Sunni Brown is an inspiration. She helped me exercise my wierd. After many years of trading messages, I’m proud to share our conversation with you today. One of my favorite quotes from Sunni I included in my book “If you can’t change your mind, it’s very hard to change your life. Human beings that are mentally agile, those who can and will unstick—from an ongoing challenge, a mindset, a limiting belief, or a point of view—are more likely to flourish. Period.”
About Sunni’s newest work
“Excellent question. Let me tell you a quick story, more of which you’ll hear in the coming pages. For the past nine years, I’ve led a revolution around thinking differently. I’ve advocated with real passion in many corners of the globe for visual literacy, for game facilitation, for better thinking by design. I stumbled upon these tools as an adult and when I recognized the scope of their potential it almost gave me whiplash. It was gobsmackingly evident that they would be a big deal for a lot of learners, especially those who didn’t thrive in traditional settings. There was nothing to do but laugh toward the sky and leap.
During those years I used these tools with countless others and, of course, I used them for myself. They delivered on their promise. Under their tutelage I became a more agile entrepreneur, a more connective presenter, a more present teacher and facilitator, a more capable coach. As you can imagine, I love visual thinking and game facilitation because of their potency. With their instinct to accommodate anything in order to learn — language, silence, all of the senses, play, failure, interpretive dance! — they are teachers through and through. They make the learning process come to life. BOOM. Little did I know just how much these tools could teach. I knew they were solving problems in big companies, challenging habitual behavior, and encouraging innovation.
I also knew they were empowering students around the world, offering valuable, meaningful ways to inquire and to think. All of that was easy to see. What I did not recognize about these methods was their deeper metamorphic power. These tools, in my life, became another kind of catalyst entirely, one that set in motion a personal Rubicon, a searing and hallowed voyage into the workings of the mind and the unfinished business of the heart. In retrospect, I would just like to say…duh. Of course cracking open new learning styles eventually cracked open my internal landscape.
Of course these tools weren’t only about cognition and the intellect. They were emotional and spiritual teachers, as well, facilitative tools for self design. And I think you know by now that I don’t mean surface self design. I mean deep self design. I mean deep space nine self design. Aided by these tools, I slowly rappelled into my sacred but wounded consciousness and then reverse-engineered my way back, more stabilized, integrated, and repaired, and with so much to share! Deep Self Design (DSD) is the next wave in the revolution I started nine years ago. Instead of a new way of thinking, I offer a new way of being—with ourselves, with others, and ultimately, with the world.”
About Sunni Brown
Sunni Brown is the founder of creative consultancy Sunni Brown Ink and more recently founded the Center for Deep Self Design in Austin, TX. She was named one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” and one of the “10 Most Creative People on Twitter” by Fast Company. Her TED talk has drawn over 1.5 million views and her work on visual thinking has been featured in every major U.S. publication including The New York Times, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, WIRED, and Entrepreneur, as well as being featured twice on CBS Sunday Morning and on The TODAY Show.
Sunni’s two globally-beloved books—Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers, and The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently—have been translated into 25 languages and counting. She is widely credited with the rise of visual thinking as a tool for deeper inquiry and is working on her third book on the subject, called The Non-Obvious Guide to Doodling at Work, available October of 2020. As a facilitator, Sunni and her team have designed and led hundreds of group experiences in diverse industries, and CDSD reflects her evolution after more than a decade of interactive, facilitative work.
Drawing on her expertise in creatively solving external challenges in business, Sunni turned her attention toward solving universal internal challenges and crafted a method of inner science called Deep Self Design™, which will be featured in her fourth book, which is part-memoir, part how-to. Like many on the contemplative path, Sunni began her investigation of inner science in 2007 after a series of personal crises (dharma gates) catalyzed a personal reckoning and spiritual awakening. Eventually choosing to perceive this suffering as a call to remember her true nature, Sunni trained for thousands of hours in za-zen, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Right Use of Power, and two mind-body practices called Hakomi and Internal Family Systems. She continues to be a devout student of the American Zen tradition (an innovative branch of Sōtō that integrates Western psychology) and is the highest-level practitioner of a revolutionary, evidence-based therapy called Internal Family Systems, developed by one of her mentors, Dr. Richard Schwartz. She has trained for 13 years (the path is ongoing) with two revered teachers, Dr. Margaret Syverson, Sōtō Zen Priest with Dharma Transmission and Dr. Flint Sparks, Sōtō Zen Priest and former Clinical Psychologist. As an inelegant but avowed bodhisattva, Sunni is committed to helping ripe sentient beings, including herself, unlock our potential for appamāda—mindful, active care for each other.
Aaron: Welcome back to another episode of work life play today. My friend, I'm going to call her because she sat on my shelf for so many years. Her work has found a way to live underneath my skin. Sunni Brown is just a delightful, lovely human. What she's really opened up for me is this idea of as a communicator, as a storyteller, to learn, to expand my language of literacy, to include visuals, I'm a closet doodler. I wouldn't even have called it that years ago. I just thought I was, I had difficulty paying attention when things would drift in my mind. So I would find myself very often taking notes in just a scratch pad. I prefer journals with no lines, just blank, white pages, quote, I love is be who you are and go the whole way. So in my process of being who I was and trying to go the whole way and incrementally taking steps forward in that I was dragging around a marker bag.
You've probably heard some, some of you have heard this before, and I was dragging this marker bag to business meetings, you know, corporate executive stuff, boardroom stuff, and I'd roll out my sketchpad and then I'd pull out my markers. And then everyone around me was with their, at the time, like IBM ThinkPads, um, and in a PC world. And I remember one guy gave me crap about it later. And he was like, man, dude, what was the deal with the kindergarten bag of markers you're dragging around? And I said, you know what? Yeah, thanks for that. Uh, I'm exercising my weird, I'm just going with it. I'm just going to see where it goes. Well, around the same time I discovered Sunni's work and this, uh, I would say like this normalization and, uh, science based like, Oh, by the way, uh, Steve jobs and President Kennedy were doodlers and she kind of went on like Thomas Edison was a doodler and she kind of had all this like, cool, like what you mean? I'm like them.
And she went on to say, this is what it looks like when you actually can develop your skillset to articulate ideas visually. And there's a lot that happens in your brain. And then as that continues, then how we then share and tell stories that some people are very visual. Some people are very literal. Some people are very abstract. And by being a communicator with developing the skillset of visual literacy, we can expand our ability to maximize the influence that we have in whatever arenas that we're operating in. So I've become a big fan and in her books, she's very how to, so it's very accessible in how do you become a person who can, uh, communicate visually as well? So that isn't to say that, um, we're anyone of us are gonna win like an art contest that isn't the goal. The goal is you can actually draw a dog pretty quickly and people know what it is.
And especially in the business world where we're just bludgeoned by slides and decks and computer projection. It becomes really fun to become the kind of person who can communicate beyond just what a computer, um, allows for. So all that as background, my favorite part about the conversation with Sunni and I is that it was years in the making. We had an attempt at connecting while she lived in Denver and I had our VW bus and we were going to come by do the interview in the bus and do all kinds of fun stuff there. And we've now had to pivot years later and, uh, communicate over zoom, which is a great way for today, but we're still holding out hope that we'll be in the bus one day together.
And we, uh, we can have another riff. What you'll notice about the conversation today is it's just super social and just life on life. And we're just exchanging ideas as to creators as to, um, passionate humans in the work that we do in the world. So it's less of a interview format of tell me about your new book and more about, let's just talk about the work that you do, the person that you are and how you've become that person.
Friends. Welcome aboard. Glad you're here with us. This is good for you. Keep going. You can do this.
I think your publisher sent me a copy of the doodle revolution.
Sunni Brown: Oh, amazing.
Aaron: I've been in corporate consulting and software and like enterprise business, and everybody carries around an IBM ThinkPad. You know, of course, ABM Mac these days back then I just started secretly dragging these markers around.
Sunni Brown: Amazing.
Aaron: I would just start like pulling out a pad. I was calling like exercising. My weird, I got made fun of poked fun at, you know, in these corporate settings.
Sunni Brown: Right.
Aron: And then I found out it was like a cool superpower. So yeah. All that.
Sunni Brown: I'm glad you found that out.
Aaron: And I attribute lots of it to you.
Sunni Brown: Aw, thank you. That is what makes it worthwhile because you never know. Who's going to find your message.
Aaron: Well, fast forward today and I work for McKinsey now, and standard issue is a bag of markers. So now I carry around my markers and we all have Mr. Sketch brand.
Sunni Brown: That is the craziest thing I've heard in a while. Cause McKinsey is like, you know, like an Epic company it's been around forever and has very traditional culture, business culture. That's incredible.
Aaron: Now in my community of practice, every one of us drags around a bag of markers, the phrasing you taught me was visual literacy, nda actually beginning to look at, if we can win the limbic brain, then we can say so much quicker, easier, and then the distinction of how to stand out and how to communicate in an effective way.
One question I've been curious about for you for years is the a hundred most creative people in business. And I have two questions: the first part is why did they say about you?
Sunni Brown: I think it was a little bit like you carrying your markers around in an environment that was hostile to that. Perhaps it had something to do with a person who completely and total seriousness, advocated, doodling. Like I was dead serious about it and I still am. And I think that probably got their attention, you know,
Aaron: What I found liberating about your advocating for doodling was I think you noted specifically Steve jobs and there was a couple other handful of like..
Sunni Brown: Kind of epic people, Richard Feinman and Einstein and it's like a secret skill. Yeah.
Aaron: It was like a, yeah. It was like a, what is it like a normalization of something that was formerly yeah. Shame. And then the, uh, the decoupling of wasting time and not paying attention. It's like a debunked myth.
Sunni Brown: Yes. There was so much bullshit around doodling and it was just bull. Yeah. Thank you. I'm glad that you liked it.
Aaron: It was amazing. So again, like the number of times I've professed your gospel, I'm saying like, no, listen, here's some stats tell you why I'm not goofing off. Yeah. I'm actually embedding this into my brain and understanding and process again was very liberating. So that didn't have to be like something that in the corporate world I'm secretly a shame.
Sunni Brown: Well, of course, and I think that a lot of people face that criticism. And that was the other aspect of, it was to your point, which was that I was like, if anybody wants to challenge me on this, I will challenge you back because the science shows it, the data, the research, the like anecdotal evidence, you know, it felt like it was the doodles time, you know? And, and I just happened to be that person. I don't think it was anything special about me. I think I just intersected a time and place and an idea and was willing to, to share the idea.
Aaron: What big ideas then are you intersecting and stewarding today?
Sunni Brown: You know how people always say that ideas are eternal, meaning that there's not new ones. And there's just times and places when we find them and then we kind of carry the flag.
So I think, so the idea that I'm obsessed with now is like what I call inner science, but it's not a new idea. It's a very, very, very, very old idea. It's like thousands of years old. And what it means is just sort of self awareness and removing self-deception and sort of self bias and getting interested in what are the beliefs and motivations that are actually driving our behavior. We need to know ourselves and we need to understand why we do stuff and have no hidden agendas around our behavior and like be liberated from some of the UN examined beliefs like, Oh, there's this great quote from Carl Young that I put in the memoir, actually one of the sections it's so good, listen to this “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
So that's what I'm working on is just creating opportunities. I'm still integrating visual thinking and gaming and design thinking and all that. Um, but I'm wanting to create opportunities for people to start to like kind of free themselves from themselves.
Aaron: And for you then, so many, how have you freed yourself as you've known yourself?
Sunni Brown: Hundreds of hours of, well, I mean, I've been as in student, so there are, so my path onto that, uh, personal liberation path was there was a methodology that I got really schooled in. And one of them is I've been as in student for 13 years now. So like a heart, pretty hardcore practitioner and also a method called internal family systems, which is a really beautiful, powerful method of like understanding aspects of yourself and then kind of updating them and then also identifying limiting beliefs and stories that need to be dissolved so that you can step into something.
And so, and I've been trained in that to the hilt. Um, and I have been starting to gamify it as well in public and keynotes and stuff. And, um, and like just an extraordinary amount of research and writing about this topic. I know the 10,000 hours things has been kind of debunked on some level, but I've definitely put in my 10,000 hours around that kind of stuff.
Aaron: One of the things that I noticed, and I see this a lot with, uh, with humans, whether at work or elsewhere is, uh, the, I was just scared to death, petrified that if I actually allowed myself to slow down to feel the pain. Oh yeah, yeah. It would be like the point of no return. There's too much. And so I would attempt like, you know, in snack sizes, maybe like retreats and, uh, you know, spiritual work and different things like a process or like counseling or whatever it was. I didn't know. I knew, but I now know, I knew there was a tsunami. And I didn't have time or space or know what the hell to do with it. So to your point, um, what I love about what you're saying is, um, yeah, but there's actually a way, Oh yeah. Where is the way forward?
Sunni Brown: And I'm so glad for that because there's something very soothing about the antiquity of the path and the PR and the hero journey and all that, because it's like our ancestors have done this and there's things you can trust as you step in. And there's not just one way, there's multiple ways, but it's all home. It's like going back home to your center, into yourself and as a pro it's a practice forever. It does it. It's not like you're done. I don't even know if I would like that.
Aaron: I like, I appreciate the upside of the benefits of seeing more freedom and joy [inaudible] I continue to choose the transformational process.
Sunni Brown: Wow. That's huge though. So when you work at McKinsey, does that, do you find yourself bringing that out of people? Like, do people know this about you there?
Aaron: So not only do I carry markers, but we are facilitators of transformation, the leadership context.
Sunni Brown: Oh, right on!
Aaron: The work I do every day is with humans. So it's the inner work. So what we're talking through is some of the framing or the buzzwords or terms just haven't a soft edge to them in a corporate space.
Sunni Brown: Like what are some words that they would use?
Aaron: So we use hero's journey for sure, until the patient journey, is that an inner journey to lead others, you have to learn to lead self first. Um, in order to move forward, you often have to let go of the thing that's not serving you and you don't stop serving you until you're at a place of an upset or you're over efforting. It's not a lack of energy. You're expending. Is that the return on that investment? Isn't what you, no, it's possible, right?
Sunni Brown: You're not in flow. Yeah. You're not in a flow. So when you find yourself out in flow and you're in an active state, what might be possible if you were in, you held some different beliefs and what are some of the beliefs that are limiting beliefs? So you said like ancient.
Sunni Brown: Yeah. But it's good that it's become part of the culture kind of like doodling.
Aaron: There may be long held beliefs about why something can't work here. Yeah. The corporate space
Sunni Brown: I'm sure.
Aaron: And this, I think is also one that's making massive leaps and bounds forward as leaders and executives find themselves just like in this code environment of like totally can't solve. This is not solvable, but just by thinking alone, or literally you have to learn to lead a new way. By employing all of our faculties and resources, mind, body, spirit, intellect, then we have a much better chance of being able to step into a future that we've not yet experienced. And don't recognize that's super rad. Like that's amazing the upside of it. Isn't just for Naval gazing. You can get more shit done in the right way.
Sunni Brown: Yeah. That's the thing is there's so much energy release when you unburdened from some shitty beliefs, like that's, what's so crazy. And that's actually part of why it's worth it because there is a reward for going through the fire like it. And some of that has to do with alignment, with your, you know, your actual, what you're sort of here to do. And then other parts of it is just, you're not battling with yourself. So you have energy and vitality and stuff like that, but you don't know that until you try it and then you get a little bit of reward and then you can step in further.
Do you know the expression, constitutionally incapable it's about people that are kind of a fixed mindset and un-receptivity to new information. And to me, the consequences of that mindset are so serious. And so, um, significant that I've always been fascinated by people that I don't know that many people that have that mindset. Cause of course I'm an improv facilitator and a game facilitator. So I wouldn't attract those people, but, but I did come from that environment. And so it was always like, Holy shit, there are so many people
Aaron: I see. But your tribe that you roll in and the people that come to you are not like that.
Sunni Brown: No, that at all, we're super adaptive and really agile. And we pivot super fast and like we like challenges and learning is paramount. And, um, so I don't know if that was, uh, derived from situations where there was a rigidity and like a cognitive rigidity, but it is absolutely staggering to me when people are not interested in learning and absorbing information.
I find that absolutely staggering because the consequences are enormous and they're not good.
Aaron: Yeah. So tell me about if that was your upbringing, that was the narrative that you lived in, in the beginning. What was that about?
Sunni Brown: I think a lot of it was like hyper religiosity, you know, like, I mean, you can be a religious person and have a contemplative practice and be very flexible and open that. They're not like, um, they're not mutually exclusive, but that was not the environment I was in. It was like very binary. Everything was very black and white. It's like either this or that, but then the, but that's just one layer. And then if you add the other layer, which is like legacy mental illness and, um, I don't know if you read this book Educated, it’sa memoir. I had it for like six months, but I didn't want to read it because I knew it would be too close to home and I wasn't really ready to read it, but I have started reading it and it's very, there's some serious similarities.
She grows, she grows up on a mountain in Idaho with, uh, with Mormon survivalists. And they're so hardcore about their belief systems and the, and so when you find those belief systems that are non adaptive and then you are confronted with life as it is like other things that sort of confront those ideas, it's very disruptive for the person involved in that struggle. And so, so some of it has to do with just my inquisitive mind and me trying to carry ideas that were just incoherent. You know, it was like, you can't form a coherent narrative because it's like magical thinking and I'm like, I'm kind of a scientist. So I can't do magical thinking. So there was like, it wasn't a complete, I think on almost every level, it was a disaster for me to come from this environment. It's just not, I mean, it's not how I would design an environment at all.
Aaron: What you just said is I can't do magical thinking cause I'm a scientist. So tell me more about it. Are you saying that about yourself?
Sunni Brown: I mean, I'm an armchair scientist. Like I love research and it's so fascinating because as a facilitator, you might enjoy this. There's a, there's a model of, um, of the world called spiral dynamics. So, you know, like in the early stages of sort of human development, there is superstition and there is, there's a lot of a mythical and magical thinking and like volcano, like if you a piece of volcano by throwing a Virgin, you'll save the village like that kind of thinking. So those we, humans are inherently capable of that kind of thinking. And we, and we enjoy it and we needed to survive. You know, like when things feel out of control, you want to just say like, Oh, I'll just pray to Odin. And some of that will help.
So it's not, there's nothing problematic inherently about just having a lucky charm or whatever. But when it crosses over into an ideology that's like pure dogma and flies in the face of just logic or thing are the evidence is in. And it's very clear that you can't use a magnet to diagnose a heart condition. And so when, so no, I'm not a magical thinker that said, I was thinking last night about how all of us have things that we perceive to be effective that are in fact, there's no data for them and that's fine. That's totally fine. That said when confronted with scientific evidence, it just is useful to just not believe in that anymore, unless you find a personal direct experience that is for you is just legit and you need it to carry on. So I'm just more, I'm very cautious about not believing in like fairies and enlist that has been deeply, totally true for me. And I don't need verification from other, you know,
Aaron: But in the beginning, your origin was the antithesis of that. Totally. No scientific proof of any kind necessary.
Sunni Brown: Everything was a miracle. Like everything was a mystery. Everything had, I mean, I was actually because I'm in process of writing the memoir, so I have been remembering a lot of things.
So I started remembering things that my mom used to say that like, she, she used to say that there were, you know, like if technology broke down, it was because it was like demonic. Yeah. And so, um, I've started remembering that stuff like Holy shit. Cause I think in her life, the world was that way, like it was angelic and demonic and there wasn't any, you couldn't find an answer that was concrete. And so, yeah. So I remember when I was in church, cause I grew up in church and I remember when I was 15, 16, 17, I was like, I just can't, I can't say these things and feel true to myself, you know? So that was just the beginning of a very long journey of unraveling, all kinds of crazy shit.
Aaron: As you're doing that. I'm just curious, Sunni for you. As you sit down to write a memoir, I imagine that the more you pull those strings, how do you regulate that then? How do you decide now maybe this is unrevealing more about how I try and manage my pain.
Sunni Brown: Yeah. You might need to write a memoir dude. Yeah.
Aaron: I go in right now and I need to then come back. How do you manage the re-entry
Sunni Brown: Right. No, that's a great question. It's really important because I think people do need to take care of themselves when entering into those spaces of intense emotional content. And luckily that's what my Zen practice does is it's like super stabilizing. And when you sit, the central practice of Zen is what's called Zaza, which is just seated objectless meditation. So you just watch your mind go. Like you're just, there's not, it's not some effortful experience. You just sit still and watch the storms go and you feel the feelings of the storms, but you're because you're stable and stabilize. They don't, you don't drown in them. So you're very present to them and you feel them very keenly. And there's Al I mean, I've cried in meditation for hundreds of hours, 100%. And because I'm doing it in a container, so it's a contained environment, meaning like I'm not drinking and I'm not, you know, punching walls and like, you know, I'm sitting and being with, and it's like a slow, it's a slow process.
I mean, I've been a meditator for a very long time. So, but in the early stages of my kind of recovery that was central to being okay with very intense emotional content. Cause like, and also the, like in terms of people just sort of sorting through emotional information, there's like compartmentalizing and denying, which is PR is pretty know, not uncommon for, I did that too. And then there's like hysteria and like overwhelming dysregulation, just like blah. And that was the environment that I was in. It was like a drama after drama, after drama, after drama was constant. So for me, it was a learning process of feeling my feelings, knowing that they were intense and volatile and not ignoring them, but just staying with in the middle of that. And then over time you get confidence about that. So I don't have to disallow my feelings because I know that I'm available for them to be stabilized.
But that said working on the memoir is that's bringing it's more tumultuous than even in the past. And I've had some pretty tumultuous emotional experiences, but this is a new environment. So I'm like having to re up on, okay, this is how we do this. You do not just go walk into these chapters. Like you're not in the woods and shit, you know, like on a mountain in Colorado, you don't just, this is not like a playground.
Aaron: This is a, as they say, mountains don't care.
Sunni Brown: Right. They say that that's so true.
Aaron: One of my super powers and one of my growth areas has been empathy. Well, maybe it will be very empathetic and imagine what it might be like to be in your shoes. And what I've learned to regulate is to not do that with a loss of self. What I learned in my, uh, the old way of living was that my compassion, fatigue.
And, and learning to do, um, to live and be empathetic, but also be able to put a period at the end of that and move forward. Yeah.
Sunni Brown: There's two terms that you'll like, one is emotional gating, G-A-T- I- N-G, which is what you're describing, essentially like having the access to open and close the gate when you're absorbing other people's emotional energy. Um, and the other one is compassion versus empathy. So neurologically the recent studies around compassion is that it's not fatiguing neurologically or physiologically. Empathy is fatiguing. And those are, those are distinct that they're actually neuro different neural networks in the brain. And it's really helpful because the other thing that's beautiful about Zen is that the, or Buddhism in general, the heart of it is compassion. That's actually the practice. And, and so, um, th unbeknownst to me, I was also training in building the muscle of holding space and compassion for myself and for others really important for the self too. And I was disengaging from overemphasizing
Aaron: Using that language. I have learned how to offer without getting lost in it, but also finding that, uh, yeah, in that there's a lot of strength you how to offer compassion and not lead to my fatigue.
Sunni Brown: Exactly. And it's really good that you're, I mean, I'm so impressed with you. Thanks. Yeah. I mean, it's clear that you're, um, have like been through many hoops of development. Do you process some of your work, like your just internal work by writing or had, or, or like physical exercise? Like what do you do?
Aaron: Oh, yeah, that's a good question. I've just found my adventurous soul finds expression in wild places. And so I try to do that in small micro minutes in my corporate life. I used to have a, uh, I still have it, but when I was working in an office building, I started going down for coffee breaks down to my truck and decided I would become a smoker, was what I told him, my friends. He tells your friends, yeah. I'm going to become a smoker because they get all these breaks and free time. So I went down to my truck and fire up a little stove to make a brew and would make coffee on my tailgate. And, you know, it was like stuff like that. Like how can I learn to live adventurously in the life that I already have versus, you know, having those big experiences, you know, once or twice a year, learning to fuse my daily life with the essence of the kinds of experiences.
Sunni Brown: That's so smart.
Aaron: Yeah. It was great.
Sunni Brown: So it's like micro moments, micro ventures and micro moments.
How long would you say your process has been just your journey of integrating work life and play more?
Aaron: Yeah. So 2011, when our daughter passed away was, I want to say it was in around that same time that I come up with. I think what I'm going to call this podcast and blog thing is Work Life Play, no periods, no commas, nothing separating, because that's what I'm, that's my life. Good. Yeah. How do I, I don't know how the hell would do this.
Sunni Brown: I love that.
Aaron: I've just learned now, like I'm in the middle right now with, uh, some design work with a design team and we're redoing a lot of my messaging around my brand and where we've zeroed in is that work life balance is a myth.
It's unobtainable because ultimately work life balance is this idea of a Teeter totter. You're supposedly like getting it perfect. I never get it perfectly balanced. It's just crap. So I used to actually think that was attainable [inaudible] and that was where I would experience a lot of frustration over that stove of mine. That's that basement of my house for like six years. It didn't get much use.
By learning to say, what if it's about learning sustainable practices and data micro-moments. And then I'm integrating in who I am, friends, family work, a creative work play. What if I figured out how to weave that in, on an ongoing, so good. I think it's just been, as you said, a practice, it's been a unraveling of an old way that served me really well for a really long time.
Sunni Brown: But it's good to give it credit. Cause I think people often will be hard on themselves for not having done that already, but there's reasons why we have these systems in place and they're to be respected for the serving time that they did.
Aaron: And if it wasn't for all of my over efforting and striving, then I wouldn't have some of the luxuries and choices that I have.
Sunni Brown: Right. That's true. That makes complete sense.
Aaron: Super grateful for all that I did. It was time for not even a new chapter, but a new book.
Sunni Brown: In the Zen tradition. There's a lot of really beautiful stories that are profound and useful. And one of them is about this gentleman. Who's on a horse and there's a war breaking out and he wants to be a soldier. He wants nothing more than to be a soldier and defend his village. And he, but he, he has a horse wreck and breaks his leg. And um, long story short, a series of things occur that make it less and less possible for him to become a soldier and, um, which is what he wants happen. Right. So then when it doesn't happen, he turns out to be like meeting his destiny in a very different way that, um, turns out to be more satisfying, more fulfilling, more interesting, and more appropriate to who he is.
But the whole time he can see that because you don't know that until the end, you know? So at some point you start trusting the process and it's hard to do. It's super hard to do. And like, even when you, cause the creative process is kind of like that. And the further I go to the creative process, the more I respect it as like an ocean and I'm like, Oh yeah, I have my little boat out here. And I'm like, Oh yeah, I got my paddles. I know what I'm doing. No idea, no idea what, once you.
I'll leave you with one more term, which I love, it's called an ego death. And yeah, it's really a beautiful thing. And it is a, it's a very, uh, destructive and crazy thing for a lot of people, but it is a process of softening your comes to your identity and your construction of your identity so that you can just be openhearted and available for life.
And I can tell very quickly if anyone has had an ego at death or not by virtue of, are they still posturing? And if so, how much? And it's not an insult. It's like, man, I, I would, I was that lady to, to hashtag exactly. So, but it's, but once you have that lens, you, you kinda know. Yeah. So they haven't got their ass handed to them yet or they have, and they shut down further, which is also an option. But if it happens to you enough, you just start going, Oh man, how are you? What is, how can I help? You know?
Aaron: Yeah. I love that. You use get your ass handed to you. That's one of my favorite phrases
Sunni Brwon: Everybody knows that. Oh man, because it's like, that's the only reason I became a semi decent person is I got my ass handed to me like four times, you know, like four big times.
Aaron: So David Brooks is a New York times column and he wrote the road to character.
Sunni Brown: Yes he did.
Aaron: And what he wrote is the CQL is the second mountain says in the intro, which is fast. Yes. He says, the reason I'm writing this book is cause I wide discovered in writing the road to character, is that, that actually wasn't the right answer. And then he went on to say, and I'm writing this book to make sense of my life, that I have not lived successfully the framing of his book. And I think I found this helpful is that most of us spend time ascending the first mountain. And for some reason, whether it's because it didn't work when we got there, the summit was lonelier than we thought we got blown off the mountain, whatever the reasons may be, find ourselves in a Valley. Some people then choose, um, to go back and try and climb the first mountain again. And they can try. And then others sometimes choose a second mountain of more significance. Basically, that's the conversation we've been having the arc.
Sunni Brown: I love that. It's so encouraging because I feel like I'm at the gate of the second mountain and, or like maybe I'm on base camp. I don't know. But, but there are many parts of me that want to turn back for sure.
Aaron: You'll really love it. And he, and I would suggest that his writing in this one is so much more accessible out of all human level and versus a third person looking in, you know, we're introspective and like a whole chapter on love and marriage. And he mentioned in the beginning, Oh, by the way, at mine failed.
Sunni Brown: Yeah. It's hard. Yeah.
Aaron: But it's really great. Like super helpful. So I've been using that one quite a bit. Yeah.
Sunni Brown: I'm on it. Cause I love him. I've always loved his work and now it's like, Oh, now we get to love him as a human person. Thanks for having me. I really, really appreciate it. It's super nice to meet you.
*We’ve done our best for this transcription to accurately reflect the conversation. Errors are possible. Thank you for your patience and grace if you find errors that our team missed.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.