Susan Cain: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole
Hey everybody, what's up it's Chase. Welcome to another episode of "The Chase Jarvis Live Show" This is the show where I sit down with amazing humans, unpack their brain with the goal of helping you live your dreams and today's guest is the one and only Susan Cain. Susan was the author a number of years ago of a book that spent eight years on the New York Ties Best Seller List called "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" And we have her on the show today to discuss her new work "Bittersweet" brilliant set of themes that we talk about here, understanding and embracing introversion, understanding why we seek beauty as human beings. Why the power of those who seek beauty can unlock and help us transform our lives. We also talk about the toxic and false framework of winners and losers, as well as a three step plan, maybe even call it a recipe for how to pursue the highest versions of ourselves. She is a brilliant thinker and she speaks super plain language. An...
d obviously in a world, like we're discussing quiet and introversion and bittersweet, how sorrow and longing actually help us become incredible people. She is such a great example of how you can take something that pop culture doesn't understand and how we can twist that in a way that helps us realize that we've been wrong all along. She is brilliant, I can't wait for you to enjoy this episode, yours truly, and Susan Cain. (bright music) (audience clapping) They love you. Susan Cain, thank you so much for joining us, welcome we're grateful to have you today.
Thank you so much Chase Jarvis for having me. I know we've been talking about this for such a long time. (Chase chuckles)
And you know, I mean, you'll probably relate as a fellow creative person, like I think you first reached out maybe two years ago or so, and I so wanted to be on your show, but I am like the ultimate creative, single tasker, and I was finishing up "Bittersweet" and I just couldn't do anything else. And like, I still have a visual, I like printed out the invitation and it was sitting right next to where I am right now. (both chuckle) I was like, okay, I'm gonna get to that. And at first I was like, I'll get to that in three months, 'cause I thought that's all it would take me to finish the book, but of course three months became two years. (Chase chuckles)
So well I'm so grateful. One of the reasons that we originally reached out was because your previous book, "Quiet" had such a profound packed on me and my wife specifically, my wife, she just rolled in one day and was like, I feel seen this, you have to read this. And you'd been on the radar for me for a while just because of the work that you put out there in the world. And I was like, oh my gosh, I can't believe you got to that before I did, Kate that's my wife's name.
So we bonded deeply over that and what an amazing, so timely and inspirational and just I would say aperture opening book that you wrote for so many people and speaking of being a creative, single tasker, which is, you know, I think what we all probably should be. So thank you for setting a good example, I'm very happy that this took two years 'cause it took two years for all the right reasons, but let's start out.
Oh, thank you. And two years is only since the day you happened to invite me on the show. it really in real life must have taken, I don't know, I say five years, 'cause that sounds respectable, but it was probably more like seven years probably.
Yeah, it just takes me a long time.
Probably was. But clearly the pace that you're working at is the right at pace because the work that you're putting out is absolutely stunning. And that's what we wanna talk about today. And I always love to start off by honoring your previous work and for the handful of audience members who might not be familiar with you and or your work, would you start off by, you know, describing yourself beyond the I'm a single focused creator, but just give a little context to who you are, what you spend time doing. And again, this is for anyone who might not be familiar with your work, I know most people will be, but let's include those half a dozen people of the hundreds of thousands who listen to the show, let 'em know who you are.
Yeah, sure. Okay so, you know, as you said a little while ago, I published a book called "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" And that one too, I had been working on for well over seven years and I have more recently come out with a new book called "Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole"
We will talk about that in great life today.
Yeah. And so I'm a writer and I like to go really deep. And my way of doing it is to come up with an idea and then walk around the world for years and years and years and to talk to everybody who I can and read everything I can and process it all into books. And at the same time, in a most unlikely way, I have become a public speaker. And I say most unlikely because I used to be absolutely terrified of public speaking to the point of reliably, losing weight every time I would give a talk because I just couldn't eat out of nerves.
You know, for like a week beforehand, it was very intense for me.
And then when "Quiet" came out, I gave a "TED talk" about it and that went kind of viral and then the speaking invitations started to come. And so I now have this unlikely career as a public speaker and have become quite comfortable with it, which is something I never would've thought possible. So yeah. So my creative life now is one of writing and speaking, but I would say my sweet spot is still like sitting in a cafe, happily typing away.
(chuckles) Well, I love that one of the attributes, that you just described there is this idea of going deep and in a world where everything is now and so many things at our finger tips, and in a helpful way, we now have more tools and access to things that can accelerate our progress and things that can help those of us that are creators or entrepreneurs or, you know, freelancers, or are just radically curious that we can, you know, put our fingers in lots of jars at the same time. And I think that's beautiful. But one of the things that you have made, these are gonna be my words, not yours that you, I believe you've made a career out of, is being very non-obvious, being well quiet in a world that, you know, prior to this book coming out, I think it was largely the common thread in popular culture that leaders and, you know, everyone was a boisterous type, a extroverted person. And you have in this book, you know, cut the opposite way. And those are my favorite things in popular culture, things that help you step outside of the common, you know, framework and look at things in a different way. It's very easy to say the same thing about "Bittersweet" right? Your most recent book, how sorrow and longing actually make us whole, this thing that has historically been categorized as in the opposite way, like, oh, longing and sorrow are bad and happy feelings are good. So it strikes me when you said that, that your work of going deep is also, you know, runs counter to this popular notion that everything's at our fingertips. So I guess this is a little bit of a creative process question for us to start with. How has that benefited you? How has ignoring the invite to be on the show for two years helped you? I mean, I'm just, I'm adjusting, of course.
No, I get it, I get it.
But I mean, this is a beacon of inspiration for someone like myself, who is, I believe deeply in this idea, how did you come up with this? Is this just your natural way of being, I'm largely taken by this idea, so say more please.
Sure. Well, you know, it's funny because I recently, or Ted recently released a talk that I gave about "Bitter sweetness" too. And they, you know, as part of the protocol, they ask you to come up with a little bio describing yourself in just a few words. And I was like, well, what is it besides author? And what I ended up with was explorer of hidden superpowers because I think that's what I end up doing. I don't know if it's what I set out to do. I would say with both books with "Quiet" and with "Bitter sweetness" and maybe I should define what bitter sweetness is, but in both cases, I was drawn to like a certain way of being in the world that I believe has incredible powers and a long story tradition behind it. But that for some inexplicable or yeah, I ended up explaining it (Chase chuckles) but seemingly inexplicable reason is undervalued in our culture, you know, and with "Quiet" it was the power of a more introverted and cerebral way of being. With "Bitter sweetness" it's a kind of biography of a feeling that I believe we all have and especially creatives. And we can talk out the overlap there, but just this sense that we all come into this world with that, that there is a more perfect and beautiful world out there than the one that we currently inhabit and there's a kind of longing to go back to that more perfect and beautiful world. And we think of the word longing, as you just said, we think of it as being, you know, we talk about mired and longing, like it seems like a state that you would wallow in unproductively and really unhelpfully, and it's actually just the opposite. Like the literally the etymology of the word means to grow longer, like to reach for something. And so when we're being creative, that's what we're doing. Like we're possessed by a vision of something that's better and more perfect than what exists at this moment. And we're always trying to reach for that place and "Bitter sweetness" I define as a kind of recognition that joy and sorrow and light and dark are forever paired in this world. And we came up with a bittersweet quiz that you can take to figure out how drawn you tend to be to these states of mind. And one of the things we found is that people who score high on the bittersweet quiz also tend to states that predispose them to creativity. And this did not surprise me at all, but it was like, it was really cool to find it, like I did the quiz with the psychologist, Scott Barry Kaufman, and David Yaden. It was just very cool to kind of prove that what I was finding in thousands of years of wisdom traditions, to be able to demonstrate it in a evidentiary scientific way was nice.
Well, I've got somewhere else, I wanna take that as well, this quiz that I also had doggie here for us to speak about.
Okay, you have to tell us where you found it--
Oh, no, no, this is all working just right into my plan. I love this, I'm gonna read what you wrote here, the definition bittersweet, a tendency of states of longing, leniency and sorrow, an acute awareness of passing time and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world. That is beautiful, you know, just in the construction of those words, but the idea that this is somehow a superpower for you to identify, you know, is the superpower that you mentioned your ability to engage with the bitter sweetness, or is your superpower the ability to look at something differently than we have looked at it before?
No, when I talk about superpower, I'm talking about more the former, like the fact that the ability that all humans have to enter this state of bitter sweetness is a hidden superpower. And everything in our culture is telling us, you know, don't go there, don't go to that state of bitter sweetness. And when you listen to your, you know, very sad and minor key music, that's probably something you should do behind closed doors and you shouldn't like be blasting it from your speakers in your law school dorm, which I did. (Chase chuckles) And I told that story, you know, and people kind of tease you for listening to that kind of music. Like, yes, it's high on the charts, but it's like something better done privately. So our culture is saying, keep it over there, keep it locked away and limited even though that state of being is one of our most potent gateways to creativity, but also to connection and to love and to a state of transcendence. And I think we all know this because when you hear that kind of music, you know, whatever, like I love Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen, I was like, you go right into it right off the bat.
I love Leonard Cohen so much and like I spent my whole life trying to figure out why the heck do I love this so much? (Chase chuckles) What is it--
What did you get a phrase for him? Like the poet of what was it?
I will find it while you're explaining. But so keep going on the Leonard Cohen bit there.
Yeah, yeah like I couldn't figure out how could it be that this music that is so ostensibly gloomy made me feel so uplifted, not like not gloomy at all. And then I found out, like I started looking at the research and it turns out that, you know, we play on average the happy songs on our playlists, about 175 times, but we play the sad songs 800 times. And people will say that when they listen to that kind of music, they're feeling a sense of like wonder and awe and connection, like all the sublime emotions. And I think what's really happening is that what those musicians are doing and what all creatives are doing in some sense, it's a transformation of pain into beauty. And that's why you kind of feel this rush of gratitude almost when you hear music like that. It's like, oh my gosh, the musicians been there, they've experienced something I've experienced too. And not only have they experienced it, but they've transformed it into this miraculous work of gorgeousness.
How much of this work, obviously with your most recent book, "Bittersweet" again, just read the full title here, "Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole" but going back to your early work, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" so, how much of that was about you personally being seen? Was it, did you approach this work like in the, what was it? In the particular lies, the universal is this like my story, you went deep on your own experience and then low and behold you uncovered how an entire culture was feeling, but not saying it, or was there a mission to explore culture and then you found your own place in it?
That is such a perceptive question, no one has ever asked that before.
I'm a professional (Chase chuckles)
You are a professional, that's really good question. I have to say, I do you think it started with the particular and in the case of "Quiet" like to my surprise, it was the universal, like when... So with "Quiet" when I started working on that book, I thought I was working on this really strange idiosyncratic, vaguely, embarrassing project. And I was just interested in it and like I knew I came from a family of introverts, so I knew at a really visceral level how the tendency to be more quiet and prefer solitary activities and all those things, I knew what a power they were, but I didn't. And like, I could look around the world and say, oh yeah, person contributed what they did because they were a quiet type, that person did that, that person did, I knew all that, but I don't think I understood that it was gonna touch such a big nerve until I saw it with my own eyes. And with "Bittersweet" I think it's a similar thing, I mean, I was just sort of, I just became possessed by this experience that I kept having when I was listening to this kind of music and feeling like I was on the verge time after time, after time on the verge of transcendence and trying to understand how that could possibly be. And at first I didn't even know I was gonna write a book about it, it was just like, I wanted to answer that question. And then the more I delved into it, the more I realized that, that question sat a top a 2000 year tradition, that our wisdom traditions and artists and writers and psychologists have been talking about, even though our culture never identifies it, you know, like in psychology and mainstream psychology, we don't even make a distinction between melancholy and depression, you know, they're like all the same thing. Whereas the bittersweet tradition tells you they're completely different states. You know, depression is an emotional black hole from which no creativity or anything productive really comes, it's just pain. Whereas melancholy is more like, it's much more of a spiritual state of longing for that other world, that more perfect world and it's creativity in communion that it come from that. So, yes it started with this deeply personal question I was trying to figure out but the interesting thing is that the response that I have gotten to both books is almost identical in the sense that the word that is most, there are two words that are most frequently used, permission and validation, you know, so many people will say, oh my gosh, I've been having this feeling all my life and it was like embarrassing to feel kind of melancholic, but oh, it's validation for what I've always intuitive was true, but I've never been able to say it out loud. And that's what I heard with "Quiet" too.
Yeah, it's very hard for me to articulate how profound it was. I had always seen, you know, my life partner, my wife Kate, always seen her genius and I had also watched her. I think she would feel very comfortable with me saying this to 100,000 people, by the way that. (both chuckle) That--
You must know her really well.
Right, I do. Yeah, we've been together for a long time that, you know I saw her genius and I think she was aware of her genius and I say genius in sort of the fuzzy way, because we all have genius in so many different capacities, we all see the world a special way, and yet it was very difficult for, you know, her culturally to put a finger on it, to champion it, and I was always a little bit, I guess, confused by how to embrace that, I didn't have the right words and culturally the sort of the lexicon and the framing wasn't there. And so, you know, when I read "Quiet" it basically put a framework on this thing that I was thinking, but not able to say. And I would say for her too, you talked about validation that was one of the first things that she shared with me when she had, you know, she wasn't even done with the book, she was like 25 pages in, she's like this is what happened. And one of the reasons I want a linger on this for a second, I'm using my wife Kate, is like you in the particularized universal because right now, you know, of everyone who's listening, most people it turns out are nodding saying yes, that's me, I hadn't been seen, I didn't fit into the paradigm, I didn't. And first of all, that is the work of an artist, right. to uncover these things, so you have do done that beautifully, but more so there's now a framework for understanding and for talking about it and you know, the relationship between "Quiet" your first book and "Bittersweet" is not lost on anyone and especially not me having thought a lot about what I wanted to talk to you about. So let's pull on this thread a little bit.
Does this the idea of being introverted, now feel different to you that this is out there in the world, that it, you know, this thing, I don't know. It was on the New York times Bestseller List for eight years, if I'm not mistaken. And your "TED talk" is one of the top of all time, Bill Gates, if I'm not mistaken, also said it was on his favorite. So is it different now? Do you have a different, do you feel like you're more bold and by extension, should those folks listening who aren't aware of your work or who maybe haven't thought about this as hard as you have, is this a new beginning? Is there a power in leaning into this work? The work of being an introvert or the work that is bolstered by being an introvert or by feeling okay now that these feelings that we have, these bittersweet feelings, we should, you know, lean into those and double down, is the world fundamentally different now?
Yeah. Gosh, it's such a big question, so I'm trying to think.
I like to ask small questions, right? (Susan chuckles) Like what's your birthday? No.
(chuckles) So when it comes to introversion, yeah, I do believe it's a lot easier to be an introvert now because there's a language for it and because to come back to that word, there's a validation for it. I'll just give you one example of that, there's so many, but a friend of my taught leadership at Harvard Business School, and she used to begin her classes by having everybody take one of those personality tests. And she said in the old days, it used to be, and the personality test among other things would measure introversion, extroversion. They all do, 'cause it's the a one psychologist calls the north and south of human temperament, so of course they're gonna measure that. And she said, it used to be that they would fill out the test and she would be presented by a class of apparently a hundred percent extroverts. And that's 'cause people are basically lying on the test, 'cause we all know how to answer the question to make ourselves seem, whatever we think is socially appropriate. And she said in the last few years, that changed and now she has a class of half introverts and half extroverts. And that's because the introverts are no longer disinclined to claim their true way of being because they know it's not only okay, but it's incredibly contributive, you know, and it's got powers of its own. It's just different types of powers from the ones that we had noticed before. And yeah, so my hope is that the same thing is going to happen with "Bitter sweetness" and I believe the very act of naming something and then showing people what the powers are of that thing that you've named, that's really transformative. And like I know, just from the experience of doing both with both books, I had to struggle so much with what the heck to call this thing I was talking about. Like with "Quiet" I wasn't even sure I was gonna use the word introvert 'cause it was such a stigmatized word. And I wasn't sure if I should try to reclaim it or meant a whole new word and with "Bitter sweetness" it was like, I was trying to identify such an inevitable concept. It's like, it's almost like the biography of a feeling that we all have, but we don't really know what it is. And I eventually realized that bitter sweetness was the best word to describe it, but that took years to figure out.
Wow, the patience that you've had with both of these works is inspirational in itself. I wanna mention, I put a pin in the quiz a few minutes ago and I wanna go back to it before we get into the thing that I wanna, you know, really lean into, which is this connection between bitter sweetness and creativity. You've already paved the path there, but before I wanna--
And are you gonna tell us how you scored on the quiz? (both chuckle) Where does that come in?
Yeah, sure I will reveal.
But some of the questions is what I will share with the listeners today.
Do you tear up easy at touching TV commercials, are moved by old photographs? Do you react intensely to music, art or nature? Have others described you as an old soul? Do you find comfort or inspiration in a rainy day? Do you know what CS Lewis meant when he described joy as a sharp, wonderful stab of longing? Are you moved to goosebumps times a day? Do you seek out beauty in your life? These are just a handful and there are more, so this I'm wondering if there's a new phrase that my wife and I are talking a lot about in part because of research that was certainly fueled by your work, this idea that let's see, how would I couch this? The phrase is emotionally sensitive people, I think it's.
Highly sensitive people.
Highly sorry, HSP highly sensitives people.
So is there a connection there between that work and your work, this idea that we're just generally more movable, you know, the HSPs are... I'll use my wife Kate as an example, you know, bright lights drive crazy, for example.
Loud noises drive crazy and there are time I consider myself historically wildly extroverted, but again, I think I was playing into the cultural norms, like many of the Harvard quiz takers. And now I think on myself as an ambivert, because if I'm gonna go on stage and do a speaking thing for the 20 minutes before I go on stage, I have to have noise canceling headphones on. I can't be backstage or even in my green room and hear the director saying, okay, Chase, I need you on in three minutes and you know, I just can't have all that chaos, so--
And you might be an extroverted HSP, sorry to interrupt you.
No, no, see, here we go. Well, this there's a reason I want you in this show I want you to help me too, this isn't just for everybody else, this is partly selfish. But is there a relationship, do you think between, you know, the work of "Bitter sweetness" and just highly sensitive people are, you know, what's the ven diagram there, maybe is a good question.
Yeah, there was actually, so we developed the bittersweet quiz for this book. I say we, I did it with Scott Berry Kaufman and David Yaden, who are two amazing psychologists. And you know, it's just at the very preliminary stages of development, but we found that there was a high correlation between bitter sweetness and high sensitivity. So you're going like straight to straight to the heart of it. And the interesting thing is there was no correlation between bitter sweetness and introversion.
The correlation is with high sensitivity. And as I said, you could be highly sensitive and be an introvert or an extrovert, like about 70% of highly sensitive are introverts, but 30% are extroverts, so--
Now I feel seen, thank you.
You're so welcome, absolutely. So I'm guessing you're an extroverted HSP. Like, I don't know what to what degree it sounds like you don't share Kate's aversion to bright lights and loud and stuff, but you probably have your other manifestations of it, I guess.
I do, I do yeah. And it's they're very particular, the noise while I'm trying to relax or prepare, or like that's definitely one. And yet, you know, my idea of music playing the background, whether it's our house, our studio or Kate you know, we worked together for a long time, used to drive her crazy. My goal with having music was to make it feel more comfortable for more people and so we ended up, there's all kinds of family discussions and even, you know, all of the employees and whatnot, at CreativeLive at you know, my photo studio before then, like do we want music playing in the background? And what we found was that we were able to separate the spaces so that those who were, you know, had one in indication could go to one place and others could go to another. But the very fact that this was 10 years ago, not a conversation and now is a conversation that I'm having with, you know, within my family, that I'm having in all my workplaces is A, a Testament to your work, but also B as you'd say in the research, this has been happening for millennia, right? This has a long tradition and in our culture. So I would love for you to walk us through some of the findings that you had, where this was actually a thing prior to modern times where we thought that only, you know, loud extroverts, the world was full of loud extroverts and only happy thoughts were allowed. Take us back, what'd you find in the research about how this has actually been happening for forever?
Yeah I mean, literally forever and in every, you know, culture, every society that you look at, but I'll give you an ancient one and a well known one from our culture, and then I'll take you up to the modern time. But like, okay, so Homer's "Odyssey" which is something we all know and we think of it as, you know, the grand story of like an epic adventure of a sort of squash, buckling, cunning, protagonist, Odyssey, that's how we think of it, okay. But that story, it begins with Odyssey weeping on a beach with home sickness, for his native home, his native island of Ithaca. And in the poem, he is said to be seized by Pothos, which I may be mispronouncing, but it's the ancient Greek word, P-O-T-H-O-S. It's the ancient Greek word, word to express, a longing for the everything, good and beautiful, that is unattainable. And it was understood in ancient Greece, that Pothos was a catalyzing force. It was not the way we think of it, it was not a passive force that makes you like wallow happily and in effectually, no, it was the opposite. Like Alexandra the Great was said to be seized by Pothos when he looked at the lands, he wanted to conquer, which not my favorite example, but that's the idea. And then, okay, look at the, at so many of our best loved children's stories, you know, whether it's Harry Potter" or "Batman" or "Pippi Longstocking" how many times is the protagonist an orphan before the story even starts? And that is not a coincidence, that is because our artists have understood this for centuries, that there is a fundamental brokenness in all of us. Like we're all vulnerable, we're all subject to plagues and wars and illness and bereavement and all the rest of it. And these stories are telling us like that brokenness it's in us from the start. And then it's also the catalyst to the adventures that we take, to that which we create in this life like that's the message of all of these stories. And then you can look at this from modern day psychology too, I'll give you one example. There was this amazing study that how did it work? It took a group of subjects, it divided them into two groups. And one of the groups had to give a speech to an audience where the audience were plants and they like, you know, clapped a lot and were very smiley and approving. And then the other group gave a speech to an audience that appeared to be extremely annoyed and barely clapped at all. And as you would imagine, afterwards the people in the first group who gave the well received speech, they were in a good mood, the people in the second group were feeling pretty crushed and despondent. Okay, but then the researchers also had these people create a collage after giving the speeches, and they had a group of artists rate the collage for creativity. And they found that the people who had given the speech to the disapproving audiences, so they were feeling sorrowful when they created the collage. Those collages were rated as much more creative than the others. And this was especially true for the people who had a biological predisposition to feelings of emotional vulnerability. Like those people had the most creative collages of all. So this is a kind of like validation of an instinct I think we've had for a long time. And I hazed to say it, the takeaway is not that pain equals creativity. It's that creativity has the power to take that pain and turn it into something else. And when we get into that state of longing, we're more likely to reach for that creative power and turn the pain into something else. And when we're actually clinically depressed, we can't do that. Like we know depressed people are actually less creative, but when we're in the state of feeling keenly, the gap between the world we long for, and the one we're in, that's a creative superpower.
You also apparently have ESP because that's exactly where my next note was taking us this like,
oh my gosh,
sorrow does not equal creativity. I think that's like that, that is a fundamental misreading. It sounds like of your work and I think that is on the outset I'm going to project for a second. If I'm a highly extroverted person and I was listening to the first five minutes and I'm gonna say, that's not me. And I didn't know that I needed to be melancholic to be creative, that's not at all what you're saying, but so now let's, now that we've established that, you know, you do part one of the book, it goes right into how can we transform pain into creativity, transcendence and love. Notice, you know, it's not equal one. It requires an act of us, the agent transforming this material if you will, into these, you know, these something so vital for us. So let's walk down that path together now, if we can, it's sort of, is it access? Is it, you know, give us some more words to understand this concept of how we transform pain into creativity. A, we all have pain, you know, B everyone's creative. So is this again, what's the work that we ought to do to be transforming some of this pain into, to creativity.
Yeah and it's not only creativity, I should say that we can transform pain into it's... I would looking up more as transforming pain into something beautiful. So it could be like a stereotypically creative act, but it could also be an act of healing of ourselves ` or of other people, it could be many different things, but it's really the question of like, okay, we all face pain at some point, and now you're at a crossroads, are you gonna repress the pain and not acknowledge it and then end up taking it out on yourself or somebody else? Or are you gonna go through this kind of alchemical act of turning it into something else? And how do you do that? I mean, one of the best ways I know to do that is to affirmatively, seek beauty everywhere you can, and to understand beauty as not just being like, oh, well you know, that's like, makes me happy to look at something beautiful. It's not only that it's like beauty is a representation of that other state. So the act of seeking it out is in of itself transformative. Like and I actually ended up doing this almost instinctively during the pandemic when I was also like deep at work in this book, I found myself at first doom scrolling Twitter every morning. And I would like wake up in this state of anxiety. And I ended up asking people to share with me their favorite art accounts on Twitter and I started following them. And pretty soon my whole feed was full of art. And then I started as a daily practice and this wasn't a conscious thing, it just happened. I started as a daily practice almost every day sharing on my socials, a favorite work of art, like usually a painting, 'cause that works well on social. So a favorite painting along with a quote or a poem or an idea that I was having and it would take me like an hour every morning to do it, you know, like pairing the right painting with the right idea and I loved it though. It was like a daily meditative practice and it set the stage for my writing for the rest of that day. And it didn't really serve any purpose other than, other than what I don't know, other than getting into the right state of mind. It's like a, you know, in an act of sharing beauty with other people is transformative in it of itself. So I believe we should be taking daily active beauty into our workplaces, you know, when starting the workday with them, that's one way to do this.
The search for beauty to me was part of a big transformation for me personally. And I'm wondering if you can articulate the ways that you have through interviews, through research, through historical examples, your own, you know, your own experiences, which is largely what the book is, right? You've done such a nice job of weaving the stories of it's part memoir, part research, part history.
But this seeking beauty. When I first understood that I went to college to be a doctor, ostensibly, actually it was mostly a vehicle to play division one soccer and then when I was there, I was like, okay, I better have a backup plan according to mom and dad, and then halfway through I'm like I am so doomed because I'm not all that psyched about continuing my soccer career, this whole idea of becoming a doctor is for sure a charade. And so I pursued philosophy as a vector for, oh my God, I can get a degree for reading the books that I wanna read, this is incredible, I wanna go do this. And the area that captured my heart the most was aesthetics and trying to understand beauty and the seeking of the beautiful. So it, you know, I'm sharing a little bit about my personal journey but--
Yeah no, I love it.
Why does the, what I would call the intension of seeking beauty? Why is that different than stumbling on beauty or is it?
It's because the beautiful is just one manifestation of this ultimate state that we are all seeking. And whether you call that state divinity, I mean, for some people they'd be like, okay, you guys are, you know, dancing all around this what you're really talking about is God and divinity and that's what really the religious impulse is. And for somebody else, you know, you might be a total atheist and that doesn't speak to you at all, but it doesn't matter because either way, whether we're talking about truth or beauty or love, these are all different manifest in my mind, these are all different manifestations of the same state of the place we belong to be, you know, that more perfect, more beautiful world. And so the very act of searching for it puts us in the state of mind where we're more aligned with the better world. We're never gonna approach it, it's kind of like an awesome tote, but we're headed more in that direct. And I could tell you, like, you know, during COVID I lost my father and my brother to COVID and it was obviously a really difficult time. And my father had been a big music lover, too, he was the one who first introduced me to music and the love of it. And he had loved, well, he loved a lot of music, but he loved Jacque Brel and so during the weeks when he was in the hospital and I was like waiting to hear news of him, I found myself listening to Jacque Brel for the first time, it may have been decades, I hadn't heard it in a long time. And the night that he died, I was listening all the time to that music and it was like, I was partly trying to find him in the music and I didn't find him in the music, but I found something else. Like it was like the music is just a manifestation of the same thing that makes us love a parent so much, or makes us love anyone so much, they're all manifestations of the same thing. And that's why it's so crucial to try to live in that place as much as possible because of what it helps us create. And also because of what it helps us withstand, you know, the griefs, there is a way in which you lose a particular love, but you can realize that love itself exists beyond the particularity of the person who you're grieving. And I know that sounds like really abstract at the time that you're full throatiness of grief.
But it still helps, it still bereaves you up.
So I mentioned Renee earlier, dear friend, and has done similar work in our culture as you have with, if you know, the idea of being quiet and being, you know, this idea of bittersweet, both historically, like, mm I'm not so sure I wanna talk about that, those feelings and what Renee has done with vulnerability, right. Vulnerability, like hmm, who wants to sign up for that? She always, she tells a funny story about, she doesn't wanna talk on a plane when someone says, what do you do? She said, I'm a shame and vulnerability researcher and that just usually stops the conversation right there. But I'm wondering, because, you know, in part she's done a great job of bringing this idea into our culture. And I know, you know, she's, burbled your book for you, and there's deep connection there between the work, but what would your thoughts, you know, on I'm curious, your thoughts on vulnerability and the vulnerability that the role that vulnerability plays in this journey to something more perfect. Because I do believe that that work has now penetrated our culture similar to yours, and people are like, okay cool. You know, and even Adam Grant talks about this in leadership, right. Being vulnerable as a leader is now we have the capacity to see that as a strength and a connection, and it builds bridges rather than walls and all kinds of metaphors there. I'm wondering if I'm just dying to hear your, you know, what role does vulnerability play for I'll just use the framework for, you know, we who identify as creators or creatives, what role does that play in your world and our journey toward this more perfect state of being, for example?
Yeah I mean, I don't know that you could be truly creative without being willing to be vulnerable. Maybe you can 'cause I do tend to think there's like different ways of doing a million different things, right? So--
Yeah, of course there's no one path, right?
Yeah, there's no one path and I think like the kind of stuff that I talk about is basically one path, like a big path that's been overlooked, but it's not the only one, you know what I mean?
But usually, like if you look at the artists, the creative work that most moves you, usually what it's doing is it's usually expressing a truth that is in some way difficult or embarrassing to express. And then not only is it expressing it, but it's expressing it beautifully or impressively or whatever. Like I my kids are going through an Eminem phase and I really love a Eminem too. And we were like driving around and listening to his songs. And I was pointing it out to like to them, all his best songs he's basically talking about stuff that most people don't really wanna say out loud, and then he does it in this incredibly dazzling way. And that's what creativity is in some large part, it's like telling the truth of what it's like to be alive. And if it were easy to tell that truth, then we wouldn't prize it the way we do but it's not that easy. And if it were easy to tell it, not only to tell it, but to tell it in some way that's compelling or beautiful or you know, rhythmical or whatever, if it were so easy, we would all just do it like that. But it's not like that's why it's the holy grail that we're all looking to do.
It's so true. It's obvious when you say it out loud, but why has it taken us so long to figure this out? This is a serious question. Why was your work groundbreaking? It shouldn't have been, this should be like, we experienced this all the time and we're feeling it, not saying it. What's, you know who's... This is a little bit who's to blame in air quotes for this, you know, this given this has been happening for millennia, you talked about the ancient Greeks had no problem with it. Why did it become hard in our world?
Well, that was one of the questions I wanted to answer. So I actually talk about this in the "Bittersweet" book, that to try to, yeah. To answer exactly that question. If you trace our cultural history, especially in the 19th century, you know, we became increasingly this country of business, right. And during the 19th century, we went through a series of booms and busts. So you had all these people who were making fabulous sums of money and then losing them and then making them and then losing them. And you had other people who were trying desperately to become successful businessmen and they couldn't and then some could. And there became this question of like, well, what is it that makes some people succeed and some people not? That became a huge question and people started asking the corollary question, when someone succeeds or fails, is it because of something inside that person, they called it in the man. Is it because of some characteristic inside them or is it become because of just outer fortunes that do or don't smile upon them? And the answer increasingly became that it had something to do with who you were inside to the point that the word loser became a more and more widely used word, like loser used to mean just literally someone who has lost something. You know, like I lost my phone, I'm a loser like that's all it meant. (both chuckle) But then it became like this terrible distasteful thing like the last thing you'd wanna be. But to the point where even in the great depression, when there were all these economic forces that were making people lose their shirts, there would be headlines run, that would say things like loser commit suicide in streets. So it was this idea, like the last thing you wanted to be, and we still were still living with this framework of winners and losers. And what ended up happening is if you wanted to show that you were a winner at all costs, you had to act like a winner. If you wanted to show you were inside a winner, you had to be smiling, you had to be confident, you had to be like striding happily through the world. Melancholy, are you kidding me? Like, why would I ever wanna show that that's putting me closer to the domain of being a loser, of being someone who's apt to their shirt when the next economic panic comes. And so you still see this today, even though, you know, with Renee's amazing work on vulnerability as you're talking about. And we've all started to accept that, at the same time, like I went back to my college campus, 30 years later, I started interviewing the students about what they were really feeling. And the first thing they start telling me about is this phenomenon that they call effortless perfection, which basically means, the pressure that they all feel to be thin and attractive and socially adapt and get amazing grades and to do all of this without any apparent effort. So we're not so comfortable yet with our vulnerability, we've gotten kind of half of the way there and we still have a lot farther to go. But I think we really have to uproot this idea of dividing humanity into winners and losers, as opposed to a more bittersweet view, which is in a course of a given life, you will win, you will lose for sure both those things will happen.
I love it. And when I was reading that part of the book, obviously you just immediately go to social media, right? What you're projecting out into the world versus your own experience versus, this is you're comparing your own real life experiences to somebody else's highlight real, which causes this increasing separation and distance from our true selves, from you know isolation from the rest of the community 'cause we're social animals, which has all sorts of, you know, toxic, we are now learning that, you know, that is a very toxic cycle. What would you, you know, comment on social media for a moment?
Yeah, so what you just said is a huge problem and then of course there's the, you know, the whole problem of our algorithms, which drive us towards increasing outrage at each other and disapproval of each other. I don't know the answer, I'm not a computer engineer in any way, but I am guessing there would be a way of designing our algorithms so that people would be rewarded for telling the truth of their experiences and not considering like what the policy outcome should be of those experiences or anything like that, but just telling the truth for a while. There must be some way of redesigning the algorithms to do that, I don't know that's probably a hopelessly naive thing to say, but there's no real reason that outrage should be more awarded than anything else. So yeah.
I love it and right now someone's listening and they're like, all right, that is a worthy, that is a worthy goal for my life. So if you're a computer engineer, please let's get on this, we need your help. Obviously that would be a huge change. And you know, that you know, you mentioned is that a naive thing? Like what's, you know, the Schopenhauer states of truth write something is like, you know, never gonna happen, could happen and now is self-evident. So I hope you're pressured in saying that this is, it's on its way, someone is coming to the rescue.
I love that, your philosophy degree--
There you go, I can, one of my graduate professors, this is truth called me an armchair philosopher. And I was in a PhD program in philosophies, like you're just really an armchair philosopher. And because I didn't wanna write about logic based philosophy and I was more continental in a department that was very, you know, logic based not to say that my arguments weren't logical, but I've been called a lot of bad things for bringing my philosophy into conversations.
Oh, well, I obviously love it. Have you ever gone back to that philosophy professor to show him the way you're using?
I have not given him the time of day.
Yeah, okay. (Chase chuckles)
But I do walk around campus occasionally to take in beauty as an example, there's a one section of the University of Washington where I went to graduate school. I haven't really gone back to San Diego state where I did my undergraduate, that was mostly focused on soccer and partying, but I do go--
Also my sons are soccer players too, by the.
Oh, oh, we could talk a lot. It's a big part of my early identity, I would call it, I think it's reasonable, for better or worse to say that, but rolling, walking around a college campus to take in the beauty University of Washington is incredibly beautiful, actually was just there last week. There's the cherry blossoms are in right now 'cause it's March in Seattle and it was truly stunning beauty and I felt all of the feeling it was, you know, in preparation for our conversation today, I was reading the book, I was just like, overwhelmingly you just see an entire, you know, football field full of cherry blossoms all and there was just--
It was like a fairy tale, the wind was blowing and they were floating and the ones were coming off the floating in the air was like, it was snowing. And it was a one to one connection with your work, with picturing this, you know, this idea of experiencing beauty and it was such an emotional experience for me, so--
And you know, that cherry blossoms are the ultimate bittersweet flower. Like the reason the Japanese love them and honor them the way they do is because they are so fleeting, like they die so quickly. So for the Japanese, there's a word which I may be mispronouncing, but it's something like (speaking in foreign language) And it means the gentle sadness at the passing of beautiful things. So it's kind of way of honoring in permanence on beauty simultaneously.
So I could talk to you for the next five hours, 'cause I'm fascinated by doing work that is new and groundbreaking as an artist.
But I've promised to keep our conversation to an hour. And you know, I got a long history of the podcast being about this, but I'm hoping that this next sort of question can be big enough that it, you know, allows you to moonwalk out of our conversation with a bunch of you know, inspiration for those and a desire. Again, I have to take one moment before I ask this question about just to give an overt recommendation, you have to read "Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole" we are very good, this community is very good at buying books. If this, I believe that this episode will go down as a great one because you've captured the human spirit in a very special way, but leave us with an idea of a recommendation for how to be in the world, such that if we took your recommendation that we would be more in line with the work and be, as you know, you've talked about this pattern being closer to that more perfect experience. This is your work is about the human condition, I think that's, what's so you know, powerful about it is we're all like you have a hundred times reading the book, you're like yes, that, that, and that's why my wife said 20 pages into "Quiet" you have to read this, this is me (Susan chuckles) So you know, give us some lightweight instructions if you will. And of course people know where they can get more, just go buy the book, but give us some light you know, this is a wrap us up here. Give us some lightweight instructions on how to do this.
Yeah, okay I will. And do you have time for like a story with one of those Instructions or be wrapped up?
No, I'm just trying to be respectful of the time that we've carved out for our show today and I will stay here way longer than you will want to. So please give us the story, this is not TV we do not need sound bites, we need the full uninterrupted you.
Okay, so I'm gonna give you like two, I don't know what the word was, what you asked for, but you know, three things you can follow, and then I'm gonna tell you a story. Okay, so one of them is what we've been talking about the whole time, in a way, but to it up, it's whatever pain you can't get rid of make it your creative offering, so that's one. A second thing of just something really helpful you can do is what's called expressive writing and this comes from the work of James Pennebaker, who did these crazy, crazy in their astonishing results studies. He's a psychologist at UT where he found that the simple act of writing down your troubles and your difficult experiences, it improves your blood pressure, it improves your work performance, it lightens your load. He did this one study of 50 year old engineers who had been laid off and were quite depressed about it. And he had half of them just write down what they were wearing every morning and the other half quickly wrote down their troubles. And the ones who wrote down their troubles were much more likely to have found a job a few months later and also their spirits were lifted too. So that's one thing just like daily expressive writing, you can throw it away when you're done, doesn't have to be perfect or even good. And then the third thing, and I'm gonna then I guess I'll end with this story. But the third thing is to follow your longing, where it's telling you to go. And I will tell you my story of having done this, which is so unlike you, you were saying that you very wisely figured out that you didn't wanna be a doctor like five minutes after you got to college and that was really smart. But I ended up going to law school in my bid to be practical and be able to support myself. And I became a wall street lawyer for seven years and I just got really into it, and I wanted to make partner except one day, this senior partner knocked on my door and said that I wasn't making partner after all. And I had this sense of the world coming crashing down around me when this happened, but I left the law firm that afternoon. I wasted no time, I got out and a few weeks after that, I ended a seven a relationship that had always felt wrong. And so now I was in the state, I was in my early thirties, I had no career and no love and no place to live, 'cause I moved out of the apartment. So I was just like floating around and I fell into a relationship with a guy who was a lyricist and a musician and had a kind of lit up way about him. And it quickly turned into an obsessional relationship that I never experienced before since, this was I guess the early '90s. So we didn't have smartphones at the time, so I would spend my days like dodging into internet cafes in New York city, looking to see had there been an email from him. And I had a friend whom I surely bored ad nauseam with stories of this guy who I was obsessed with until one day she said to me, if you are this obsessed, it's because he represents something you're longing for. So what are you longing for? And the answer came to me right away really was one of those epiphany type moments. It was like, I had wanted to be a writer since I was four, I was longing for that world and he represented to me this world of art and creativity and writing that I had been divorced from all those years that I was a lawyer. And all of a sudden, when she said that the obsession fell away, it was like it was gone. I still loved him as a person, but the obsession was gone and I started writing for real. And it was by the simple act of like thinking, okay, this thing that's driving me crazy, what does it represent? What's the real underlying longing beneath it? And that's the question to ask ourselves, 'cause there's almost always something that we're longing for. And even if it feels unhealthy on the surface, it can be taking us in the right direction if we follow it's true meaning.
Hmm and our ability to be honest with ourself, that is the maybe the Genesis of your next work. (both chuckle) How can we be--
How to be honest with ourselves?
Yeah, exactly. Absolutely heartwarming, insightful, connecting, thank you so much for, not just that last pearl of wisdom there, but for your work for both works again, I'm a huge advocate. "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking and your newest work, "Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole" Susan, thank you so much much for being on the show. However many years in the making we decided it was at the beginning, infinity now we're at, infinity years, but is there anything else, anywhere you'd wanna point our watchers and listeners out there in the internet to support you, just to learn more, you know, anywhere you'd direct us?
Oh, thank you. I mean, excuse me, I guess to follow me on my socials, I'm on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram sharing my art and so on my favorite art, not my art and oh and there's also a new "TED talk" on "Bitter sweetness" that you can find, it's called "The Hidden Power of Sad Songs and Rainy Days" that I did. And most of all, I just wanna thank you so much for having me. And I love the fact that you have been following your longing and your path, it seems quite effortlessly I'm sure there's more to the story than we got in, in this hour and also a big hug to Kate as well.
Thank you, she is a gonna be so happy 'cause I'm gonna immediately get up the phone and give her a call and let her know how our conversation went. And again, so grateful for you, for your work we're fans, we'll have you back on the show anytime. Hopefully it's not such a big gap between when we started our endeavor and the next one. But if so, I will respect it, 'cause I will know that you are protecting your time and yourself in a healthy way and continue to put out awesome work. Thank you so much, Susan, for being on the show from myself and our listeners and watchers out there, we bid everybody out there at you.
You too, thank you so much chase and everyone listening.
Until next time signing off everybody, thanks for paying attention. (bright music)