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Welcome to A Revolution of Interdependence

How We Help Each Other Succeed

My new podcast is all about how we help each other succeed. So, I want to tell you a story about interdependence. It involves two people, Jason and Olivia. One day, Jason was working at his desk. He looked up from his computer, and he was surprised to see Olivia, his old high school classmate, walking down the row of cubicles with the CEO of his company. Their eyes met. She headed over his way. “Jason?” “Hey, Olivia. What are you doing here?”

He never thought he would see her again after she left for college and then moved to the city. Olivia explained, “I’m here to sign a partnership agreement with your company. You guys will be providing services to me and my company.” That phrase, “my company,” didn’t sit well with Jason. He’d been grinding it out for ten years, and he’d only climbed a few rungs up the corporate ladder. “Are you in management?” he asked Olivia. “No, I’m the CEO of a new startup. It’s a startup I built with some friends. We’re growing like crazy. And we have to outsource some of our work. That’s why I’m here.”

Jason was not particularly happy with this news. The two of them had been in a lot of the same classes through high school. They grew up in the same neighborhood. He didn’t even mean to ask his next question out loud, but he almost blurted it out: “What’s your secret?”

Interdependence Is Not a Secret

Olivia explained that it wasn’t a secret. She had simply learned how to rely on other people and allow other people to rely on her. Olivia stayed in touch with her teachers from high school and even came back to speak in their classes. She relied on her college professors for internships and career advice. And now, she mentors interns, even as the CEO. She was able to find a deeper way of living in the world because she didn’t have to go through it alone. In short, Olivia had learned how to practice interdependence.

We Need a Revolution

Welcome to this first episode of the podcast. I started with that story because interdependence is not a word we use all that much. We have a poverty of words to describe our interconnection. All our language centers around individuality and self-improvement. That only serves as further separation from one another in this world, where we are already separated so much by norms, by structures by language, all these things that dictate what any individual can achieve. They dictate what any individual believes they can achieve.

And that’s why I named this podcast The Revolution of Interdependence. That’s why we need a revolution. And if you’re here, I’m hoping that your heart, your mind, and your soul are with me. So why do I call it a revolution? We need to get rid of one system and replace it with a different one.

I’m not talking about politics. Changing our political structures, as hard as that would be, would be easier than what I’m suggesting. I’m talking about a fundamental shift in the way we think and act toward each other. I’m talking about a change so radical that we would begin to be honest and vulnerable about our needs. So we can support each other in meaningful and specific ways. I’m calling for a revolution where we find new ways to work together as humans because rugged individualism just isn’t working. We can create something beautiful out of the brokenness that exists all around us … if we work together.

Why Is It the Best of Times?

Now to understand why we need a change so significant, it’s helpful to think about where we are in human history right now. Right now, it is the best of times and it’s the worst of times. Why is it the best of times?

Well, we’re in the middle of this time of rapid growth in human potential. You know, the era we live in, and especially the last 20 years, has seen this explosion of new ideas for pursuing individual human thriving. We’ve seen all these great models come out, models like Mindset by Carol Dweck, and Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. We’ve seen positive psychology enter the mainstream. It seems like every year we move forward with new models for how the individual can thrive and grow.

And we’re also witnessing a revolution in new methods for personal growth in healing and recovery. Through fMRI scans, we can identify and target the areas of the brain that motivate people toward negative behaviors like substance abuse and depression. Researchers are using light technology to stimulate portions of the brain that shape our motivated behavior. Look, we know more about the human brain than ever before. The consequences of this new knowledge are that we can help individuals overcome trauma, find healing and, find ways to thrive in the world.

Why Is It the Worst of Times?

Are we using our new knowledge of the brain to help individuals? Well, without a doubt, yes. There’s a significant number of individuals that had been helped by these advances in human potential. These new models, these new methods, they’re providing some with the roadmap for growth and thriving.

Are we living in Nirvana? No, right? Obviously not. I’m guessing you don’t believe that, or you wouldn’t even be listening to this podcast. At the same time that we’re seeing a revolution of human individual potential, we’re also viewing a crisis of depression, crisis of growing inequality, a loss of opportunity for advancement.

And I don’t think these problems have a political solution. We think in such political terms these days. We are very tribalistic. We want to know, are you on my team? But we had better start figuring out how to get on each other’s teams because this time we’re in is a true global crisis.

My Story is One of Interdependence

I want to tell you a little bit about my story because it really relates to the question of why this idea of interdependence is so important to me. In my personal life, I had experienced a certain amount of success. And then I reached a crisis point. I reached a crisis point where everything started falling apart in my life. And I didn’t know how to control circumstances. So, I spent 10 years in active substance abuse. I looked okay on the outside. But those closest to me knew I was hurting. Hurting and broken and dysfunctional. I didn’t know how to ask for help.

And I thought I was just broken. I thought I was broken and unable to be repaired. See, in addition to my addiction, I dealt with a lifetime of learning disabilities, including and especially attention deficit disorder. Like a lot of people with ADD I kind of thought, everyone knew something I didn’t. They had received some instruction manual that I wasn’t given.

I just wanted to get away from the crisis that was my life. This desire to escape drove me deeper and deeper into substance abuse. I crashed. I crashed hard and I burned. And then I came into the rooms of recovery.

Here’s what I heard there: Let us love you until you can love yourself. Let us demonstrate for you how to authentically talk about your needs. Let us show you how to be vulnerable and how to share the pain in your life. They didn’t use this word but what they were demonstrating for me was interdependence. What they were demonstrating for me was how we help each other succeed.

Powerlessness is a Beautiful Paradox

Now, most people reject recovery programs for two reasons. The first is that they don’t want to admit they can’t do everything for themselves. And I certainly didn’t ever want to admit that. That’s a humiliating thing. But powerlessness is a paradox.

See, we tell everyone they are completely empowered to live their best life now. But it’s kind of like the software licensing agreements that we all page down on and then we hit agree. We don’t read all the fine print.

Here’s the reality. We are fully empowered in some areas. But we need other people for everything else. Every year, I admit my interdependence when I take my taxes to my accountant. Every morning, I admit my interdependence when I flip on a light switch, check the weather, and put gas in my car. I don’t say it out loud when I flip on the lights – now I am being interdependent – that would be weird.

But it is the reality of our life. Take a moment right now and just mentally walk through your day, and you will quickly see how interdependent you are. There are all kinds of other people doing things that empower you to live your life.

Maybe we don’t want to admit a certain amount of powerlessness, but we could state this positively: you are empowered to live your best life because other people make it possible.

Why Are We Afraid of Powerlessness?

We are deeply afraid of this concept. Why? Why are we so afraid of this idea? Well, one of the first reasons is our culture. The world we live in is constructed by the stories we tell ourselves. And our culture is dominated by stories that tell us we have within ourselves the power to do everything we need to do. A lot of that is tied up in the self-help culture. We’ll explore that more in our next episode.

But the idea that we should be able to make it on our own, that we should be able to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, is so deeply embedded in our culture. I’ll tell you an interesting story that highlights this.

I use AI software to help me write copy for my clients and for other places where I need written words. It’s an incredible tool. It goes out and reads the Internet, learns what everyone is talking about, and then creates unique copy based on trends and memes that are out there. It’s a good judge of what is happening in the culture. What people are talking about, reading, and searching.

So, I asked this software to help me write about interdependence, and it had a really hard time. I would ask the software to write about how we help each other succeed, and it would inevitably default to writing copy about how we are on our own and it’s all up to us. I would ask the software to write copy about service to others, and it would inevitably default to the way helping others helps me.

We Can’t Make It On Our Own

Now, there is a certain truth to that. Helping others does benefit me and we have countless studies and reams of data to demonstrate this fact. But it’s also true that when we suffer from issues like depression, we are more likely to know we need help. There’s a study in the journal PLOS One, that demonstrates clearly that individuals with major depression know they need help, and they want to seek support. So, we know that seeking help is a natural behavior for us during times of crisis. And yet it seems that so much of our literature and so much of our cultural conversation is about making it on our own.

Why is that? Well, it’s part of our story. It’s been part of our origin story, particularly in America or in the West. We have this origin story of independence … that we’ve made it completely on our own.

At the same time, it’s also true that we’re also concerned about codependence. We have dedicated a great deal of attention in our culture to the problem of codependence in both our psychological literature and our self-help conversations. And there are people dear to me, and people that I connect with through my work as a coach, who have very real reasons to be afraid of codependence. But I want to suggest that a false belief in Independence is also a pathologically flawed cognitive model. The idea that we can make it on our own without anyone’s help is as false a belief as the overreliance on, or addiction to, another person.

I Proved These Ideas Myself

And I had to overcome a false kind of independence. In very real ways I had to make myself a client of the ideas I was sharing about interdependence and the ways we help each other succeed. In the 1980s there was a commercial for a product called Hair Club for Men. This is an ironic story, given how bald I am.

But the commercial was for a product that would help men regrow their hair. It featured a guy named Sy Sperling. And toward the end of the commercial, he would always say, “And remember, I’m not just the President of the company, I’m also a client.” After saying that he would hold up a “before” picture of his bald head and then would comb his hand through his mane of beautiful hair. So when I convey the story of interdependence, I’m not just someone sharing an intellectual idea. I’m someone whose life has been transformed by practicing these principles.

Powerlessness Is a Key to Success

Now, in all this critique of independence, I want to be careful to say we all need to mature. We all need self-motivation and agency. We need to be moving toward self-actualization in our personal journey toward growth and wholeness. But it is also my experience that a false kind of independence got me in trouble. By contrast, admitting that I don’t have everything I need within me to succeed is what has ironically helped me succeed.

I stated earlier that people tend to be weary of the language surrounding recovery programs because they don’t like to admit that there are things outside of their control. The other reason people tend to be weary of the language of recovery is they don’t want to admit that there’s something bigger than themselves. It walks and talks like religion. And there are too many reasons to cover here why religion is a problem in our culture. It’s preachers gone wild out there. We see that and we think, nope, I don’t want any part of that. And that’s certainly not what I’m advocating as a key element of interdependence.

So what do I mean when I say that interdependence requires us to believe that there’s something bigger than ourselves? There was a sociologist who wrote in the 1960s. His name was Philip Rieff, and he wrote a book called The Triumph of the Therapeutic where he theorized that eventually we would all be our own authorities. We would each have our own ideas of how to live and how to behave. And that’s certainly the world we live in now. To achieve a sense of wholeness in our own life, to grow beyond the circumstances we are handed, requires that we figure out how to do it together.

Everyone Had Help

It is like the ancient proverb that says if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. We cannot go far in our self-improvement journey if we choose to go it alone. We do not have what we need completely within ourselves. And I’ve spent many years now studying the self-help movement. My research area was originally in the sociology of religion, but there’s a lot of shared concepts present in the self-help movement. Particularly the idea of the hero’s journey, which is all too often in this day and age interpreted as the one person who succeeded all alone against the odds. I listened to a lot of personal success stories as part of my research. I find there’s often a common trend.

I’ll listen to a successful entrepreneur. And they’ll tell the story about how they crawled up from low circumstances and made a name for themselves. How they became successful despite the lot they were handed. But then as the interview goes on, I hear about the mom who stood in line to get the welfare food. I hear about the teacher who encouraged them. Inevitably, in all these stories of individual success, there are a whole cast of actors that helped that person become the success story we all want to hear.

And having a team committed to my success is something I’ve experienced in my time of growth. I’ll admit I was a bit of a self-help dropout. If there was a popular self-improvement concept to be tried, I had probably tried it, or some version of it. I know I benefited from what wisdom was contained in those books. But for me the turning point was when I admitted I needed others so I could succeed myself.

Four Reasons We Need Interdependence

So, I want to take the last part of our podcast and share four reasons why we need interdependence. This is the first in a series, and we’ll expand on these ideas throughout the podcast.

Interdependence is How Things Work

The first reason why we need interdependence is that it is the reality of how we live. Whether we admit it or not, being interdependent is the world in which we exist. It’s just how things work. Now, we often carry ideas around in our mind that are just not true. We call these thinking myths. These are beliefs that are not true, yet still widely held in the world. Things that even our own experience doesn’t validate. So, being open to the idea of interdependence is just being open to the reality of how the world works. It’s also being open to the reality of life.

Interdependence Allows Us to Shine

Living into the reality of interdependence, though, also allows us to shine in our areas of strength. I mentioned taking my taxes to my accountant earlier. Accounting is not my area of strength. It’s certainly not a thing I do. I have never developed that skill, and there are many areas where I will never develop skill. But by practicing interdependence, I can shine in those areas in which I am best. If you try to succeed at everything, you’ll be good at nothing. The most successful CEOs and entrepreneurs have teams around them because they realize that they can’t succeed alone.

Interdependence Makes the World More Effective

A third and related reason we need interdependence is that it creates the context for a better functioning world. Interdependence allows us to bring our best contribution to everything we do. The way we show up in the world is determined by three things – our past … our programming … and our predispositions. All of those elements combine to form in us a particular view on the way we contribute best in the world. When we are contributing our best self, we have a sense of peace. In fact, there is a Hebrew concept called tikkun olam. Tikkun olam could be thought of as the kind of peace that exists when everyone is contributing their best self to the world, to their families, to the companies and organizations, and to their communities. Interdependence allows us to contribute in that way and makes the world work better.

Interdependence Benefits the World

And that brings us to the last reason, which may be the most important of all. I gave you this reason last so it is clear in your mind. The reason I’m about to give you is the exact purpose for which I started this podcast. By practicing interdependence, we can help build cycles of service that benefit us and the world. I’m not suggesting Kumbaya. I’m not suggesting a hippie peace pact here with the world.

But we are in a time of great crisis. We are seeing rapidly growing rates of depression, rapidly growing rates of income inequality, and inequality of opportunity. And we can couch those things as social justice issues, but the reality is that they’re really existence issues. We cannot continue the way we’ve been acting, where a false narrative of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps is the dominant narrative and success model. We must learn to help each other succeed.

So hopefully by now, you are convinced of the need to practice interdependence. And hopefully, you’re going to keep coming back to this podcast because I will be teaching the skills for interdependence.

Three Things You Can Try

Now, I’m a teacher at heart so I couldn’t end this podcast without giving you a couple things to try as you focus on your interdependence. So, I’m going to give you 3 prompts, three things you can do this week to practice your interdependence.

Tell Others

First, I want you to think through your life. Can you think of a person, group or community that helped you be your best self? When you think about your success, can you think of someone you wouldn’t have succeeded without? Is there someone, or some group, who was a difference maker for you? Now, your first assignment is this – tell that person. Reach out to them in gratitude for the way they helped you succeed. Send them an email. Send them a text. Or, better yet, write them … you know, like with a pen and paper. And if they are no longer here, think about how you can tell the story about that person.

Thank Others

Here is your second prompt. As you go throughout your life over the next few days, look for those people who make your life possible and thank them. See, here’s what we’re learning about the dopamine in the brain. We have all heard that gratitude makes the brain happier by increasing our levels of dopamine. But it turns out that the greatest increase in dopamine is when gratitude is expressed toward us. Want to make the world better? Thank someone, especially someone who does what is an otherwise thankless job.

Share This Podcast

And here is your third prompt – share this podcast. I am starting a revolution of interdependence, and what I most need is your voice. Your network. Our world is deeply broken. But there is a Japanese are called Kintsugi where broken pottery is molded back together with gold. And the final result is beautiful and stronger than before it was broken. This week, help be the gold that puts the pieces back together by sharing this podcast with your friends.

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