What creates passion and passionate people, and what defeats it in us? That's the focus of Gregg Levoy's book, The Nature and Nurture of Passion, and the focus of our interview. Gregg Levoy is one of my favorite writers.
what creates passion and passionate people, and what defeats it in us? That's the focus of Gregg Levoy's book, the focus of our interview.
Rob: And welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom-Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington Township reaching Metro Philly and South Jersey sponsored by opednews.com. My guest tonight is Gregg Levoy. He is the author of Callings, a best selling book and a new book Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion. And I have to say these are both brilliant, incredible books that you gotta read. Things are a little different on this interview, I'm doing it live face to face with Gregg so welcome to the show.
GL: Thanks so much Rob, I appreciate it.
Rob: So a little background here, now I interviewed you five or six years ago, long after your first book, Callings, was published, but when I discovered it and got aware of it because I had become interested in the world of story and fascinated by the Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell, that whole concept that he wrote about in his book Hero with a Thousand Faces. And you wrote this book Callings, which I saw as a book that focused on the call to adventure in a sense, and I read it and it was like wow, amazing book and the world responded similarly; you've had a great success I think with it.
And so you came back to me when you brought out this new book and I have to say that my radio show changed. Back when I interviewed you I had an angle on health, and now my radio show has been for five or six years called the Bottom-Up radio show and it's based on the idea that I think we're transitioning from a top down to a bottom up culture and I try to get people's takes on bottom up and top down. Bottom up is a kind of a way of relating, experiencing, seeing that is based on connections and the idea that we're all connected, we're all interdependent. And - I first looked at your book, it was like, oh, this is a book about passion and I'm not sure it's going to connect but I have to tell you that reading it, it basically gave me an epiphany, a breakthrough and some ideas about bottom up that were really great for me. Now, I'm not sure how much that helps you with your book, because you're on a book tour promoting your book, but it was great for me. And this book is about passion and it encourages you to find your passion and I'm kind of - I don't usually go on this long without my guest speaking, but for me this book is kind of a cartography of passion. It explores and turns it into science, which I haven't seen anything like before. So, it's a brilliant book, not just in the exploration of the idea, but in the language and the way you've woven together stories, quotations, and the etymology; the history of the words that you explore. I think you pull those pieces together in such a beautiful way. My friend Margo called it liquid velvet.
GL: That's great.
Rob: And it is just a beautiful read as well as an inspiring and enlightening read.
GL: Thank you.
Rob: So, with that said, I'm going to begin the way I've been advised to give talks, the old preacher said first tell them what they're going to hear then tell them and then tell them what they heard. So, let's start off, what is the goal of this book?
GL: The goal of the book - I would just say like you said, it is just an exploration of something we've been noodling around with for ages, is what creates passion and passionate people, and what defeats it in us. So I was just fascinated with the subject of - and all the way back to Callings, of how people create a life that really belongs to them and isn't a knockoff. And part of what kept coming up was the subject of passion and vitality. So, to me it's just an exploration, like a scientist, like my father who was a scientist, you know, is looking at what this subject looks like from the inside out, from historical perspectives, cultural perspectives, artistic, neurological; I just wanted like you said, a scientific exploration of this subject that we hear a lot about, especially nowadays. Business people talk about it, couples are always looking for it, educators talk about life-long learning I mean there's just a lot of discussion about passion and engagement. So I just wanted to understand it from the inside out.
Rob: Okay, so your first book - not your first, but your big book is Callings.
Rob: What's the subtitle?
GL: Finding and Following an Authentic Life.
Rob: Okay, so how is this book related to the Callings book?
GL: Yeah, I would say that Callings is about finding a passion and largely in the vocational arena. I think Vital Signs is more about living passionately so it's really looking at what I now think of as a skill, a mindset, a stance toward life through which our vitality can increase. But I really think of it this way, it's a skillset and something that people can learn. But I think that's probably the difference between the two books.
Rob: Okay, so I have a little different take as a consumer of the book. Now, I've had a history in the world of positive psychology back from before it was positive psychology in the early eighties. Early enough so I own the website positivepsychology.net. And I came up with some ideas that I presented at national conferences on positive psychology in the US and Canada. Basically the idea is that positive experiences are basic building blocks of our capacity for happiness, to face adversity, to face challenges, to love, and that positive experiences then are something we can have skills for having. And I kind of have thought of Callings as a book - again, going back to a Hero's Journey, it's about a call to adventure; how do you identify calls?
Rob: And to me, Callings is about seeing opportunities that you may not see and I think a big part of the book is noticing and recognizing what's there in front of you that you may not know is there in front of you.
GL: Right, absolutely.
Rob: And so for me, in building what I have put together in my ideas about positive psychology and anatomy of positive experience, one of the key elements is recognizing opportunities for positive experiences. And that's kind of what Callings does.
Rob: Then what the new book does is it talks about how do you do them? How do you get into them? How do you make the most of them? And so, I mean does that make sense?
GL: Yes, absolutely.
Rob: So to me what you've done here is write a book on how to have amazing, incredible experiences and open yourself up to them and stop inhibiting yourself from having them.
GL: Oh boy, yeah, absolutely. The whole subject of inhibition was fascinating to me in this and these are all the forces that hold us back and the culture and the times that we live in are full of them.
Rob: Absolutely and this is where I had part of this epiphany because in writing about - I'm writing a book on bottom up and I've been doing these interviews for five or six - more than five years. And what you talk about with inhibition is, I tied it together with top down and bottom up. Inhibition is a top down function and one of the things I've struggled with in understanding bottom up and top down is neuropsychology. In neuropsychology and neurophysiology the brain has top down functions and it has bottom up functions.
Rob: The top down functions include inhibition; it includes filtering so that you've got this explosive stream of information coming into you that you can't handle all of. So the top down functions of the brain basically limit what you see and what you get so that you can make sense of it. The bottom up aspect of the brain is the raw input and I think also, this came to light having read your book; your id, your drives, your needs.
Rob: And, to me what you've done in this book is put together a collection of ideas about how to manage these top down and bottom up functions of your brain in a way so that you don't let your top down brain become too powerful and keep you from seeing and experiencing and maximally, optimally living your life.
Rob: And you do it with such great detail and engaging and entertaining stories and analogies and metaphors.
GL: Yeah, you know one of my concerns though about the notion of inhibition as being a top down function of the brain is just that inhibition is also, I think in a central operating principle in the natural world, you know. In the sense that this is a force that tells, you know trees when and when not to bud, tells animals when and when not to shed. You know what I'm saying? So I think that inhibition is also built into us from a bottom up perspective as well.
Rob: How's that?
GL: Well, just in the sense that you know, it tells us as animals, and we have essentially animal bodies and native intelligences and sensual appetites, it tells us what to move toward and what to move away from, right? It warns us of danger so those inhibiting features of the really primitive brain, not just the frontal cortex. So I just don't want to kind of this may be overstating it, but demonize -
Rob: Actually, part of this breakthrough that reading your book really helped me with was to realize that you have to have them; you have to have the top down, you have to have the bottom up and it's the balance between them; it's the dance between them -
Rob: - that you have control over and that's one of the big things that you talk about is this control that you have over that -
Rob: - and control is another topic that you dedicate a lot of time to in the book.
GL: Yeah, but I think, like you said, it's important to find a way to manage the tension between the two of them. I think one of the most brilliant things I ever heard was somebody who said heroism can be redefined, or of course heroinism, can be redefined for the modern age as the ability to tolerate paradox. That to me is just brilliant because what they're saying is the ability to hold two contrary, or seemingly contrary, forces inside of us at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. So, different ideas, different energies, different impulses, different belief systems inside of us at the same time top down and bottom up, I think being one of them. And so - and I think part of the beauty of learning the skill of paradox, of holding the tension, is that it mitigates against tyranny and I just think of tyranny as placing one belief system above all the others and suppressing all the other ones. Right? Holding one above all the others and if we learn how to hold paradox inside ourselves, no less between each other, you know, that it mitigates against this tyrannical approach to ourselves that we're pushing parts of us down and elevating others. So we learn to have a dialogue between them at all times. What does bottom up say to top down and vice versa. What does passion say to security? Right? What does love say to passion? Because these tend to work toward different goals and this is what I meant the other night in the workshop when I said I think it's important to learn how to suffer creatively, not just neurotically. You know, to bring them together and to play with these energies, literally draw pictures of them and write them out and play them up. But managing the tension between these two rather than projecting one or the other of them out there, I just think it's critical to have ownership of both of them.
Rob: Well this idea of ownership and out there versus in here is a topic that you get into in a couple different places in the book and I like the way you do it because what you're basically saying is your big picture is that it's all in here; everything and everybody.
GL: Yeah. I would say so.
Rob: Can you talk about that?
GL: Well, I think we all have all of it, you know, we have inner tyrants, you know, we have abstract thinking that drives us out of our minds because we combine it with the what if and suddenly we're filled with fear; fear for the future. So we have a lot of these energies that are disconnecting energies and tyrannical energies within us, but we also have just these native desires, you know we have animal bodies, we have the ways that we respond to the world; pure animal stuff. And I just think it's important to realize that we have the higher self and the lower, and I don't mean that in a moral sense, both of them within us and they both need to figure out a way to be brought to the bargaining table and somehow hammer out a treaty that's going to work for both of them. Because I think what happens if you start shoving one or another under the floor boards just to be rid of the tension is you end up with the tell tale heart syndrome. You know, who's that - is that Poe?
Rob: Poe, Poe.
GL: Where a man kills another man, buries him literally under the floorboards in his house, but the beating of the man's heart drives him crazy and he tears up the planks and reveals himself in front of the police captain. You know, trying to stuff any of our powers down and not bring them up and deal with them is going to create repression and I heard Thomas Moore, who wrote Care of the Soul say that repression of the life force is what drives most people into therapy. You know, and I just think that you're not going to suppress either one of these parts, the bottom up or the top down inside us with impunity. That's my sense and I've seen it in my own life.
Rob: Now you cite somewhere in the book that neurosis is the price we pay for civilization.
GL: Yeah, well some people actually describe neurosis as the split between two warring factions within us. I mean you've created this wonderful duality of the top down and the bottom up, that's one way to language it, but they say that neurosis is the struggle between two parts of ourselves and maybe ultimately the essential, natural self and the conditioned and socialized self. Which may be one way to look at the top down, bottom up paradigm, but you know, there's no way to get away from this neurotic struggle. And I mean neurotic really in the psychological sense, not in that people are neurotic. It just means that they're split and they're struggling with the split and again, another reason to bundle paradox into the works here, is to really work creatively with these energies, but neurosis is just that split between the part of us that wants to rise above, wants to be intelligent and work with our abstract qualities, and the part of us that are just reactive and animalistic and sensual and they just need to be worked with; not try to shove one or another of them away.
Rob: Now you have a whole chapter, a big chapter on call of the wild.
Rob: I think this is where this concept comes in.
GL: I think so.
Rob: You talk about the wild versus civilization.
GL: Right, exactly and I just - part of living passionately, in my estimation, was reconnecting, to whatever degree you may have lost, is reconnecting with the part of us that is wild, is that is original, that is natural, I mean we talk about our natural-born selves, right? That's the essential part; that's the wild part and not to try to be so civilized, you know, that's why I love this poster that's on the wall of the kitchen of a friend of mine, it says - shows a picture of a woman down on her hands and knees scrubbing out a bathtub and a caption that says a clean house is a sign of a wasted life. And to me -
Rob: Amen, hallelujah.
GL: That means I'm doing great.
Rob: Me too.
GL: Yeah, exactly. You know, but that's like the security-minded part of us getting out of control. You know? Oh here's a great one, I think I mentioned this in the book. I'm in the cemetery that's around the corner from my house and I stumble on a gravesite, a gravestone for a guy named WC Stradley and his epitaph says that he led a spotless life, a triumphant death. And I stood in front of this gravestone and I thought man I would much rather see it the other way around. You know, I would much rather have a triumphant life and a spotless death. I don't - the notion of a spotless life does not strike me as something really to aspire to. You know?
Rob: What does it mean to you? A spotless life?
GL: Well I think in this case it meant rising above, transcending this dirty earthly mortal life and being pure of spirit and pure of thought and wearing your Sunday best all week long. And honest to God, I think that's missing the boat. I think that's missing the whole point of being alive and passionate, which is just to sink your teeth into it. I don't think the point is to live a spotless life; I think that's a religious notion that has frankly done a lot of damage because it says that all of our sensual and super sensual appetites and urges and inclinations are somehow depraved.
Rob: Where do you think it comes from? This idea of living a spotless life. It is, it's empty, it's hollow; I think of spotlight and with spotless means nothing happens?
GL: Right, clean, pure. Well, I imagine it might have come from just the desire to have control. The desire to have control over parts of us that are uncontrollable and -
Rob: That's sort of top down.
GL: That's definitely top down, there's no doubt about it. Patriarchal system that tries to control women, a religious system that tries to control people's you know, sexual appetites, things like that. I think it's a control issue. And you know, here's the thing, none of us are above that, you know? I mentioned this in the book, I had a very revealing Freudian slip that I caught a few years ago that to me highlights the challenges of dealing with these two energies that you're dealing with, with the top down, the bottom up. I had gone on the road to do some adventure travel, you know to honor the part of me that just wanted out of the proverbial box. And - but I went at a time that, when I had a lot of irons in the fire. I was juggling a whole bunch of business projects that needed to come to fruition and I meant to leave a message on the outgoing message of my answering machine that said 'hello this is Gregg Levoy, I'll be out of the office until August twenty-fifth,' but what I said instead and didn't find out until I got home was 'hello this is Gregg Levoy, I'll be out of control until August twenty-fifth.' Which explains some of the messages that were waiting for me when I got home, but there it is right there. I was afraid of being out of control and I didn't even recognize it until I got the feedback from my own answering machine.
Rob: Afraid or looking forward to it? It sounds like you might have been looking forward to it. Having read your book, you're a guy who revels in being out of control.
GL: Exactly. And yet the part of me that's attached to some of the top down functions: getting work done, getting it done on time, having it spotless because I'm a perfectionist as well, is also afraid of losing control. You know what I'm saying? I mean I grew up for instance, with a mother who had a spotless house you know, and all of those kind of values are very important so I've still got that in the back of my mind. You know, some of these notions that control -and control is a good thing, I'm not saying that it's not, that's why Malcolm Gladwell's comment really strikes me about mastery requires at least ten thousand hours of dedicated practice. That's control, that's a discipline. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with discipline; it's that it can get out of hand and then the discipline has to come, to stop being disciplined. You know?
Rob: Well the interesting thing - interesting for me is I spend a lot of my life in the world of biofeedback.
Rob: Now biofeedback is basically using technology to develop greater control over your body.
Rob: Your physiology, your brain waves, your muscles, your blood flow, your heart rate, your respiration, but the kind of ironic thing is most of the things that people are taught to do with biofeedback is how to control their physiology so they can let go more. So it's really like - and you talk about in the book, learning how to control, control.
GL: Yeah, exactly. You know the fact is our bodies have biofeedback machines of course. We don't necessarily need to rely on technology to feed that back to us. When I'm overworking, my back goes out or I get a cold, you know and the up shot of these things is I am forced to chill out. That's the message in the symptom is stop, you know I was on vacation in Costa Rica last week and vacation, at least to some degree, should be about rest and relaxation. I mean often for me it's just change, is as much of a vacation as lying on a beach reading a book. But I was overdoing it, I was doing a lot of physical activity and I tore the calf in my left leg and I heard it pop. I actually heard a pop, and the upshot was that I had to stop moving forward because it literally hurt to walk and to move forward. And unfortunately I was two and a half miles in the wilderness at the time that happened. So I had literally had to walk backward most of the way back because that's the only way I could physically do it without that excruciating pain.
Rob: I'm sure you're going to get some great lessons out of walking backward. Tell us.
GL: Well you know, sometimes going backwards is going forward, you know, it's like that when you're standing at the edge of a cliff, progress can be defined as taking a step backward, you know. And to me, this is the biofeedback machine, doing its brilliant intuitive native thing, which is communicating to me what I really need even though my top down brain says no what you really need is more adventure, or more control or get another project done or add something more to your resume or you know, another conquest. But the biofeedback machine of the body, the dreams, symptoms, fantasies, this to me is the native biofeedback machine.
Rob: And what you talk about in the book is learning to listen more to these messages. This is also in Callings a great deal as well.
GL: Yeah, right. Yeah, absolutely.
Rob: It's not something that you automatically are aware of, or conscious of.
GL: Yeah, I'm a little bit afraid for our listening skills in the Internet age. I just think our attention spans have gone down to you know, the sound byte. I mean I've actually seen little television screens mounted above urinals and gas pumps.
GL: I mean how bad is our attention span that we're bored to death waiting for gas to pump? I mean how long does it take to go, to pee? You know what I'm saying? How long does that take? It's a minute or so, that expands of course as you get older, but the fact is why is that excruciating to us? Why does the Motorola company in pitching their cell phones, coin the term micro boredom? And every newspaper in the country jumps on it as a new story. Micro boredom are these little snatches of precious time that we apparently find insufferable and of course, Motorola's happy to help us with that problem with their latest and greatest. But our attention span has narrowed down to the point when idea of contemplative listening, it's just a luxury, it's like who's got the time to do that? You know, the kind of listening that I believe is required to ascertain a calling or to really discern what your passions are and where they want you to go. So I'm just a little concerned about what's going to happen to that skill as the Internet age expands.
Rob: So, let me - okay, let me digress a little bit -
Rob: Because I've got pages of notes on what to ask you and I haven't touched it yet.
Rob: Which is fine, we're doing great, but you star the chapter with eyes wide open. You start the book, the first chapter is eyes wide open. You talk a lot about wonder in that and when you talk about this inability to let go and this micro -
Rob: - boredom, I think a symptom that has as a risk, the loss of wonder.
Rob: So, talk about - I'm kind of segueing into wonder -
GL: Yeah, that's fine.
Rob: Talk about wonder.
GL: Oh, boy. I mean, I think of it as one of the active ingredients in a passionate life; it's the ability to be moved. I mean that's really ultimately what I think wonder is about. Is the ability to be moved by things; emotionally moved. And if not literally moved to take action on their behalf; to enjoy them, to immerse yourself in them, to protect them, the things that move you, but I just think that it requires us sometimes to step out of the mindset of busyness and doing and get into that, you know, that old paradigm of being. Just open yourself to the experience of being moved by things; whatever that is, what are your fascinations? What makes you say wow? You know, it's one of the reasons why I ask this question in my workshops is what is it that triggers the wow experience for you? And just simply to do more of it; to identify what they are and to do more of it because the world is marvelous and shot through with just incredibleness and it would be a pity to miss so much of it. And -
Rob: So you did this workshop last night, which I attended - a short workshop, and you asked the question what evokes wonder and awe and I'll just tell you what I wrote down -
GL: Right, what is that?
Rob: Mountains, I'm a skier, so standing at the top of the mountain, looking out is just something I love and it's wonderful.
Rob: Sunsets, wild animals, seeing them -
Rob: And observing them.
Rob: Talent and a change of heart.
GL: Oh, interesting.
Rob: Seeing somebody change their mind; change from angry to heart-ful.
Rob: Those are I think of.
Rob: What are some examples that you would list that you've encountered in people or your own wonders?
GL: Oh, goodness, I mean my own - you see I had a friend tell me once, I was watching a sunset and I was I guess, going crazy in my usual fashion around how remarkable it is that you know, this force throws this incredible palette of colors across the sky. And he said my God, you act like you've never seen a sunset before, and I said well, I've never seen this one. You know, but I - you know, things as simple as that. Things as simple as taking a magnifying glass out on my hikes, which I carry in my backpack now as a regular feature of walking because the world is utterly transformed with the simple technological addition of a magnifying glass, which completely changes what you're looking at and can bring the wow factor out quite readily. But I think of my father when I think of this entire chapter, and I really dedicate this chapter to my dad because he was a scientist and because he taught me the alien game.
Rob: The alien game.
GL: The alien game where he was an alien and we were the earthlings and we would go out into the world and he would ask questions about the planet that he saw and our job, as earthlings, was to explain it to him. So we got to experience everyday stuff -
Rob: Like what? Give me a little more example.
Rob: Well I'm not really clear on it, but you can just describe it.
GL: Okay, so we'd go out - he would say what are the white formations that move through your atmosphere? And we'd of course say -
GL: And he'd say what are they composed of? And we would say -
Rob: Water droplets.
GL: Right, and then he'd say how do they get up there into the atmosphere and what holds them up?
Rob: Evaporation and they're lighter than air.
GL: But they're not, water is heavier than air. What holds them up? So we're trying to figure this out as the afternoon goes by and it becomes apparent to us earthlings that clouds are not the only things over our heads, you know. But mostly - and here's the thing, the top down, bottom up thing, how's it possible that you can live with something every single day of your life and not come to understand its most essential principals, you know, and that to me is a revelation; that's a regular revelation. Why do my fingers wrinkle in the bathtub? And why don't I know the answer to that question? Right?
Rob: And why do you not care? And why have you ignored those questions?
GL: Exactly. You know, you might wonder at it in an idle moment, but you don't pursue the answer -
Rob: But why? Why do people do that? Why do people just ignore all these aspects of life that are right in front of their faces?
GL: That is a marvelous question Rob, that's a marvelous question. I - we're bored, we're busy, we're tuned off, it takes time and it's time away from more essential things like earning a living or what? Getting your kids into Harvard. That's a great question. So part of my, you know, my impetus with the book is to help people remember that this is remarkable stuff and that if you want to live passionately, it's not just about finding your passion as a vocation, but it's about turning the receivers back on and falling back in love with life, your life, life itself.
Rob: Now, this little conversation here reminded me of another idea that you brought up that I think about too and it's just the idea of beginner's mind. There are occasionally times when I'll tell somebody who is about to see a movie that I love or something like that, I envy your beginner's mind on this. So can you talk a little bit about beginner's mind and where that fits into this?
GL: Oh, I think it fits in eminently because it's the ability and the willingness, as an adult it would be the willingness, as in will; you have to will it to happen. To look at life through the eyes of children. See when we were toddlers, when we were young, the whole world is new we're all aliens. I mean children are essentially aliens in this world so everything is new to them and that's why they ask, according to Newsweek Magazine, up to a hundred questions a day. Now that would drive most parents and teachers out of their minds and unfortunately for the children, kids get that message and they stop asking questions. And they become ashamed of not knowing. This is I think one of the reasons why high schoolers are often mortified to not know something. You know, and I was at a Super Bowl party last year and I'm not a sports fan, I mean I'm a sports enthusiast in the sense that I'm a skier like you are. But I don't go to events, I don't follow football teams for instance, and throughout the entire game I'm asking one beginner's mind question after another: how come some fumbles are jumped on and some of them are avoided? How come - are they allowed to grab onto each other's hair and clothing during a game to make a tackle? How come everybody boos when somebody dances around in the end zone after a touchdown? You know, it's stuff that to me seemed like natural questions and fortunately there were one of two of the guys in the room who were willing to answer these questions for me because some people love being the knower and sharing information. One friend came up to me afterwards and said she was embarrassed for me, asking such clearly amateurish questions in front of a bunch of football freaks, and it never entered my mind to be ashamed to not know something. I mean most people don't know most things about most things. You know? But the willingness to continue cultivating beginner's mind keeps the world alive. It keeps things fresh, it keeps discovery happening on a regular basis.
Rob: You know it took me almost, maybe until after I finished college, to realize that it's great to ask questions and I think a lot of my younger time I was embarrassed to ask questions because everybody else must know and - maybe it was after I started doing public speaking that I realized that there are questions that if - I think I'm a reasonably intelligent guy -
Rob: - and I figure if I've got the question then there are probably other people thinking it too and whether or not they do, I - it's okay to ask questions and it's okay not to know things.
GL: Exactly. I mean not knowing is the beginning of discovery and discovery to me is - half the enjoyment of life is peering under rocks and going to other countries and looking at other cultures and looking through observatory telescopes and scuba diving. So I see a world every bit as rich and diverse as what's going on up here in the terrestrial realm is under the ocean and I mean just discovery is half of the reason I feel passionate about life.
Rob: I think there's a quote, and I'm not sure I'm sure I'm getting it right, it's by a Chinese philosopher Mencius, and he said wisdom is having a child's heart.
GL: Absolutely, and this is why you know, educators refer to being a lifelong learner; that's when we stop learning we stop growing and I think there's a lot to that. There's a lot to that, it's the willingness to keep growing and learning, and especially if you find yourself in one of those situations where you're top down function has overcome your bottom up and you're stuck in a job you hate because of the paycheck, because of the security, because of the fear factor and you're letting yourself over ripen and rot on the vine. If you're not willing to push past that and create some new growth in some arena or leave the situation entirely, you're going to over ripen and rot on the vine.
Rob: Well let's talk about that because you write about it in the book. You write about how you had a job for ten years as a reporter in Cincinnati.
Rob: And you started thinking about how you were dying there.
Rob: And you decided you wanted to leave, but you didn't just leave, you had a plan and I love the way you describe in the book the way you approached this change.
GL: Yeah, well I eventually had a plan; my only plan for half a decade was to avoid the call. And I think that's - I mean you're a student o Joseph Campbell's, you know that after the call to adventure comes the refusal of the call. That's phase one -
Rob: Oh, oh, oh, I got to throw this at you.
GL: Go for it.
Rob: This epiphany that your book gave me is all about the hero's journey too which I've given talks on and written about. So the first step is you're in this ordinary world, everything's steady. Then you get the call, which you wrote a book about -
Rob: And then the next step is refusal of the call. Now, to me the call is a little leak in your bottom up brain that opens up a way for you to see the call. And then, slam.
Rob: Your top down brain goes no, no, no, don't do that. Stay where things are, do things the same way.
Rob: Or someone else comes into your life.
GL: That says the same thing.
GL: Absolutely. Yeah, I mean and if it's any consolation to people, that's phase one of responding to a call is ignoring it; is refusing it; is deep-sixing it. It's the let this cup pass from me, phase of the journey, right? Or I'm a fan of the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, so in the Hobbit, which is you know, the prequel to the trilogy, Bilbo gets a knock on the front door from Gandalf, the wizard and he says I have an adventure for you to take and Bilbo's reaction classic phase one stuff, he says oh no, no, no, no; no, no, no we're just plain quite village folk, we have no need for adventures, nasty, disturbing uncomfortable things make you late for dinner.
GL: Classic phase one.
Rob: I like to use the example of Luke Skywalker in Star wars; George Lucas literally learned with Joseph Campbell and Luke Skywalker gets the invitation from Obi-Wan Kenobi: come with me and help me rescue princess Leia and I'll teach you about the power of the force -
Rob: - and he goes oh no, I have to help my aunt and uncle harvest.
GL: Right, the harvest, right. Exactly. Or here's another one. Calvin and Hobbs, I think it was Calvin and Hobbs - or no, no it was Blue County. Blue County had a character name Binkley, was a ten-year-old boy and he was famous for having this closet of anxieties, right? And one day he's lying in his bed and out bursts a knight on a stallion who invites him to come on a grand adventure, and the little boy says oh no, I have a school report on snails due in the morning, you know? And the knight rides back into the closet and Binkley is left alone with himself in his bed with his sheet pulled up to his chin and he says to himself, you know someday when I've got kids and a job and a Chrysler mini van in the garage and liver p te rotting in the fridge, I'm going to say to myself Binkley, you poor miserable bored yuppy. You never went for the gusto. But that - whatever version of that erupts in peoples' lives, again if it's any consolation, that's natural, it's inevitable, it's universal to respond that way initially to a call, which is exactly what I did at the Cincinnati Inquirer. For five years I said no to the call because it terrified me to leave employment for self-employment.
Rob: Okay, we're going to stop there for a brief station ID. This is the Rob Kall Bottom-Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington Township, New Jersey reaching metro Phili and south Jersey sponsored by opednews.com. If you joined this interview in the middle and you want to hear the beginning of it, go to opednews.com/podcasts, with an S on the end or go to iTunes and look for my name, Rob Kall K-A-L-L and you'll find this one - I would say give it a day or two, and hundreds of other interviews as well. Now, I've been talking with Gregg Levoy, the author of Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion and a best selling, which just came out and a previous book Callings, a best-selling book. They're both brilliant and I highly recommend them and Gregg, I asked you about how you changed your job and we started talking about the refusal of the call, so pick it up.
GL: Right. So, let's see, I'm at the Cincinnati Inquirer, I've been there for five years at this point and I get the call; and I refuse it, and I refuse it, and I refuse it. And the symptoms of the need of the call itself only increase. It's not that by saying no it's going to go away.
Rob: The symptoms?
GL: The symptoms of the call, I think they only increase. I mean this is both the beauty and the curse of callings, and passions, is that the search party does not retire. Alright, you may turn your back, but they're not going to turn their back on you. And that's why I say for better and for worse. So the symptoms just got more so, the dreams got more violent, my restlessness only increased and it took a crisis for me to finally turn around and say okay, I've got to do something about this and the crisis was the loss of a job at USA Today because they're both owned by the same company and, Gannett, and Gannett took me from the Inquirer to Washington D.C. to work on the founding - as a founding staff at USA Today and the deal was four-month trial period. If the paper flies and you fit you're a journalist in Washington D.C. Alright, if the paper does not fly or you don't fit, for some reason or another, you're guaranteed your job back at whatever paper they took you from. So as elegant a job offer as you get. I lasted two months. It was absolute shock to me that I did not become a journalist at USA Today, but I was a feature style writer, an essay style writer and USA Today was reviewed by the Washington Post when it first came out and they called it news McNuggets. So, I was hating it there; literally falling asleep on the job; literally my colleagues would find me at my desk with some regularity asleep. And what am I doing by falling asleep on the job, you know? I'm reenacting the story of Jonah. He gets a call from God, essentially to be a public speaker, and doesn't want any part of it, books himself passage on a ship going in the opposite direction from where he's called to be. Again, classic refusal of the call stuff, and goes to sleep in the bottom of the ship. Alright? So I lost the job at USA Today and that was the wakeup call. That was the one that said oh, now I've got to go back to the Cincinnati Inquirer, but I went back with a desperation I did not have before, and a sense that I have to make this happen. I'm just you know, when people say I'm dying at this job, I take that literally. It's something - I don't think it's a coincidence that the American Medical Association found out that the majority of heart attacks occur around nine o'clock on Monday mornings. Now what are most people doing around nine o'clock on Monday mornings? They're going back to jobs and jobs they don't like, jobs that are a lousy match with their spirits and their soul; job that literally turns out can break your heart, right? So, I went back with a quality of determination and desperation I didn't have and then I made my plan, as you described. Then I sat down and I became the scientist that I have in me.
Rob: And what was the plan?
GL: Well the plan was, I want to be self-employed as a writer within one year. I'm not a leap and the net will appear type. You've heard the expression leap and the net will appear or you know, leap off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.
Rob: On the other hand, you have talked in the book about sometimes you have to start moving in order to see where things are, to get the clarity -
Rob: You talk about people who wait for clarity and then nothing ever happens -
Rob: And then sometimes you have to start moving to make clarity happen -
Rob: So again there's that balance there.
GL: There is that balance and sometimes I generally recommend to people that they take the slow and steady approach to making big changes happen rather than the leap and the net will appear approach. But sometimes, a leap of faith is exactly what's in order because if the - you know, the prospect of turmoil is preferable to the psychological death you're experiencing by staying put, then I say let 'er rip, you know what I'm saying? So there's a place for both of them, but in this particular case I knew that my career depended on doing it smart, not just fast and getting a fix, which is what I wanted ultimately. I just wanted out.
Rob: So you wanted to be a freelance writer?
Rob: Or - what did -
GL: Magazines and newspapers.
GL: That's what I wanted to do; I wanted to be able to write my own stories rather than what was assigned to me. I wanted to have a more national audience than a small regional audience. And I wanted to live in San Francisco rather than Cincinnati. And San Francisco's the antidote to Cincinnati. As you might imagine, but what I did is I devoted every Thursday night to becoming a student of the life I wanted to live, and that was the freelance life. So every Thursday I went down to the public library instead of taking the bus back uptown at the end of the day and I spent three hours from six to nine when it closed, studying the freelance life; reading books about it, reading articles about it, interviewing people who were freelancers, writing stories, querying editors, exedra, exedra. So it was three hours a week for a year. Turned out to be actually a year and three quarters because interviewing the freelance writers, what they all said to me was you better have two years worth of savings in the bank, which was a bummer because I didn't have that kind of money in the bank and it made me extend my deadline another almost year. And you know, two years is a long time to be doing something when you'd rather be doing something else, but it's not twenty, you know, and by the time I leapt into the freelance life, I leapt into work, I did not leap into an abyss.
Rob: So, okay, so three hours a week -
GL: For a year and three quarters.
Rob: - for a year and three quarters, what did you do? What was involved? What was that time involved in? You were studying how to do it, learning how to figure it out -
Rob: So talk more about the process.
GL: Developing relationships with editors was a big part of it. I was querying them on story ideas, I was dealing with rejection, I was reworking the queries, sending them out, doing research and interviewing, putting story together, writing, rewriting, and essentially, developing ongoing relationships with a couple of editors so that when I left employment I would have relationships up and running. So that was a big part of it, but it was also just studying the life I wanted to live. This I had identified as my new great passion, was to be self-employed as a writer and to write certain kinds of stories, they tended to be medical and health related partly because I was fascinated by the subjects; partly because there was a lot of novelty in those fields and I knew that one thing editors love, if it's not lunch it's stories about something new. So I knew I could make a living at it if I focused on that niche if you will, is new breakthroughs in certain fields.
Rob: And it ends up you wrote for a magazine that I also wrote for, Omni magazine.
GL: No kidding.
Rob: Yeah I spent a couple years writing articles for them.
GL: Is that right?
Rob: As a freelancer.
GL: Right, is that right?
Rob: Yeah, yeah.
GL: That's great, oh I loved working with them.
Rob: What was kind of fun is you mentioned last night that you did an interview with the former president of IONS (Institute of Noetic Sciences)? The astronaut?
GL: Edgar Mitchell.
Rob: Edgar Mitchell, and the funny thing was, Opednews published an interview with Edgar Mitchell that one of our managing editors did just yesterday, so. That was a great time, I was kind of smiling about that.
GL: Oh that's great, yeah.
Rob: Because you had a story about Mitchell.
Rob: So, okay, so let's kind of use this conversation about your transition to talk about passions and about freelancing because I also do interviews with a lot of writers too.