Dec. 9, 2021

Best of 2021: Stephen Shapiro | The Surprising Power of Goal Free Living

Best of 2021: Stephen Shapiro | The Surprising Power of Goal Free Living

From a young age, we're all taught that setting and achieving goals is the way to live a happy and fulfilling life. Stephen Shapiro says that this stops us from enjoying life right now, only to later discover that our achievements rarely create la...

From a young age, we're all taught that setting and achieving goals is the way to live a happy and fulfilling life. Stephen Shapiro says that this stops us from enjoying life right now, only to later discover that our achievements rarely create lasting fulfillment. How can you ditch your goals and enjoy life where you are while still being successful and pursuing your passions? Take a listen to find out.

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Srini: Steve, welcome to the unmistakable. Creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join

Stephen Shapiro: us. Oh, fantastic. To be here, looking for.

Srini: Yeah, it is my pleasure to have you here. So as I was mentioning to you, before we hit record, I came across your work inside of Oliver Brooklyn's book, the antidote, who was a former desk chair, actually our first guest this year.

Srini: And when I saw the whole idea of goal free living, I thought, oh my God, this flies in the face of every idea and personal development that I've ever come across, I have to talk to this guy, but before we get into. I want to start by asking you, what is one of the most important things that you learned from one or both of your parents that have influenced and shaped who you've become and what you've ended up doing with your life?

Stephen Shapiro: Wow. I think one of the things which has been extremely influential is my dad always said everything happens for a reason. And he didn't mean that in some kind of a mystical way, like there's a plan in the universe. It was really more, just a lens. If whatever happens to you doesn't seem like it's good.

Stephen Shapiro: Let's look for the silver lining in it, because if you take the time to look for it, then you find what's good. And I've found that actually has worked really well for me throughout my life is anytime I have a setback, I just try to look for the silver lining in it. Yeah,

Srini: Okay. That's fascinating.

Srini: So one is, I wonder how that has shaped, influences actions in your life and moments in your life where, you've had bad things happen because the reality is bad. Things happen to good people all the time. That's just part of life. But the other thing I appreciated that you said was that he didn't say it as some sort of mystical new age, bullshit, nonsense.

Srini: Like he just said it in a very practical way. So how do you separate. The sort of mystical new age version of that from the practical, real version of that, because I think that's a trap that people get stuck in and it just gives them an excuse to sit on their ass.

Stephen Shapiro: I think that the key with everything is action.

Stephen Shapiro: So I don't think, I'm not a believer that you just visualize something and everything is going to manifest itself. I think you could visualize something and then you need to take action. So I really do believe that, life becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, just because at some level, whether it's a subconscious level or not, we start taking actions.

Stephen Shapiro: We start having conversations. We start doing things that are a little different based on those. Beliefs that we have. And so that's been my strong belief is that if we strongly believe something, it's not that the world is going to conspire to give it to us, but we're going to be taking the action if we get off of our butts and we, every action we take is going to move us in that direction.

Stephen Shapiro: So I remember one time I really wanted to have a TV. Now it never actually materialized, but I got really close. I was in the pitching room of some of the biggest networks and that only came about because people would say, what are you doing? It's I'm working on this, I'm working on this.

Stephen Shapiro: And someday I'll have a TV show. And I just threw that out as just a little passing comment, but just throwing that out there, all of a sudden people said, oh, I know this person, they're a producer or this person. And so I find. Small subtle changes like that can make a huge impact on the direction you take your life.

Stephen Shapiro: Yeah.

Srini: You said that you look for the silver lining everything. Take me to an experience either, growing up or take me to several that, something that was really bad in the moment ended up being good in the long run. Because I think that what I've realized is that we only recognize that something good happened or something bad happened for a reason in retrospect, but in the moment it's the worst thing in the world because it's happening to us at this.

Srini: Exactly.

Stephen Shapiro: I think growing up, for me, I was a scrawny, nerdy kid. I was in the math club. I was terrible at sports. I remember I'd be like the very last kid to be picked for the kickball team. I was just terrible. I really was. But what it did was, the downside of being a bad athlete was is that I was like, okay if that's not my strength, that's not what I'm going to be.

Stephen Shapiro: Great. What will I Excel at? And so I put myself into academics. I, I. Join the math club. I did get actively involved and I also got actively involved in music, which to me was the most life-changing thing. I got involved in my jazz band and the jazz band in high school and elementary school and everything else was just, it was transformational for my life because first of all, it gave me confidence, but also it gave me a love of the stage.

Stephen Shapiro: I was in front of thousands of people from the time I was relatively young. And now. They're all virtual at the moment. But now that he gives speeches for a living or as part of my business is giving speeches in front of very large audiences. I got so comfortable with that. So when I think about, okay I wasn't great at sports, but it turned me on to other activities that really have had a huge impact on my.

Srini: Okay. So I, it's funny because we must have such a parallel story. I played the tuba for nine years and same story. You get the shit kicked out of me and a football field on, and in seventh grade in Texas, where there are seventh graders, the size of grown men. So I wouldn't what instruments.

Stephen Shapiro: I gotta say I was at least a little cooler than the two.

Srini: Not very cool. We'll just be honest.

Stephen Shapiro: I was a sax player, so at least I had that going for it, but it was also a bassoon player in orchestras, which was not exactly the coolest thing. I was there with my bow tie playing soon, but the SACS was really my favorite.

Stephen Shapiro: Yeah. W what

Srini: did you learn from the experience of learning how to play an instrument and becoming good enough at it? Because, I realized like the most formative experience of my entire high school career was being in band. Cause I made all-state band three years in a row. And I think the thing that it taught me more than anything else.

Srini: The power of practicing something and developing skills. It's something that you have no natural aptitude for. So I wonder, what did you learn from your own experiences of band? Outside of the ability to stand on stage? Cause I can relate to that too. Like I don't get nervous in front of an audience.

Srini: It's just one of those things. It's I'm a performer. So this is just natural. But what did you learn that you applied to your life going forward?

Stephen Shapiro: First, if people don't know Allstate's a big deal. So that means you are really good. So I just want to say kudos to that. For me, what it was is first of all, being Uber shy it was at least a chance for me to build some social skills, which were very important.

Stephen Shapiro: So there was that aspect and it was really interesting too. You talked about the discipline. I'm not really very good at discipline, but I remember what happened was my parents would say to me, like when I was, I think it was fourth or fifth grade, somewhere on maybe your third grade, I started playing very early and my parents were like, look, we are happy if they, I started off playing in group lessons, taking group lessons with a whole bunch of people.

Stephen Shapiro: They said if you really want to get. You're going to need private lessons, but if you're going to do private lessons, which is going to cost us money, you need to promise us you're going to practice at least three times a week. And my response was no way. So I didn't take private lessons for a while, but I practiced seven days a week, four hours a day.

Stephen Shapiro: And at some point it was like, okay, clearly I'm going to do it. So I'm going to stop fighting. So I learned something about myself, which is, I don't. Being told what to do. I like being able to have sort of my freedom and that to me, I don't know how that actually influenced me, but it was just a very interesting insight to have at a young age to recognize I don't want to be controlled but I will, do things that I would have done anyway.

Stephen Shapiro: That's the crazy.

Srini: This is always fascinating to me is I wonder why you think that certain people have moments of insight like that at such a young age versus the people who don't, because I think that, you know what, I look back at college. When I look back at most of these experiences, I only realized that, I got profound lessons from them, in retrospect, I didn't see what I was getting at the time.

Stephen Shapiro: I'm not sure I was that smart to get it at the time. It really is just reflecting back in some cases, but I do know, it comes back to something you were saying earlier on. All these decisions, whether we learn them at a conscious level or a subconscious level, do influence the actions, the decisions, the conversations we have in the direction we take with our life.

Stephen Shapiro: And so I do think those experiences, whether it's and I too got beat up so you put all those different experiences together and they influence us and move us in a direction. And then I guess to me, the big question is. How much of the direction of our life was by design or by default.

Stephen Shapiro: And I think what happens is in a lot of cases, something happened to us. Therefore we go in a direction which might not be healthy for us, as opposed to saying this happened to me. Okay. That was interesting. What can I do? That's actually going to be a positive thing in my life. Cause I guess if you got beat up, maybe your responses join a gang or something.

Stephen Shapiro: I don't know. There's, I'm sure a lot of different ways people could go, but fortunately, and that was my parents' influence and my friends, my friends were all nerds and so all those different decisions moving into down a particular.

Srini: Yeah. I think it's interesting, you mentioned this sort of confidence thing that comes from that because I very distinctly remember my ninth grade band director telling me the, the first time I ran into all the kids who made all-state band.

Srini: There was a trumpet player who lived across town in our Crosstown rival. And he went to our Crosstown rival high school. And I just, I was annoyed by how arrogant he seemed about his abilities and, Funny thing was my band director said, I need to tell you this, but that is the attitude that you're gonna find in every one of these people.

Srini: They don't believe that they're bad. They believe they're good. And they believe that they're here to make all-state band and it's inevitable. And that, it raises a question about this confidence idea. So Chris Saka, the venture capitalist, when he has been interviewed, there's one thing that he will say over and over about the people that he invests in as.

Srini: And it's that they believe that their success is inevitable. And I wonder if you think that belief can be developed and if so, how?

Stephen Shapiro: Wow. That's a, it's a interesting question. And I'm not really sure. It's look, I struggle still with called the imposter syndrome. But I, it's for me it's but here's the, I guess the thing.

Stephen Shapiro: If people are really honest with themselves, cause I've had the conversation I've been studying imposter syndrome now for over 20 years. And. You mean, it's become Vogue now, but I've been, going back to the early days of some of this, I know first came out in the seventies, but one of the things that I've had, I've talked to a lot of people like household names of people that are business icons, some of the most influential people in the world.

Stephen Shapiro: And I would ask them, do you have the imposter syndrome? And they said, absolutely. I can't believe every day that people think I'm as great as they think I am. And it's. And the thing with the imposter syndrome is it's not about a lack of confidence. It's the gap. It's the gap between how others see you and how you see yourself and the more successful you become.

Stephen Shapiro: What happens in some cases is the speed at which the outside world starts buying into who you are versus the speed of which you buy internally gets out of whack and the bigger, the gap between how the world sees you and how you see yourself. The imposter syndrome. That's where I struggle. I know.

Stephen Shapiro: Look, I know I do good work. I know that I make a huge impact in the world. I know, I will be successful with things, but then when I hear people say some things about me, I'm like, it doesn't sound like.

Srini: Yeah. I think I may have told this story before. I remember we had a vendor who was looking at translating our content into different languages, using an AI tool, and she heard a few episodes and she was like, you must be the most self-actualized person in the world.

Srini: I was like, that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. I'm like, I do this work as I'm probably one of the most stuffed people you'll ever meet. Like all of this as an attempt to solve my own issues. I'm far from that. Self-actualized. One thing I wonder is, as you mentioned your parents.

Srini: What what do they do for work in the, how, what did they tell you about making your way in the world?

Stephen Shapiro: So my mother decided she was a interior. I went to school originally for interior design, interior decorating. I know there's a distinction between the two and I probably got it wrong, but she was getting a degree in that.

Stephen Shapiro: And then she had me and decided to, take care of me, but what she's done throughout pretty much her entire life, which I've always loved. And I've just found so incredible. Is that, although she's not, she's not really had a job, but she's done volunteering. For as long as I can remember, whether it's going to the VA hospital and working with patients there or going to retirement communities and running activity centers.

Stephen Shapiro: And, I just, I love how she really, I just see how she, her creativity and just her passion for those types of things is something that's always inspired me. And then my father, he, it was interesting. My father. Basically worked pretty much for the same company, his entire life. Out of college, worked for a company, stayed there, eventually left the company shortly after worked for another company.

Stephen Shapiro: And that company was bought by the original company where the company went to bought his original company. So he was with the same company, pretty much entire business career. And when I look at what I've done, it's almost like in some respects of the antithesis of that, because. I went right out of college, into consulting, which meant that I wasn't in an office.

Stephen Shapiro: I was on the road a hundred percent of the time. And then when I left consulting, I became a professional speaker and advisor and I'm on till now, planes all the time. So it's interesting. I don't know whether it was like, I looked at that and said, I like to do something different, whether it's just maybe part of my DNA to begin with.

Stephen Shapiro: I don't know. But it's interesting to look back at these decisions. Yeah.

Srini: Okay. So in given that, we're here talking about, goal free living. I think one of the things I wonder is what your parents taught you about goals, because I know from reading your bio, that you went to Cornell I went to Berkeley as an undergrad.

Srini: So you and I both know that you don't do things like that. If you are not ambitious enough to set goals, and it's almost a paradox to have done those kinds of things in your life. So what did they teach you about goals and, what is it in the world that caused you to arrive at this thesis of Gulf free living?

Stephen Shapiro: I think going back to my parents for a moment, I just remember there's two things that they always said to me. They said you can do absolutely anything you want to do with your life. But there were two things and they said this one, I was young. There's two things that we expect of you. One, you're going to go to college and graduate.

Stephen Shapiro: We don't care what college, we don't care what degree you're just going to get a degree and you're going to get bar mitzvah'd. So those are the only two things that they said I had to do now. They wanted me to do well in school. But I don't, but they weren't. What was nice is they didn't say you're going to be.

Stephen Shapiro: Or you're going to do this, you're going to do that. Or you have to go here, you have to do, it was like, I really felt like I had that latitude, that freedom to be able to choose and find what's right for me, rather than what might have been right for them. And I think that's probably been a huge influence on me in many respects is I had to make my decisions.

Stephen Shapiro: They would help me make decisions if I wanted. But in most cases, I, chose the path that I chose. And I think that probably is why at some level, this whole goal free living philosophy just really resonates with me. Okay.

Srini: Like I said, I think that this kind of flies in the face of a good amount of the wisdom that we have about personal development.

Srini: And I think that, people hear the idea of goal free living. The first thought is, oh, I'm just going to sit around and do nothing all day. I don't have to think about the future and. What I wonder is, given that you've accomplished what you've have, how in the world does something like that even happen if you don't have goals, because I relate to the whole, do you know what your told thing is?

Srini: Indian culture is very similar to Jewish culture based on, what I've learned from many of the Jewish podcast guests that we've had here. And you may, you mentioned something else and that was, you said that. Yeah, you decided to do what's best for you. And I think so many people don't do that.

Srini: They actually let the world around them influence them when it comes to, the things that they make important in their lives. Whether it's parents, peers, media, society, whatever it is. So let's talk about that first. Why is it that we're so influenced by the world around us when it comes to what we value in our lives?

Stephen Shapiro: Yeah, that was one of the things which I did for research with Gulf free living is I did a number of different pieces of research. And one of them was just this quiz and I don't have the statistics right in front of me, but it was like how many people are really living a life of their own design, their own choosing, versus it being heavily influenced by what their parents had done or what society had expected of them or what their family their spouse expects of them.

Stephen Shapiro: And in most cases, People were making decisions, not based on their own wants, needs, and desires, but rather on external factors. And then sometimes there's a need to do that. But I think that what ends up happening is we don't really tap into our God given abilities. Are there certain things that we are just so amazing at that if we don't tap into that, it's just a.

Srini: So let's talk about this idea of you can be, do or have anything you want because I, I think as I was telling you here, I think that I is very nuanced and I think it's misguided when people take it, literally, because the truth is, you pointed out yourself you and I, we're never going to play professional basket.

Srini: Which is the example that I always come back to and I had a mentor who was here. And one thing that I really appreciated he said is that people often think about what's possible, but they don't ever consider what's probable. And as a result, they set really wildly ambitious goals that they're never going to accomplish.

Srini: And then they're left kind of scratching their heads. And I think that, first of all, development literature in general, Guilty of perpetuating this. And you have a really interesting lens on this that most people don't. So how do you resolve that paradox of, we can be, do or have anything we want and then, in reality we can't,

Stephen Shapiro: I, it was funny you, if you didn't mention the basketball example, I would have said the same thing.

Stephen Shapiro: Cause there's no way I was destined to be an NBA player. I think, there are things that. We can move directionally towards. And I want to just be clear when I say goal free living. I'm not saying you don't have goals and more accurately, what I believe you should have as aspirations and aspirations, even though you might think that from a linguistic perspective, they're the same.

Stephen Shapiro: They're actually quite a bit different. So goals. Really about overcoming barriers, obstacles, and hindrances. So if you think about football for a moment, the goal is to get to the goal line and get through the, the 300 pound linebacker to get there. So it's about hard work getting to a destination, whereas aspiration comes from the Latin word for spirit or inspire, and it means to breathe life into.

Stephen Shapiro: When I describe goal free living, it's not that you don't have goals and it doesn't mean that you don't aspire to different things, but it's about having a sense of direction, not a specific destination. And then you meander with purpose. And so it's still about moving forward. It's still about direction, still about taking action, but it's not being, so my optically narrowly focused on one particular.

Srini: So I love this because I think that, if there's anything that doing creative work has taught me for 10 years, is this the path of any creative person or anybody who does anything that just doesn't fall into sort of, conventional jobs or careers? Their path is almost never linear.

Srini: And what I wonder is why is it that you make this distinction between a direction and a destination? And I think people set course for a destination really early in life. And, I, I was writing this new book and I said, life plans are like, fortune cookies, you have no idea what's going to be inside.

Srini: So it's ludicrous that we make these really huge life plans. Cause I very distinctly remember a conversation. I had, I was an intern at sun Microsystems a summer after. Junior year at Berkeley back in the day when people would actually hire me for a job. And I went to meet with this guy on a sales team because they had this sales program called the best of the best, which was basically a training program for young undergrads who just got out of college.

Srini: And if I remember correctly, he was probably 25. He had just had a baby and he looked at me. He said, I bet you have this huge grand plan for your life. And I'm here to tell you none of it will go according to plan and God how right he was looking. So I wonder why do you think that we choose a destination as opposed to a direction?

Stephen Shapiro: I think partly it's because society tells us that the self-help books tell us that we need to have goals. We need to have ambition. We need to have direction. So all the things that we're told but I think also part of it is, because people always ask you, where do you want to be in five years?

Stephen Shapiro: I remember somebody asked me that once it's like, where do you wanna be in five years? Like having. I

Srini: don't know where I'm going to be five weeks from now.

Stephen Shapiro: Exactly. So I, I don't, and this person was getting frustrated is come on, you gotta have an idea of where you want to be.

Stephen Shapiro: It's I want to be healthy. I want to be happy. I couldn't really articulate much more than that. And this was really at the earliest stages of the goal, free living book, coming to fruition. Because I remember talking with somebody and they were having a conversation. People are going to try to tell you to have goals, but I picture you as a frog and a Lily pad, and you're just going to hang out there.

Stephen Shapiro: You're going to sun on that Lily pad. And then at some point you're going aside time to move to the next Lily pad and you hop to the next Lily pad and that's going to move you through life. And it's not a straight line, but it's rather at meandering with purpose. That's my term in the Mandarin purpose.

Stephen Shapiro: But that's how I visualize things. And I think what happens, we take comfort. I think goals give us. But then they also give us dissatisfaction. It gives us comfort because we know where we're going. I think we just don't like ambiguity. So saying I'm going to be here in five years. Makes us feel like, okay, I'm on the path towards.

Stephen Shapiro: The problem is most people fail to achieve their goals. So then they set another goal and they failed to achieve that. Or if they achieve the goal the goal no longer motivates them. And so we ended up in this perpetual cycle of either disappointment or setting another goal, hoping we get that high as opposed to actually just experiencing life and letting life unfold as we get more information, because we have so little understanding of the world around us.

Stephen Shapiro: For any person at any point to choose what they think they're going to be doing down the. Is based on just such a small percentage of the data that's out there.

Srini: That's the funny thing I think about, when people, start college, you remember we had a Stanford professor, Tina Seelig here, and she said, she gets two groups of students, those who come in with this very clear idea of exactly what they're going to do.

Srini: You with their life. And then now it's all gonna pan out. And those who don't have a clue and those people are all worried. And she said in the long run, those people actually end up having the most interesting experiences because they explore. And I think the data point thing is really fascinating because I think that people make these huge decisions without collecting any data points.

Srini: It's that whole, you can only connect the dots looking backwards thing, but the thing is you have to collect the dots going forward. If you're going to connect the dots. And so I wonder why your way of thinking is not more prevalent in our education system. And I'm curious, like what you, if you were given an opportunity based on this philosophy to go into the education system and redesign it would change.

Stephen Shapiro: I think part of our challenge is standardized testing and, w if you understand the way that school systems are built, they're really. About turning out people who are actually very similar to fit particular industrial needs in terms of production. And so I think that's, and there's a lot of people who've written about that.

Stephen Shapiro: And I think what ends up happening is though is we lose our creativity and there's so many studies that have been done in terms of, one study said that we're at our peak of creativity with 98% of us being highly creative at five years old yet, by the time we're 25, it's down to two. So education beats it out of us.

Stephen Shapiro: And here's what was really fascinating to me coming back to something you said earlier is, so I didn't set out to write a book on goal free living. That was never my intention. My first book was on corporate innovation and I wanted my second book to be on personal innovation, and so what I decided to do is I hopped in my car and I drove across the country.

Stephen Shapiro: 90 days, 11,000 miles met 150 different people in. Purpose was to interview as many really creative, interesting individuals, very similar to the people you have on your podcast here. And so I wanted just to meet people you wouldn't normally meet, but people who lived life a little differently, creative.

Stephen Shapiro: And so I came up with a list of about 10 different attributes of these creative individuals and the book was going to be on how to live a creative life. And when I, when people looked at the list, one of the items on that list, they didn't have goals or they had a different relationship to goals.

Stephen Shapiro: And everybody who would look at the early versions of the book, the draft would say, this is the key. This is the interesting concept. And so that actually merged as the overall and overarching theme of the book. So creative people.

Srini: It's funny you say that I have a good friend who has been a long time listener, and he's actually been, the guest host here and interviewed me a handful of times.

Srini: They Matt Monroe. And he has one of the most interesting lives that anybody has aged could possibly have. And he said, I don't have goals. He said, I, have a list of, I have a worldview and it's simple. I want to go interesting places, do interesting things and meet interesting people. And I thought about that.

Srini: And I said, that is so much more expansive than a goal because it just opens up so many more possibilities.

Stephen Shapiro: Absolutely. It's why, and it's invoke now, but one of the things that when it comes to new year's Eve, we all set resolutions while resolutions are just goals. That's all. And in most cases we say, I want to make X number of dollars, or I want to lose this amount of weight, or I want to cut my smoking down X or whatever.

Stephen Shapiro: And so we set very, the smart goals, specific measurable goals. And my studies show that 92% of the people that we interviewed, this was actually mathematically validated. 92% of the people had failed in achieving goals. At least once their new year's resolutions, at least once. And there were like 50% of the people had never achieved any of their goals.

Stephen Shapiro: So that's why I love to set themes to me, the theme. What's the word. So like my theme for 2021 is ongoing relationships. How do I build with my clients instead of a transactional one and done type of relationship, which is the nature of a lot of speeches. I really want to take every speech and turning into ongoing relationship.

Stephen Shapiro: How can I make the greatest impact, especially now where people need real results, they don't need inspiration. They need real results. How do I do. And that's what I do. And it unfolds in, sometimes it's a bad theme and I change my theme. It doesn't have to be yearly, but that whole idea of something broader, that encompasses, that allows you to see new opportunities that probably would have been in your blind spots.

Stephen Shapiro: I think it's.

Srini: Yeah. So I'm glad you brought up the research. So I wonder when you contrast the research what did the studies showing him outside of the 92%? What else have you seen with the people who set goals versus the ones who embrace this goal, free living philosophy? And the other thing I wonder is where have you had resistance to this idea?

Srini: Because if you look at any company. Companies are driven by metrics like objectives and key results, revenue. We measure traffic and subscribers. So in a world that's, driven almost entirely by metrics as opposed to meaning, how do you resolve that paradox? What is the w first off, let's just say, what does the research show and where have you hit points of resistance to this site?

Stephen Shapiro: So I think, first of all, there's a difference between the individual and a corporation. And I'll talk about that distinction. A lot of the work about this was really about how does an individual not set goals. Companies are slightly different, but I think some of the concepts still apply and I'll mention that.

Stephen Shapiro: So here's the, I guess the fascinating thing is. Why do we set goals? If you look at the meta reason for setting a goal is to achieve something while the reason you want to achieve something is because you believe it's going to make you happier. And here's the bottom line. Fundamental bottom line of my research is the people who achieve their goals, the people who set goals, the people who didn't set goals, the people who didn't achieve their goals yet they set goals.

Stephen Shapiro: There was no discernible difference in terms of the level of happiness. Except for the people who set goals and didn't achieve their goals, they were the least happy. But setting a goal versus not sending a goal had no difference between their happiness. And if you think about it, what that means is, okay, coming back to my definition of goal, hard work, overcoming obstacles, barriers, hindrances, to get to a goal line.

Stephen Shapiro: If it's not a, if the whole thing's pleasurable, if you're having a great time playing football and going through the 300 pound linebackers then that's all. But a lot of people set their goals in order to have something in the future, which they think will make their life better yet. We know this is true.

Stephen Shapiro: We get to that future and it's not what we expected it to be. So we set another goal. And so we're on this perpetual quest for something that we will never achieve. But unfortunately we believe happiness and satisfaction is going to be in the future rather than saying, how do I treat life as a game?

Stephen Shapiro: Where I can actually enjoy every minute of every day doing the things that I need to do. So that's, to me the most interesting thing, when it comes from a personal perspective.

Srini: Okay. This flies in the face of so much of what we have been taught about this, from the Brian Tracy's of the world to do whoever it is.

Srini: Like I told you, that's one of the reasons I wanted to have you all of over Birkman here to start the year, because I just felt that he had a much more realist approach to personal development. And I think that what I see when I see so much of the literature that comes out of this material is.

Srini: More of a sort of fantasy approach to this stuff where, people think they can do anything. And we alluded to that, but so with, so much of this that, basically flies in the face of everything that we've been taught the first off, like, why do we have Brian, Tracy out there saying that this is the key to like success and then somebody like you comes along or somebody like all over comes along and basically says, yeah, look, this is not, it's going to actually not make you as happy as you think it will.

Srini: And then, a follow up on that. This is something that I asked Oliver Yeah, I know that you will basically, the goal will never make you as happy as you think it will simply because of hedonic adaptation. And the question I had rollover is it even possible to get off the hedonic treadmill?

Stephen Shapiro: That's a lot of questions there. So I think the first thing that I just want to say is that I think people, again, I think they set goals because it gives them some level of comfort and there's a belief that they'll be happy in the future. And I don't want to. When I started down this path, I was I was treating this as a one size fits all strategy.

Stephen Shapiro: And actually what I've discovered is the concept of goal free living appeals to some people, but doesn't appeal to others. And. And it actually makes a lot of sense as time has gone on. And I've seen who really does a gravitate towards I think the Pete, the reason why people want the goals is because they believe achievement is going to be the key and that's, but that's especially in the U S that's our culture, we're an achievement culture.

Stephen Shapiro: We need to achieve things. But I think there's people like myself who I'm much more experiential. I would describe myself, even though I'm an engineer and I like process, I really. I really love to just experience life freely. If you were to use Myers-Briggs as an example in Myers-Briggs, I'm a perceiver off the charts, which basically means that instead of liking to plan the work and work the plan, I like things to unfold while Goffrey living fits in.

Stephen Shapiro: I think very nicely with people who fall into that category. Whereas if you're a person who really gets satisfaction of checking something off of your list then this strategy might not be the right one for you. I think that's the other mistake that we made. Goals are great goals. Aren't great. No, it's it really context matters.

Stephen Shapiro: The person matters in what works for one person may not work for.

Srini: Okay. So you're really speaking my language. Con it gets funny that I think that's the underlying theme of the book that I'm working on. It's going to be a self published book, but I, what I keep finding over and over is that context is something that really matters.

Srini: We actually had a guy named Sam summers here as a guest been published his episode yet, but It had, he wrote a book called situations matter. And one thing that I have noticed over and over throughout this entire process of, building unmistakable creative and working with lots of creative people is that they tend to overlook context.

Stephen Shapiro: Yes. And so we do that in jail.

Srini: And the, and the sort of default assumption is of this, really successful person said, he basically says they did this and that's how they became successful. So I'll do this. So this is what I call the outlier bias. It's you know, and the thing is that by definition, an outlier isn't enough.

Srini: So they're not really a good role model for success yet. I think a big thing that happens is that they're the people that, we write books about. They're the people who give Ted talks. And, I wrote in the book, I said, nobody ever writes a story about the person who busted their ass for years and doesn't amount to shit.

Srini: And that's part of where this context happens. But how do you think that people become more aware of the context when they're thinking about this information?

Stephen Shapiro: So I think there's two different pieces. One is just to come back to the last thing you were talking about, there is I'm always fascinated with survivor bias and its cousin, the under sampling of failure.

Stephen Shapiro: I love the concept of under sampling of failure and that's what happens. One of the things that we'll talk about is, Hey, let's go do this. One of my books is called best practices are stupid. And the reason why they're stupid is because almost every single practice. That people tell you to do for every person who claimed it was the cause of their success.

Stephen Shapiro: There's a thousand people who will never be able to have a voice. There's a thousand people who tried exactly that practice and fail to achieve the result. So it's not necessarily a causation. Maybe it's a correlation, maybe it's a coincidence. And so we're not good at being a critical thing. And I think that's a really important thing is to just understand that distinction between causation correlation and coincidence.

Stephen Shapiro: And we tend not to do that. And that leads us then to context, which is there's never a one size fits all strategy. Anybody who tells you go do this, I would immediately be skeptical of what they say. And, I always say my best advice is to ignore all advice. People are well-meaning, but it doesn't mean that they know.

Stephen Shapiro: And especially if you're coming down to an individual, what we need to do is understand what are their, wants, their desires, their personalities, their needs, and everybody's going to be different. And that's what we need to recognize is just how do we get in somebody else's shoes, somebody else's head to be able to understand their needs so that we can actually speak to what they need rather than what we think they should.

Srini: Yeah. It's funny because you see articles on places like medium. My friend, Ben Hardy, who's been a guest here as well. He wrote this book called or this blog post that has 50 million views on it. Titled eight things that everybody should do before 8:00 AM. And I remember asking him, I said, Ben, I was like, if somebody worked a 13 hour shift at a hospital, there's nothing on this list that they should be doing.

Srini: The only thing they should do is go to sleep. And I think that's the problem is we look at this advice and it's not the flaw in the advice, but in our interpretation, moral.

Stephen Shapiro: Yeah, I think that's a great way to put it know all, I think all advices well-meaning and in the right situations, it definitely works.

Stephen Shapiro: But I think, the key is to adapt what someone says, not adopt what someone says, and we're all looking for that simple seven step blueprint. If I do this and this and this, my life's going to be perfect as opposed to saying this is a, it's not the map. But it's just the lay of the land.

Stephen Shapiro: And now I'm going to be able to determine my own path, rather than that GPS, which says take this road and that road maybe I'm going to take a different path and maybe I'm going to go to a different destination, but I can at least be informed by all of these different pieces of advice that we get from.

Stephen Shapiro: Yeah.

Srini: Okay. So either two things that you brought up, which I think makes a perfect segue to what you just mentioned. Earlier in our conversation, you talked about meandering with a purpose and being comfortable with ambiguity. And I think that is one thing. When I work with people, particularly now with investors, the one thing I look for is the ability to navigate ambiguity.

Srini: And I'll give you an example. We hired a community manager named Malayna. She was a civil engineer with a PhD. She was extremely, I don't know shit about social. Community, I'm like, yeah, you're a civil engineer with a PhD you're smart and you know how to solve problems. That's all you need to know.

Srini: But I gave her incredibly ambiguous instructions about what I wanted her to do. I was like, I need you to build a list of referral program and I don't have a clue how to do it. And it was amazing how rapidly she was able to execute. And to me, I was like, this is the standard by which we should always hire.

Srini: So how people first off develop that comfort with ambiguity. The thing is, I think when you think about meander with a purpose, it's almost a contradiction to say meander with a purpose. I get what you mean, but how do people manage that without just wandering aimlessly? Because there are plenty of people who wander and wander aimlessly to end up only going through.

Stephen Shapiro: I think that the key is that when I say meander with purpose, it's the first part to that though, is have a sense of direction, not a specific destination. So you need that part before you start meandering. So it's you have to decide I'm going to go north, south, east, or west, and maybe we'd want to be a little more specific that I want to go Southwest.

Stephen Shapiro: Because then at least you have some guard rails because otherwise you will just, you could walk around and serve. So to me, it's always still about taking steps forward. And when you take steps forward you just want to make sure that you're moving at least directionally. Correct. And then at some point you'll figure out, okay, the destination I thought I wanted to go to really isn't the destination, but there's something over here that's a little bit further over.

Stephen Shapiro: So it's more about having a peripheral vision rather than just allowing everything. 'cause I think what happens is when we set goals, we, and especially when we set a goal and now we set a plan to achieve that goal where now all of a sudden we've got that blueprint, that roadmap that we tend not to meander from, as opposed to saying.

Stephen Shapiro: I want to get. So you talked about social media. As the goal of social media to get more followers is the goal of social media to get more engagement is the goal of social media actually to help drive more revenues. And if you choose one of those you now narrow the possibility of what you could create.

Stephen Shapiro: So it's getting that it like the Goldilocks principle. You don't want it to be too broad where you can like, just go anywhere, but you don't want to be so specific that you don't have many options.

Srini: Yeah. So let's talk about this in the context of companies, because you mentioned earlier that it is a bit different for companies.

Srini: In an organization, obviously we are using metrics, unfortunately, nowadays we're using metrics to measure our personal lives too, which is sad given what social media has done to so many of us. But how does this work in the context of an organization? Because, I, if I'm sure if I went to my investors and said, Hey, we don't have any goals this year.

Srini: They would probably be like, okay, what are you talking about? But it's funny, you mentioned this direction, not destination thing. Cause if you read ed Catmull's book creativity, Inc. He actually talks about that. He specifically says the future is a direction, not a destination.

Stephen Shapiro: I think it has to be a direction because strategic planning, as we've known it to be can't exist anymore.

Stephen Shapiro: There's just the pace of change in the unknowns and everything else. So we want to know directionally where we're going to go, but we have to have that nimbleness that adaptability, my whole work for the past 25 years has been around innovation. And when people ask me to devote to define innovation to me, it's not.

Stephen Shapiro: Novelty. It's not about developing something new. It is about adaptability and relevance. That's all that matters if you're not relevant in the minds of your customers, and you're not able to adapt to stay relevant, then you're out of business. That's the only reason why we have innovation.

Stephen Shapiro: And so we need that nimbleness inside of organizations. And the more rigorous we are, the harder it will be to make those changes. But I will say though, is that again? It comes back to the one side. Parts of the business. You want to have running like a well-oiled machine because if you're in the logistics business and you're trying to ship products yes let's do things a particular way because we know it works.

Stephen Shapiro: And if a problem pops up while we need to have that adaptability to solve the problem, but for most of the cases, we want to be able to handle them as efficiently as we possibly can. But then there's those other situations, whether it's, the way that we're going to start introducing new products in the future, or maybe we want to start making changes in the way we meet shifting customer demands.

Stephen Shapiro: Now we can't use the traditional goal oriented metric driven approach. And I just want to just say one thing, cause I think this is really important is goal free living is not about not having goals. It's actually about changing a relationship to the goal. And I'll give you just a really super simple example here, which is sales.

Stephen Shapiro: Most organizations have sales targets. Their salespeople are told, this is how much you need to sell. And this will be, then this will determine how much compensation you get. So we did a informal study, but we did an informal study in a retail store a number of years ago. And we decided we were gonna tell one group of people they're measured on how much they sold.

Stephen Shapiro: And another group of people were told, we're not going to measure you on how much. You're going to be evaluated and incentivized around how well you serve. And you need to take care of them and give them what they need. And what was fascinating is when we were done, the people who weren't focused on selling the people were focused on serving sold more than the people who have the goals.

Stephen Shapiro: And so we've, I've worked with a number of companies over the years where they even looked at how do we shift the way we motivate and incentivize sales teams so that they directionally know what they need to do. But it's about the relationship, not about the sale, knowing that the sale comes because of the.

Srini: Wow. So one thing I wonder you mentioned changing the relationship to the goal, which I really appreciated it. And I think that when it comes to goals, a lot of us have a huge sort of sense of attachment to our goals. So I wonder how you deal with that aspect of, goals. You, when you're changing your relation to goals, like how do you not let the, whether or not you accomplish the goal, define your worth?

Srini: Because I can tell you I've had moments where. Measuring my self worth in podcasts downloads and book sales. That's a recipe for disaster, right?

Stephen Shapiro: Yeah. So I, that's the eighth principle of the book is remained attached. And I struggled with that for the longest time, because you want what you want.

Stephen Shapiro: And what I've found is that the people who are able to remain detached from the goal, attach them to something else. And and the analogy that I like to use here is golf and I'm a terrible golfer. So using golf as an analogy, not a great thing necessarily, but it really works is because I do know there's a principle in golf that you always use, which is you line up.

Stephen Shapiro: So you're at the ball. You're lining up, you get yourself, your get your feet, you get your club, and you look at the pin, you look at where you're trying to go, but then the key is, so that's your goal to get it into the hole. But if when you are swinging the club, if you look at the hole, you will slice the ball and you will never come close to the hole.

Stephen Shapiro: So you need to attach yourself to something else, which is the ball, in Caddyshack, be the ball, but that's really what you need to do because you need to look at the ball. You need to attach yourself to something else which has a present moment activity. What's the thing that I can do right now at this moment.

Stephen Shapiro: That's going to do. What's gonna move me in the right direction. So by focusing on the ball, before you swing only looking at the ball, you'll have to have that trust that it's going to bring you to the hole. So that's, to me the key,

Srini: I love that because it's so similar to what I tell writers. I'm always like, don't focus on, how many people read your writing, focus on how many words you've read.

Srini: That's what you can actually control. And I think that's where we get into trouble is when we try to control what we can't.

Stephen Shapiro: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.

Srini: Wow. Wow. This has been really fascinating. I love this entire philosophy because it's just so different. I think that it gives people a different way to think about this and not a stressful sort of, oh God, I'm a horrible person because I can't accomplish my goals.

Srini: Mindset which I think is just so much healthier. And I think we'll liberate people. W what have you seen, you mentioned the sales team, like in people's personal lives, what have you seen as like outcomes that have you've surprised even them and exceeded their expectations by approaching things this way?

Stephen Shapiro: I think the biggest thing that we've seen is that people. You talk about there's impossible goals like being on the basketball team. I think what people realize is the goals that they had, weren't the goals they really wanted. And if you live life experientially, if you live life where you're gathering new insights and you're starting to say I like this, but I don't like that.

Stephen Shapiro: I want to do more of this. And I want to do less of that. And you start moving that meandering part. You end up in a completely different direction. I've had so many people say to me where I thought I want it to be in five years would have been miserable. But instead, what I wanted to do is I determined that I actually wanted to do this, or in some cases, Where people thought they wanted to go with their goal was the right goal.

Stephen Shapiro: But the path they were taking to get there ended up being totally different. Because I think in a lot of cases, most people would say, I don't want to cheat. I want the outcome, but it's going to be so much work. But then when they get really. As to where they want to go. And then they allow things to unfold.

Stephen Shapiro: In many cases, they hit the goal, but they took a path that was pleasurable and enjoyable. And so it wasn't even about the goal necessarily, but the goal was, just that thing, pulling them forward rather than them having to.

Srini: I love that. Wow. This has been really amazing. I love conversations like this because you, they just make you think, like it's not like we give people any sort of blueprint, which I appreciate more than you can possibly imagine.

Srini: So I have one final question for you, which is how we finish all of our interviews at the unmistakable creative. What do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable?

Stephen Shapiro: So I think the thing which makes somebody unmistakable is. When they are true to themselves, I really do believe that we're trying to label people.

Stephen Shapiro: We're trying to shoe horn people. And when, and this is what my parents gave me. The gift of is basically saying, you can do whatever you want. You can major in anything you want, but you just have to get a degree. And that freedom. Really allowed me to choose who I am and I keep on correcting. Cause I realized what I like to do this, but I don't want to do that.

Stephen Shapiro: And that to me is that really, to me, makes somebody unmistakable when they're truly tapped into what makes them special, their uniqueness, their differentiator. And they really played to that as much as they possibly.

Srini: Amazing. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us in sharing your story and insights with our listeners.

Srini: Where can people find out more about you, your work, your books, and everything that you're up to?

Stephen Shapiro: The easiest thing is to go to Steve That's you'll find all the books there. And by the way, go free living is actually like over 15 years old now. So when I wrote this, people are saying, wow, this is maybe a little ahead of its time.

Stephen Shapiro: And I'm glad that people are now starting to, especially with the. Where things are so uncertain, it really feels like people are becoming much more interested in a, an approach to life. That's not it's based on the fact that life's uncertain. So yeah, just go to my website. You can learn all about me there.

Srini: Amazing hand for everybody listening. We will wrap the show with that.