Transcript of Erasing Limits to Find Your Purpose
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John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth-focused e-commerce brands drive more sales was super targeted, highly relevant email, Facebook, and Instagram marketing.
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Laura Gassner Otting. She’s the founder and chief catalyzing officer at Limitless Possibility. She’s also the author of a book we’re gonna talk about today titled Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life. Sounds wonderful. Thanks for joining us, Laura.
Laura Gassner Otting: Hey, thanks for inviting me.
John Jantsch: One of the things that I wanna challenge you on to right off the bat because you’ve got some great, practical advice about this idea of how to live your best life. But there’s a whole lot of people out there that have a lot of interesting advice. Let’s cut through that. In some of the things that you sent me here this show, we all have a similar goal. We want success to feel meaningful. We want our work to matter. I guess my question would be, is that true? I mean, maybe ultimately, we come to that. Is that everyone’s goal?
Laura Gassner Otting: I believe it is everyone’s goal. I believe that the reason that we don’t think it’s everyone’s goal is because we’re defining meaningful and matter as being this higher-purpose, lofty goal. As this idea that purpose can only be purpose, if it’s service, if it’s feeding the lepers in India, if it’s sacrificing the shirts off for a back. The truth is, none of us wanna feel like we’re invisible. None of us wanna feel like nothing we do matters. We want to feel we matter to somebody, to something. For all of us, there was someone, something, a person you love, a cause that you care about that means something to you. It’s our human nature that we want to mean something to it as well.
John Jantsch: What about all the people? I’m not done with you yet on this.
Laura Gassner Otting: Oh, I can go all day, man.
John Jantsch: What about all the people out there that their goal is to make money?
Laura Gassner Otting: Yeah, I love those people. I think those people are great. We call those people, in the nonprofit sector, we call them philanthropists. We think they’re terrific. I spent 20 years doing executive search for nonprofit organizations. Here’s why I think I’m the right person to talk about this topic of purpose, because I am actually encouraging people in the book to follow whatever purpose means something to them. For some people, it may be curing cancer. It may be feeding the poor. It may be educating children and creating equal rights and equal access for all. But for others, it may be buying a Maserati and a beach house. I mean, that’s cool too. The only person who gets to decide what your purpose is, is you.
Laura Gassner Otting: Listen, I looked up the definition of purpose in the dictionary, the actual dictionary. Purpose is the reason for which something is done. There’s no picture of Mother Teresa. There’s no judgmental friend wagging her finger at you. It is the reason for which something is done. If the reason for which you do the work you do is to build the bottom line, is to solve a major problem, is to create a business, is to get yourself out of debt, is to send your children to college for the first in the generation, is to buy that beach house and that Maserati, that’s your purpose. That’s it. There’s nobody deciding whether your purpose matters except for you.
Laura Gassner Otting: The reason behind this book is to help people to no longer feel shackled by the expectations of the burdens of other people deciding what success should mean. Because it turns out that when we do all the right things, we go to the right schools, and we get the right internships, and we start the right businesses and we get there, we fight our way to the corner office, we lean into every single opportunity that comes our way. We try to be all things to all people at all times, we might achieve success. We might get to the top. But my question is the top of what? Because you can’t be insatiably hungry for someone else’s goal. If purpose, writ large, and lofty is someone else’s goal, then it’s not gonna feel meaningful to you. If what you wanna do, if you’re one of all those people who wanna make lots of money, awesome. Go do it. That’s your purpose. What I’m saying in the book is, that’s cool, too.
John Jantsch: Well, you walked right into my next comment. I’ve been an entrepreneur. Really, that’s all I’ve done my entire career. I can’t imagine working for somebody else, because I feel like, at least the last two decades, I’ve worked very much on purpose. It was my purpose. How do you find something that’s fulfilling in working for someone else’s goals?
Laura Gassner Otting: Well, it really all depends. I mean I’m an entrepreneur too, right? Our mutual friend Scott Stratten likes to say that entrepreneur’s Latin for bad employee. When I sold my last business to the team that helped me build it, I got a lot of offers to go work for other people. One guy wanted me to help expand his business globally and be the head of human resources to recruit his team all over the world. I said in the interim, “Well, as your temporary Chief Human Resources officer, the first thing I’m gonna tell you is to fire me because I’m a terrible employee.” I think that some people derive a lot of energy out of working for other people. Some people derive a lot of energy out of working for themselves. You and I are entrepreneurs. I’ve always wanted to work for myself. I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur.
Laura Gassner Otting: I’ve had people who work for me in the past who liked being around in entrepreneurial endeavor, but who themselves are not actually entrepreneurs. Then there are other people who really like the safety of working within something else. You and I define the contribution what work is going to do for us as this entrepreneurial edge that we have. Other people may define that contribution, that piece of what gives them purpose in their work as having the safety and security of somebody else having that headache. Somebody else having that stress.
John Jantsch: I think, just to bring a fine point to what you’ve been saying, I mean, we get to decide what purpose is, right? I think that’s probably the element that trips people up absolutely the most. I mean, we think that the people that are espousing purpose on Facebook are the people that we should be following you. I think that’s where we get tripped up.
Laura Gassner Otting: Well, I think we do that all the time, and we do it well. What should I look for? I keep hearing about it should be balance and happiness, and purpose and my personal favorite, follow your passion, right? As following your passion is the goal. We all wanna work within our passion. I think that’s terrific, but you have to expect that your passion is gonna beat you up, right? It’s gonna gut you. It might even get your bank account on the way to your success at your passion. As entrepreneurs, we know that if we’re doing something about which we are passionate and we fail. We get back up and we fail. We get back up and we fail, we get back up. That’s how we develop the grit and the tenacity to become better at the thing about which we actually have passion.
Laura Gassner Otting: I think this knee-jerk reaction to turn to Facebook and Instagram, to decide that’s gonna have all the answers, again, it’s the same problem. We spend a lot of our life, as young people, hearing about all these definitions of success. Maybe it’s the teacher who told you at an early age that, in my case, “You’re pretty argumentative, you’d be a good lawyer.” So we decided we should go to law school. We spend the next 15 years creating an educational path to get us there. Or maybe it’s a parent who tells you that you’ll be happy when you’re married, you’ve got kids and security. You’re, “Okay. Well, that makes sense.” Or maybe it’s a boss who tells you about the bottom line of the company and says, “Well, that’s what success means.” You go, “Oh, okay.” Or maybe it’s when we’re like 17, 18, 19 years old.
Laura Gassner Otting: We don’t have a full frontal lobe, but somebody says pick a college. Pick a major, pick path. We make this decision and based the rest of her life on that singular idea of that major that path to college when we didn’t have the full frontal lobe, the part of our brain that decides rational thinking that actually helps us create good decisions. We create this path. Is it any wonder that we turn to Facebook and Instagram, and listen to everybody else? Because we never had a chance to listen to ourselves. What I really want people to do in this book is say, “Well, wait a minute. If success as written for everyone else, is defined by everyone else isn’t going to make me happy, what does success mean for me? What would make me happy?” I want people to lean into that instead.
John Jantsch: I think one of the real challenges is everybody’s saying find your purpose, find your purpose. Well, I don’t think you decide what your purpose is. I think it finds you, but only because you’re out there looking for it.
Laura Gassner Otting: I also think not everyone’s gonna have a purpose, and that’s totally cool too. In the book, I talk about this idea of consonance, where everything you’re doing is in alignment, in flow, where the best person that you are, is being put towards the things that you care about the most in the world. For some people, it’s calling, right? It’s this idea of building your business or solving this problem or raising your family, whatever that calling might be. For others, it might be feeling you’re connected. The work you’re doing actually matters every day. For some people, it might be contribution. Who cares if I’ve got a calling and who cares if I’ve got contribution? I wanna make a ton of money, or I want this work to help me manifest my values into the world, or I just want this job to give me a lot of flexibility so I could go after work and pursue that hobby about which I’m passionate.
Laura Gassner Otting: For some people, it’s control. They just wanna know that they have some agency over the projects to which they’re assigned or the amount of hustle that will bring them the amount of money that they want, or something that they said they know that the work, that they’re doing that the effort they put in, is actually going to see results. For each of us, these four Cs of consonance; of calling connection, contribution, and control will mean different things to us. Even within that, at different ages and different life stages, they’ll mean different things as well. Some people may say, “I don’t really have a purpose,” and that’s okay. They may say, “I don’t really have a purpose, but what I really want to do right now is make a lot of money because that will give me the flexibility to do this other thing that I wanna do in five years,” or whatever the case may be. I think part of the problem is that we get so wrapped up in this fallacy that purpose is everything. When in fact, for some people, it’s really not anything.
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John Jantsch: I think there are a lot of people that go out there and decide, “I wanna make a lot of money or I need to make money. I need to pay my bills so I need to figure out how to do that.” I think that they then … I guess what I’m getting is I mean, it took me probably 10 years to find my calling. I knew I wanted to do something. I didn’t feel like I had the confidence that I could go out and get a great job. What I do, I start my own business back before people did such things. It took me at least 10 years to even have a sense that I was supposed to have a calling, I think sometimes. I think a lot of times people get caught up in the fact that there’s some linear path to this. I think it’s more about putting yourself out there and bumping into a lot of stuff.
Laura Gassner Otting: Yeah, I’d say a lot that failure is not finale. Failure is fulcrum. It’s funny. I was actually speaking a couple weeks ago at Renaissance Weekend. In the audience was an astronaut, who would actually done not one, not two, but three spacewalks, the show off. I’m giving this whole talk about how we spend a lot of time as adults living in the centers of excellence. We get hired. We get paid. We get promoted. We get praised for doing the thing that we do best. Nobody else in the company can do as well as us. We don’t get paid to take chances and take risks. We get paid to deliver on the thing we do the best. Whereas, our children spend all this time living on the edge of their incompetence. They spend all this time trying new things and learning new things. Every year at school, you figured out pre-algebra. It’s time for algebra. You got algebra, it’s time for geometry.
Laura Gassner Otting: Geometry, it’s time trigonometry on and on. Our children have these unbelievably elastic brains because they’re always trying new things. They fail every day. That’s how they grow. They’re living right on the bleeding edge of their incompetence. I was giving this talk and I was like, “Failure is not finale.” Then I looked at Commander Tim Kopra. I was like, “Except for you, sir. For you, failure would most definitely been finale.” But for the other 299 of us in the room, failure should be seen as fulcrum. Failure’s the thing from which we learn and we grow. I think this idea that we have to find this one thing. Then we have to stay in that one thing. “We figured it out, let’s stay there.” I think that’s another reason why people feel limited. They feel trapped, because they are now the person who would … they are now the marketer or they are now the tech guy.
Laura Gassner Otting: Or they are now the whatever it is that they are. I would love to be in a place where we are constantly learning and redefining what purpose means to us, what our calling is, and how we wanna be connected to the work, and all of those things. I love that it took you 10 years to figure that out. If you had figured it out, if you had decided what it was early, you probably would never have gotten it as good at what you do that you do now, because you wouldn’t have gone out all those different routes.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I think that’s a really great point because everyone wants to be an entrepreneur now. I think you even make a point in the book that maybe about 40-ish is when you should start a business. That may be [crosstalk 00:14:25].
Laura Gassner Otting: Isn’t that amazing?
John Jantsch: Maybe that has a lot to do with the fact that you have to have that level of life experience maybe for this to make sense even.
Laura Gassner Otting: I thought that was the most amazing statistic when I came upon it. That middle age, that’s when the entrepreneurs in the middle of their life are the most successful. Some of it is because they can sell finance, but really it’s because they’ve already figured out what they do best. They figured out who they are. Harvard Business Review talks about this idea of the fundamental state of leadership, who you are when you’re at your very, very best. Once you get to that point, I call them the FU 40s. Once you get into the 40s, you’re like, “Whatever, this is who I am, right? I’m mostly baked at this point. I’ve got lots of things I can learn, but I have a pretty good sense of who I am. My smarts have begun to turn a little bit into wisdom. I’ve figured it out a bit. I’m not gonna waste time for all the things for which I’m not that important. I’m gonna double down in the areas where I am. I’m really going to see growth and change there.”
John Jantsch: Well, I’ll tell you, just from personal experience, that is the point at which I went from not only understanding work that was meaningful to me, but was the point where I also decided that I needed and wanted to make an impact on others. I think that there may be something in that.
Laura Gassner Otting: Yes. It is the moment when you’re like, “Hmm, there are things that I do really well and there are things that the world needs. I could combine those two. I could actually be limitless.” This is the idea.
John Jantsch: You talk both good and bad about goals. What’s wrong with goals and goal setting or maybe at least the way we think about it today?
Laura Gassner Otting: Well I think we spend a lot of time being asked to set goals before we’ve really figured out what the world looks like. That goes for everyone. That goes for the 15, 16, 17-year-old picking out that college and that major, but i think it also goes for people who are starting a business. I gave a talk at an entrepreneurship class a couple years ago. A young woman in the back of the room said, “What were you gonna do if you failed?” Talking about starting my last business. I said, “Well, you’re sitting here in an entrepreneur class so you’re an entrepreneur, right?” She says, “Well, yeah. I mean I wanna be.” I’m like, “Good. What are you gonna do if your business plan fails?” She said, “Well, I mean I’ll just go get a job in a cubicle and write my next business plan and work at that boring job until I figure out what to do next.” I was like, “Great, so you got a Plan B. What are you gonna do if you succeed?”
Laura Gassner Otting: She just looked at me. Nobody had ever asked her that question before. I said, “I would encourage you to spend more time thinking about that. You’ve already figured out Plan B, you really haven’t spent enough time thinking about plan A.” I think what happens is we stay at the bottom of the mountain and we go, “I wanna go to the top of that mountain.” That seems good. I’m gonna go the top of the mountain. Awesome. I’m on the top. But then when we get to the top of the mountain, and if you’ve ever climbed a mountain that when you get to the top of the mountain, what do you see? Lots more mountains that are much taller.
Laura Gassner Otting: If you set your goal from only what you can see in the moment that you set your goal, my guess is that your goals aren’t gonna be big enough. They’re not gonna be giant. They’re gonna feel really scary, and you’re gonna make a plan but you’re gonna make a plan and exert your resources, your energy, your money, your interest, your time, whatever it is only getting part way. I really encourage people to really set directions more than finite goals.
John Jantsch: You have numerous stories in this book from folks that you interviewed. We have a couple of mutual friends, Tom Webster and Alison Levine, both show up in the book. You wanna pick one of their stories and share the lesson in it?
Laura Gassner Otting: Yeah. Well, I mean I could even do both because they’re pretty quick. I could tell you their interesting story. The interesting part about Tom Webster story is that he thought that he was unhappy with work. Then he realized really what he wasn’t happy with was marriage. Sometimes it’s easy to say, “Well, what’s wrong is the job.” He was really focused on the wrong thing. His story is in there really to help people understand that sometimes, it’s easier to change jobs and change marriages. Sometimes you got to look at the whole picture. That’s really why he’s in there. I’ve had a lot of people who have read early copies write to me and go, “Oh my god, I’m so relieved because I was feeling like it was only me.” That’s his story.
Laura Gassner Otting: But Alison Levine story I think is a wonderful one because Alison, speaking of climbing mountains, Alison Levine was the captain of the First All Women’s American Expedition up Mount Everest. Alison got almost all the way to the very top of Mount Everest, a couple hundred feet away from the top of this tens of thousands of feet high mountain, when bad weather rolled in. She had to make a decision in that moment, “What do I do? Do I go all the way to the top and risk my life and the life of my entire team? Or do I turn around and not make it all the way and go back down.” She tells the story both in her own book On The Edge, which is fantastic. I would encourage our listeners to pick it up and also in her speeches about how she would sit at dinner parties after. These obnoxious guys would always say, “Oh, so you didn’t really climb Mount Everest. You climbed almost Mount Everest.” She was like, “Okay, yeah.”
Laura Gassner Otting: Years later, she actually found herself back on Mount Everest not intending to be there, but a good friend of hers passed away very young and she became part of the climb to honor this woman’s memory. She got to the top and she got to the top long enough to hold up an iced ax with T Meg written on her friend Meg, who passed away. Then she turned around and she left them. When she told me this. I was like, “Wait, you just you got to the top. You pulled up the iced ax. You actually took a picture. Then you turned around. Don’t you celebrate up there for hours? You got to the top of Everest.” She was like, “Are you crazy? To do that with just deplete your energy and your oxygen to go back down.” I was like, “Yeah, but …” She said, “Laura,” she goes, “success isn’t getting to the top. Success is getting back down to the bottom alive.”
Laura Gassner Otting: When she told me that story, I thought it’s the story that I used to close the book. I thought it was such an incredible story because these obnoxious guys at these dinner parties’ like, “Oh, well, you didn’t really succeed. You didn’t really get to the top.” Well, it turns out that’s not the definition of success. For each one of us, our definition of success is going to be totally different. If she had taken that definition of success as whether or not that first expedition was meaningful, then she’d be in despair. She’d be so unhappy about it. But because she didn’t have to because she understood that success was really getting back down to the bottom alive, she felt really great about both experiences. I tell the story because I want people to know that sometimes it’s getting to the top. Sometimes, it might not be. Sometimes it’s turning around. For each of us, the idea of success is going to be different and we have to really understand what it means to us.
John Jantsch: Yeah. I actually read somewhere that 60% of fatalities on Everest happened on the descent.
Laura Gassner Otting: Yes. I think for entrepreneurs, it’s not launching the business, right? For you and I as authors, it’s not launching the book. It’s building the platform and everything that comes after, right? You have to get through that. You have to get through the hurdle. Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to make my printer work so I can print out a label to send out early copies of this book. It’s vexing me to no end. But, for me, it’s not about the launch date of the book. It’s about the years after the book and the platform and what comes from that, and helping change people’s lives with the message of the book.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I tell entrepreneurs all the time, that there are plenty of people that are telling you how to get to the top of the mountain and not enough people telling you how to get back down. I think that’s something that is equally as important. Because whatever the mountain top looks like to you, your life is actually gonna be a lot better down in the valley.
Laura Gassner Otting: Absolutely.
John Jantsch: That’s a topic for another podcast maybe.
Laura Gassner Otting: If you spend your entire time going, “Well, I’m not really good enough because other people are finding it this way,” then you just spent all this time chasing someone else’s goals. That’s why we feel we’re on this hamster wheel.
John Jantsch: So you have an assessment that we can make. You want to tell us about it? We’ll actually have a link in the show notes so people can come find it.
Laura Gassner Otting: When I was starting to talk about this people are like, “Oh, that sounds amazing. I don’t know where to start.” I was like, “Well right, well, let me tell you.” At limitlessassessment.com, and I’ll say that again, limitlessassessment.com, your listeners can take a quiz. It’s got about 60 questions or so on. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes. It walks people through each of the four Cs of consonance; of calling connection, contribution, and control. At the end of this little quiz, you get this beautiful little radar chart. There’s one radar circle that tells you the amount of calling connection, contribution, and control you have in your life, and how much of each in your life. You can see them overlap. If you’re perfectly in consonance, they will be perfectly in consonance and overlap also.
Laura Gassner Otting: For the most part, people will see that one arm of it might be further out than another. That’ll show where they’re or not and what they might wanna work on. The results of the quiz will give you both what might be holding you back and also some specific tips on things you might wanna do to get more of calling connection, contribution, or control into your life.
John Jantsch: Great. Well, I will go take it. If it looks pretty, I’ll post it on the blog post.
Laura Gassner Otting: Well, yours probably will be because you’re an entrepreneur. I found that most entrepreneurs have already made specific moves in their life to put themselves in consonance. If yours is pretty, I’m gonna say great. If it’s not, we’re gonna to have a conversation.
John Jantsch: I love the word consonance. I do a fair amount of music training. I’m gonna give you the definition of consonance from a musician. Combination of notes, which are in harmony with each other due to the relationship between their frequencies.
Laura Gassner Otting: I love that.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Thanks for joining us, Laura. I guess one last thing. It’s probably the same place, but is there a place you wanna send anybody to find out more about you and your work as well?
Laura Gassner Otting: On all the socials, I’m @heylgo like, hey there, heylgo, and heylgo.com will get you to my website. The book is Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life. It’s available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and anywhere fine books are sold.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Thanks for joining us, Laura. Hopefully we’ll see you soon out there on the road.
Laura Gassner Otting: Excellent. Thank you so much.