Catalyst Health, Wellness and Performance Coaching

LifeQuakes, Life Transitions and More! (Best-Selling Author Bruce Feiler) - #126

September 09, 2020 Best-selling author Bruce Feiler Season 3 Episode 62
Catalyst Health, Wellness and Performance Coaching
LifeQuakes, Life Transitions and More! (Best-Selling Author Bruce Feiler) - #126
Chapters
Catalyst Health, Wellness and Performance Coaching
LifeQuakes, Life Transitions and More! (Best-Selling Author Bruce Feiler) - #126
Sep 09, 2020 Season 3 Episode 62
Best-selling author Bruce Feiler

You know Bruce Feiler. He is the author of 6 consecutive best-selling books and the inspiration behind the NBC Drama "A Council of Dads.' And now - you get to hear from him directly, as we discuss the insights and life applications to his latest best-selling book "Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age.

Is there really any such thing as a mid-life crisis? How can we change our story? What's the deal behind the classic intro "Once upon a time" and why does it matter? What is a LIFEQUAKE and what does it have to do with you? This fascinating discussion is one you won't soon forget, whether you're currently in the midst of a life transition or will face one just around the corner!

For more information about health, wellness, performance or health & wellness coaching specifically, please see https://www.catalystcoachinginstitute.com/ and feel free to contact us directly with questions [email protected]

Show Notes Transcript

You know Bruce Feiler. He is the author of 6 consecutive best-selling books and the inspiration behind the NBC Drama "A Council of Dads.' And now - you get to hear from him directly, as we discuss the insights and life applications to his latest best-selling book "Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age.

Is there really any such thing as a mid-life crisis? How can we change our story? What's the deal behind the classic intro "Once upon a time" and why does it matter? What is a LIFEQUAKE and what does it have to do with you? This fascinating discussion is one you won't soon forget, whether you're currently in the midst of a life transition or will face one just around the corner!

For more information about health, wellness, performance or health & wellness coaching specifically, please see https://www.catalystcoachinginstitute.com/ and feel free to contact us directly with questions [email protected]

Dr. Cooper:

Welcome to the latest episode of the Catalyst Health, Wellness, and Performance Coaching podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Bradford Cooper of the Catalyst Coaching Institute. And if this is your first time to join us, you picked a great place to start. Our guest is Bruce Feiler , author of six consecutive bestselling books, and the inspiration behind NBCs hit television show, a council of dads. Our topic, the impact of life transitions, the facade of the midlife crisis, and why meaning plays such a critical role in optimizing how we travel this road called life. Based on his data, just about all of us are going through a transition right now, or we're about to today. We'll talk about how to make it count. If you're a coach, do not miss the virtual coaching retreat and symposium taking place September 19th and 20th, it is not only a great way to garner some low cost, continuing education credits and fill your coaching toolbox. It's also the perfect way to relight that fire that got you into the profession in the first place and dial in your plans to make the coming year, your best year yet. All the details, including recent announcement about our latest keynote speaker addition. Those are available CatalystCoachingInstitute.com and as always feel free to reach out to us with any questions about anything coaching related [email protected] Now it's transition time with six time bestselling author, Bruce Feiler on the latest episode of the Catalyst Health, Wellness, and Performance Coaching podcast. Bruce, it's a privilege to have you here on the Catalyst Health, Wellness, and Performance Coaching podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Bruce Feiler:

Well, thank you very much for having me. I appreciate your enthusiasm and your interest, and , let's have a good conversation.

Dr. Cooper:

Well, I went through your book, enthusiasm is an easy one after reading that. Let's, let's start, let's set the stage about this whole idea of transitions by jumping over to your five truths that you talked about in the last chapter. Number five reminds us that transitions are essential to life and that we should see them, and I love this as fertile terrain, we can gain sustenance from if, huge if, we view them as openings, we might just open up to them. So don't shield your eyes when the scary part starts. And I love what you do with this. That's where the heroes are made. Awesome statement, fun statement, powerful statement. I'll just let you run with that one.

Bruce Feiler:

Yeah. It's so interesting to start at the end, because that sounds like a great piece of wisdom that took me five painful years to discover, obviously, so you know, and I think that, you know, when I think of transitions now, I think of them , in some ways, hearing you read that from the end of my book, as to how I thought of them before. We have been told that these are difficult periods that we have to grit and grind our way through, you know, I'm even grumpy, you're starting with enthusiasm, how about I start with g rumpiness with this idea of resilience, right? Because resilience suggests resilience actually is a physics term and it suggests that it comes from a spring, right? So you pull a spring back and it bounces back. Well, that's kind of what we've been told. And the reason I'm grumpy about it is because we don't bounce back. Usually we bounce sideways or forwards or to a different place all together . And I think that, you know, to go even more to the end, and then we'll double back to the beginning, but in the pandemic, when the pandemic first hit, we all, I think spent months thinking that we were going back, and this is on my mind because I've been writing a piece about this for CNN.com, but we thought we were going to go back. We just had to get through it, right? We'll mitigate, we'll social distance, and then we'll get our own lives back. Right ? But the longer this went on, the longer we realized we're not going back. And therefore there is a transition ahead and kind of what became the kind of passion play in this whole project was, what's a transition. This is not a word that's been in favor and talking about how we navigate them. It's something that people talked about in the seventies, but it's not something we've really talked about in 40 years, which is why lo and behold, this book unveils , the first new model for how to navigate life transitions. And my entire kind of premise here is that we have to reclaim some old wisdom and we'll start with the wisdom in the title, which is that life is in the transition. That's a William James phrase from a century ago and he had it right. He said, life is in the transitions, even more in the terms connected. And that's a kind of old fashioned way of saying that we think that the stable parts are where life is and the transition is just something we have to suffer through. But as you know, and as my book found, and I did in all these conversations, tease out the idea that we spend half of our lives in transition. So if we think of them as just awful periods, we're missing half our life and we can't afford to do that.

Dr. Cooper:

It's just such a powerful perspective. And again, maybe let's just come back to a touch more because I think if people get this, that's a huge step in the right direction that transitions aren't, they don't have to be negative. It depends on how we view them. Is that, am I hearing that right?

Bruce Feiler:

Well I'll go even one step further, there are transitions even out of positive experiences, right? So the big, we can come back to this later if you want. But the essence of what I did was I went out, having gone through a massive life quake, I call it myself, a life quake is a huge wrenching change in our lives. That's higher on the Richter scale of consequences and has aftershocks that last for years. So I went through one of these periods, I had cancer. I almost went bankrupt. My dad who has Parkinson's tried to kill himself six times in 12 weeks as you now . And I started a storytelling project with my dad and that worked and we can get into later, but that set me off on this path of collecting hundreds of life stories of Americans all across the country, all ages, all walks of life, all 50 States. And then I had at the end of this process, a thousand hours of interviews, 6,000 pages of transcripts, and mind you , I didn't go in looking for transitions . That's not what I did. I went looking for wisdom of how you get through difficult times, right ? And what happened was I began to see certain patterns because one of the things that happens when you go through a life quake is that you feel isolated alone. No one else has ever been through this. You will never get through this. And what do I do? You seem incredibly helpless, but if you look at enough of them, as I did hour after hour, day after day, year after year, certain patterns begin to become apparent. And so the kind of big idea here is that we go through these kinds of life quakes three, four or five times in our lives on average. And I would say the signature piece of data in this whole study is that the average length of time it takes to get through these is five years. So that's not five years until you're functioning, but that five years until you're through it. And you've said goodbye, and you've gone through that messy middle that I talk about, and you have a new beginning. But if you do the math three to five in a lifetime four or five, six years, that's 25 years. That's half of our adult lives, you're going in transition. And so this, my book was finished essentially in late 2019. And here I was going to say to the world, like you spend half your lives in transition, you or someone you know, is going through one. Now, if you do the math, every household should have something. And I was going to try to persuade you, that that was the case. I'd try to say, if you come on this journey with me and you buy this book, we're going to make it easier. Whoa. Lo and behold , my book emerges at a time when, for the first time in the century, the entire planet is going through a life quake and everybody's in a transition . I no longer have to persuade anybody that they're in a transition. And so the point is you can't just look at this as a period that you have to get over, get through, get around, survive . If you do not look at it as a period where you have the opportunity to change certain habits, you know, shed certain aspects of your personality, including some of the ones that you didn't like, and then kind of remake yourself, a new , you were wasting half of your life. And in particular, you are wasting the life that you are in right now,

Dr. Cooper:

Powerful on that concept of life quakes. You, you talk about, they're not just big disruptors , but they necessitate that you assign meaning to the event and accept it will lead to some kind of positive potential transition. Why is it so important? Why is that meaning piece so important when you're in the midst of that?

Bruce Feiler:

You're going to make me talk about all the things I'm grumpy about, is that what this interview is going to be about? Because I just said a few minutes ago that I was grumpy about resilience. And now I'm going to say that I'm grumpy about this now. I'm going to say that I'm grumpy about happiness, right? So we are 20 years into positive psychology. When we, and positive psychology, incredibly important corrective to a century of psychology, where people essentially looked at people who were deviant or who had psychosis or problems. Positive psychology, you know , basically begins at the turn of the century and says, we let's look at people who were high functioning and they go, what are they doing? Right? And so the rest of us can learn from that. That then kind of leads to the happiness movement and a kind of fetish that we have with happiness. The problem with happiness is that happiness is fleeting. Happiness is kind of momentary. Dogs can be happy. Of course , in the words of one Roy Baumeister, who is a great researcher here. And what happens when you're going through an unhappy time. If we reframe this from a situation where we focus on happiness, where we focus on meaning and what the difference between happiness and meaning, happiness is momentary. Meaning is over time, happiness focuses on joyful experiences, meaning focuses on sometimes difficult experiences and how we find identity and meaning and purpose within them. So, meaning happiness is kind of a moment in time and meaning is a story. And that really gets now to the foundation of what I did, which was talk to people about the story they tell about themselves. And this story, stop for a second everybody listening and think of the story that's in your head about where you came from and where you're going. What's important to you. If you've got a call right now, like you had to go to the hospital to see a loved one, you would tell the story of how you met that person and why, what role they play in your life. That story of who you are is not part of you, it is you in a fundamental way. Like life is the story that you tell yourself. And so what I'm talking about here is the process of when you have an interruption in that story, when a Wolf shows up in your fairytale, how do you rewrite the story to accommodate how you reacted to the trouble? Right? So this is what meaning is. Okay. Fundamentally, we all tell a story, but the stories we tell do not have meaning we have to choose to assign meaning to the story. This is what Viktor Frankl said so famously in the Holocaust in mantras for meeting is that we have to decide what we want a story, an experience to be about. And to what I'm saying is we think our lives are fairytales, right , where there's a hero. And there's a happy ending, but the truth is what makes it a fairy tale is when the Wolf shows or maybe a dragon, a downsizing, an ogre , a pandemic, whatever it is and the question, and we want to tell a story that says, we got through that Wolf. We got through that difficult chapter in a way that we were able to find something constructive. We make ourselves and then position ourselves to move forward in our lives.

Dr. Cooper:

It seems like I remember you mentioned in there, Hey, we could write our story. Why not write the one you like? Was there some concept about that? Of this is your call and that's where you mentioned, we choose the story, but didn't you even take it further and saying, come on folks, this is your, you choose it. Why are you writing a sad story? Let's , let's find this meaning and see where this is developing.

Bruce Feiler:

You are the narrator, right? You can choose to tell a story where you are victim , right? Where you are lazy. You are overcome where you are defeated. Or you can tell a story where you were the victim of something, and you overcame it. You , responded to a difficult period and got through it. You were walloped by life as I was well into my life. And you , you were inert for a long time, but then you got up off the couch and you went to solve the problem. This is why I say that the life quakes that you experienced , may be voluntary or involuntary. So it might be voluntary. A voluntary life quake is you decide to leave a bad marriage, right? You decide to get sober. You decide to change jobs because you want to, you decide to leave the workplace to have a child. So that's a voluntary life quake. That's still a big change, but you have initiated it . 47% of the life quakes that I studied in the hundreds of people I talked to about this were voluntary. 53% were involuntary. So what's an involuntary life quake . You get into an accident and you lose your legs. You go off to war and you get your face blown off as Zach Herrick that I spoke to. You're driving in a car and you get your legs blown off as Eric Westover did. You know your spouse cheats on you and walks out as many people that I talked to. You went through a tornado , you know, as Jenny did , that I spoke to in Joplin, Missouri. So you have something happened to you. So they're more or less half and half that we choose and other people choose, but the life quake can be voluntary or involuntary, but the life transition must be voluntary. You have to choose to lean in and go through the process of transitioning to a new self, which is, I think, leads us to this very interesting moment that we're in right now, right? Which is that we are in what I call a collective involuntary life quake. The first in a century where we're all going through this together. And that's actually powerful, but also deceptive. And what's deceptive about it is even though you and I are both going through this life quake, the life transition that we're going to execute out of it is going to be different. You may choose to move. I may choose to rejuggle , my parenting responsibilities cause I have to work from home. Somebody else , you know, may choose to change their job . Somebody else might choose to leave their job. Someone else might choose to get sober or finally face an addiction. So we are collectively going through the life quake, but the change, the personal change, the personal life transformation that each of us goes through will be different for each of us.

Dr. Cooper:

Are there general patterns to the narrative we write it. If so, looking at, for example, me as a sample example here , do I tend to write more positive narrations? Or is it story specific? Does the person who generally writes, okay , I was a victim here, but then this happened and this built up to this and it led to that. Does that tend to be a pattern through people's lives? That if they're telling that story in a positive overcoming, you get to be the hero at the end format, do they tend to do that? Do we tend to do that with most of our stories? Or is it situation specific? Did you see any pattern with that?

Bruce Feiler:

I love that question. And I think it's interesting. And so I'm going to answer it this way. So if you go back a century ago, most of us lived in a world where our meaning was assigned to us, right? We had to live where our parents wanted us to live. We had to believe what our parents wanted us to believe. We often had to do what our parents wanted us to do. Marry who our parents wanted us to marry. We did not have a lot of freedom. A great advance of the last century is we have a lot more freedom. Okay? So not only do men have that freedom, but of course now women have that freedom. Three quarters of women are working outside the home. That obviously did not happen a century ago. For people who want a sexual identity that might not have been welcomed in the community they grew up in, this is an enormous change. For people who want to change their religion, half of Americans in some context, to put some context to this. Half of Americans change faith or denominations in the course of their lives, four in 10 of us, are in an interfaith marriage, something else that was unthinkable a century ago. So the good news is we all get to write our own story. Congratulations. You can be who you want to be, that is a mammoth change . The problem is , too many choices, right? Is this what I want to believe? Is this where I want to live? Do I want this job? Do I want to change jobs? Right? The average millennial now was going to change jobs 15 times and change skillsets three times. Okay. You're going to move 11.7 times. Right? So the, you know, even one of the interesting kind of nuggets of this process, which is this idea of nonlinearity of a constant change that sort of, is the kind of the backbone of life is in the transitions. Xers get as much more than boomers, and millennials, even more than Xers , right? There's a kind of transition gap I call it, between often parents in their sixties who don't really understand kids in their late twenties and thirties. They're like, what do you mean you're having a baby before you get married? Right? What do you mean you're moving without knowing what you're gonna do? What do you mean you're leaving one job without knowing what the next job is going to be like. Those of us who are boomers that, I was born 1964, we're kind of haunted by the ghost of linearity in a way the young people are not, okay . So great, awesome, human, great breakthrough. We can write our own story. The problem is we get kind of writer's block writing our own story because there's too many options before us. And you can't change everything at once because it's simply too much. Now it turns out that there are pillars that we use, kind of levers that we use , to navigate this meaning. And I call them as you know, the ABC's of meaning. Okay. So one way, one kind of, one of the building blocks of meaning is agency. That's the a , that's what we do, what we make or create that's our , our work lives. Like that's our, the thing that we do in the world, but that's not the only pillar of meaning. The second one is the B of the ABCs . That's belonging. That's our relationships, our connections, our , you know, our families, our colleagues, our fellow board members, our co-religionists, whatever it might be. That's our belonging. And the C in the ABC, so A is agency B is belonging the C is a cause that's a calling. That's something higher than ourselves. So this story that we tell turns out to be three stories that we tell, there's what I call the me story. That's your agency, things that you're doing. There's our we story, that's your belonging. And there's your C story. And that's your, the story I call it. So we have our me story, our we story, and our the story? And the answer to your question in my view, in terms of the pattern is that each of us prioritizes one of those stories. And I learned this by accident because I started asking people is , you know, in my book, I started asking people, what shape is your life? And what I was thinking of was, you know, how do you view the trajectory of your life? Not a straight line, but kind of an up and down. And if I would have answered that question, an up and down line , right? Like a winding road or river, kind of a mountain side, like a stock, I have people say, stock market up and down. Like, that's the line. So let me just ask you, so what shape is your life ?

Dr. Cooper:

I had a feeling you were going to ask me that and I did not ponder it prior. I would say it has been a roller coaster .

Bruce Feiler:

Okay. So that's an up and down life . So that's a line in my construct. That's a kind of an agency first story. But what happened was I started asking people and then I asked this one guy, Michael Angelo, and he's a beautician. He's had a kind of series of relationships, he's gay. And he said to me, I said, what shape is your life, Michael? And he says a heart. And I said, no , no, no, no. You don't understand. I'm asking you about the trajectory of your life. And he's like, no , the shape of my life is a heart. And I said, no, no, no. You don't understand. Like, I mean, how is your life moved through time? And he's like, Bruce, you don't understand the shape of my life is a heart. Meaning I don't care so much about my ups and downs of my own professional life. I'm much more interested in the relationships that I met. And as long as those are stable, I can handle the vicissitudes, if you will, of my life. And that's when I was like, Whoa, like, I'm not really getting this. I'm like, so assuming everybody's like me. And so it turns out a lot of people are we people. People said that the shape of their life is a house. I talked to a woman named Michelle Swain who grew up in a broken marriage outside of Boston. Her mother wasn't really interested. She would sometimes wait for hours after sports practice before her mother picked her up. She married her high school sweetheart. She became a very intense jogger. She became anorexic was down to a half an Apple a day. She couldn't get pregnant because that's what happens when you're anorexic. She slips on the ice one day and she ends up in the hospital and she has a vision that God says, I did this to you. Her husband is a preacher comes in and says, I had a vision too . God says he did it to you. We need to change. They went on to adopt 11 children from eight refugee countries around the world. And she said, the shape of her life is a minivan. And that's something that contains people. Her relationships now matter more to her than her, her own accomplishments. And my wife, for example, who works with entrepreneurs around the world, she says the shape of her life is a light bulb. So she, in my construct is a CAB, she's a calling first, then an agency, then a belonging. I'm an ABC. So like agency belonging, cause. Where are you? You just said you're agency first probably. So what's, what's going to be second calling or,

Dr. Cooper:

Calling is pretty strong. Yeah. And that might even be first.

Bruce Feiler:

And so , right, so the point of all this is that the answer to the question of is there, are there phenotypes. Yes. Whichever of those stories is most important to you. That's the one that you're going to lead with. But what happens in a life quake is that we shapeshift. We reimagine what's most important to us. So here we are in this pandemic and some people are going to say, you know what? I, maybe I need to pull back from my work and spend more time with my family. Cause my kids are working from home or my parents need me. Or some people , have been, say, a primary caretaker of children and then the children leave and they're an empty nester. And they say, I want to do, I want to give back more. So people have been giving back and they burn out. They want to do more, something more for themselves. So in times of transition, we rethink and reweigh the basic building blocks that would give us meaning.

Dr. Cooper:

That was good. I'm , thinking about circling back on it, but let's go ahead and jump in. Cause we've got so many things I want to cover here. Chapter 10, you talk about the value of writing about our life experiences. Why is this journaling process so beneficial in and following the transition process?

Bruce Feiler:

Let me just take a second and talk about the transition process and say that when you first go into a transition, you either feel chaotic and out of control, like you have a 317 item to do list for that kind of person, or you feel sluggish and like in a fetal position and I'm never going to move. But look at enough of them, as I said, and certain patterns begin to appear. And so that cuts to the biggest pattern is that transitions involve three phases. So the first phase is what I call the long goodbye where you say goodbye to the old you. The second phase is the messy middle , where you shed certain habits and begin to create new ones. And the third is where you it's called the new beginning, where you unveil your new self. And it turns out that each of us has for the first century, the way people talked about transitions, we were told you had to do them in order. First, you had to say goodbye. In fact, Arnold van Ghana , who kind of invented the idea of transitions and rites of passage in Germany a hundred years ago, said that a transition is like walking out of one room, walking down a hallway and then walking in another room. I could not disagree more. It is not linear like that at all. What it's like , you're in one room and you leave one room and you go to the hallway and then you forgot something in the old room. And then you go back and then, Oh, you see something in the new room and you run to get it. But then you're back in the hallway. Like it's completely nonlinear. And that construct is entirely misleading and puts way too much pressure. Like if you got divorced and you have children with your , your prior spouse, you may be married to somebody new, but you're still saying goodbye because you're still a coparenting with, you know, with the originals spouse. Like, like these are much more nonlinear. People tend to be good at one phase, I call this through a transition superpower and bad at another phase. I actually, before I got, we began this conversation. I was in a conversation with a local television station in Pittsburgh, excuse me, in Philadelphia. And they had assembled a group of people who were struggling in the pandemic and they were telling their stories and I was reacting. And it was so interesting. Like all of the people in the stories said they were having a really hard time saying goodbye, acknowledging that the job that they had for 21 years is not coming back. Right. That the lifestyle that they have for 21 years is not coming back. Like the other one was saying like, you know, kids went off to school and nd for nine years she went out to work and she couldn't do it as a single parent. Like we're not coming back. And they both were saying, saying goodbye is really hard for them. I think in this moment saying goodbye is a kryptonite for all of us, because it's just so sad and we had nothing to do with it. It just happened to us. So the reason I answered your question by going into these phases is like, people tend to be bad at one and they tend to be good at one. And they tend to get stuck at one. And the various tools that I identify, accept your emotions, you use rituals and habits, creativity, art. They tend to belong to certain parts of the process. But creativity is something that is central to all of these, that when we shed our old selves, it creates a certain space and we begin to create our new selves. And I, I mean, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised by this. Like maybe I was naive, but I was surprised by this, how incredible acts of creativity, I talked to a woman who , was a psychologist caught up in a faculty scandal and she lost her job. And she started painting bird houses. I talked to a woman who was a retired chemistry professor in Alabama who had cancer, had to leave her husband because her husband didn't want to take care of her when she had cancer. And she decides she has all this time. She's going to fulfill a childhood dream and start to do, become a ballerina. So she takes adult ballet classes now, and she was surprised when she couldn't be on point on day one. As a dad of teenage ballerinas, you can't be on point on day one. I talked to a guy who had his face , an African-American Sergeant in the army, he had his face shot off by the Taliban. 31 surgeries between the tip of his nose and the tip of his chin, including having his tongue sewn back on. And he learned to cook and he learned to write and we'll get to that in a second. And he learned to paint. In fact, he said he splatters paint. He said, you know, that guy, Jackson Pollock? Like him. I was like, really, if I told your football, playing self in high school that you would have now splatter paint and write poetry, and you know , saute salmon , what would you have thought? He was like, it was stupid, but that's how you create yourself a new and the writing turns out to be a powerful one . People write all sorts of things. They write journal entries, they write short stories, but they also write jokes. I talked to a woman who went through a horrific year where her husband had an accident and she had to take care of them and they lost their health insurance. And she got through this whole year and she said, you know what I'm going to do. I'm going to become a standup comedian. And so she writes, starts writing jokes. And like, she goes to the comedy clubs and she's like in her fifties and all that , she said, there's just a bunch of boys who, you know, who were telling sex jokes. And they looked at me like I was their mom. And it was really awkward.

:

But particularly this idea of writing, what's called expressive writing where, you know, three days in a row, if you write for 15, 20 minutes. And I made my kids do this, by the way, when the pandemic started happening, they were not happy with that at all. But the reason is because in the beginning, you're falling back into that trap that we talked about before you were a victim, it's awful. You know, how dare my school close, or my boss fired me when I was doing nothing wrong. That's how you begin . You get it out. But over time, over a couple of days, you begin to put your, to take some distance from the story that you're telling. And you begin to make sense of it. Find the meaning in it, find yourself in the story and find a narrative that allows you to get through it. That's how creativity becomes part of the transition and part of the toolkit that we use. And then I was able to identify and to kind of remind what I said earlier. This book, life is in the transition to unveils the first new model for life transitions in 40 years, because people haven't been talking about this idea because we all have the expectation that life was just going to go along and medicine was going to cure us. Some technology was going to save us. And our phones were going to solve every problem. And then guess what they don't.

Dr. Cooper:

Now same chapter. Let's just stay on that chapter. You , you talked about how changing your body is often a stepping stone to change your mind. Our audience, health and wellness coaches, people that care about health and wellness performance, they're probably pretty familiar with that concept in their own lives. But can you tell us a little bit more about what is happening via that process of body first often starts to shift the mind?

Bruce Feiler:

It was an interesting moment. So what happened was I went out and gathered all of these life stories, hundreds of them. And then I had a thousand hours of interviews. I had 6,000 pages of transcripts and I realized that I needed help. I needed more eyes on this. So I got a team of 12 people and we spent a year coding these 57 different variables, high points, low points. How long transitions take, what was the biggest emotion that you struggled with? What advice from friends was most valuable? And so we're in the middle of this, and these are all kind of related questions that I asked. And I say to this team I have here in my office. So tell me something that you've noticed from coding these stories that I didn't notice while asking them and right away, this young computer scientists raised his hand and he said, people move. That was interesting. I actually didn't have a question about moving. Like emotions, I had a question about. Friends, I had a question about. Phases, I had a question about like, I thought I had heard everything and I recognized everything, but I hadn't realized this. And we went back through the entire 6,000 pages and found that sure enough, 61% of the people that I talked to moved in some way, which is even more remarkable considering I wasn't even asking for it. I wasn't, you know , leading the witnesses in any way, people just talked about it. What is move? They exercised. They sometimes physically moved. They repainted their houses, they painted their offices. They did something that embodied the transition. And so that leads to what you're talking about, which is an idea that is both new in the contemporary research, that the body knows the score that your body feels things and begins to make changes before you even emotionally or mentally recognize them. So on the one hand, that's a new idea that you mentioned that the people who follow this literature may be familiar with, but it's also an old idea. It's an old idea in psychology because William James first said it a century ago, right? Oh, I'm running. I see a bear, I'm running. I must be scared. Right? You're running before you have time to even identify the fact that you are scared. That's why this is called the James theory because it was simultaneously discovered. But also if you go back 3000 years ago and you know, from my own life, having spent a lot of time in the middle East, I've written five books about religion that the greatest breakthrough in almost every scriptural tradition involves people going out into the wilderness. Abraham, leaving his families , going down to the promised land. The Israelites, leaving Egypt and going into the desert. Jesus goes into the desert. Paul goes on the road to Damascus. I mean , Odysseus goes into the wilderness as does Hercules as does Orpheus over and over again, the great stories involve this kind of physical, you know , kind of transportation, transformation. And so sometimes you can't actually go on a big journey, but your body can go on the journey itself. And that , that physicality leads the change a lot of time. And the way often people express this is kind of fake it till you make it, which isn't exactly what happens physiologically. But we know because of mirror neurons, right? If I right now say jump, you may not jump, but your brain is simulating jumping. Even in response to the word . We know that if I jumped , if I raise my right hand, you're going to raise your right hand. If I lean in, you're going to lean in. We know that mirror neurons have us physically move, but we also know is just the words themselves. If I say, I'm going to jump, my mind will simulate that and trigger the emotions in the synopsis in my brain. And I will feel like I'm jumping. And so what's important about that is actually even telling a story about leaning in, moving forward, making progress, going through change will actually simulate the change . So even that's why I said earlier, like no matter if a life quake is voluntary or involuntary , if you lean in and go through the transition you are going to get through, you're going to get into the transition. It's still going to be difficult, but that's the first step. That's why telling a story, which we keep coming back to, is so important. Because if you tell a story that has a positive, constructive ending, you will have a positive, constructive ending. Not just because you're telling yourself that, but because your body is going to simulate what you're saying,

Dr. Cooper:

All right , let's talk midlife crisis. And you did, you did a great job with this one. And I think,

Bruce Feiler:

What do you mean, you can't talk about this now because I have an hour of stuff on that.

Dr. Cooper:

You really, you dug in, you set the stage and then you hit us with no no, not a thing. So walk us through that. Cause I think most of our listeners are gonna be like, wait, what? I'm supposed to be having my midlife crisis. Now that was my excuse for that car or whatever. But can you give us a short version of what you discovered with in terms of midlife crisis?

Bruce Feiler:

This was one of the central moments to this entire five, six, seven year process. I felt like I pulled a book off of the shelf one day and the bookshelf moved and there was another library. And I'm talking about that thing that you have in kids' stories, right? Apparently Dan Brown has one in his castle in France. And the book that I pulled off and the room that I went through is that all lives, all cultures have an expectation that lives have a paradigmatic shape. Okay? Like this is something we don't talk about that we should be talking about. In the ancient world, they did not have a linear time. So they think that life is cyclical right, to every season, turn, turn, turn. The Bible in the West, introduces the idea of linear time. And so by the middle ages, they believe life is a staircase up to middle age and a staircase down. And lest you think I'm making this up. As you know, in the book in life is in the transitions, I actually have visual representations of a handful of dozens that I found it showed that life has a staircase up to middle age where you peak and then it's straight downhill from there. What is that saying? There's no new love at 40. There's no starting a new venture at 50. There's no relocating at 60. And, buying a BNB . There's no traveling in your seventies. Straight up, straight down. And what's interesting about that is it's the opposite of the whole midlife crisis myth that we were told in the 20th century. So when we get to the, when we get to the birth of science in the late 19th century, we were told that everything follows a series of stages and phases in chronological order. Okay. Freud says psychosexual stages. We'll go back, Piaget says, children go through developmental stages. Freud said their psychosexual stages. You have Erickson who says the eight stages of moral development. You have the five stages of grief. You have the hero's journey. These are all linear constructs. They were popular because that was the industrial age. And that was the model. I have quotes in my book from Erickson , who says that the eight stages of development were built on the conveyor belt because that, you know, Ford, et cetera, that was the model of what the economy was like. And this reaches its peak in the seventies when Gail Sheehy writes a book called passages in which she literally plagiarizes research from Roger Gould in UCLA, I'm not making this up. And he won and he got 10% of passages and Dan Levinson at Yale, says everyone does the same thing in their twenties. Everyone does the same thing in their thirties. And then everyone has a midlife crisis. And this was so restrictive. We were told the midlife crisis must begin by 39 and must end by 45 and a half. Like that's what it said . And this was a bunch of bunk. The Dan Levinson research at Yale, you know , God rest, his soul was based on 40 people in new Haven, Connecticut, all men. The guy who originally coined the phrase, midlife crisis, Elliot Jock didn't even talk to anybody. He read 300 biographies of famous men. And he said, I didn't read biographies of famous women, not that there were that many at that time anyway, because they have menopause and menopause throws the whole thing off. Like that shows you what a total artificial construct this was. And yet that book sells 20 million copies. A member of Congress says it's one of the 20 most influential books of the 20th century. And even in my conversations, 40 years later, people said, Oh, I had my first midlife crisis at 27 and a half. And my, you know, and my, my last one at 52. Well, that just shows you how artificial this is. It's been looked at by researchers and researchers said it's wrong. It's literally wrong and worse, it's dangerous because it says that we only have crises at birthdays that end in zero, and that we have a midlife crisis, and that's the only kind of crisis we have. Think about the pandemic. We're all in a crisis. If you're between 39 and 45, it's a midlife crisis. But what if you're 27? And what if you're 67? Or what if you're 15? Like my twin daughters, some people are born into crisis. If their parents are divorced or there's an addiction. Some people lose a parent when they're a teenager. I talked to a guy now who's a tenured professor at MIT who was addicted to heroin in his twenties. Like the defining event in his life was getting clean after living in his car and being estranged from his family at 26. And I graphed every transition people did, like I did the math and they are all over. That's why I call it the whenever life crisis. That is the wrong model. The way to look at it is we go through what I call disruptors, three dozen in the course of our lives. I have a whole deck, I call it the deck of disruptors , 52 possible disruptors . And by the way, that number is higher. The last time this was done, a stress test in the sixties, there were like 37, it's up to 52. They didn't even have divorced , changing religions, you know, entrepreneurship, starting your own venture, sexual or you know , or domestic assault, all these things that are kind of the front lines of our life today weren't even on the list.

Dr. Cooper:

Yes, I thought it was a good list. Absolutely.

Bruce Feiler:

Fascinating. Huh? So we go through one of these, every three dozen in our lives. One every 12 to 18 months. That's more often than most people visit the dentist. And most of them we get through, but one in 10 of those three to five times in our lives, we get these live quakes. And not only do we have them three to five times in our lives, something else by the way that is simply not in the literature that I have read. And I have tried to read all the literature, is they tend to clump, right? So just when you lose your job, you know, your wife gets cancer, right? Just when you're going to move, your mother-in-law has a cataract surgery and your daughter is found to have an anxiety disorder. So that's, what's going on. Now, people feel like it's a , it's a club . I call this a pile up. And so we just feel like we're being hit from all directions. And it's just, simply put not based in time. And to base it in time is to assign a set of reasons. The original idea for a midlife crisis was that we had turned the corner of midlife and we were beginning to look at our mortality. And that was the reason for it . That is not the reason for it. Some people might have that, but it is simply not fair or right, or helpful to say that confronting our death creates a midlife crisis. It can be any number of things. It can happen any time in your life. It's time we move beyond that.

Dr. Cooper:

Good stuff, good stuff. All right, you introduced this idea of voluntary versus involuntary transitions. Just curious as you were talking to folks, did you see any pattern where those who sought out, kind of got themselves out of the comfort zone, if you will, or chose to get uncomfortable, either had less frequent, involuntary, or maybe more meaningful, involuntary things taking place. I'm thinking of the woman who really difficult childhood ended up going back, getting her PhD. I just wonder if she, evening classes to do that, the whole, the whole deal. Did she then, and I know you didn't follow them this long, but would your, would your theory be your hypothesis be that she would then see less impactful involuntary because she had gotten so uncomfortable to pursue this voluntary pursuit down the road?

Bruce Feiler:

Well, I would say that's Christy Mora from Savannah . It's a great story. She hated education. And then she gets pregnant in high school, drops out, has three children. Her husband works at Kentucky fried chicken. She has a, she has a paper route. They have to change churches. He gets sick and they are on the brink of tumbling into dead . And she's at the public library with toddler time for her child, the toddler toddles off, she's pregnant. She reaches over, she grabs the first book she can find, it's Weathering Heights. It takes her two times to read it, because she can't understand it. Next book is To Kill a Mockingbird and she makes her way through this entire shelf of classics. And here she finds the answer she's looking for, she's going to go back to school. Like the one thing she hated. So she goes and gets an undergraduate degree, crying in the car between classes, studying at the ballet practices and the baseball games. Then she gets a master's degree. And as you said, she goes on to get a doctorate. She goes from GED to PhD, and now she has a job counseling nontraditional students on the advantages of living a nonlinear life. So what I would say in response to that question is that some people are, you know, it's, I didn't actually code for this. So I don't feel like I have the data to kind of be definitive. Some people tend to be what I call transition positive like that they are more open to it in some level. But in general, I would discourage that. I don't think that that's a helpful construct because this, I would say is the number one kind of change that I personally went through, is that when I went into this project, I figured that the way we handle a setback or a job loss or the death of a loved one or cancer or an addiction, one in one in four of the stories that I heard have addiction , in some way, which was a really high number, at least to my eye. And I was just wrong about this. It turns out that the toolkit for navigating, losing your legs and getting cancer twice and losing your job and having your house burned down and going through a tornado, turned out to be the same. So they're the same, whatever the impulses and the kind of impetuses, are also the same, depending on whether it was voluntary or involuntary. That the stages, the long goodbye, the messy middle, the new beginning are the same. The tools, you know, identify the emotions, ritualize them, shed habits. So I would say generally speaking, it's the same. Some people might be slightly better or slightly worse, but I don't think that they're slightly better or worse overall. I still think that they're slightly better or worse at one part of the process. Like people are good at saying goodbye. And then they get stuck in the messy middle, but a lot of people are bad at saying goodbye. There are people pleasers. They stay around too long. They stay in a toxic relationship longer than they should. They cannot get a , you know, they cannot break the addiction or the habit or the victimizing or whatever it is. And then once they say, once they say goodbye, they're good at the messy middle. I talked to a guy, Rob Adams, who was hired from the Midwest and went to run the Simon Pierce glass company in Vermont. He starts a month after 9/11, sales drop a third in the first quarter, he should have left. I mean, in fact, the family was kind of giving them signals it's time for you to go, but he ignored them. And he was like, I liked being a leader. I liked being a mentor. I liked my colleagues. And then after a year, when they finally pushed him out, he was like, okay, well I've said goodbye. Now I'm a consultant. Like I know what to do. Now, I'm going to make lists. I'm going to talk to six people and within six months he'd moved, moved his family to Africa to take over a nonprofit. So , he's bad at saying goodbye, but good at the messy middle. You know, some people are even bad at the new beginning, which shocked me as you know I tell this wonderful story about Lisa Luda Vici who grew up in a broken home. Her mother was disinterested, didn't even come to her college graduation, she lives in her car for awhile. She becomes a high powered internet ad executive, and she also suffered three migraines a week between age three and 43. And she logs onto a conference call one day, and the people are, she overhears her colleagues who don't know she's there saying how sour she is. She goes, home combs through her Amex bills, decides she can save money. Walks in the next day, quits on the spot, cuts her cable, stops going out to eat stops going shopping. She's watching over the rabbit ears, local access television. And she sees someone talking about being a life coach. Interestingly enough, given the conversation we're talking about, he goes to Santa Fe. She enrolls in life coach school and on day one, the teacher walks in and her head is on the table. He says, and the teacher says, what are you doing? She goes, oh, don't worry. I'm having a migraine . And I have them, you know , three times a week. No big deal. Teacher says , come with me, takes her into her office. Puts Lisa in the chair, hypnotizes her. Lisa has never had a migraine since. Today, she's the, country's, one of the country's leading medical hypnotists, working with the VA helping people with all manner of diseases. So she's gone through this epical, frankly, inspiring life change. And she's completely afraid of telling anybody else about it. She says to me, she writes and rewrites her LinkedIn profile like everyday for six months because she thinks her friends will find it weird that she has this like a crazy health and wellness job. And finally she presses in and she's totally liberated. So for her, the one goodbye wasn't that hard. Even the messy middle, the new beginning was the hardest because for her, it was difficult to tell people that she was this new person.

Dr. Cooper:

Yeah . All right, my friend, a couple more. The way you end your book, I gotta tell ya . My wife was sitting in the room and I just about jumped out of my chair and said, you have got to hear this. I'm going to read it. It's the last couple of sentences. And I'd love to have you share why you chose that as your final message to the reader. Dream another dream. It's time once more to utter the most spellbinding, life affirming words, we can utter. The words that suggest a story is coming. Maybe even a fairy tale. Once upon a time. Wow. I just love that. That was perfect. Talk to us about that.

Bruce Feiler:

Let me get a little bit writerly for a second and save that. The happiest moment for me when writing a book, I once heard someone say about writing that a satisfying, this was actually an Israeli novelist. And he said that the most satisfying part about being a writer is you get the, you get the joy of completing something many, many times. Like when you have the idea it's satisfying. Like when you do, in this case, when I did the interviews, it was satisfying. When I found out the patterns, it was satisfying. Like when you, when you know where the story is going to begin, it's satisfying. And when you know where the story's going to end, it's satisfying. So for me, the most satisfying thing about having written a book is I don't have to worry about the first sentence or the last sentence. Like those are the ones that I spent 50% of my time thinking about where it's going to begin and where it's going to end. And this whole project is a project having read that, you know, since you just read the last sentence, I'm going to read the first actually, because this was also hard for me to know where to begin. And this is the introduction, the life story project, what happens when our fairytales go ary I used to believe that phone calls don't change your life until one day I got a phone call that did, it was from my mother. Your father is trying to kill himself. So that's a story about where this began. That my dad, who was never depressed a minute in his life tries to take his own life six times in 12 weeks. And it's perfect since this conversation began with the end and I'm going to end with the beginning. And what happened was we were struggling with business and with medical, but I'm the story guy. Like , that's how I think about the world in stories. So one Monday morning, I sit at my computer and on a whim I'm like, maybe it'll help my dad to tell his story. And so I sent him a question, tell me the toys you played with as a kid. Now my dad can't move his fingers at this point, right? He's got Parkinson's. He thinks about it all week. He dictates his story to Siri. Siri spits it out, like he edits it. And he's gotten a little, one page story about making paper airplanes in world war two . And then I'm like, well, this worked, I'll send him another one. Tell me about the house you grew up in. And then, how did you become an Eagle scout? And how'd you join the Navy and how'd you meet mom? And this goes on for five years until this man who had never written anything longer than a memo backed into writing an autobiography. And I got very interested that when in times of difficulty, what we do is we have to rethink and rewrite our life story. Turns out there's this whole field of narrative gerontology, a field of narrative adolescents , how adolescents, like my own children now begin to tell their own story, narrative medicine. So this story becomes the story of storytelling and how we think about stories. And so what I was sort of wrestling against was the idea that our lives are a fairy tale and that we think that we're a hero and there's a happy ending. And we forget the fact that there's a wolf in the middle of the story. And so this idea, and it turns out that the Italians have an expression called the wolf in the fairytale. And they use that to mean speak of the devil, like speak of the devil and the devil will show up. Like just when life is going along, swimmingly along comes a wolf or an ogre or a dragon or a downsizing or whatever it is. And so this whole project for me was a sort of an exercise in modern day fairytale telling. How do you begin a fairytale ? You know, you begin a fairytale with a certain phrase. So somewhere in the middle, not the beginning and not at the end, somewhere in the middle, this idea occurs to me that the greatest sign that we're through a life quake and that we're on the other side of a life transition is to start your story over again. I like this phrase, I almost called the this book, this, but I like this idea that we're in between dreams. And when you're in a transition, you're in between dreams and you have to make up a new dream. And finally you've said goodbye to the old, you you've gone through this messy middle of shedding habits and creating new ones . You're ready to unveil your new self. And the best way to do that is to update your life story. And then once you update your life story, once you say I've added a new chapter in which I learned something from this value of time, and I'm ready to move forward. Well, guess what, the chapter's over. And now you're back to , to me, the biggest stress of all, which is how do you begin the next chapter? What if the next chapter is going back to the beginning and creating a new fairytale? And what's the way we begin a fairy tale, once upon a time.

Dr. Cooper:

I love that. That's so good, Bruce. This was fun my friend, you did a fantastic job with the book. We'll talk about it in the intro as well, just to make sure people can track it down. What's the best way for folks to keep up with you and to keep track of what you're doing?

Bruce Feiler:

Well, first of all, this is a pleasure. I actually liked the fact that we did this inside out and upside down, and backwards and forwards, it shows us that our lives are non linear and so are our stories. I'm Bruce Feiler, I'm @BruceFeiler at Twitter and Instagram. You can find me on LinkedIn and Facebook. And the most satisfying part of this process is hearing which stories resonate with people and which tools are most valuable to people. One of things I found in talking to people about their transitions is everybody's good at some of these, but not everybody does all of them, and everybody wants to get better. So kind of my hope here is that, you know, my big message I would say to people is that transitions work. 90% of the people that I talked to got through their transition . So whatever you're struggling with, if you come on this journey and look at this book. I think we're going to give you things that can be helpful or helpful to the loved ones around you. Or if you have health and wellness clients , whatever they're struggling with, because we can get through this and we can do them better and a more effective way . There , there is wisdom out there and the best way to get through this is together.

Dr. Cooper:

Beautiful, Bruce, thank you so much.

Bruce Feiler:

Thank you very much. I appreciate it. What a pleasure. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and for digging in. And I look forward to hearing the response.

Dr. Cooper:

What an honor to have Bruce Feiler join us. For those of you who've been tuning into what's happening over at the YouTube coaching channel. You know, we've been doing a series of short videos on this very topic transitions through the stages of life. So this interview is incredibly timely. I hope you found it sparked some sort of ideas and hope in your own life and the things that you're going through. By the way, if you'd like to check out the videos, you can find them at youtube.com/coaching channel. Thank you for tuning into the number one podcast for health and wellness coaching, and a special thanks to those of you who have been kind enough to share with others. Next week's guest is a man who holds the American record for both the marathon and the half marathon Olympian Ryan Hall. For those of you have followed Ryan over the years, you know, it's been an interesting journey. We'll get into all of it, including how he went from 135 pound marathon runner to bulking up after retiring from running to the point that men's health actually featured his pictures. It's a fun conversation. You're not going to want to miss it. And of course, next Monday is our latest five minute weekly catalyst, the brief bonus episodes that we hope are providing you with some encouragement and that spark as you head into your day and your week. Now let's go get better than yesterday. This is Dr. Bradford Cooper of the Catalyst Coaching Institute signing off, make it a great rest of your week. And I'll speak with you soon on the next episode of the Catalyst, Health, Wellness, and Performance Coaching podcast, or maybe over on the new YouTube coaching channel.