This is an excerpt from my conversation with Jacob Nordby from the None of my Business podcast, Season 3 Episode 1.
Matt: You mentioned in your book “Blessed are the Weird”… I don’t know if this is the word you used but I’ll use it: you said ”we’re living today in the most fertile time in history. Especially here in America” and I think you referenced Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In the bottom of that is to make sure we have food and shelters 33:00 and then it works all the way to the top and I think the top of that is self-actualization, right? And you’ve mentioned that you think that we’re kind of bumping our heads up on the ceiling right now. So, the question that I have is that if we reached this point where we’re really maxing out our potential, and technology plays a big role in this and you’ve mentioned this before, saying that we don’t have to work for our food, our plumbing…33:28 As a society we’re at our highest point right now. So why do things feel so hard, still? Why do we seem like we’re working harder? I’ve asked this question for over a decade. Ever since email came out, we thought email was the greatest thing in the world and that we can communicate with people in almost real time. Now we can communicate with clients really quickly, I can send a note to my mom if I need to. I can do whatever I want with anybody and it will just be right there and I can sit and wait for a response.34:03 Now we can do it even faster. I can get a friend on the phone and look at their face when I’m talking to them. So we have all this amazing stuff at our disposal, but every day we go home like we got our ass kicked. So, what is that? why can’t we figure out a way to kind of, just harmonize all this stuff so we can come to work and play music and have a good time and sell insurance and take calls… What are we missing here?34:44
JACOB: By the way, you just described the Jeffersonian vision of utopia. Really! Thomas Jefferson sketched out what he thought would be the ultimately beautiful society where people had time for productive work and lots of time for creative work and rejuvenation play. 35:02 So you just described what Jefferson wanted to talk about 260 years ago or whatever. I feel like the one key word to everything that we’re dealing with right now, and we’re bumping our heads on the floorboard of self-actualization, so we’re at the top of the pyramid, except for the last little piece. This is my feeling about it. So we keep bumping our heads on the floorboards… the answer to every one of the lower orders of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is more: 35:33 more security, food, bigger houses, stronger houses… More to everything up to that point. And so we’ve been in a headlong search for more: faster bigger stronger more. In some way, some more can be flipped into various or worse, but basically, it means the same thing. We’ve been on that hunt until now, and we’ve been largely creating out of the primal fight or36:01 flight of the older part of the brain. We’re actually in a time where we need to evolve. By the way, this isn’t some mythical or new age concept, it’s really just taking advantage of the process of evolution, development, whatever we want to call it. We have those big prefrontal cortexes that allow us self-awareness and all sorts of things. But have largely not harnessed the potential of that 36:27 because we are still creating from an older part of the brain which is fight or flight and binary. It thinks that there are two options. Gotta fight, gotta run. And, somewhere between there is, if we can make bigger stronger walls, then nature and other people can’t hurt us. So, we’ve been trying to answer the higher questions of ”who am I? why am I here? what matters to me? what’s my purpose?” with lower order answers. So the questions are higher. We’ve been answering them with ”I need more money, I need a bigger house, faster internet, faster car, sexier wife, whatever it might be”. 37:02 That’s why we go home with our ass kicked. because we have all the tools we need but we keep just trying to add more, rather than just ask what’s next.
MATT: So it’s more of a biological problem
JACOB: Well, it’s the question of whether we can transcend our biology. That’s what I feel…
MATT: well I was looking for a solution, Jacob…
JACOB: Well there is one though. 37:30 There is one. This is where all of this is, Matt. Truly, we’re only asking ourselves so we can cross the bridge. This isn’t some mystical land called self-actualization. All it is is saying that we’ve altogether built this amazing system that keeps us safe from nature and each other. We did it. We’ve done it together…. But, what we have now is this amazing soup that creates this latent anxiety in all of our lives. Because rather than take back the power from the machine that we’ve created, the 38:02 machine itself is actually greater in some ways that we are giving ourselves the power to control. And so we are being chased by the very machine that we have created. Which is why we feel exhausted. Because we’ve created a big badass, very fast machine. And I’m talking about civilization as a whole. The fact is though, we have the power to grow up, and taking responsibility, becoming responsible rather than reactive. 38:31 That is the answer. Taking the power back from the machines we’ve created.
MATT: Yeah. Is there a stepping point to do that? Or is that something we all kind of have to figure out on our own?
JACOB: Well, yeah. And this is why becoming highly tuned in to the individual impulse. 39:02 ”What’s alive in me”. And this is me walking around people simply saying ”what do I do?” And the answer is that I lost my desire to tell other people how to live years ago, and I love it more and more every day. All I can ask. All I want to do now is not to tell but to ask questions. What’s alive in you? what’s important for you? what’s real for you? and the more that I do that for myself. If I’m honest for those questions, I begin to notice where I’m wasting my time, my life, on things that don’t matter.39:33 And I still do it of course. So, to me, the solution is: just begin to notice. Like, bring awareness to my own life. And I can’t change the entire world out there. But what I can do, and what I see you doing Matt, is, I can take care of what’s within my arm’s reach. I can be accountable to my own family, to my own children. Am I doing what’s right with them? Am I trading value for value in my business? Am I creating something that matters to me?40:05 Or am I simply filling the space of my life with other people’s creations? With other people’s expectations and ideas…. The more that I become clear of if that’s what I’m doing and get ruthless and say ” what? At the end of my life when I’m gonna walk out of here, I’m not gonna look back and say that I wished I had made other people happier. Or that I wish other people had a better opinion of me. It’s not gonna matter”40:32
MATT: yeah… Well, you and I were involved in a conversation on a thread, I think it might have been on your blog. The political arena got really hot in the last year. And… Facebook pages and the twitter feed just blew up. It was a freaking mess! It was pretty disgusting and a lot of people were talking about Trump and Hillary and all of that stuff.41:04 Now Trump is in and people screaming from the rooftops and saying this or that needs to change. But those people are not going to do anything or create any change. They’re not gonna get involved in their hometown, meetings and get involved or trying to get involved in politics or anything like that. Maybe they’ll go to a rally or something like that,41:32 and maybe that will be good. The thing that kept coming back to us was that, if we can, like you said, can you just be kind to the people you’re around? can you throw somebody a smile from across the street? Can you look someone in the eye when you shake their hand? Can you as a business person, take care of what they need in a professional manner, with a smile42:00 and a thank you and leave it at that? The thing is, if everybody could just do that around them, I think there would be a shift. And if they don’t go home and start screaming online about how shitty this or that is, and getting involved in these threads where you’re fighting with people that you don’t know. It’s a lot of this ”ah this person wins” it’s becoming a real problem because I think eventually… The way that we act online is totally different than the way we act in the real world.42:30 I just hope that eventually, those two things don’t cross and that if people think it’s okay to act like that online it’s okay to do that face to face. So, my rule for social media is to not say anything that you’re not willing to say to somebody in person. And, if more people did that, it would be a better place online, for sure. But if it went the other way, and people felt comfortable saying things face to face that they’re comfortable saying to complete strangers online, then we have a problem.43:02
JACOB: Yeah, seems like we’ve come pretty close to that sort of flair out happening in person just because of emotions. But what I look at is that, at our core, all of us just wants to go home. Everyone wants to be safe, everyone wants to be loved, everyone wants to be acknowledged… What I see right now is that there is a great sense of purposelessness and despair. And it’s framed by this general sort of sense of anxiety.43:30 So, people go home and they didn’t do anything that really mattered, necessarily. They couldn’t connect it to something that mattered to them. And whether they’re being well paid for it or not kind of doesn’t really matter. They don’t know where…. We’re so far from the survival line. The question of purpose and all that… So it becomes really easy to project that sense of despair and purposelessness and anger into our politics and into our interactions with each other. I feel like the antidote to so much of this stuff is to bring it home 44: 05. To bring my questions, my sense of ”does my life matter? Can I do anything real?” And I love what Ana Aslan said. Something like… Let me find it real quick, it’s something that I love. She’s like this. Here’s my hypothesis about creativity: people who fill the space of their lives with their creations tend to live longer, have more sex,44:33 and actually improve the life on this planet without really being near an agenda. So, not necessarily saying to go and change the world. Alright, so if I fill my life with my own creativity and stuff. So, Ana Aslan says this: ”when you make a world tolerable for yourself, you make a world tolerable for others”. We get so worried about if we can change or fix the world. 45:01 The magic of doing small things really well, the magic of offices. I know how hard you work, Matt, to create systems and environment and higher people, and develop them to do small things well. I know that you go home exhausted at the end of the night sometimes. But that insistence is like Michelangelo and I talk about him in here, with the statue of David chipping away just one mallet, small chips one at a time. Saying ”I can see the shape of what I want in there. It’s worth it”. 45:29 Even though this particular phone call, email or interaction is just one more of a million of these. But if the answer is ”yeah but I’m chipping away at something that matters to me”, then it’s worthy of being obsessed and passionate about it.
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