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Gretchen Rubin is the author of several books, including the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, Better Than Before, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home.
In Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, she provides surprising insights and practical advice drawn from cutting-edge research, ancient wisdom, and her own observations, about how we can make our lives better than before.
She investigates the multiple strategies she’s identified that help us make and break our habits. After all, habits are the invisible architecture of a happy life, and when we change our habits, we change our lives. The secret to changing a habit? First, we must know ourselves, so we can suit our habits to our own nature.
It was Rubin’s longstanding interest in happiness that led her to the study of habits, because when she talked to people about their happiness challenges, they often pointed to a habit that they couldn’t make or break. This pattern made her ask, “When and why can people successfully change a habit—or not?”
Her previous books include the #1 New York Times and international bestseller, The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. The Happiness Project has sold more than one million copies, has been published in more than thirty languages, and spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list.
In her New York Times bestseller Happier at Home, Rubin explores how to make home a happier place, by concentrating on the factors that matter most for home, such as possessions, marriage, time, parenthood, body, neighborhood.
On Gretchen Rubin’s popular blog, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness and habits. Millions of people read her blog each year. “I’ve become a bit of a happiness bully,” she confessed.
On her weekly podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, she discusses good habits and happiness with her sister Elizabeth Craft. The podcat hit #6 on iTunes on the first day it launched.
With her work, Rubin has emerged as one of the most thought-provoking and influential writers on habits and happiness to have emerged from the recent explosion of interest in these subjects. Though her conclusions are sometimes counter-intuitive—for example, she finds that rewards play a very tricky role in the formation of habits, and true simplicity is far from simple to attain, and that used rightly, money can do a lot to buy happiness—her insights resonate with readers of all backgrounds. She’s known for her ability to distill and convey complex ideas in a way that’s accessible to a wide range of readers.
Response to Rubin’s writing has been overwhelming. Dozens of blogs have been launched by people following Gretchen’s example. Psychiatrists tell their patients to read her books, professors assign them to their students, book groups discuss them, families pass them around, and people do Habits and Happiness Projects together. Exhausted parents and college students, senior citizens and professionals, clergy and social workers, people facing divorce, illness, and drift have written to tell her how she’s influenced them.
In the New York Times Book Review, Rubin was described as “the queen of the self-help memoir.” “It’s great to be called the queen, but I’d say my work is ‘self-helpful,’ not ‘self-help.’” Rubin explained. She added, “Really, I’m a moral essayist, but that sounds so dull.”
Rubin is much in demand as a speaker, and she has addressed corporate audiences at places such as GE, Google, LinkedIn, Accenture, Procter & Gamble, as well as university audiences such as Yale Law School, Harvard Business School, and Wharton.
She has appeared at numerous conferences as a featured speaker or keynoter, at places such as SXSW, World Domination Summit, the 92nd< Street Y, 5×15, TEDx, BlogHer, the Atlantic, Alt Design, Q Cities, Behance’s 99u, Mom 2.0, West Point, Lucid, and the Texas, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania Conferences for Women.
She makes frequent TV appearances, for instance, on Today, Kathie Lee & Hoda, CBS Sunday Morning, The Early Show, Katie, “Q” radio, Booknotes with Brian Lamb, and “NPR’s Weekend Edition.” “The Happiness Project” was even an answer on the game-show Jeopardy!
Rubin, an enthusiastic proponent of using technology to engage with readers about ideas, has a wide, active following on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube (more than 2.3 million views)—not to mention her wildly popular monthly newsletter, book club, and daily email of quotations. Rubin is a notable example of an author using a blog and social media to create discussion around a subject and her work.
Rubin was one of the first people asked to become a LinkedIn “Influencer,” where she has an enormous, active group of followers. She was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness,” one of the Inc.’s Top 50 Leadership and Management Experts, and one of the “22 Brilliant Thinkers Everyone Should Follow on Twitter” by Business Insider.
In traditional media, Rubin has written for many national publications, and was columnist in Good Housekeeping magazine. She appeared on the inaugural cover of Live Happy magazine, February 2014, and she appeared on the cover of Parade magazine.
A graduate of Yale and Yale Law School, where she was Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law Journal and winner of the Edgar M. Cullen Prize, Rubin started her career in law. She clerked for Judge Pierre Leval and was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she realized she really wanted to be a writer.
Her bestselling Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill and Forty Ways to Look at JFK are succinct, provocative biographies. Power Money Fame Sex: A User’s Guide is biting social criticism in the form of a user’s manual. Profane Waste, a collaboration with artist Dana Hoey, examines the question of why owners choose to destroy their own possessions. She also has three terrible novels safely locked in a desk drawer.
Rubin is a well-known lover of children’s and young-adult literature (she’s in three children’s literature reading groups; an advocate for organ donation; a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and a massive consumer of caffeine. The New York Times described her as “the queen of the self-help memoir” (though she describes her books as “self-helpful, not self-help.”) She’s left-handed, red-haired, extremely near-sighted, and a low-carb eater. Of everything she’s ever written, she says, her one-minute video, The Years Are Short, resonates most with people.
Raised in Kansas City, she lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

Show Notes:

Gretchen Rubin

Better Than Before

The Happiness Project

Happier At Home

The Habits Quiz


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Zephan: Hey, everyone, and welcome to the Year of Purpose podcast. This is Zephan Blaxberg and today I have Gretchen Rubin. Now Gretchen is one of the most thought provoking and influential writers on habits and happiness. Her next book, Better Than Before, is about how we change our habits. Her books, The Happiness Project and Happier At Home, were both instant New York Times best sellers, and the Happiness Project spend more than two years on the best seller list, including at number one. Her books have sold more than two million copies in thirty different languages.

On her blog, she writes about her adventures as she test drives ideas from contemporary science and ancient wisdom about building good habits and a happier life. Gretchen, how are you doing today?

Gretchen: I’m very happy to be talking to you!

Zephan: Well, thank you so much for spending some time with me today. You know, I stumbled upon you when I found the Happiness Project. There’s a Facebook page, I found it while I was looking at ways that I could become happier. Because, in truth, everyone’s looking to be happier. This is something that is not original, is nothing new. This is something that’s been happening for quite some time now, and so I looked online to see what was out there, and I found this thing for the Happiness Project. Now I realize that it’s more than just a book, you wrote a book that was on the best seller list for two years, but now it’s kind of turned into a bit of a movement called the Happiness Project. So could you maybe tell us a little bit about what the Happiness Project is and how it’s progressed?

Gretchen: Yeah. Well, I was a writer, I was just finishing up my biography of JFK, and I was stuck on a city bus in the pouring rain, and I had one of those rare opportunities for reflection that you don’t often get in the tunnel of everyday life. And I though “Well what do I want from life anyway?” and I thought “I want to be happy.” But I realize I didn’t spend any time thinking about whether I was happy or whether I could be happier.

And as often happens with me, I become obsessed with the idea and want to do a huge amount of research, so I ran to the library the next day and got this giant stack of books and started researching happiness. And before too long, I realized that I was just a deep, rich subject that I didn’t want to do it for myself on my own while I was—you know, kind of as a hobby project. I really wanted it to be my next book. And so I decided that I would really spend a year and think about everything that I wanted. Tried to learn about happiness, whether we can make ourselves happy or how we can make ourselves happier, and then try it out and see if I really did all that stuff, if I tried it, would I be happier?

And as part of it, one of the things I needed to try was novelty and challenge for happiness. This is something that all the happiness researchers will tell you. I have to say, in my case, I thought “No, I like familiarity and mastery so I don’t think novelty and challenge are gonna be important for me.” But to test that, I decided to start a blog. And so, as part of writing a book, I also started a blog, so now I have this blog that I’ve had for eight or nine years all about happiness and habits and human nature, as well as the books that I’ve been writing on those subjects.

Zephan: So, often times, when I comes to being happy, I found—and maybe you found this too—that we aren’t being present. We aren’t really being there in the moment to experience what there happening. We’re always on this mindset of go, go, go. One thing, the next thing, the next thing. You know, wash, rinse, repeat, and we forget to stop and smell the roses so to speak. We forget to take a moment, take everything in and kind of just evaluated where we are. You know, in our day, in our life, in our year, and in that specific moment. So do you think that we’re losing sight of happiness because we’re not being present there in the moment?

Gretchen: Well, that’s a very interesting question, and I think you put your finger right on it, which is it’s kind of this idea of mindfulness, of even stopping and asking yourself the question “Am I as happy as I can be?” And it’s funny because there’s this whole theme within happiness, and it’s like people like…you know, David Hume and Eleanor Roosevelt—all these very estimable people—who say, basically, if you try to make yourself happier, you won’t be. You’ll get in your own way. I think David Hume said “Ask yourself if you are happy and you shall cease to be so.” Or he says happiness is a side effect. It’s not something you should aim for.

But really, in my view, you don’t hit a target by not aiming at it or not thinking about it, but really by asking yourself “Am I as happy as I can be? What can I do to be happier?” you really make it much more likely that you are gonna bring about those changes. Like the kind of changes you made to make yourself happier. And then sometimes people will be like “Well I don’t want to make myself happier, I want to live a life full of meaning and engagement with other people and have fulfilling work.” I’m like, “well yeah, that’s exactly what you would do if you wanted to be happier!”

So I think that the just stopping and saying to ourselves “What’s going on here? Does my life reflect my interests, my values, my nature? Are the things I can do to make myself happier?” I think for most people, there’s some low hanging fruit that doesn’t take that much time, energy, and money, and really can make a big difference.

Zephan: So happiness can come from these small things. Like you said, from the low hanging fruit. You know, I personally found happiness through rowing. This was something I never thought in a million years I would see myself doing. My only memory of actually enjoying being on the water was when I was on a boat on the lake at our vacation house with my dad and our family on our vacations. But other than that, I’d think back to being on our fishing trips and getting sick and nauseas and seasick. So there’s these little things that we can find throughout our lives. For many of us, actually, it’s fitness, from the runners to the lifters to, now, my passion which is rowing. We can find these little low hanging fruit type things that we can do.

And, you know, that kind of makes me wonder, is happiness something that’s maybe simpler than we’re making it out to be? So my question to you is are we over complicating this? Is happiness something that is actually fairly simple and we’re just forcing it?

Gretchen: Hmm, is it simpler than the make it out to be…

Zephan: Like, for example, one of the things that I found it so many people are like “I need more money. I need more money. I need more clients, more work, more this, more that.” And that’s been such a huge thing for them that they focused on what they’re lacking. They focused on this thing that they don’t have, so they’re putting this negative vibe out into the world of they need something. And so people can kind of sense that and they stay away from it. So I just wonder, you know, is it something where it’s simpler than we’re trying to make it out to be?

Gretchen: You know, it’s interesting, there’s this study that I read and I keep meaning to look back at it to refresh my recollection of what exactly it said. But as I recall, what the study did is it asked people what’s more important to you about work. And it turned out that money was not in the top three or four. It was there, like in the top ten, but it wasn’t at the top. But then when they said “What do you think other people value most about work?” they said other people value money. I think that we tend to think that other people value money more than they do. I think that in—my sense is that most people kinda get it. That just having more money, just having cash in their pocket is not gonna make them happy, and that people get the idea that it’s how you spend it and it’s the decisions that you make.

Now that doesn’t mean that they’re doing that. it doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily following that and spending their money wisely in the way that are gonna have the biggest happiness bang for their buck, but I do think that—I don’t think there are many people that think that simply making more money, past a certain point—a certain level, is gonna make them happier.

Now, of course, one of the greatest luxuries that money can buy is the freedom not to have to worry about money. And money, I think, is something like health where we tend to—we experience it much more in the negative than in the positive. So if you don’t have enough money, then you’re very concerned about that and it’s a big, big worry and it’s a big negative. Then once you sort of have enough, then the other things begin to matter and you sort of see decisions with money matter more. Like are you spending your money on a new bicycle or on cocaine? You know, that’s gonna make a difference in your long term happiness.

So, yeah—so I think all these things are kind of—that we need to think about them because they play out in how we make the decisions that’ll effect our happiness.

Zephan: Interesting. So do you think that there’s any obstacles that are actually preventing us from being happy in our life?

Gretchen: You know, I think one of the biggest obstacles is loneliness. And if I could say that something should be studied more or addressed more, I think it would be loneliness. Because one the things that comes up most often when I’m talking to people is, like, “What do you do if you’re in your thirties and you move for your job to a place where you don’t know anybody and you don’t have any family? How do you make friends?” or for a lot of people—so it’s harder to make friends. People are really busy with a bunch of different things so it’s hard to maintain relationships. Like you have these friends but you feel like you’re not maintaining them, you know, because friendship takes time. It takes time and energy.

Or, you know, sometimes people have a very active social circle, but they’re missing a romantic partner. And for many people, they want both of those elements of relationships. They want that one intimate partner, like that quiet presence in the house, somebody who’s just, you know, with you, as well as the lively social scene. Not everybody needs that, but for some people, that’s a real source of concern as well.

And so I think that that’s—and if you look at—ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree, if you had to pick the one thing for happiness, that would be relationships. We need to have strong, enduring, intimate relationships. We have to feel like we belong. We need to be able to confide. We need to be able to give and get support. And when you look at the people who are happier, they tend to be people who have more strong relationships. And so I think that loneliness or feeling so busy that you can’t maintain a close—a meaningful relationship with the people in your life, I think that that is a big stumbling block.

Zephan: So there’s this connection of being lonely and being happy here. And actually, something that I read recently that I’ve been learning a little more about is a lot of researchers are saying that the reason why people have this urge to text while they’re driving is because it’s the time when we’re alone, it’s the time that we’re without people, without interaction, and so more and more people are texting while driving rather than any other place. Or they’re more tempted to text while driving because they are alone. They’re in this little bubble for their commute to work or their commute to wherever they’re going. So it’s more than just going from the house to the grocery store, they’re texting because they’re on this long-haul and they’re lonely.

Gretchen: Well it’s interesting that you say that because one of the things—I mean, you have a podcast so I’d be curious if you have the same experience, but my sister and I just started a new podcast called Happier with Gretchen Rubin and it’s tons of fun. And one of my goals for all of my happiness is to spend more time with my sister because she’s one of the most important relationships in my life. I live in New York City, she lives in LA, we’re both super busy, and with the time change and the distance, it’s hard. So it’s great to have something we work on together.

But one of the things that’s really struck me, and I wonder if you’ve experienced this, is many people, when they’re talking to me with the podcast, they will say it’s like having a new friend. “I listen to you in the car.” “I listen to you when I’m walking and it’s like hanging out with a friend.” And I never thought about, well maybe it is kind of like—it is something that’s—like somebody’s talking inside your head and you’re participating with somebody’s conversation.

And so it’s not exactly like having a friend but maybe it’s sort of in that vein of wanting connection and wanting to draw closer to people. Especially in some place like a car where you’re kind of trapped and maybe you don’t—there’s not that much going on of high value, so if you could do something that’s interesting and fun and kind of gives you that feeling of engagement. That’s it—I wonder if that’s related, that’s interesting. I don’t know if you’ve experienced that with podcast, but people say they kind of feel connected to you in some way. Because my sister and I have definitely noticed how often people commented like that.

Zephan: Yeah, I mean, I’ve definitely found that when I’m in the car listening to a podcast, I actually respond as if that person were there with me. So if they say something that I resonate with, I might smile. I they say something that I think is funny, I’ll laugh out loud. And I’m alone. And it’s so neat to see how I respond almost in the same way that you would if someone were right there next to you, you know. And so it’s kind of like you’re not lonely anymore. You actually get to have someone there with you.

So if you’re listening to the podcast right now in the car, first of all, kudos to you for not text and driving and doing something much more productive. But I’m here with you and so is Gretchen! So it’s great that you don’t have to be alone right now.

Gretchen: Yeah. So that’s better than texting. That’s probably a lot safe than texting while you’re driving, which is pretty much the worst idea. If there’s any habit that no one should have, it’s the habit of texting while they’re driving. So, yeah, that’s not good.

Zephan: Well, we can only hope that with all the technology that we have right now, maybe one day in the future, our phones will realize that they are flying through the air at sixty miles an hour and they’ll disable that ability to text, because that would be an important safety feature that I’m surprised isn’t in them right now, especially considering that they can already track how far we’re running and how many steps we take in a day.

But yeah, so what I really wanted to get into was, you know, you kind of started this movement out of the happiness project. Tell me what happened there. How did it go from being just a book to being something that was making a huge impact across the entire country, and if not the world?

Gretchen: You know, it’s interesting—I mean, I think—it’s something because when I was writing the book or talking to people, just people around me, people that I knew, they have sort of two reactions. One was “Well the story of your happiness project is not gonna be interesting because you’re so ordinary. You’re so boring that no one would be interested.” They would say that in a loving way, but that was basically it. And the other people would say “You’re so idiosyncratic no one is ever gonna identify with you.” And so there was sort of this feeling of no one’s gonna—it’s not gonna strike a chord with anyone.

But what I found out, and I think this is so interesting and it’s just about human nature, is that often—you’d think you would learn more about happiness or good habits or something if you were reading about, you know, big scientific studies that looked at large populations. Or philosophical treatises that looked at human nature. But, in fact, I think people most respond to someone else’s story.

And I know that when I was thinking about my own happiness project and who I learned from or what I learned from, the sources that I learned from first were the people around me, especially when I was writing my habits book, Better Than Before. I found it so instructive just to talk to people about their experiences. Or also other people’s memoirs or their own accounts. So someone like Benjamin Franklin or Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s extraordinarily influential to me memoir called Story of a Soul. One person’s story taught me more about myself that just about anything else.

And I think that there was something about the happiness project where I wasn’t coming from a place of deep unhappiness, not that much changed in my life, and yet I think I was somehow able to present information—most of which was not that surprising to anybody. I think with happiness most of us need to be reminded more than informed about the things that will make us happier. But I think that kind of hearing what I did suggested to people the kind of thing they could do. So it’s like “Gretchen’s really into reading so she started a book group. Well, I’m not into reading but I could go bike with friends every Saturday.” Like you get the point, or you figure—you see enough of yourself that you can think about “Well in this way, I’m like her. In this way, I’m not like her. This is what I would do.”

And so I think that’s why it sort of took off with other people. Was this idea that if I really sat down and think about the things that are most important to me and the very specific, concrete, manageable things I could do as part of my everyday life, these are the things that I could do. And some of them are really small—like one of the ones that people mention to me all the time is—which I wrote about in my book Happier At Home, which is all about happiness specifically at home—was to give warm hellos and goodbyes.

So in our household, every time someone comes or goes, they get a real hello, meaning everybody comes to them and really speaks to them and hugs or kisses them or whatever. And I started this because we were getting in a really bad habit of people just sort of grunting out “ehh!” from across the room and not really paying attention when people came and went from the apartment, and I really did not like that. I wanted to have a more tender, attentive atmosphere in our household. So we all talked about it—usually I don’t have group habits that people follow, but in this case we all agreed—and it’s made a tremendous difference in the atmosphere of our household just in terms of just the feeling of lovingness and connection.

And so I think it’s like—but that doesn’t take a lot of time, energy, or money. I think a lot of people are like “Yeah, I could do that. My family, we could totally do that!” and then they do it and then they’re happier. So I think that’s why it sort of caught on.

Zephan: You are absolutely right. I see this happen all the time where I’m leaving the house or I see it at someone else’s house and it’s just like “Alright, see you later, get out of here.” There’s no real interaction there. And I think that we could also obtain so much more gratitude and be so much more present and in the moment if we were doing this. So thank you so much for adding that to my list of things that I could improve upon, and I’m sure many of our listeners will take that back to our homes and want to use that too.

Now, you’ve got this other book out there now, and it’s called Better Than Before, and it’s all about how we change our habits, right?

Gretchen: Yep, and specifically how you can change your habits. Because for a lot of people, that’s a big happiness challenge. Is some habit that they can’t master.

Zephan: So you had a little bit of a story about how your previous book had come about. You know, you were sitting on a bus during that rainy day. Do you have a specific moment in time where, you know, Better Than Before just kind of came to you and the idea just kind of popped into your head?

Gretchen: Well, it sort of came on me gradually because I noticed that whenever I talked to people about happiness, whenever they were talking about a big happiness boost, or even a big happiness challenge that they were facing, they very often pointed to something that at its core was a habit issue. Like “Oh my problem is that I’m exhausted all the time.” Well that’s really about the habit of getting enough sleep.

So I was getting interested, more and more drawn into the subject of habits and kind of the related issues of willpower and self-control and procrastination, that kind of thing. And then I had lunch with a friend and she said something that got me obsessed with habits. And this was when I was like “I HAVE to crack the riddle of habits.” And what she said to me, because I was asking her about her habits, and she was like “Well, this is the thing, I know I would be happier if I had the habit of exercising. And what’s weird is when I was in high school, I was on the track team and I never missed track practice, but I can’t go running now. Why?” and I thought “Well, why??” because it’s the same person, it’s the same behavior. At one time it was effortless, now she can’t do it. What is going on with her habits?

And so with that, I became just—you know, that was all I could think about, was habits and wanting to really come up with a framework that would explain everything that I saw on habits. Because often the experts will sort of say one thing like “Oh, you should do it first thing in the morning!” “You should start small!” “You should do it for thirty days!” or “Give yourself a cheat day, that’s what’s gonna work.” and it’s like…well…that’s not wrong, but that works for some people some of the time in some situations. Like I wanted to come up with a—I wanted to account for everything that I saw in habits, and so that’s when I because determined to write Better Than Before.

Zephan: And you brought up a really good point there about how, you know, creating these habits aren’t exactly easy. So why do we find it so tough to create a habit for something that we love to do? You know, maybe it’s your passion but for whatever reason it seems really complicated.

Gretchen: Well I think, in the case of my friend, I think there’s a couple different answers for that. But one of the things that I discovered in the course of writing the book is that really—I came up with a framework that divides everybody into one of four categories in terms of how they respond to expectations, and a habit is a kind of expectation. Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. And there’s a quiz on my site, if anybody wants to take a quiz. But the biggest tendency and the one that’s my friend is that for Obligers, they readily meet outer expectations, but they struggle to meet inner expectations.

So for my friend, when she had a coach and a team, she had no trouble showing up. But when it was only her own inner expectation for herself, it was very hard for her to follow through. And so that describes you, because this is the biggest tendency. Most people—bigger—the most number of people fall into this tendency. If there’s something that you really love and yet you find that you never are following through with it, give yourself external accountability. For instance, a friend of mine was like “I love to read but I never make time to read, why is that?” Well then she joined a book group where you’re really expected to read the book. And she reads.

Or I was talking to the two people who were both Obligers who were like “What’s the problem? Because we both love to cook, and we really want to bring home cooked meals to work every day because we’re eating all this junk food and it’s expensive and it’s not good for us. And yet why is it that even though we cook and even though we’re committed to the idea of healthy food, we just never do it and we just keep ordering in every day?” Well so what they did—because Obligers need external accountability—they decided they would divide the time in half. Half the time one of them cooked, half the time the other one of them cooked. And so, if it’s your turn to cook, you have to cook or the other person can’t eat, and you have to eat what the person cooks for you because they made you lunch.

And so, again, it’s this sense of external accountability. And so I have to say, with everything in the book, this is an idea that for many people has been huge. You don’t have to worry about priorities, you don’t have to worry about motivation, you don’t have to worry about sacrifice. If you have trouble following through on something that’s important to you, give yourself external accountability. And on my site, I have a starter kit for people, if you want to start a group for people holding each other accountable.

Because that’s one—you know, think about AA or Weight Watchers. When a group comes together, they don’t even have to be working on the same habits, but it’s just the idea that you know that someone’s gonna be like “Hey, you said you were gonna spend more time learning how to play guitar. Have you been practicing guitar? Have you been taking—you said you were gonna do it for a half an hour every night, how’s that going?” Knowing that you have that external accountability, for many people, is really the crucial thing that’s gonna allow them to stick to it. Because just the fact that you love something doesn’t mean that it’s gonna happen. And you need to figure out why something’s not happening so you can bring about circumstances that will allow it to actually happen.

Zephan: Now with how important these habits are to our lives, do you have any recommendation as far as, you know, a basic foundation or basic pillar of what we should be doing, what habits we should be forming or maybe what habits we should be focusing more on? You know, we have Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, things like food, water, shelter, things that we need as basics, but are there any particular habits that we need to have as a foundation to make ourselves better?

Gretchen: Yes. Absolutely. And so in the book, I talk about the 21 strategies that people use to make or break habits, and it’s the same strategies whether you’re making them or breaking them, so that doesn’t matter. And all of them are really powerful, and the one you’re pointing to is what I call the strategy of foundation. Which is that there’s certain areas of behavior that go directly to self-mastery. And when you’re trying to give yourself a good habit, you need to use self-mastery. Eventually, you’ll have it as a behavior to go on autopilot, which is excellent, but until you get that cemented in, you have to use your self-mastery.

And in general, we want lots of self-mastery. You want as much self-mastery as you can have, generally, because that’s what allows you to do the things that you want to do and not do the things you don’t want to do.

So four areas of behavior go directly to self-mastery, and so there, they kind of have special priority. Like if you’re gonna work on anything, or you’re gonna try to start somewhere, these are the places to think about starting first, because they’re gonna make it easier to do anything else you want to do.

One area to think about is eating and drinking. Now, weirdly, one reason that people overeat is that they don’t eat enough. You know, you skipped breakfast, you skipped lunch, then you’re so hungry that you’re just grabbing anything, any junk food you can because you can’t—you’re not—you have to eat right—you have to be satisfied in order to have that self-mastery. And drinking, I mean, I think we all get it. Part of the fun of drinking is that it lowers inhibitions, and so if you’re drinking, it’s gonna be harder to stick to your good habits.

Next: sleep. If you’re exhausted, it’s very hard to use your self-mastery. And this is when you get into people who are exhausted, they’re getting by on four hours of sleep every night and then they’re standing there at midnight in front of the freezer, eating an entire pint of ice cream to try to recharge their battery. Most adults need seven hours. It’s really important to get your sleep.

Moving around. You don’t need to train for the marathon, but it’s really—people often think they’re too tired to exercise, but exercise actually does boost energy and self-mastery. It doesn’t deplete it. And so you want to be up and moving around as much as you can.

And then one thing that surprised me—I think those are all pretty obvious, but this surprised me. For most people, kind of more than you would expect, outer order contributes to inner calm and a sense of inner self-command. There’s something—and I—it’s kind of disproportionate effect that many people—and I certainly feel this way myself—feel like if they throw away their junk, if they put things in their proper paces, if they get rid of things that they don’t use or they don’t love, if they clear off surfaces, if they make room in closets and shelves, that they just feel more in control of themselves.

A friend of mine said “I finally cleaned my fridge and now I know I can switch careers!” and I knew exactly what that felt like. And so those are the four areas I would say if you’re gonna start anywhere, start with how it’s related to those behaviors because that’s likely gonna make it easier to do anything else that you want to do.

Zephan: So start with those basic foundations, and I’m sure that it’ll expand out into all the aspects of your life.

Well, you mentioned some really great resources here that are on your website. Do you mind just sharing with the listeners and the viewers what the URL is for that, and also how they can check out your podcast and stay in touch with you?

Gretchen: Yeah, absolutely. My site is called, just my name. And then the resources section, I have all kinds of discussion guides and downloads for changing your habits, creating your own happiness project, starting groups, all kind of things that are meant to make it easier for you to do a happiness project or to tackle your habits.

And my new podcast, which I’m loving, is called Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and I do that once a week for twenty-five minutes with my sister, who’s a TV writer living in LA, and so… We’re sisters so we don’t let each other get away with much and we talk about the science, the philosophy, pop culture, and our own experiences about habits and happiness.

And—and yeah, this new book, I’m very excited about. Better Than Before is really all about this issue of habits because habits, it turns out, are about forty percent of our daily life. So if we have habits that work for us, we’re just much more likely to be happier, healthier, and more productive. And if your habits don’t work for you then that is just gonna be a much bigger challenge. So I think it’s worth taking the time to focus on habits, bring that mindfulness that you were talking about for a happy life, also, to your habits. It’s always mindfulness. Everything comes down to mindfulness in the end, it’s all about mindfulness.

Zephan: So mindfulness leading to creating better habits leading to a happier life! I love it! Thank you so much for spending some time with me here today. It’s been great speak with you. And, you know, for everyone listening in, definitely check out Gretchen’s books. The new one is called Better Than Before, and she also has the Happiness Project and Happier At Home, and we’ll be sure to link to those books on the website at

Gretchen, thank you so much for being here today, and we will talk to you soon!

Gretchen: Thank you. Great to talk to you.

Bio: Shaan Dasani is a Los Angeles based Actor, Producer and Host. He began his career in entertainment working behind-the-scenes, spending the last 10 years working in film production – creating short films, commercials, music videos, web series and videos for mobile apps. A member of the Director’s Guild of America, Shaan has created award winning content with his production company Karma Theory Films, focusing on character and emotion to tell stories that engage.

Several years ago, Shaan’s life took a major turn as he embarked on a game-changing transformation – transitioning gender. The process lead to some major soul searching, spiritual questioning and honest conversations with loved ones. Since transitioning, Shaan has become more active in seeking on-camera and on-stage roles. He is currently creating an adventure reality docu-series called ‘Born 2 Trans4m’ – a show where he takes the idea of learning something new and turns it into an ambitious 24-hour challenge.

For more information, please visit:

Follow @ShaanDasani

Show Notes:

Born 2 Trans4m

Karma Theory Films

Shaan Dasani on IMDB

Dandeleon Juice

Float Tank


Show +

Zephan: What’s up, everybody? Zephan Blaxberg here, from the Year of Purpose podcast, and if you don’t know me by now, you probably want to go back and watch the previous, like, twenty-some episodes cause we talked to some really cool people. So welcome back if you’ve heard our podcast before, and welcome in you are a new person!

I want to introduce you to someone today that I actually was fortunate enough to meet through going out to a conference in Las Vegas about a week or two ago. And through a mutual friend, we met and connected. Really cool guy. His name is Shaan Dasani, and he’s located in Los Angeles. And basically he’s an actor, a producer, and host. He began his career in entertainment working behind the scenes, spending the last ten years working in film production, creating short films, commercials, music videos, web series, and videos for mobile apps. He’s also a member of the Director’s Guild of America. Shaan has created aware winning content with his production company, Karma Theory Films, focusing on character and emotion to tell stories that engage.

Now, several years ago, Shaan’s life took a major turn as he embarked on a game changing transformation, transition gender. The process led to some major soul searching, spiritual questioning, and honest conversations with loved ones. Since transitioning, Shaan has become more active in seeking on-camera and on-stage roles. He’s currently creating an adventure reality docu series called Born to Transform, a show where he takes the idea of learning something new and turns it into an ambitious twenty-four hour challenge.

Now, Shaan, I watched your trailer for this, and one of the funniest things that kind of popped out to me is you were like in front of this venue for a concert, and you’re like “I’m gonna learn how to play an instrument, and in twenty-four hours, I’m playing it at this place! Only problem is I’ve never played this instrument before.” So that’s pretty cool, I’m really excited to see what happens with Born to Transform and where this goes. But, how about, let’s just talk about where that idea came from.

Shaan: Sure. First of all, Zephan, thank you. That was such a cool intro. I appreciate that. It’s good to be here today talking to you.

Uhm, Born to Transform. I don’t—I don’t know where it came from. Sometimes these things manifest from these other world sources, like from the higher powers, but, uhm—so last year, like you were saying, I started pursuing more on-camera opportunities. And I was taking this hosting class with a woman named Marki Costello, she’s based here in LA. She’s really good and she’s really… She’s really good at helping you figure out what your brand is gonna be, and I told her—I said “Look, I don’t know how to find my brand, so to speak, because so much of who I am is intertwined with this personal transformation” that I was actually going through right then. I was kind of in the thick of things.

And, you know, we kind of—we talked about it, and she kept encouraging me “Think about it. Think about what you want to do,” because I didn’t want to do like red carpet interviews or Entertainment News. It just wasn’t my thing. I might watch it, but it’s not what I wanted to be known for. And I started thinking about transformation, and transitioning, and how much of my life I didn’t think was possible because I didn’t feel like I identified with my body, and things I’d always held myself back from.

And I thought “Well, look, it’s not just you. A lot of people do this.” I thought about people that I knew, and why we sometimes live a life that we think we’re supposed to live because that’s what—that’s the image we’ve been presented with, and we don’t do these crazy adventurous things. There are people that do it, but by and large, we live in this…way, you know what I mean? Like this regimented, you’re this and this age, you’re supposed to go to college, you’re supposed to get married, you’re supposed to have kids and do all this stuff. And where’s the room to really explore adventurous things and have fun?

And I started thinking about this. And then I made a list of all the things I didn’t know how to do. And I looked at it, and I thought “That’s a really long list.” And we have this finite amount of time in our life. And I thought, “What if I learn how to do all of these things? How to do these things,” and at the same time, I was thinking about the show, and thought “Well, what if I learn how to do it in twenty-four hours?” Not in a given day, like one set day, like twenty-four hours, but an hour a day for, say, a month. And worked one on one with an expert, somebody that has already mastered that skill, and they teach me what they know, and whatever happens at that twenty-fourth hour, I preform it somewhere.

And that’s where the idea came from, and I started telling people about it, and people really resonated with this—the fun of it, and the adventure of it. And then people started asking “Why? Why did you get this idea?” and I had to go into my personal transformation. So it took a little while to get comfortable talking to people about transitioning, especially when they were people I was just meeting for the first time.

Zephan: Yeah, so, there’s this script, right, of what we think we’re supposed to live our life at. This is a really cool topic I’ve been getting more and more into lately and figuring out. Like, everybody’s under this impression of like, there’s this pre-written script for you. You go to high school, you go to college, you get your degree, you get a job—and it’s like…where’s the part where we do what we actually want to do, right? Like there’s a balance. You can’t just say “I’m gonna go and spend money frivolously that I don’t even have,” but I mean that’s where our religion and our upbringing has given us those right and wrong things to decide for ourselves.

And it’s really cool that you brought up this topic because—actually just this morning—I wrote an email out to our list for our Year of Purpose podcast, and I talked about how being alone—like we have this idea that we should never be alone, we should always be talking to people and always be connected with everyone. I mean, Facebook, I can send a message to a friend in Israel in two seconds. We’re so interconnected and it’s like there’s this script of we have to be this way.

And the coolest thing was, last night, I actually went to a concert alone. And being alone, you really start to learn a lot about yourself and about what you want and you start to follow that. because for like the first ten or fifteen minutes, I kept looking at the door, trying to like hope that a friend would come in the door, waiting for them, that way I wouldn’t be alone, and I totally missed the whole time that the person running the front door, the person who was kind of at the box office area was an old friend of mine that I haven’t seen in about ten years.

And so we’re so worried about worried about following the script of how we think things should play out that we kind of miss these little gifts that are given to us. So that was just a really cool experience I wanted to share with your because it really kinda lines up with that idea of, you know, is there a story for us that we’re already supposed to play out? And so you’re clearly going against the grain there and saying “No. I can rewrite my story exactly how I want it to be. Here’s all the things I don’t know how to do, so let’s go and do it,” is that right?

Shaan: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I’ve been going against the grain for a long time, so this is just kind of the natural “well, what else are you gonna do?” So, yeah.

Zephan: That’s awesome. So you—so you want to learn—do you have a set idea like how many different skills? Like, obviously the list could be increasing each and every single day, but are there a first, like, ten or fifty or even a hundred that you want to do? Or maybe is there one or two that you’re totally scared to even learn how to do?

Shaan: There’s probably a lot that, uh—well, I was thinking about this. What would be the first thing? Because we shot—it’s called a sizzle trailer. We shot that about a month ago, and just came up with a bunch of ideas there, but I was really thinking “Well, when you start filming, what would be the first thing you want to learn how to do?” and…a couple of things came to mind. So I haven’t yet decided. But one is hip hop dance.

Because I do dance, like I enjoy dancing and freestyling, but have a real hard time with choreography. And the way hip hop dancers—you know, I’ve been watching all the videos. The way that the moves are so precise and so like on point with certain parts of the music, it’s just—it’s a beautiful thing to watch. And, uhm, I think it’s a whole lot of confidence that comes out too when you know how to move your body in rhythmic way. There’s a whole comfort that happens with it and your sense of self. And not to mention it’s really fun.

So I think that’s top—that’s one of the top ones on my list. And another one would be martial arts. Some sort of self-defense. The reason for that is—you know, Zephan, when I started transitioning…and I don’t even know how to define that because I don’t know when I really started or what the starting for was. It was kind of—been happening my entire life.

So I always presented very masculine, and somewhere in my mind when I knew I was gonna start this process where I was just sitting with the process of “Okay, you are transgender, what are you gonna do about it?” I felt this sense of anxiety in how I was carrying myself. Because I would go to, like say, a restaurant or the grocery store and, in my head, I knew I wanted to be referred to as “sir” and the person would always say “Okay, ma’am, wouldn’t you like paper or plastic?” and it felt so uncomfortable to me. And, uhm—and I started kind of walking in the world and moving in the world with this “Oh no, what are people gonna think and who’s gonna say what to me today?” and just kind of like carrying this heaviness and not feeling comfortable.

And I had a good friend at the time—I made a good friend at the time, who ended up being a guy that I would work out with. Now he was a, uh—he was actually a bodybuilder and he was Mr. Australia a few years ago, so he was huge. And randomly, I ran into this guy at the coffee machine one day. And he’s like this big, bulging two hundred and twenty pound muscular guy, and I’m just kind of like “Hey, man, you look like you work out.”

Zephan: Just a little bit!

Shaan: Yeah, and we started talking and he said that he trains people in boxing and I said “Man, I really want to learn.” So I hadn’t yet started coming out to people as identifying male, like I would tell people I was close to, but here was this—an Australian big body builder and I was gonna start training with him and I thought “I don’t know, we’ll see what happens” and we started training the first few sessions. And he, just in his own way and his own charisma, he would just say “Alright, sweetie, I need you to duck a little and”—you know, he would call me “sweetie” all the time, and I’m like “Man, I’m so not a ‘sweetie!’”

And third or fourth workout, I was like “Look, I got to tell you something. Can you not call me sweetie?” He was like “Alright, what do you want me to call you?” I’m like “What would you call the men that you work out with?” and he said “Well, I guess I say ‘mate.’” And I said “Okay, call me mate.” And he’s like “Alright, mate, you got it.” And he was just so onboard and on cool, and through the process of just like working out with him, we had some great conversations about what it was to be a man and what masculinity was. And so he was kind of like the person that I would talk to when things came up, as far as like guy stuff.

And I’m like “you know, something’s happening.” So like a few months later, something was happening, it’s really bizarre. I’m walking on the sidewalk, just walking with another friend, and another guy’s coming from the opposite direction and they would like bump my shoulder. Like just—when clearly there’s room for us to walk around each other. And for some reason, it’s not like in my mind it occurred to move, and it felt like a very deliberate thing in that persons mind to like bump my shoulder. And I’m like “what is this?” So I asked him “What is that—what is that?”

He’s like “Well they’re challenging you.” It’s a—kind of like a respect thing, but it’s also an “I’m gonna test you and see what you’re made of” thing. And I’m like, “I have never experienced this before,” but it started to get me to think, if you were ever in a situation where someone did want to be aggressive towards you—I’m not an aggressive person. Like, I’m just not. But I would want to hold my own, you know what I mean. I would want to defend myself and take care of myself. And I think most—I would think most people would want to be able to take care of themselves in that way. Like against any kind of bully, you know what I mean?

And so all the training that we did, as far as boxing, like that—that kind of just got me—that made me feel more empowered, just as I was coming into my sense of being who I was. It doesn’t matter, like, male/female, man/woman, like just be only who you are and being able to stand up for yourself.

So martial arts, coming back to your question, like that’s a long answer. But martial arts is kind of a big thing for me, like, if I ever wanted to handle myself or had to defend myself, I’d want to make sure I knew how to do that. So I think that’s probably—those are my top two.

Zephan: So, I mean, dance and martial arts, that really requires being comfortable in your own skin, right, and like learning where your body is in space, learning how your body works and functions, teaching your muscle memory new things and movements. So it’s really cool that you’re taking yourself kind of out of your comfort zone to build a new comfort zone, so to speak, in learning those things.

I have so many questions here right now that I want to ask, but I guess let’s just talk about like being comfortable, because I feel like that’s a pretty big thing. You know, what is it like to grow up and be a certain way that you feel uncomfortable with, and then to have to go and tell your family and your loved ones? I mean, you had a great example there of your bodybuilder friend.

How do you—because this could apply to numerous scenarios. For example, I had to tell me very Jewish mother that I was going to quit my job and start a business, and as you might know, that can cause a lot of freaking out. So, you know, how do you go about approaching both these people and these conversations and trying to come into your own skin, whether that’s, in your case and example, genders, my case and example, changing jobs or starting a business—you know, how can we learn to be more comfortable? What sort of skills or things could we take advantage of?

Shaan: Man, that’s a great question. Learning how to be comfortable… I don’t know—I don’t know that it can be—that it’s something to teach, but I can just speak from my process.

Zephan: Yeah.

Shaan: Uh, so…from the time I was three years old—that was about the time that I started to understand there’s a thing called boys and there’s a thing call girls. And I just thought “I’m a boy.” And I just thought that. I don’t know if I ever verbalized it. I’m not sure I ever said it out loud, I just was just kind of like “Oh yeah,” there was nothing to say or establish.

And then, as I got a little older, I thought “Okay, so…puberty, right…Like I’m sure my body will change and I’ll be just like my cousin.” I had like two role models when I was a kid. My male cousin, who was just three years older, and then my older sister. And so I thought “Oh, I’ll just be like him. I’ll hit that age and everything will just fall into place, it’ll be fine.”

And then twelve years old, thirteen years old, that’s not what happened at all. And I had—I was scared. I was really, really scared and things started to—my body started to feminize, and—my family is Indian, South Asian, and certain things happen in our culture, like—they say arranged marriage, but the way that my family does it, it’s not like—it’s not like you’re meeting your future spouse the day of your wedding, it’s not like that at all, but like they put the search out here for you. Like “Oh, you’re of age. We’re gonna put the word out there into the South Asian world and we’ll find a husband for you.” You know, like, it’s this crazy network.

Zephan: Is there like this website like JDate, where they just go on and say “Hey! Here’s a picture, who wants it?”

Shaan: Kind of, except there’s no internet involved. They all like—based on where you’re from in India—like my family is Sindhi, like our particular state, and they would put the word out there, like to all the Sindhis, “Hey, we got this child who’s of age and we’re looking for a husband” and da-da-duh. And so I was like “Oh my god, they’re gonna do that for me!” when I get to this age, and I would like—I felt like “You have to now fit into that box. You’ve been a tomboy. That all was fine when you were ten. You’re thirteen/fourteen and things are not getting—things are not working in your favor so you better try to be a girl and be a straight girl.”

And I would do these things, I would say to my sister “Okay, uhm, how do you”—like I would ask her questions like “Okay, you like boys. You find boys attractive. How? What is it that you like?” I would analyze, because I didn’t see it. I didn’t understand it. I was attracted to women. Girls. And she’d encourage me to curl my hair and do—like wear skirts and all that stuff, and I was just like “Yeah…how does this feel—do you do this because you feel like you have to do it, or do you do this cause you really like wearing makeup? Why are you doing this?” and she’s like “No, I like wearing makeup.” And I was like “Oh my god”—I just really hated all of that stuff.

Zephan: I hate wearing makeup too, if it makes you feel better.

Shaan: [laughs] We’re on the same page! But like, every night, I would go through this process of like just analyzing and trying to figure out why I didn’t fit. And every night for like three or four years, between like ages thirteen to sixteen/seventeen, I would pray, and I would say to God, like, “I know that you can make miracles happen. So I don’t know how you’re gonna do it, but when I wake up in the morning, I want you to turn me into a boy, because all of this stuff I’m doing, it just doesn’t feel right.” And I’d wake up in the morning and just like probe, and it didn’t happen. And eventually, I kind of gave up and I thought “Okay, that’s not gonna happen, so you have to—there’s no choice. You have to really figure this out.”

So I told my parents. “Okay, look, this is how I’m feeling.” And my mom would say “It’s okay, I was a tomboy too, it’s fine. It’s a phase, you’ll grow out of it.” And I think she would say stuff like that to make herself feel better and to give me a sense of comfort, and—and I didn’t know how to talk to my dad about it. He worked a lot. He was the—he supported our family, and we have a big extended family. And he was an entrepreneur. And he was—he was around—every week, he’d be out of town for about two days of the week. So to open up in this way, I didn’t yet feel comfortable to share all this with him. Because I was with my mom most of the time. Like she was the parent who are always there.

So I told her and she’d relay it to him, and he talked to me. He was like “You know, I have a good friend in the community who is a therapist. Would you like to talk to talk to him?” and I said “Yeah, I do. I want to talk to him.” So I was eighteen, and I saw this therapist. And it was a small town in North Carolina, and I didn’t know what to expect. And the first day, I was in tears and I was crying, and I said “I want you to help me be more like my sister” and “I don’t care what it takes, but you have to do this, because, at some point, my family’s gonna try and arrange my marriage. I’m gonna have to marry a guy. I don’t know how to do that.”

And he looked at me with the most, like, gentle eyes, and he said—and he actually had tears in his eyes, I still remember. He said “I’m happy to work with you. But I want you to be open to the fact that that might not happen. At the end of all the therapy, you might not be how you think you’re supposed to be, and that’s okay.” And I was so scared. Zephan, I was like “No, I can’t. I can’t do that. We have to figure this out.”

So I had about two sessions with him, two to three sessions, and I think on the second or third one, he brought a TIME magazine with him and he put it in this brown paper bag as if he was, you know, giving me a dirty magazine or something. He gave it to me, he’s like “I want you to read this.” And it was an issue of TIME—I want to go back and find out what issue that was, but it was one of the first issues where they talked about how our—it was more focused on sexuality at that time, because I didn’t understand what transgender was at that point, but it was more about how our preferences could be coded into our DNA. And I was like “Oh my god, don’t give me this! I’m trying to be a straight-edge person right now! I don’t know what to do with this!”

And I saw him three times, and at the time I was moving, I was transferring colleges so I was moving away, so I just didn’t get a chance to work with him anymore, but he recommended a different therapist to me in the town that I was gonna be in college. And that therapist was—he was kind of like “Okay, alight, you want to be straight. I get that, okay, I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna help you with that.” and he would—you know, I’d come into these sessions with him and he was really asking me these questions about trying to fit into this box that every time I talked to him I was like “Yeah, I don’t. I know that’s why I came here, but I can’t, man. It doesn’t feel natural to me.” And, uhm—and going through that whole process was this feeling of getting comfortable.

So I was a sophomore in college when all this was going down. By senior year, I had not yet come out to anybody. And I had a friend who came up to me at a party, and he goes—he put his hand on my shoulder, and he goes “You know, we know.” And I was like “What? What do you know?” and he was like “Come on. We know.” And he was like “All of your friends know and it’s okay. And we all love you.” And [inaudible] “What?! How do you know?!” Like, “Why didn’t you tell me you knew?!” and I was just like going through this whole process.

And, uh—and yeah, I think that was the most beautiful thing, [cutting out] just started getting these hints of I’m around people that are supportive, wonderful people. And when I’m really, they will still be wonderful, supportive people. And that’s so much a part of the process of getting comfortable with who you are. That was for me. Like, I don’t think—if I had people that were constantly knocking me down, or pushing at me in this way, I don’t think I could have stayed in that space and become comfortable with who I am.

Zephan: That’s really great. So the fact that your friends were about to accept it even before you had made it clear to them—I’d imagine that probably really helps you in the process to understand who you are. Because that’s probably a big fear, right. Like having people accept you, isn’t it?

Shaan: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s kind of crazy, because when you say it, part of me is like “Why do we care so much about what other people think?” I mean, you have your life, I have my life. You have a right to live yours, I have a right to live mine. But this feeling of wanting to be loved, and wanting to be accepted, it’s like ingrained in us. It’s like a human need at the end of the day, so it’s not a bad [cut out]. It’s just important to surround ourselves with people that will give us that feeling of comfort so that we can ultimately find ourselves. I think that’s why we’re here, you know.

Zephan: That’s awesome. So there’s a relatively long process when you decide to do this, right. There’s hormone therapy among other things you have to do, right? So—

Shaan: Yeah—

Zephan: Yeah, go head.

Shaan: So I’m in North Carolina—I was born and raised in North Carolina, but I’m actually based in California, which makes it easier. The first thing, for me, was understanding, like, what it was to be transgender and whether or not I was going to actually go through a physical transition, because not everybody who identifies as transgender or gender non-conforming goes through a physical transition. It’s—aside from other things, it’s also—it’s not cheap. So sometimes access is an issue, and sometimes it’s enough to say “Hey, this is how I feel, I identify as this gender. Please use this pronoun for me.” And that should be enough, for someone to be able to affirm who they are in the world, just accept it. And sometimes our communities do and sometimes our communities don’t.

So for me, it was like “Okay…do you—do you want to go through a physical transition? Or is it enough for you to just tell your community to start referring to you as Shaan, as male, use male pronouns?”

Zephan: As mate.

Shaan: Mate, yeah, instead of sweetie, exactly. And I just—honestly, Zephan, I was thinking about—look, we have this finite amount of time. And one day, we’re all gonna die. It’s all gonna be over, and we find out what the reason for all of this stuff happening was. And I thought “What is my body?” What is my body? My body is like an outfit that I’m wearing. And it’s like “Would you rather wear an outfit that you feel comfortable in, or would you rather be in an outfit that you don’t feel comfortable?” Because inside, who you are is not changing. It’s not like you’re smarter, it’s not like you’re funnier—although, I am funnier. [Both laugh] I’m kidding.

But really, it’s just a sense of, like, am I wearing an outfit that I feel comfortable and safe in and that I feel good in? And I wanted to know what that felt like, because I never knew what that felt like. And I thought, you know, God knows how long this life is gonna be. Just spend it in a way that you’re gonna feel comfortable.

So, physically, the first thing that had to happen was just mentally saying “Okay, I’m ready for this.” Then there’s this whole process of changing my name, because my birth name, I didn’t at all identify with.

Zephan: What was your birth name, by the way?

Shaan: Uh—I’ll tell you. I usually don’t answer the question, but now that I think about it, it’s actually—it’s online, it’s everywhere. So my birth name was Sabina. And Sabina actually means “princess.”

Zephan: Interesting.

Shaan: It’s just when I was born, what my parents thought they were getting. And, yeah, they had the shock of their lives when I told them “Nope, that’s not at all what’s gonna happen.”

Zephan: I was gonna say, if it translated to “sweetie” that would be ironic.

Shaan: Yeah, that would be. That would be. I actually never got nicknamed princess, ever, by anyone. So…people kinda knew, somewhere along the way. But when I—the reason I had to change my name at the time—so I had my thesis film. I went to film school, you know, starting to hit he festival circuit with my thesis film, and I was in the suite with my editor and putting the titles on the film, the credit comes up “Directed by…” and I thought “Oh my god, what name do I put?” because, legally, I hadn’t changed my name yet.

And I hadn’t even told my family I want to change my name. But I was like, I’m not gonna tour the festival circuit with the old name, because at some point, I’m gonna change it. And I already knew what I wanted the new name to be, so I just told the editor “I want you to put my new name, Shaan Dasani.” And I told her. And I don’t—I talked to her like so much through this process, you know what I mean. Because you’re going through this—putting your art out there and creating this vision, it opens you up in other ways, too.

So we started hitting the festival circuit with the new name…and I told—I sent a letter to my family—an email to like my huge extended family. “Oh, these are the updates that are happening with the movie, da-da-dah. We’re going to this festival, blah-blah-blah. And, by the way, I am changing my name because….you know, everyone in Hollywood changes their name.” Like…yeah. But some family members kind of knew what was up, you know.

So for me, the first process was me changing my name unofficially, and then months later, it was—I went through the legal process here in California. You can do your name and gender marker change legally at the same time, but I wasn’t yet ready to do the gender marker change, because I didn’t know what would be involved. When to the courthouse, filed the paperwork, changed the name, and then started researching doctors. People have different processes. Some people chose to go through hormone therapy first, verses surgery. Some people do surgery first, and some people might do just one or the other.

So there was still a lot of figuring out in terms of what was right for me, but whichever order people do it in, hormone therapy, if people decide to do it, it necessary for the rest of your life. So that’s not some—I’m not big into western medicines. I don’t believe in Tylenol, you know what I mean. I’d rather just wait it out or drink a lot of water, or anything else. But this would mean, for me, taking testosterone injections for the rest of my life.

And I had to kind of even sit with that. “What’s your comfort level with that? Is that something you want to commit to?” and I thought “Well…ultimately, if I want to be the person I am…” Like it’s not always gonna be—you’re not always gonna get everything in this—you know, everything’s always in this…good favor—you know what I mean. Like it’s not always gonna be—work out in this rosy way. So it’s like, there’s gonna be some things to deal with, some things to manage. And I thought “Yeah, I’m up for that. That’s fine. I’ll handle that. It’s gonna empower me to be more in control of my health. And more mindful of what other affects that might have on my body.”

So nothing is proven. Like all the research I did, there is nothing proven that they’ve—how testosterone would affect somebody who’s transitioning from female to male. There are rumors of things, like how it can affect your internal organs, but I guess, scientifically, they haven’t proven anything yet. But just kind of being mindful of what some of the affects might be, I thought, “Everything else you’re doing in your life, you have to make sure supports that.” so I wasn’t—I wasn’t—I was never big in drinking at all, but I cut out alcohol completely, I don’t smoke.

And everything in terms of diet became more holistic. Just more greens, more vegetables. I’m vegetarian anyway, but just making sure I’m not eating junk, because it’s really easy to do that to reach for junky foods when you’re a vegetarian because it’s so easy to do. But just—just trying to stay on top of drinking water and paying attention to even other things I’m doing, like—I don’t know, it seems like really involved but hair gel. Chemicals in hair gel. I don’t use hair gel anymore, I’ll use something more natural like an oil or something like that to give my hair a little bit of shine. You know what I mean?

Zephan: Yeah, it’s a whole new lifestyle.

Shaan: Yeah. It’s a whole new lifestyle. And just wanted to take care of myself and be around for the long-haul as much as possible.

Zephan: Yeah. A huge lesson in once you figure out what you are comfortable with, or where you are going to be comfortable ,that chasing it pretty much a t all costs is really what you should do because this is the rest of your life that we’re talking about here. You know, not just “I’m gonna feel terrible for a week,” I mean, why should you feel uncomfortable the rest of your life when you have the choice to follow what your body is naturally telling you to feel?

Shaan: Absolute. Absolutely.

Zephan: So, you brought up water there, which I have to ask you now, because I know we were chatting about this before we jumped on the call for this, but you told me about an interesting drink that you are trying. So I think this would be a cool way to round out the episode here. So we jumped on the call, we started chatting, you’re like “Hey, I just tried this new drink with”—it’s dandelions, is that right? So tell me—because I know that you take a holistic approach on things with your nutrition, maybe some people listening might want to try this. Because I told you I just had my coffee and it was probably my third one for this week, and you had a much more interesting and potentially better solution for it. So what was that?

Shaan: Oh, man, I’m gonna sound like a crazy, hippie Californian right now, but like—like I embrace that part of my personality too, because I kind of am. But this is just like—a friend of mine told me about this. So she’s—she does—she’s an [36:04?] practitioner. So she was recommending for me and certain things happening with my body right now to have this—a dandelion drink.

So you take—you go to the grocery store, you can get it at the grocery store. It’s like a big bunch—kind of like kale but it’s not as, uhm, hard. You know how kale’s like a really hard leaf? It’s not as hard. But it comes in like this big bunch, and I took half of the bunch, put it in the blender, put it in some water, blended it, and that’s it. And you can—I think with half a bunch—again, Zephan, I’m new at this so don’t necessarily go by my quote-unquote “expertise,” but like, I took half the bunch, put it in water, blended it, and then that made about two days’ worth of the green juice. Just drink it straight, like that.

And, uhm, I had it right before the interview. I thought “Might be nice to have a little bit of a glow during this podcast,” I don’t know if it’s happening or not. But I feel good! I feel energetic [inaudible].

Zephan: That’s really cool. The—so I’m all about trying knew and weird stuff, whether it’s food or experiences. I don’t know if I told you, but I tried a float tank. It’s an isolation chamber, sound proof and light proof, has a thousand pounds of Epsom salt in it, and water that’s only about six or seven inches deep, and you float in it for about an hour, two hours, and after about ten or fifteen minutes without the stimuli and sound, you actually start to hallucinate—in a good way. It’s kind of like daydreaming, and I actually got to approach my inner child, my like five, six, or seven year old self and ask all these amazing questions, and this happened right before I came up with the idea for the podcast.

So, for everybody listening, like don’t throw away these ideas because you never know what could come out of it. And unless someone’s instructing you to go jump off of a cliff, in which case you should probably say no, stuff like this—it’s not hazardous, it can’t hurt your health. It’s something cool to try just to see what happens with it. So just a unique thing to check out, guys.

Shaan, before we wrap this up, I want to have you back here. Because I feel like there’s eighteen more things we can talk about and I want to make sure that this podcast stays a reasonable length for everybody listening in here. But, you know, thank you everyone for listening, first of all. Shaan is doing great things with Born to Transform. Things—I guess the ball is rolling with that, we’re not totally launched yet, is that what’s happening right now?

Shaan: The ball is rolling. Like I said, I just shot the sizzle trailer about a month ago. And we are starting to pitch. We are looking for production companies and also the right home for the project. We want to make sure that we have the right distribution outlet for it. So if folks go to my website,, the sizzle trailer is there, anyone can watch it. And we got a contact form over there. I check that personally, so whoever wants to get in touch, if they’re interested in jumping onboard with the project or helping out, that’s the stage we’re in. so we really do appreciate—would really appreciate that.

Zephan: Yeah, so if you guys are an expert in a certain topic or thing and you want to maybe teach Shaan or help Shaan our, or you know, help out just with Born to Transform. Even if you want to send him an email and say “Hey, I really love what you’re doing” or “I resonate with your message,” I encourage everybody listening or watching to do that.

For all of you guys listening in, just so you know. It helps us immensely if you leave a review on our iTunes and Stitcher Radio streams for this podcast. If you’re on YouTube, here, hit that subscribe button. You can like us on Facebook, And, we actually put the show note, where we’ll link to Born to Transform’s trailer and how you guys can get in touch with Shaan.

So thank you guys so much for watching, or listening. And Shaan, thanks for spending some time with me. I definitely want to have you back again in the near future so we can continue this talk.

Shaan: Awesome. We’ll both have some green juice siting on the side.

Zephan: I’m down! Let’s do it. Alright I’ll talk to you soon.

Businessman and Life Coach, Aaron T. Walker, has inspired many through his leadership, mentorship, and consistent pursuit of excellence. He enjoys helping others and believes experience is a great teacher. 35 years of entrepreneurship and marriage have given Aaron a wealth of experience. Aaron continues to reach new heights and broaden his perspective of the terrain by examining his experiences and growing from them.

Pursuit of Excellence:

For 19 years and counting, Aaron has taken classes from and has been coached personally by his friend, financial guru, Dave Ramsey. Spiritual mentors David Landrith and Bob Warren have impacted his spiritual life beyond measure. Two other disciplined mastermind groups, 48 Days led by friend Dan Miller and The Torch have played a role in his understanding of how to live a significant, successful life. Aaron incorporates education and learning opportunities into his daily routine, remaining informed of the latest tools and trends available.


It only took a few years as a partner with David Patton Construction LLC for Aaron to help take the business from doing one to two projects per year to a multi-million dollar company, voted number one builder for three consecutive years by Nashville’s House & Home & Garden Magazine’s People’s Choice Awards. He sold his retail business to Cash America USA, a Fortune 500 company. In addition to being the owner of eight lucrative businesses, Aaron participates in civic endeavors.


Through his participation in personal accountability groups, Aaron mentors 11 individuals weekly now and has for over five years. The Eagles Group, a collection of Nashville’s most respected leaders met weekly for over a decade. At his local church, Aaron is an active member, team leader, Deacon, and teacher.

Show Notes:

Aaron’s Free Gift To Listeners

View From The Top

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

“At 18 you worry about what everyone thinks of you. At 40 you don’t care.
At 60 you realise no one was thinking about you anyway!”
Daniel G. Amen

Essentialism by Greg McKeown


Show +

Zephan: Hey, Year of Purpose tribe, Zephan Blaxberg here, back again, and today, I’m joined by a business man and life coach, Aaron T. Walker. Now, Aaron has inspired many through his leadership and mentorship and persistent pursuit of excellence. He enjoyed helping others and believes experience is a great teacher. Thirty-five years of entrepreneurship and marriage has given Aaron a wealth of experience. Aaron continues to reach new heights and broaden his perspective of the terrain by examining his experiences and growing from them.

Aaron, thanks so much for being here today.

Aaron: Thanks, Zephan. Man, thanks for having me on your show.

Zephan: Absolutely. So it’s a great pleasure to be here with you. You know, I looked at your website and some of the videos of great things that people have been saying about you. You know, you were on the Entrepreneur on Fire podcast with John Lee Dumas and he really had nothing but great things to say about you, so I’m excited to chat with you today.

Aaron: Well, I appreciate that. He was kind enough to invite me back for the second time, and I got a little treat not long ago. We were in San Diego together, actually, and I discovered he put me at number four in his top ten. And so we had an exciting time out there on the Midway, this aircraft carrier. There was this little gathering for the Social Media Examiner we were on, so I was delighted to find that out when I was out there.

Zephan: Very cool.

Aaron: Thank you very much.

Zephan: Definitely makes the trip out there worth it.

Aaron: Yeah, it was fun! It was a good time.

Zephan: Yeah, so, let’s kind of jump right in. you know, let’s talk about identity, because this is something that you know a lot about and I’ve had quite some experience lately where, through being in relationships, being in jobs, being in certain places, you kind of lose your identity of who you are. So, you know, I—for example—after getting out of a two year relationship, you kind of lose who you are in that relationship and then you almost have to rediscover yourself afterwards. So maybe could you talk about a little bit of solidifying our identity and really figuring out who we are as a person—excluding external factors?

Aaron: Yeah, it’s hard to do that, because we all want to include the external factors into our identity. And a lot of the times, if we tie ourselves up in the relationship with a person, and that person goes away, we feel like part of our identity is gone. Or if we have a job and we either change jobs or get fired—I hope that’s not the case if we get fired—we lose our identity there because we tie—you know, Zephan, when guys meet each other, the first question’s “Hey, what’s your name?” Second question’s “What do you do?” When women meet each other, the first question is “What is your name?” Second question is “Tell me about your family.” And see, we tie our identities up in different things.

Well, men, invariably want to have a high position. We want to be admired by our peers, and so we tie our identity up in what we do. And I’m a man of faith, I’m a Christ follower, and so my identity is tied up in my faith in Jesus Christ. And it’s not in the external factors, it’s not in my job, it’s not in being codependent. It’s not in tangible possessions. And a lot of us get caught up in that. We have the nice house or the big car or the nice job, the corporate gig or we’re an entrepreneur on multiple businesses, and when some of that stuff goes away, we feel like we lost our identity.

A client of mine recently—I was coaching through the sale of his business, and he just couldn’t let go of it. Twenty-six years he’d owned this business and he wanted to transition to succession plan and transfer it to his son. Well, did son didn’t want it. His son just like, “Dad, this is not what I want to do.” And he was devastated, and he had agonized over this for a couple of years. And I asked him one day why it meant so much for him to transfer the business to his son. And he said “Well, I’ve built my whole life and my career around this and my legacy will be gone.” And I said “Are you serious?” And he said “Now my legacy will be over if my son doesn’t take this business.”

And I said “Your whole identity is tied up in this company.” And I said “You id—this is a piece of who you are. This is not who you are.” And it really relieved him of that tension once we talked through it. And I just want to help even your listeners to realize that your identity has nothing to do with the external factors.

Zephan: Yeah, it’s, uh—it’s even something struggled with when I was younger. I had been diagnosed when I was about thirteen with bipolar manic depression, an anxiety disorder, a learning disability—I mean, you name it, there was like a whole laundry list. And even I had to learn many years later it’s just a label. It’s not necessarily who you are because most people who meet me on the street now would say “There’s no way that you had a panic disorder” or “No way that you could have been diagnosed as bipolar.”

Aaron: Yeah, you look pretty relaxed to me, so I would say the same!

Zephan: Most of the time, yeah.

Aaron: You’re discovering who you are, that’s why.

Zephan: It’s just a label. So it’s really something that I think everybody should kind of sit back and think about for a moment and say “This is not who I am. This is a little part.” And at the end of the day, if it’s someone else that labeled you that, it’s only up to you to accept whether or not that’s the truth. That’s the whole self-fulfilling prophecy type thing.

So do you have any sort of tips or tools of if someone does notice that they’ve lost themselves in—whether it’s a certain event, a certain relationship, or a certain business—you know, are there a couple things where they can kind of step back and pull out of that and say “This is not me, this is not who I am”?

Aaron: Well, if that were the case, every situation would mean that you were nothing before. And so ask yourself “Before I met this person, before I got this job, who was I?” and if you can answer that question, then you’ll realize that what you got now is not who you are. And it’s just stepping back and evaluating and not being codependent and not tying your identity up into a—it’s very simple. It’s just nothing that we do, nothing that we associate ourselves with have any variable or any dependency whatsoever on your identity. And so just discover who you are.

Zephan: Yeah. It—and that’s something that I think a lot of people, if they’re not already doing it, it’s something that they want to do. To find meaning and to find out who there are. Do you have any insight on why we as humans are searching for meaning? I feel like it’s such a big topic lately, at least over the last ten or so years, it’s growing. Do you have any insight on why that is?

Aaron: Yeah, I think we all want to have meaning and purpose in our lives. And I think we—you know, Maslow, back in the 50s and the 60s, was talking about the basic needs that we need and then we go up through the pyramid and then we get to a point where we kind of discover who we are and what we want to accomplish and what we want to do. And we want to grow. There has to be meaning, there has to be success, there has to be significance in our life.

And, you know, I kind of when through that journey early on. I started pretty early in my career at eighteen, owning my own business and then at twenty-seven selling out to a Fortune 500 company. And then I kind laid around, played golf, thought I was living the good life. And I gained fifty pounds in that process. I was bored. I was getting into bed in the middle of the day—I was depressed. And people say “How can you be depressed? Twenty-seven years old, you got plenty of money. You got your own schedule.” But I had no significance in my life. I had no purpose, I had no meaning, I had no reason to get up each and every day because it was all about myself, so I was looking inward cause it was all about me.

Then I—fast forward, you know, I bought another business. I had meaning again and purpose because I had something to do that seemed significant. Ten years later, I had an automobile accident. Pedestrian was crossing the street to catch a bus. He didn’t see me, and he didn’t make it. Three days later, he died in the Vanderbilt trauma unit, and it radically changed my paradigm. It radically made me think “That could happen to me at any moment” and “What am I gonna do about it? How am I gonna change my life from success only”—and that’s what I was focused on, acquiring another store, making another dollar, getting another toy, getting a bigger house—all my identity was tied up in these possessions. And then I thought, that could be taken away instantaneously. And if that were the case, is that really who I was?

And so I took off about five years. Traveled around, built a new house, kind of gathered my thoughts. Went back in the construction business for about ten years and we built high-end residence and small commercial, you know, and I had then what I felt like was a purpose again. It was providing a service, we were doing something for others. And that had meaning.

And then I retired a few years ago when I was fifty and started View from the Top, and I’m helping people understand that those possessions that we acquire only fulfill and gratify momentarily. It’s not lasting. And you say, “Well I’d like to experience it for a while.” And they’re nice—I don’t want to take away from what things do—but happiness is a choice, not a trait. And we’ve got to be content in whatever situation we’re in and have meaning and have success and significance in our life. So when you try to identify who you are, if you tie it to anything other than who you are as an individual, you’re gonna be sorely disappointed, long-term.

Zephan: You brought out two really good points there. The first one is that, you know, money and happiness—they’re not tied together. So I was actually—

Aaron: We tie them together though. We—

Zephan: Right, that’s the problem. We make the mistake of tying them together. and I actually, uhm—you know, I saw some research a few years back, maybe about five years ago, where they said the number of how much money to make for a year where your happiness doesn’t increase was something along the lines of like $250,000. Like, after that point, there is nothing else that you could afford that could change your experiences, your happiness. But now, I actually talked to someone the other day, and she told me it’s now down to like $34,000 or something like that. That happiness no longer is affected by having more money.

Aaron: Well, there’s basic needs, right. You gotta have the roof and you gotta have the food and you gotta have the transportation—and that really makes you happy when you can get to that point, but over and above that, I think the statistics are correct. I think that the measurable amount of happiness that is bestows upon you is nominal. And it lasts—it’s temporal. You get it and you go “Is this it?”

See, here’s the other thing. And a lot of your listeners may say—because they’re not in a position where they’ve got all the things that they want—they say “That’s easy for you to say because you’ve got it” and what I can’t stand is for people who have money to say “it’s not important.” Run from those people. Because it is important, but don’t make it your god. Don’t make it your primary focus. Don’t make it your primary aim to just get the money. Because you will be sorely disappointed if you do that.

It’s what are you gonna do with the money and how are you gonna use it to have purpose and meaning in other people’s lives? How are you gonna help your family go forward? Just don’t let it control you. That’s the only thing that I try to teach people. Get it. I like to make it, too. Even today, I still enjoy making money. But what is it that I’m gonna do with it that’s gonna further the family tree? That’s gonna help others? That’s gonna instill values in other people that they can take this money and go out and be a blessing to others. And what are we gonna do with it is my question now.

And I have some documents that I’ve written. One of them is a personal assessment, and it talks—you know what I’ll even do, Zephan. I’ll make these documents available to your audience. I’ve created a landing page.

Zephan: That’d be great.

Aaron: And so we’ll give these away. I won’t even charge for them. One of them is a personal assessment to where you answer very difficult questions about yourself. You talk about your identity, your ideals, your relationships. We talk about things in your career, your faith—you really dive deep and answer the questions.

And there’s a second document called “What do I want?” and most people, Zephan, don’t even know what they want. You say “If you could get up tomorrow, there were no geographic limitations, there were no financial constraints, what would you do with your day tomorrow?” Most people don’t even know. How do you want to live your life on purpose, intentionally? And there’s thirty questions on that document. And then there’s another one called “Steps to a Productive Day.” and it’s how to implement what you want and to live a life on purpose.

So just go to that landing page,

Zephan: Perfect,

Aaron: Yeah, /yearofpurpose, and I’ll make all three of those available for free and you can download those and discover who you are yourself.

Zephan: That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that with us.

Aaron: Sure, oh absolutely.

Zephan: And you actually—you said something else that kind of caught my attention back there. Cause this was a conversation that I had with someone, actually last night, was that you were able to move around businesses. So many people go to college, get this degree, and think that’s the topic that they stay with for the rest of their life.

I’ve held everything from being a maintenance worker at a summer camp, driving around a little stick shift tractor, to being a pastry chef in a bakery, to working for Apple and Panera and a couple of different chains, to press photographer, which I actually got fired from because that was back when I never knew how to use a camera—so I talked my way into that job, and when I got fired, I realized “Okay, I still really want to learn this stuff” so I just taught myself and got better—to being a first responder for a recreation center in college.

So the truth is you can really move around and so many people are just convinced that, you know, they just gotta stay stuck with this one thing.

Aaron: Yeah. Man, I don’t believe that at all. I’ll tell you a little bit of my backstory. You know, when I was a nine year old young man, I started a lawn care business. And I cut the church’s property, my next-door neighbor’s property, my property. When and bought a lawn mower at Western Auto, paid three hundred dollars for it when I was nine or ten years old. Then went to work for a little store stocking the shelves at eleven years old. At thirteen years old, went to work for a pawn shop.

At fifteen, I decided I was gonna go into that business. At fifteen years old, I decided I wanted to be in the pawn shop business. Course, I’m sure my peers were laughing at me. And I went to summer school and night school for two years. I had enough credits to graduate high school in the tenth grade. I didn’t even have to go my Junior and Senior year. I went one class my junior year to compete in selling and DECA, and then, my senior year, I went twice, to register and to graduate. And so at eighteen, I invited myself to be a partner with two wealthy guys in our community and they took me up on it, and then at twenty-seven, sold out and I’ve told you the rest of the story.

So my point is you’ve got to make your opportunity. You know, it’s not gonna come knocking on your door. I didn’t even go to college. People say “How did you become successful?” Well, through grit, perseverance, determination, and “Can’t couldn’t do it, and could did it all” kind of mentality, you know. My mom would never allowed me to say can’t. She’d say “You’d might not do it, but you’re gonna try!” So I would try and I’d gain self-esteem as a result of that. I had confidence that I could do something.

And so I tell everybody, I make up for the lack of education with grit and determination. If you really want to do something bad enough, you’ll figure out a way. And you’ll invest the time, the effort, the energy, the resources to do what your lifelong dream is. And if it’s college, go to college and get an education. I don’t like college, I love education, I read—you know, I read three or four hours a day. I teach myself a lot and I have a lot of coaches and mentors. I go to a lot of seminars and conferences and I’m all about education. But you don’t have to do it the conventional way. You don’t have to go to the institution for four years and get this and that—that’s good if you do. That’s great, but you don’t have to do it that way. So you can do it the other way and get hugely successful.

Zephan: Yeah, and I can definitely relate to your story, because I actually did something similar when I was in high school. I took college courses so that I could graduate college early. So going into college, I was pretty much on a three year track instead of four years.

And I got through my third year and I decided I wanted to do a feature film, I wanted to do something that no one had done before. And we went to the department head, and basically he was gonna give us course credit for this, but he said “You’ve got to get a professor to sign off on it.” And we went to everyone in the department, we’re like “We have this hundred and eighteen page script and in a year, we want to make this into a movie.” And pretty much half of them either laughed us out of their offices and the other half were just like “No. it’s not gonna happen.”

And we finally got the last person—the last professor in the department, and I said “Look, how about this—you know that I did all the work to try and graduate a year early. If I don’t get this done, you can fail me, and you can force me back into your classes for another year and I will stay on the four year plan instead.” And sure enough, through, just like you said, grit and determination, from January of 2010 to December of 2010, we took a hundred and eighteen page script and we turned it into a ninety-six minute long feature film and premiered it in front of a sold out crowd in a movie theater.

Aaron: Wow, way to go! That’s awesome! Don’t you love that? Don’t you love grit and determination? I love it when I’m right too. Don’t you go say, “Hey I told I can do it. You know, I’ve got it in my and I persevered and I was determined and it paid off.”

You know what, sometimes it doesn’t pay off. And what do we do then, right? A lot of people, the reason they don’t succeed, is they’re afraid of failure. They’re afraid that they’re gonna fall. And so if they stay in the background and they don’t do it, then they don’t fail. But here’s what I tell people, and I told my daughters this when I was raising my children, is that—fear missing an opportunity more than you fear failure. I couldn’t lay in bed at night, Zephan, and think “Could I have done it? What would have happened? What would the possibilities be?”

And I tell everybody, there’s this little thing, it’s the 18/40/65 Rule. And here’s what it is: When you’re eighteen, you think everybody’s talking about you. “Zephan’s gonna fail,” you know, that’s what you’re thinking. “He’s not gonna do it. What is that moron trying to do? He’s not gonna do that.” that’s what you’re thinking. And then when you hit forty, you just don’t care. You just say “I don’t even care anymore.” And then when you get sixty or sixty-five, you find out they weren’t talking about you to being with! I promise you, people are not out there talking about you. They’re not out there saying you are or you’re not.

But it keeps people stuck. It keeps them in a place to where they think that if they say it and they try it and it doesn’t work, they’re embarrassed. They’re shameful. It didn’t work. And see, to me, failure is in not trying, not in not succeeding. See, success is good, but the failure, to me, is sitting on the sideline and not trying. And when you do fail, it’s just one more way that you found out that it’s not gonna work, right, so then we go to the next thing until you do succeed.

Zephan: Yeah, it goes back to Edison and the lightbulb.

Aaron: That’s it, ten thousand times, you know. I’m glad he persevered, because as a result of it, we can see each other.

Zephan: Right!

Aaron: So I’m—I’m just fearful of missing an opportunity, right. So go out there and make your own way. If there’s not a door, they say create one. So I want to go down a place and create my own path, not a beaten down trail where everybody else has been. And all these analogies, you know, the point is go for it. People are not talking about you as much as you think. So go for it.

Zephan: Yeah, and that’s the only way that we break records. Somebody when out there and said “There has to be a way to do this” and everyone told them that there was no way to do it, and then they did it. And that wouldn’t have happened unless they started trying.

Aaron: Here’s another little thing that I would suggest to your audience and guys that are twenty/twenty-five, thirty/thirty-five years old. If you haven’t read this book, you need to. It will radically change your life. It’s called Essentialism.

Zephan: Okay.

Aaron: Greg McKeown wrote the book. People think that I’m getting something out of promoting this book, I’m gonna contact Greg and tell him to send me a dollar because I’m his best salesman. And I read a lot. I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books, and you can do on my website and download some of my suggestions. But the point of this book is deciding between the non-essentials and the vital few. Okay, and here’s what we do. We think that we can do everything, and we want to do these fifteen tasks. The truth of the matter is we can only do two or three really proficient. We can only be really, really good at a couple of things.

And that’s where I’ve been able to kind of harness the power of focus. I’m not the smartest tack in the box, I realize that, but I will outwork you. I will be determined and I don’t want to be an inch deep and a mile wide and try to do everything, but I do want to be an inch wide and a mile deep. I want to know the product, I want to know the customer, I want to intentionally focus. I want to set blocks of time that I work on things. People talk about “I’m a multitasker,” well, no you’re not. Because multitasking is a farce. You cannot think of but one thing at a time. You’re just putting off what you really could be doing if you would focus intently.

So chose two or three things that you really enjoy in your professions and go deep into it and quit trying to spend all your energy in being an inch deep and a mile wide. So just go the other way.

Zephan: I really like that a lot. Let me ask you this, cause this is something that came up for me when I was thinking about what we were just saying was does grit and determination—is this—do you think this is something that we are born with? Because a lot of people clearly have it and just go after everything. That’s most of the stuff that I do is I just go after it and I don’t really question it, but a lot of people get stuck behind fear or questioning before they even get started and some of them get so paralyzed that they don’t even start. Is this—a, is this something that we’re born with, and, b, how can we get there if we feel like we don’t have that sort of grit and determination at this point in time?

Aaron: Most people don’t have clarity. And the way that I’ve been able to get clarity is I have surrounded myself with mastermind groups, accountability partners. Most people don’t want to subject themselves to that kind of scrutiny. Most people say “This is my idea, it’s my thing, it’s what I want to do,” well what if it’s a bad idea and you don’t have trusted advisors that are non-biased that can speak into your life and say “Zephan, that’s sounds okay, and if you want to do that, that’s good, but experience teaches us, historically, that that idea’s not gonna work.” and if you have a general consensus of eight or ten people that are successful in whatever arena that it is you’re discovering, you might want to take a look at it.

But a lot of people wanna go out there and do startups, and that’s okay. And I’m all for startups and there’s a big difference in being an entrepreneur and running a business or job and a startup. So that’s for another day, we’ll discuss that. But the point is, is we doing want to subject ourselves to that scrutiny. And I’ve been willing to do that.

I’ve gone to guys—recently, there was business deal I was gonna do. Man, I thought it was a great idea. Seriously, I thought “Man, this the bomb, this is gonna work.” So I went to twelve guys that I trust and I ran it up the flagpole, told them everything that I wanted to do. Eleven of the twelve told me not to do it. One of the guys said “I’ll lay down in front of your truck and keep you from driving there.” he said “You’re gonna drive off a cliff if you do this idea.” Well, see, if I had not had those trusted advisors, I would have done the deal, it probably would have cost me friendships, some really good relationships and probably a lot of money.

And so, I listen to people. I go before it. So I’ve been in the mastermind groups for over two decades now. I’ve had accountability partners for twenty/twenty-five years that we meet regularly and I pour my life into—they pour their life into me, we’re candid, we’re honest, we say—we’re vulnerable, we’re transparent. It’s the—I hate facades. People say “I’ve got it figured out,” well, we’re all knuckleheads. We’re all out here trying to figure it out.

We need people speaking into our lives that will tell us that truth, and if you’re not willing to be transparent and honest, people can’t help you. And so I would just say get with a group of people you trust—you call it a mastermind, you call it accountability—whatever you want to call it—but meet regularly. I’ve done this every week, and I even have multiple groups, every week, for over two decades.

And so some of my mastermind groups that I started with back in 1995, you might or might not know some of the participants in it. Dan Miller, 48 Days to the Work You Love, is one of the guys. Ken Abraham—he’s got a hundred books in print. He’s a New York Times bestselling author. Dave Ramsey, one of my best friends. Dave’s in the group, and actually it was his group. He invited me in. but this has been, you know, decades ago. So we have met on an ongoing basis and pour ourselves into each other, and that’s just what you need to help you get that grit, determination.

You asked the question can it be learned or are you born with it? I don’t know that I’m qualified to answer that question. I would say that you can learn that. To say that you can’t muster up enough courage to have grit and determination, I think would be inaccurate. That’s like saying “Can you learn leadership or are you born with it?” I don’t know the answer that either, but I think, quite honestly, that if you want something bad enough, I think you can muster up the grit and determination.

Zephan: Yeah, and I completely agree with that. I’ve always said that you’ll make an excuse and find a reason not to do it, or if you want it bad enough, then you’ll make it happen. And it’s one of those things where, yeah, there are going to be a lot of people that tell you it’s impossible and that you can’t achieve it, and the biggest thing to remember is that that’s coming from their own insecurities—

Aaron: Their own biased. What that means is just they can’t do it.

Zephan: Right.

Aaron: That’s what they’re saying. They’re saying “I can’t do this.” And I’ll just tell you, that’s like crickets to me. I don’t listen to that stuff. I just don’t. Because people say—well, I’ll give you an example, and you pointed it out a while ago. I just sit and told my story and sent it to John Lee Dumas—course, there’s only three hundred and something people a year on there and there’s seven billion people on the planet. And the odds are, what are the odds of me getting on there, right? One in, you know, seven billion.

And I’m like “You know what, there’s 365 people get on there. Why can’t one of them be me?” and so I reached out. The same way I’ve gotten on a lot of podcast interviews, the same reason a lot of doors have opened, because I’ve asked. And people are scared of rejection. They’re scared of “No.” and my response to that is, “The answer’s always No unless you ask.” You have no opportunity of the answer being yes, unless you ask. It’s not gonna come to you, you got to go to it. And so, just don’t be afraid. Get the fear out of your life and go after it and make the, uh—make it, you know, something that you want to do and muster up the grit and determination.

Zephan: Yeah. It’s—words of wisdom right there. I mean, that’s the way that we really should be living our lives. And this is not something that happens overnight, right. Like you don’t just go to sleep and wake up tomorrow morning and say “Alright, I’m gonna do this.” But it’s a process.

Aaron: What would’ve been the chances—what would’ve been the chances of those two wealthy guys asking me, an eighteen year old guy right out of high school, to go into business with them? Zero! They wouldn’t do that.

See the point is, now I want to also say, is the people that do extra, the people that really stand out, the people that have grit, determination, perseverance—business people with money are looking for you, right. Because they got plenty money. The shortage is in the people, not in the money. There’s more money out there to do deals. The shortage is with people with that attitude, grit, determination. I’m looking for people like that! There’s opportunity but we’re afraid to ask. And they’re not gonna come and find you. You need to go and find them. You need to seek it out.

Those guys could have easily told me no. they could have said “No, I’m not gonna do it.” Well, that wouldn’t have stopped me. I would have asked somebody else. Because I come from a family that was very poor. We didn’t have anything. My dad never made anything over fifteen thousand dollars a year in his life. We life in an eight hundred square foot house, four children—I know all about being poor, so people can’t say “Well, you had the opportunity.” No I didn’t. I made the opportunity. I went out there and invested the time, the energy.

The other thing that people are not willing, today, is to delay gratification. See that’s the big thing. People today want it instantaneous. We pulled up the McDonald’s window and if it’s over thirty-five seconds getting your hamburger, you’re all irritable—it’s like “why isn’t is within the twenty-five seconds they promised?” Like, seriously? Well, we do the same thing in business. We want it instantly, we want what our parents have at fifty-five or sixty years old. You’re twenty-five. You’re twenty. You’re not sixty. You’re not sixty-five. Those guys have got four decades behind them to provide that nice home, the bigger car, the bigger vacation.

Robin and I, when we started our business—I’ve been married thirty-five years this June, and we got married two weeks out of high school. And after we started our business, we took an eighteen thousand dollar a year salary—you listening to what I’m fixing to tell you?—for ten years.

Zephan: Wow.

Aaron: We took an eighteen thousand dollar a year salary. We could have lived in a three times bigger house, drove much nicer cars, but I wouldn’t have built a business that a Fortune 500 company would’ve wanted if I took all the money early on because I bought the second store, the third store, the fourth store—you get the picture. We delayed gratification. There was a payday. It was a decade later, but see, today, people want to have the nicer car, the bigger house, the shiny objects—today. They’re not willing to postpone gratification.

And so, if you can learn that, if you can learn to delay the gratification until later, the payday will come.

Zephan: It’s very similar to sitting in traffic. You know, I’m in Maryland so I drive into D.C. a lot, and, as many people know, D.C. drivers have been rated consistently as the worst drivers in the entire country.

Aaron: I was just up there. Yeah, I’ll agree with that.

Zephan: Yeah, and so sitting at a green light somewhere at a red light sometimes, it’s almost like they’ll honk at you before the light even turns green because they’re so ready to go and so revved up and everybody just wants to move, move, move and they never get to sit back and relax and just kind of enjoy the show. I feel like, if your life is a movie, why not sit there and enjoy it and eat some popcorn. You know, why are you trying to fast-forward through it to get to the credits?

Aaron: Yeah. Well, here’s—I don’t remember the author, but I read a good book, it’s been a number of years ago, called Enjoy the Now. And the point is, is that Zephan and I should be enjoying this conversation, right now, today. Not thinking about this afternoon, not thinking about an hour from now, but let’s engage in this conversation right now. And the people that do that in business will get much further. Have you ever gone to lunch with somebody and they keep noticing the people walking in the door or the people walking by—they’re interested in everything but the conversation.

And in coaching, I’ve had people tell me “You’re really engaged.” And I say “Well, you’re paying, first of all. Second of all, I’m really interested. And if I’m waiting to talk, I’m gonna miss something.” So stop waiting to talk. You’ll get your turn, listen to what the other people are saying. Engage in really what’s going on and listen to the people, and you’ll enjoy your life even much more.

So same way in business, you know, give value to the customer, and the money will come. If you start out with the money in mind, you’ll never get the value and your business won’t grow. So always under promise, over preform. Always leave a little something extra for the client. Engage, give them more value than they’re paying for. And as a result of that, people will stand in line to hand you money, because it’s so abstract now in today’s society that we live in. I’m all about customer service, 100%, because that’s where I feel like the businesses are made or they fail. And you’ve got to provide excellent customer service and you’ve got to give more value than they’re paying for.

Zephan: And if you take care of other people, they certainly do take care of you. I mean, this isn’t only about being selfless, we’re talking about what to do with your money, what money you do have, and the truth is, give it back. Pay it out to the community. I’m not saying give it ALL away, you know, you’ve got your expenses and your food and things.

One thing that I’ve found to be one of the most rewarding things I ever do is volunteer with the local youth group. And that’s my time, and that’s my money, and it means the world to me to know that I’m impacting younger high-schoolers who are exactly where I was not even ten years ago. And it’s really great to see that change in the world, and this is our future. So it’s really nice to give back when you do have that money. And it’ll help you find much more meaning and purpose in life.

Aaron: Yeah, that’s the whole thing, isn’t it? Don’t we want to provide purpose? Don’t we want to provide meaning? Don’t we want to assist those that are around us? Gary Vaynerchuck wrote a book called Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook—

Zephan: I have it on my shelf right there.

Aaron: Okay, and for those that don’t know, it’s a boxing analogy. Give, give, give, and then ask. And I teach this to people every day. What we do though, invariably, is we go to somebody and we ask. People ask me all the time because they know I have relationships with certain people. They’ll say “Hey, get me in—do this” and I’m like “Seriously? I never even hear from you. We don’t even talk.”

And I teach guys, they say “what are some of the things you’ve done that have proven to be highly successful in your business?” and I’m all about relationships. See, it’s not all about what I can get out of the relationship, it’s what can I bring to the relationship. Like, for Zephan, what can I do to help you? What can I do to introduce you to others? What can I do to propel your career? How can I make your show better? What can I do to help you? Well, the natural reciprocity out of that, is “Aaron, thank you. Man, thank you very much. What can I do for you?” You see how it works?

But if I just go to you and say “Okay, Zephan, we’re gonna do this interview today and I want you to talk about these documents, I want to talk about this book, I want you to talk about View From the Top, I want you”—it’s like, dude, hold on! What are you doing? And I’m like “I want to help you. I want to bring value.” Isn’t it a lot more enjoyable to go at it with that process? And out if it, you’re gonna naturally want to help me, because I’m helping you. It’s just—the humanitarian thing to do it to help others. But we get that so backwards because it’s all about me. It’s selfish. We want for ourselves.

Chris Brogan spoke recently at the Social Media Examiner in San Diego, and I got to know him a little bit, and we were talking. And he said “If you guys are gonna some up to be and just ask me for something before we have a conversation, just keep your seat. Don’t even come up, because I don’t even want to talk to you.” And I thought that was a really good word. Because it’s not like “What is it you’re interested in in me?” it’s “What is it can you get out of me?” and if you have that mindset, change your mindset to “What value can I bring to others?” and as a result of that, they’ll help you.

Zephan: Yeah, it’s very true. I see it happen each and every single day.

This has been a great conversation. I’d love to kind of bring this full circle and maybe just ask you, you know, is there any one golden thing, golden nugget, that you have learned out of your many years in relationships in business, in success, and even in, you know, failures and mistakes that you would want to really push out into the world and tell everyone right now. Is there any one thing that has really hit home for you?

Aaron: Yeah, I would say a couple of things. and we could talk a whole other show on this topic and maybe I’ll get invited back on day and we can have further conversations cause you’re really a great guy and I enjoyed this conversation.

There’s a couple of things that I wish the younger me had known, and that was the value more of the relationships. Money is great, and I want you to make plenty money, and I just want to help people to understand, to make the objective meaning and purpose, and the money will come as a result of it. And just don’t think about it, the money first and then the people. Because at the end of the day, you know, we got our health, we got the relationships. The time, the enjoyment, the purpose, the meaning. Empowering others.

And I would just encourage you to slow down just a notch and enjoy the day, enjoy the now, enjoy the conversations—and the money will come. I promise you the money will come, if you will continue to focus more on the client, more on the relationship, and bring something rather than the idea of getting something. You’ll be much more successful at the end of the day.

Zephan: Perfect. I think that’s the best way to end this conversation. And, real quick, again, if you could share with everybody those resources that you’ve put up online and the link to get to that?

Aaron: Yeah, go to, all in lowercase. And go there and we’ve put all three of these products on that landing page. And if you have a question, email me. You can reach me at I’ll be happy to discuss it with you at any time. I’m a life coach, you know, I coach men one-on-one each and every day.

I run Iron Sharpens Iron mastermind group. It’s where we have ten men that get together on a scheduled time every week. There’s no more than ten in the group, I facilitate every group, and we do life together. and we do it long term and it’s a video conference room, so I have people in other countries that participate in these groups, and it is so impactful and meaningful and it gives you a tastes of what I’ve been able to experience for twenty years now, and I promise you, if you’ll get involved in those groups, it will radically change your life.

Zephan: And to back up what you’re saying there, I actually—just before we got on this call—got a text message from my mastermind group to schedule out next meeting. So for people who are listening in, this is something that people have been doing for quite a long time. This is not a new concept, but a lot of people have no hear of it quite yet. So if you aren’t doing this just yet, find either an existing mastermind group or get together with two or three of your friends. Usually it’s a smaller group. And meet consistently. And hold people accountable to what they’re doing and what their goals are.

It’s very useful for me and my business. It’s what got me to where I am now, and I also do have an accountability partner, someone that I check in with, so I highly recommend doing both of those things.

Aaron: Yeah, it’s a good word. Zephan, thank you for having me on, man. What a blast it’s been. It’s been a privilege to be your guest, and hopefully at some point we can get back together.

Zephan: Absolutely. I’m excited to speak to you again soon.

Aaron: Okay, thanks, man.

Zephan: Have a good one.

Aaron: You too.