back in the day when we had hair that there were icicles.
We go to practice in the morning and get in the water by 6:30 or 7:00. For me, it was the New York City school, which meant that on the weekends they didn’t heat the school to save money. They built the school in 1930. 7:00 AM on a Monday morning in the water, it had to be 60 degrees. Some of these kids were in there. They had been YMCA swimmers. They had been AAU and all these other things that you put kids into swimming when they’re five years old. You have them swim back and forth, they’re nauseous for hours and hours so they can someday become an Olympian. At a minimum, on the low end of that, you get a college scholarship for swimming. All that was going on and I wasn’t at that talent level anyway. Certainly, not starting when I was starting. One thing I discovered when I was in college that I didn’t know about and I fell in love with was water polo. I absolutely love the sport. It is one of the most brutal games. It’s like rugby in the water. It’s a beastly sport.
Where did you play at?
I played at UMass Amherst and we were at a club team at the time. There wasn’t even Varsity, didn’t even have any funding. We went to Eastern’s, which was a big deal. We were good enough to go to Eastern’s play in Annapolis, play against Johns Hopkins and Brown. I would say Brown and Navy were one cut below the teams that you probably were playing against, which were the West Coast teams.
I played the East Coast. When I was in college, we would travel ten hours on the weekend. We’d drive from Dayton, New York to West Point to Annapolis to Brown. We played the West-East Coast and we got our asses handed to us.
I’ll just reveal this now in that way it will make the podcast episode worth the while. The toughest part about water polo is getting the horses in the water. That is not an easy thing.
I always thought beating the horses to move up and down was the hardest part because the web kept getting in the way of the water and you just wouldn’t have the same impact.
The mallets slow down. As soon as you strike the water with the mallet, it just slows down. Like for a golf, you’ve got to get club speed to get through.
In the deep end, you have the snorkel issue, which you have to be blowing that water off the top. It’s so hard.
You end up in a series of jobs and to me, I don’t know what the number is right now, at least seven changes of career. That number has radically gone up because Millennials are leaving a job on average every eighteen months. The Harris Poll statistics has 53% of people who are working a job are looking for another job. They know what they’re doing isn’t their direction, not their purpose, not their calling.
If you look at the Gallup organization, only 32% of the people are actually engaged in their job in the US. The flip side of that is a huge amount of people, that 68% are not engaged in their job whatsoever. That means they’re not productive, there’s low ROI, they’re probably looking for another job. It’s a huge epidemic.
Most of our problems and issues come from our childhood.
Give us the version of the story where you finally get on the path. You’ve been able to do some things that are remarkable, which is along the way you say no to things that aren’t going to work. You can envision the future, you’re future casting going, “I don’t want to end up living in a dumpster or near a dumpster or whatever it is. I don’t want that.”
That’s fair but I don’t think that’s always the case. I’m also the guy who wants the experiences. I’ve lived in Australia, I’ve lived in Japan, I live in the Middle East now. I’ve lived in Philadelphia for seven years prior to here. I’m also the guy who wants experiences. My dad died when I was twenty at university and he was 49. At twenty, that’s far away. At 44, I’m like, “That’s around the corner.” For me, there’s always been this clock in my mind of the countdown to 49. One of the things that I’ve always said to myself, “I want no regrets because I could die tomorrow and if my bank account is full, but I’ve done no experiences, what’s the point?” I’m not saying I’m frivolous with money. What I’m saying is that I want to have experiences that I could take with me that broadened my horizon, that gives me a depth of knowledge and experience that makes me wiser. I’m not trying to sound like an arrogant, pompous guy, but I think experiences give you a perspective that you can’t get if you don’t get them or if you don’t seek them out.
Who would want to get to the end of their days and count among the things that they wish they had done, living in places, meeting people, eating foods, those kinds of things? Those are sensations of life that you only get from a visceral experience of it, from getting involved in doing it. Has it been a major part of your philosophy?
I think so. I don’t know if this is based out of fear of death like I could die tomorrow, so I don’t want to miss out and I don’t want my kids to miss out on opportunities as well. I look at my mom and she has not had that many experiences. She hasn’t done that much. She hasn’t gone to any places and she’s a bit lonely and sad. I don’t want that for myself. Your question about how I got on a path, that’s a hard question for me because when I went and got a Ph.D. in Australia, that definitely was not on the cards for me whatsoever. If you were to ask anybody that knew me in college, that was not what I’d be doing. If you ask anybody in college, I would not have written a book.
I’ve made conscious choices throughout my life either to prove someone wrong, to have an experience or to prove myself right. These are all conscious choices I make. It doesn’t mean I want to do it forever. It means I want to get that experience. I teach in a university and I’m an author, but I had started a startup that’s in the tech industry. Here’s a new pivot. I’m selling things and getting this out to the world because I don’t want to teach anymore. I want to do something different that I can create from the ground up. That’s a new experience for me. It’s a new set of challenges and it’s a new thing for me to say, “I can do this.” For many years, and we all go through this in our head, most of us at least, we have the imposter syndrome, “Do I belong in this world? Do I belong in this job, in this career, with this group of people?” I’m envious of people who have that depth of confidence or at least the perception of confidence that they belong in every conversation. I find that amazing. Maybe it’s an act, maybe it’s their front and maybe some people will believe it.
What do you think the essence of that is? I’m fascinated with what you just said. This idea about belonging in every conversation. I’m curious there. What is it about belonging in every conversation?
I don’t go on Facebook often anymore, but I fell for a Facebook survey and it was, “What are your career blockers?” I took this little survey and at the end, it said that you always wanted your parents’ approval to belong that you were part of their life. In retrospect, most of the problems and issues we have, come from our childhood anyways because we create our own structure and meaning. It isn’t always correct, but it’s how we create at five, seven, ten, whatever. I remember thinking all the time, “I want their attention and approval.” It manifested itself as I grew older believing that I didn’t belong in the conversation. I have two Master’s and a Ph.D. For me, that sounds ridiculous because I’m overqualified to do anything at the end of the day. That’s the way I feel sometimes. The only reason why I did that is to make myself feel like I belonged in the conversation, but it didn’t help me close that gap. It just allowed me to say, “What else do I need to do to prove that?” For many people, they struggle with this idea of, “Do I belong? Am I good enough?” Did you ever experience these things? You seem like this super well-informed and evolved human being, Adam.
That’s why I’m asking you about this idea of belonging. We were at a friend’s house. We were celebrating her birthday. She had a bunch of her friends around and everybody was sharing something about her that we all love. It’s a wonderful ritual that our daughter, Chelsea, introduced us at birthdays. At a certain point, we asked this question, go around the circle and ask and say one thing you love about this person. It’s magical how deep it goes and how emotional it gets. I looked at her and I said, “I’m in awe of how comfortable you are in your skin. As a human being, you say what’s on your mind. You make no apologies, but you’re not insensitive.” She’s not without compassion. She’s not a brutal person, like a barbarian in any way. She’s the opposite but yet you know where she stands because she’s comfortable standing in her own shoes.
When you said that to me, I do believe that is what a lot of people are either consciously or unconsciously seeking. It’s to feel comfortable inside their own skin. When looking at your life of seeking out and finding experiences, curating a life of experiences and you’re introducing your kids to these things. You’ve got four kids and they’re having this magnificent life of living in places like Australia and now Dubai. That is, in many ways, part of how it is that we get more comfortable with ourselves. It’s by knowing things through experiencing them.
I want this to be about you. I will just say this one thing and then we’ll come back to where this led you. We use an exercise and I don’t even remember where I was introduced to this, but I love looking at a list of things that we don’t want. It’s a chart where on the left-hand side, it’s the things we don’t want in life. The first page in the personal development handbook is don’t focus on what you don’t want. It’s always focused on what you want. All that is drummed into your head when you start doing any human potential work. I thought to myself, “There is so much juice in looking at the things that we don’t want because it gives you such clarity at times about what you do want. When you know what you don’t want, you know what you do want.”
What’s super interesting about that is it’s very serendipitous that I don’t listen very often to Tony Robbins podcast that he has and at that time he has Shaun White on. He used that phrase of, “I have my clients write down all the things they don’t want to happen to give clarity of what they want to happen.”
He’s the snowboarder. Is that the guy?
Yes. Tony Robbins was saying that this is what he has his clients do. I listened to that probably seventeen times in a row to get my head around what that means when you write down what you don’t want. That’s an impactful tool because to your point, I don’t want to be a bad father, I don’t want to be a bad business person. The inverse of that consequently means that I need to strive to be a better father, to be a better business person, to be a better human being, whatever that is you want the opposite of that. That’s the premise of it. In some ways, it blew my mind. I felt like a vein pop or something. I felt like that makes a lot of sense to get you to be clear about where you need to go and work on yourself at.
The diversity of experiences that you’ve had have given you such great clarity about the things that you do want. I’m so glad you said that because maybe that is not an easy question to begin with. It’s an evolving thing. It’s a moving target because it’s not like there’s one path. When we look backwards from the end of days to the beginning, it was like looking from the top of a staircase backwards. You might not have been able to see all the stairs. Dr. King talked about this. You can’t see the stair more than the stair in front of you, sometimes it’s dark. When you get to the top and you look backwards, you can see the perfect ordering, the perfect sequence of all those stairs. It is one of those things that when we look backwards, you can see how everything was perfect. All those experiences were perfect because they led you to where they absolutely had to lead you. At the moment, to feel comfortable in your own skin, to feel like you belong at the moment. Without the ability to fast forward to 40 years ahead, which nobody wants to do. My mother-in-law used to say, “Don’t wish your life away.” You don’t want to do that. Yet you still want to feel safe, secure, comfortable, confident at the moment.
What I’ve come to when you ask where am I at in my personal journey, and everyone’s on their own journey, their own path, their own stones, their own steps, is that I do believe everything does happen for a reason. I’m not particularly a religious guy. I don’t even know if I’m spiritual. I do think that inside your brain, the way it works is that you create the meaning and desires that you want, both negative and positive. They all are additive to the bigger picture as you go. For every failure that you have, it’s an opportunity to learn. For every roadblock that comes up, it puts you in a different path to go a different direction. I’m a big believer that life will give you nudges and will keep pushing you in the direction that you are meant to be in. If you don’t listen, it’s going to knock you that way eventually no matter what. I’m going through that with nudges about being an entrepreneur, where I’ve been trying to be one for ten years, but not committed to doing it for various reasons.
I decided that I can’t ignore my drive to do these things because I’m less happy if I don’t. We as human beings, we all go through this. My mom had a comment that is a manifestation of why she’s not happy as an adult. She said, “Sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself for the greater good.” My mom and the house I grew up in, and this goes to my psyche every day for fifteen years, complained about her job, how much she didn’t like it, how annoying it was, how hard it was. When you’re a child and that’s all you hear about working, why would I want to have a real job working 9 to 5 when all I hear is how bad it is? In her mind, she was doing the greater good for the family by taking a job she didn’t like so she could put food on the table. She was the breadwinner. She made more than my dad did growing up.
In my mind, why would I want to be unhappy and impact my family? My searches to figure out how I can be my happiest person, my happiest version, that trickles down to everybody. My wife will tell you if I’m having a bad week at work, unfortunately, I’m a bit of a jerk at home. I’m shorter. I’m not as nice. I recognize it and I own it. To my kids, I apologize all the time, “Dad’s having a bad week. I shouldn’t take it out on you. It’s my fault. I will work harder to be a better person to treat you with more respect.” I’m transparent with my children about these things. I think often as parents we have this perception that we need to act a certain way all the time so our kids don’t think we’re weak. We can’t own our anger as we displace it on the children. Not to get all high and mighty. I just think that as a parent it’s important that your kids see that you’re human first and they can respect that process.
You started to talk about authenticity earlier and how that word has gotten a little watered down. To me, what you were modeling there is what I would call transparency. That level of self-honesty and transparency is how I would define what is authentic. That’s very powerful as in leadership. I know that’s one of the things that you’ve been involved in. You’re giving leaders these strategies, but more helping them to own themselves, own their authenticity, own the truth of themselves, including how they work with their challenges. Is that the work that you’re called to still or is the entrepreneurial nudge into it? You said it’s going into tech. It could be that you’re leaving this chapter behind that we’re catching you at the close of a chapter. Does it feel like that?
No, not at all. My wife had the same comment that you had. She’s like, “You put all this work into it, why are you giving it up?” I’m like, “I’m not giving it up. It’s all merging.” Everything’s merging onto a highway for me. I can now have conversations with leaders about what it looks like to be more authentic and be in the room with leaders as a leader. That’s important. That gives you value. I don’t want to dismiss the work they do because I had some amazing people endorse my book. There are people who have never led an organization and they’re telling you how to be a leader. I was listening to the podcast, How I Built This. It’s the NPR one. It’s unbelievable. He’s taking these entrepreneurs and he had an entrepreneur who built SoulCycle, her and his partner. Long story short, she goes, “I got tired of listening to the armchair critics about how I should act and be as a leader when they’ve never been in the ring. I stopped listening to them.” I thought that’s powerful because there are a lot of armchair coaches in this world but never been in the ring to understand the constraints and complexities of the situation. I’m adamant about jumping in the ring. If I want to be seen as a serious actor in this space, I better get serious acting.
If you want to advise entrepreneurs, be an entrepreneur.
I’m not trying to dismiss my book and say it’s not a good book. It’s a great book. It’s written like how we talk. It adds value when people see, “He’s led this organization or that organization.” I thought to myself, “I should probably put it in practice.” This is the theory in my mind. This is the learning that I got from interviewing 140-plus CEOs around the world. This is what I got. I don’t know if you grew up skateboarding at all.
You and I feel like we have some parallel universe going on here, skateboarding was a thing.
I felt like a poser if I’m out there saying these things.
This is terrific stuff. I’ve enjoyed this conversation. I’m glad we’ve gotten to meet and I feel like our audience and our community probably experienced the fact that we’re meeting for the first time, which is cool. This is one of the joys of having a show like this and being able to meet amazing people from all over the world, including near Dubai. I’m already manifesting my trip to Dubai. Someday, I’m going to be speaking near Dubai.
Only come here through October and February. After that, you’re going to be like, “How the do you live in this environment?” In the summer it’s 120 to 125.
Share if you could, you interviewed a lot of CEOs, which you say 140 or something like that.
I have more than that but in the book, it was about 140.
This is a tough question. I’m going to put you on the spot for this. If there’s an answer, great. If there’s not, don’t make one up. With every one of these CEOs, as crazy as they have been to do what they’re doing. Having been there and worn that, I don’t know what crown that is, because it’s a lonely crown. It’s a bloody crown at times. It’s also a wonderful honor to be in that role and have that responsibility. I could show you the scars to prove it. If there’s one thread or one thing that ties them all together as leaders, what is that?
Let me give you a qualifying statement to that. The leaders that were most authentic had a string that went through their life and not all 140 fell into this category. That’s part of the idea of research is not everyone’s going to give you the validity of what you’re trying to prove. What I found is that the leaders that got what leading was about, were leaders that embrace their adversity moments. They went from a point of saying, “It happened to me,” to “It happened for me.” When you think about life, your own life and the pivots that you make, most of your conscious pivots happen in your life when you start asking a different question. Often when people play the victim mentality, “Why that happened to me?” Some of those people get stuck in that for 30 years.
I feel sorry for those people. My compassion does run dry at some point when you say to them, “You’ve got to stop asking that question of why it happened to me and change that preposition and that’s why it happened for me.” What I’ve found, and this is a reflection of my life and probably your life as well, Adam, is that when you started saying, “Where’s the learning in this? Where’s the opportunity in this to be a better human being, to learn what I’m doing better, to add value where I wasn’t adding value?” That led to the second biggest finding that these leaders all had growth mindsets. They all wanted to become a better version of themselves, not only for themselves but for the people around them. They want to lead more consciously and have a bigger impact and legacy about being a good human being.
One of the things I have people go through is to write their own tombstone or their own obituary. I used to ask that question in my podcast. What do you want people to say about you at your funeral? What do you want your tombstone to say? I always find it fascinating when people would say, “He was a good business person. He excelled at being a CEO.” I thought to myself, “You’re missing what life is about.” When you’re at your funeral and people are talking about you not a good human being, a great father, a great mother, a great husband, a great dad, you’re missing what life is about. Those manifestations of yourself will bleed into work because you treat people with respect, kindness and compassion. That’s the other part of these leaders that I found is they are much more compassionate to those around them.
I want to be careful with the word compassion. People think compassion sometimes is a weakness. Compassion is also saying the hard thing to somebody. Compassion is, “I care about you enough to say you’re not doing right. You’ve got to do better.” because you care about them. There’s also compassion where you can say, “You’ve lost someone in your family. Take some time. I feel for you.” The two types of leaders can have both of those hard compassion and soft compassion. There was this string that I kept finding that had the similarities of these leaders. Some were stronger in certain areas than others. We’re human, at the end of the day, there was this set of factors that I kept finding.
I’m a big believer in the power of the habits that we have, but I call them a different word. I use this word rituals without the religious context around it. It’s more along the lines of things that we do consciously versus things we do habitually. We drive home the same route. We pick up the fork with the same hand. It’s things that we do without thinking about it. Rituals are more what we choose to do for a purpose. I have lots of rituals about many different things these days. I’d love to know and I’m sure our community would love to know at least one ritual that you have consistently used or adopted or have adopted recently to keep you in that optimal state.
When people are looking backwards at what people might say about them after they’ve passed. You’re right. Would a lot of people want to be thought of as having been successful, having been at the top of their career or whatever it is? People would want to be acknowledged for the work that they put in but the bottom line, if that’s all there is, it still feels like an empty cup. Whereas for people to say, “Despite this person’s great success or despite the fact that they worked 90 hours a week, they found time to blank.” Does that make sense?
It’s a both/and. I may have phrased it like it was either/or. I didn’t mean to but it’s a both/and. You’d be most successful and a good human being. That was the bridge I was trying to make sure.
I feel like to get to that point, we’ve got to be working. The same way you’ve said you have your moments when you’re with your kids during the week and you’re not at your best and you own it. You’re just there being real about it. The rituals that we create for ourselves help us to be better at something. Sometimes a ritual is for health. We have a green drink every day. We take a twenty-minute walk. We take a fifteen to twenty-minute nap or whatever it is. Those are things specifically designed for health. What are some of the rituals that you’ve got or one in particular that you’re attached to?
Usually, when I get asked this question in my past, I’d always go to like, “I meditate, I do this or I do that,” like some tactical thing. This is still a tactic, but I was thinking about this as you asked the question. The thing that I’ve always done and it’s always been a ritual for me, which has allowed me to evolve as a human being and still evolve as I go on my journey, is to take time and space to be self-reflective, be intentional about being self-aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I’m grateful that my parents left me alone when I was four. It taught me to get into my own head and to listen to what my body’s doing and what my mind is doing. As I’ve gotten older, I’m getting better at turning off the negative vibes and flipping those conversations be more positive. I don’t think I could do that as easily if I wasn’t comfortable going inside, turning inwards and becoming more self-aware. For me, that is the number one thing that I do that leads to whatever else, habits or patterns that I have in my life. It starts with that.
Self-reflection, no one has ever answered that. We’re nearing 100 episodes at this point. I’ve heard a lot of rituals. You’re right, there’s some overlap in that. People say some of the same things. I suppose somebody might be thinking, “What he’s talking about is mindfulness or meditation.” It’s not that, because in many ways, it is a scary place for a lot of people to go. To turn inward for self-reflection because it can feel bottomless.
Being honest with yourself is the hardest thing to do. That means you have to admit that you’re fallible and be okay with being fallible to then move forward. As human beings, some environments we’re raised in is all about being perfect, flawless, not having self-love or whatever it is. In my world where I was raised, that was the norm. It’s not having self-love or being respectful to yourself. That’s a poisonous place to be for a long time. What comes healthfully out of that is when you start to dissect those two things and say they’re not together and you allow yourself to say, “What is it about myself that puts me in that space that I can flip and change to be better at?” and to be honest with some of your weaknesses. I am not a detailed person. If you watch half of the mailers that I send out, there’s a typo in it every time. My wife always catches me and she’s like, “When are you going to learn?” I say, “Probably never. That’s why I married you because you’re awesome at it.”
Self-awareness is a perfect place for us to wrap up this conversation. There’s a wonderful follow-up to this. I’d love to chat with you again about this idea of what it’s like to embrace the adversity and the changes in life and what’s there? The wisdom that’s there to be mind for. There’s this extraction process that if you’re willing to go inside and examine to be not just self-aware but self-honest. There’s this virtual gold mine that’s like nothing else. It’s remarkable. It’s like a lot of the things in life, moving into something that’s scary, moving into something that even triggers who brings up fear often pays a great dividend. To me, one of the great dividends of being self-honest is that you end up with self-trust. It’s important because I don’t think that anything that we truly want out of life comes to us without us having that sense of trust, trust in ourselves and trust in the universe. Thank you for opening up the space of that conversation, James. Thank you for being on the show. This is wonderful.
Adam, thank you for your time, energy and willingness to have me on The Conscious PIVOT.
I love how we conclude these shows and even resist that term conclude because it’s never an ending, at least not to me. This is all beginnings. It’s all openings. I do believe in eternity. It’s doesn’t mean you have to all believe in that. It just feels right to me. It’s a story I want to tell, which is that there’s no need to hurry. There’s no need to worry in a world where we’re eternal beings. Think about that. If there is an eternity, what’s the hurry? What’s the worry? What’s the need to condemn or to resent anything? We take this seriously, but I will leave that for another day. My prayer and my hope is that we get to do the same thing tomorrow that we did today. We’ve got to wake up today. This was a gift, James. You woke up today, right?
Was there a guarantee yesterday that you’re going to wake up today?
No guarantee but all of a sudden you realize in the morning, there’s a new day. You’ve been given this great gift and not everybody gets that gift. That’s a fact that we can all acknowledge tomorrow when we wake up again and realize in that waking breath, in that waking moment, there are people taking their last breath at that very exact moment. That’s special. It’s sacred, holy even. It’s something we can be grateful for regardless of the significance that you give to it. We can be grateful for another day, grateful for our assignment for that day, whatever that might be, whether we know it or don’t know it. Grateful for the opportunity to wake up a little bit more, be a little more conscious tomorrow than we are even today. Lastly, if you can take ten seconds, when you wake up tomorrow morning, James, do you think you’ve got ten seconds for something, a ritual?
This is for a new waking ritual. It’s these four simple words, “I love my life. I love my life.” Do you love your life, James?
I love my life. It’s the best.
Ciao for now. We’d love to see you again. We love to hear from you. Leave a comment about the show. We’d love to get your thoughts on it. Also, visit the Start My PIVOT Community on Facebook. You can get there by going to StartMyPIVOT.com and get to the front door and join the community. If you’re going to join, participate because otherwise, it’s not as much fun. We’ll see you soon and sending out lots of love.
- The Crucibles Gift: 5 Lessons From Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity
- Love Is Just Damn Good Business
- Tony Robbins’ podcast with Shaun White
- How I Built This Podcast
About Dr. James Kelley
Dr. James Kelley, author of The Crucible’s Gift: 5 Lessons from Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity, brings a fresh perspective to leadership coaching and keynotes.
His journey from a humble home in Portland, Oregon to earning his Ph.D. and living near Dubai with his wife and four children is full of adversity. James also has a keen interest in the adversity that shapes great leaders around the world.
Whether it’s on his podcast Executives After Hours or giving a keynote speech at a conference, James loves to dive deep and share stories of how and why leaders need crucible moments to be a better version of themselves.
James believes that his unique journey filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, and a driving curiosity, equips him to bring great value to the world of executive leadership.