153: Sean O’Connor, part 1: From paper cups to evaluating life (transcript)

March 12, 2019 by Dani Mihaleva
in Podcast

Sean O'Connor

My strategy for this podcast is largely based on my learning from Sandy Reisky in Episode 28 that community influences people behavior more than facts and that’s the strategy that most other people are doing. I’m not going to stop people from spreading facts and legislation and things like that. These things are important and I support them but I’m doing something different and I believe essential and effective. I’m bringing world renowned guests to share their environmental values and to act on them which I expect they’ll get to share that they really enjoy these things. So if Oprah, say I get Oprah on the show, if she were to share her environmental values to act on them and share the results that they brought her joy and liberation, I can’t guarantee they will but that seems to be the trend, and it’s not just that they’d be following her blindly as a celebrity. Not that at all. It’s that they would find that she enjoyed it and they think, “Oh, she’s enjoying it. I can do it too. This is someone in my community acting on her environmental values. I can do that as well.”

As it turns out I have similar conversations with people all the time. Today’s guest Sean is a friend of mine. It’s a regular conversation between friends about environmental issues. I hope that the conversation sounds familiar. It’s just a regular flow. It’s not about guilt, blame, abstract analysis or giving up or “If I act but no one else does, it doesn’t matter what I do.” Changing behavior is not that big of a deal. Why not do it? After you do it, why not share it? As it happens this is a very early conversation that was recorded months before I even launched a podcast. I had no experience with hearing my voice or things like that. So partly you can hear how this podcast has evolved. Another big theme of this podcast is to enable you to do what you want to do. I hope that you listen to this and you think Josh doesn’t interview very well. Well, now I’m bringing Olympic gold medalist, I am bringing TED speakers with tens of millions of views. I had no idea or expectation that conversations like this would lead to conversations like those but they do and I hope that encourages you to act on whatever you think about doing because you are going to find success just like that as well if you act.


Joshua: This is the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek. I’m here with Sean O’Connor. And Sean is a friend of mine and I’ve been talking to him as I talk to a lot of people about this podcast and Leadership and the Environment is a passion of mine. And you took on yourself to do one of these challenges that I’m inviting other people to do and speaking to you I wanted to get your background on it and have you share about it. I guess to introduce you… If you don’t mind my introducing a little bit?

Sean: Yeah, that sounds great.

Joshua: OK. Because I think that you would stand on your own as a leader for many different reasons. You took Seth Godin’s altMBA and I bet a lot of people listening to this really know a lot about Seth and read his stuff and watch his videos. And you were Fulbright in Asia, if I remember right.

Sean: In Sri Lanka.

Joshua: In Sri Lanka. And so you’ve done a lot of different things. Yeah, I can’t help but ask because I think people want to know this. What’s it like working with Seth? You worked with him directly, right?

Sean: Yeah. I had the opportunity right after my Fulbright to spend two weeks in the office with Seth up in Hastings on Hudson working on the Krypton project, Krypton.CC where there were a group of about 20 of us that worked together for two weeks to launch sort of an [unintelligible]. At the intersection of book clubs and online courses we launched Krypton Community College, a place for friends, co-workers, etc. to collaborate together and explore new ideas and working with Seth I look back as one of the formative experiences in my career and he’s just a one of the smartest people I know and be one of the kindest, most empathetic leaders I’ve had the opportunity to work with and working with him has definitely set my career on a bit of a different trajectory than I would have expected.

Joshua: So can you tell a story of what makes him that way?

Sean: I mean just the small things like… So Seth’s office is an apartment up in Hastings and it’s a beautiful place full of just art, books and every day Seth would cook lunch for the entire team so he would cook for us and I think just the small act of servant leadership like that really set a different tone. He also has a way of really pushing you to distill your thinking and your processing on ideas. So if you’re pitching Seth something, you better make sure it’s sharp and you understand who it’s for, what it’s for and what’s the change you’re trying to drive in the world.

Joshua: And did you ever… It sounds like you’ve done that you’ve presented to him… I would guess you’ve presented to him where he wasn’t satisfied and that led you to present when he was satisfied. Do you have contrasting stories about that?

Sean: Yes. So the project we were working on took a little bit of a different veer and it became clear towards the end of the project that we were running off in a direction of “Well, we should build out a whole web app Ruby on Rails, build a custom ecosystem.” And Seth just looked at us and said, “Well, why can’t you hack it together with MailChimp and WordPress?” and things like that. He’s really good at distilling down and cutting away a lot of the cruft and the unnecessary work and helping you to focus on what work will actually drive the best return on effort.

Joshua: I love that you used the word cruft because it’s such a nerdy word and…

Sean: It is such a nerdy word.

Joshua: Do you also think of buildings in San Francisco when you think of cruft?

Sean: No. Should I?

Joshua: Well, if you look at cruft and San Francisco you’ll see that just like a lot of buildings they have a lot of cruft on them from having to be supported after earthquakes and things like that.

Sean: Ah, interesting.

Joshua: Sorry. You’re saying?

Sean: And over the years I’ve presented Seth some projects I’ve been working on and when he’s acting as a mentor he can be frustrating to be totally blunt because he pushes you to the uncomfortable places. But I know that it’s coming from a place of compassion and he’s helping me to do my best work. So that makes it easy. It’s kind of like when somebody is enrolled on the same journey you’re on. Getting critical feedback is a gift and Seth is one of the best at giving feedback.

Joshua: I thank you for sharing this. I hope you don’t get asked about that too much but I think a lot of people see him as a presenter and see him as a writer but I don’t think many people get to cheer about him as a manager and as a leader.

Sean: Well, he’s built over the years. When he started off his career building software solutions in the education space and then after that built a book business and then after that built a company that was sold to Yahoo, raised a bunch of money with venture capital funding and he’s built a lot of other projects over the years and has cultivated a really great team around him.

Joshua: Is it leading to you evolving and growing as a leader?

Sean: It is… I find it fortunate that some of my dearest friends have come from working with Seth or come from those circles and I think just surrounding yourself with people who are doing interesting work, who are pushing new boundaries forces you to level up and go and push yourself harder. I mean what does Tim Parrish always say – “You’re the average of the five people you surround yourself with.” And I think that’s true in life.

Joshua: So then I’m also curious… I’m sure I’ve invited you over for my cooking but you’ve had his cooking so I think now I want to hear how they stack up against each other.

Sean: Well, I actually think you two would get along well. He’s a vegetarian and I’m excited to eventually make it over to your place for a stew.

Joshua: We’ll all get together and we’ll have competing little cooking challenges. So all right. And is it okay with you if I jump into what we talked about last time about you taking on this challenge for yourself?

Sean: Yeah.

Joshua: Okay. So actually let’s get some context for that. I’ve been talking to you about my plans for creating this podcast and also what’s driving my behavior and so forth of taking on challenges and getting through… What’s happened to me as it begins this challenge but ends up being these really great experiences and that happened with you. From your perspective, what did you hear for me about the podcast, about leadership and about the environment?

Sean: Yes. So in our initial conversations you’ve been talking a lot about sort of the… I think you are focusing on the cohort of people who claim to be environmentalists, are environmentally friendly, are shocked and appalled at some of the things coming out of the White House such as leaving the Paris Climate Accord but you’re frustrated insofar as people who think of themselves as environmentalists often don’t act in a way that is compatible with that and some of our initial conversations were about just the amount of trash and garbage and the environmental impact of the average American’s daily life is far and away above what is allowable given what we know about current climate change. Does that sum it up accurately?

Joshua: Yeah, I think so. And I think we’re trying to give context for the listeners. And then how did that make you feel? What does that connect inside you with and what did it then and what did you do in response? What’s the story?

Sean: Yeah. I think one of the initial things that you said that kind of blew me away was that one cross-country flight is… Can you remind me the exact stat the environmental impact of one flight?

Joshua: One cross-country roundtrip flight flying coach is roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of driving. And you know people drive more or less so it’s not exact but around that.

Sean: Yeah. And with my current role I’ve taken several cross-country flights in this past year and have a few more lined up for work obligations and just was really surprised at what the impact is on that on a day-to-day life. And I think you and I were sitting in a coffee shop down in the village and we were talking about this and I was looking at the paper cup that I was sipping out of and realized I’d go through probably two or three of those a day easily and there’s a substantial toll to the amount of paper and plastic that’s used in that. And I decided that, “You know what? I’m going to give up buying coffee and disposable cups for two weeks.” And that led to a few things. I pretty much would only drink espresso because it was quick and if you ordered it to-stay, it was served in a nice cup. And I found that for me going out for a cup of coffee with my colleagues in the afternoon was as much about sitting down and chatting and kind of getting out of the office space so we could connect on a deeper level which if you’re sitting having a cup of coffee as opposed to walking around the streets of Manhattan you get to do, and two, there really wasn’t a substantial change in my enjoyment. I think tactically drinking out of a physical mug is a lot nicer and then…

Joshua: Tactilely?

Sean: Tactilely. Thank you. And just being way more cognizant of the amount of waste that I was producing as an individual has led me to now look at packaging in food at the supermarket, carrying around my own bags so that if I pop into the farmer’s market, I can grab produce and not have to use a plastic bag and just I started to make me way more aware of the amount of garbage I create as an individual.

Joshua: So I mean some would say, “It doesn’t make a difference. There’s billions of people on the planet. What does it matter what you do?”

Sean: I think that it’s easy to think that you know your own actions as an individual won’t make a tremendous impact. But you have to start somewhere and I think that with billions of people living on the planet we all know that the vast majority of developing countries look to America as creating a standard of living in a standard of opulence. There just aren’t enough resources in the world for everybody to live like an American. And if we want the world to be on a sustainable trajectory, we need to all think about how we live our lives, how we buy. And as a consumer I think every dollar you spend has an impact on the economy because companies notice what consumers are doing. I mean think about 10 years ago. You never saw organic or free range eggs on the shelf and now today McDonald’s has revamped their entire supply chain to switch to free range eggs because consumers have voted with their dollars.

Joshua: So what you talk about it is starting something. When you first decided, “I’m not going to get disposable cups. I’m just going to use reusable mugs.” did you think of it as “I’m starting something.” or did you think of it as a goal? Like was that the end goal or did you anticipate from the beginning that it was the start of something more?

Sean: No. It was just one discrete act that I wanted to do and it has since led me to be way more aware of other things in my life. So it wasn’t the start of something in my mind. It was just a discrete two-week challenge that was easy to stick with and led me to start evaluating other things in my life more.

Joshua: Interesting. So you’re talking about awareness. You’re talking about evaluating your life. That’s kind of big compared to a plastic or a paper cup. How did you go from a paper cup to evaluating your life and what kind of evaluate…? I mean you talked about we as consumers, the effects we have on others and so forth. But there’s something different here about you and personal. Is that right?

Sean: Yes. So I think like when over the course of the two weeks I started to have a mental shift looking at a coffee cup as a just vessel for drinking a cup of coffee versus started seeing it more as a piece of trash. And once that shift happened I started seeing a lot of other things as trash from plastic bags to containers for food and once you learn to see things it’s really hard to unsee them or once you make those associations in your mind it does have a bit of an impact.

Joshua: Such as? I mean okay, you look at plastic bags and so forth. I mean what’s the emotion behind it?

Sean: That’s a good question. I guess the emotion behind it is one of… Just for me it’s more of a feeling of waste and I generally don’t like to waste things and seeing how much we’re wasting on packaging on day-to-day life. It’s kind of frustrating and obscene. I don’t think we need to necessarily individually wrap every item if you’re picking up food to-go or you know I’ve even now been harassing my parents in a restaurant to make the switch from Styrofoam to-go containers to cardboard or something that’s way more environmentally friendly.

Joshua: Isn’t it weird how you noticed something you didn’t, something that was in the background you don’t even think about is now… Was the word you used obscene and wasteful?

Sean: Yeah. It made that experience of two weeks of being cognizant of one small thing and kind of spiraled into me evaluating every purchasing decision or seeing everything in a new light.

Joshua: Isn’t that crazy? I mean you wouldn’t expect it. And yet now looking back isn’t it like, “How could I miss it? It was always there.” I don’t know. That’s how I feel about it.

Sean: No, it is. I did not go into this expecting such a big mental shift.

Joshua: Now some might say, “OK, you took a part of your life that you really care about. Now it’s become obscene. I prefer not caring about things and I prefer not having obscenity in my life. And isn’t it easier if I don’t?” So is this making your life better, worse, different?

Sean: I’d say better. I have definitely cut down on needless spending so I’m way more cognizant about that. I’ve started cooking a little bit more at home and trying to bring lunch into the office which is healthier and far cheaper. And it just connects back to when I lived in Sri Lanka. There really aren’t dumpsters or garbage pickups like there are in the US so people just burn their trash. And I have horrible memories of getting home from work and sitting down to make dinner and just suddenly my house is enveloped in a smoke, a cloud of smoke from burning garbage which happened once or twice a week whenever it was trash burning night in the neighborhood.

Joshua: And so actually we do that here except we ship the trash far away and then we burn it. Or then we put it in some mountains in third-world countries that we pay to take the stuff. Oh, sorry that was me just going on. Yeah.

Sean: But you know we’re at a point now where some developing countries have told us, “We’re not going to take your garbage anymore.” Notably China has stopped accepting plastic disposable bags from our country. And it’s unclear what we’re going to do with all of the bags that we produce.

Joshua: Yeah, you know an article I’m think about writing. Have you ever read the piece I, Pencil?

Sean: No, I haven’t.

Joshua: It’s a classic piece of kind of capitalism in the modern world. It’s written from the first person of a pencil of no one person can make a pencil. It traces back where the wood comes from, where the graphite comes from and how it’s assembled together. It’s really very well written I think it’s from about the 50s. And I thought of writing a piece. Maybe I’ll get to it of like I, Plastic Bag or I, Plastic Bottle and instead of saying where all that comes from it says where does it all go to which is interesting that some of it gets into landfills and some of it gets burned and we think if it’s recyclable, we think it’s recycled but less than 10 percent of stuff that goes into recycling gets recycled. And it’s this awareness that I think a lot of people perceive as a burden but when they make the shift that you’re talking about or speaking from my experience, I can’t speak for others, for other people’s mental experience, but my experience is when I take on the responsibility of considering these things, yes, there’s a transition period when it’s kind of hard like what do I do with this stuff. But on the other side of the transition, in my case I feel like it’s more connecting with other people and how do I affect others, it’s empathy, it’s compassion.

Sean: Yeah. And we’re on a trajectory as a country and as a world that isn’t sustainable so we can either start taking some small actions now or we’ll be forced to take far more drastic, radical and uncomfortable decisions in a few years once we reach catastrophic levels within the environment.

You know a lot of people talk about China as being one of the worst environmental polluters in the world and they are in a lot of ways. But I remember when I was living in Beijing in 2010 I spent a year there and they started a tax on plastic bags because they saw what a nuisance those plastic bags were to the environment and the economy and just the trash disposal system. So in some ways they were a little bit ahead of the curve on that one.

Joshua: OK, so even if a consumer does make a difference, a lot of other people say, “Even if you take all plastic bags in the world, it doesn’t change giant industries that are doing lots of things and it doesn’t change laws that affect you know bigger things.” Is it a waste of time to focus on these little things? I mean do people think that they make a difference on a little thing and then not care about bigger things? Are they exclusive?

Sean: I don’t think they are exclusive but the little things are definitely within your direct control. And then the larger things take work and effort. When I was in college I was a class president and one of the initiatives we were working on was trying to get our schools endowment divested of companies that weren’t aligned with the missions of the university. So I went to a Jesuit school Fordham which claimed to be in service of others. But if you looked at the school’s portfolio they were invested in a number of chemical and resource companies and companies with track records of really bad human rights violations. And we petitioned them unsuccessfully to remove those positions from the portfolio.

Joshua: Unsuccessfully. That’s unfortunate. So how does this connect with that?

Sean: I mean that’s just one example of a larger mission. So that was outside of any of our direct control but I think that as once you start connecting dots and seeing things you’ll be in a position to speak up a little bit more.

Joshua: Okay, so this is something that resonates with me is that I feel like it’s more a matter of personal responsibility and things that you can do. And so, one, working on reducing your own pollution in your house or when you go to cafes it doesn’t stop you from doing these other things. More importantly it trains you to do these things and gets you to see things that you wouldn’t otherwise see.

Sean: Yeah and it gives you a locus of internal, it gives you control over the situation to some extent.

Joshua: Yeah. And I think it starts people seeing opportunities that they can make a difference on a bigger scale. Before you do it say something that really is small and doesn’t make a difference except in some…  It makes a negligible difference. OK, maybe that’s the case but you learn to see things that you didn’t see before, you learn how to act on things and things that were outside your horizon before start to become in your horizon. And so things that you could have done before but didn’t even think to do now become clear that you can do and maybe if you were active with Fordham again, you’d be able to do things this way… Having succeeded in this area you could take what worked and apply it there.

Sean: Yeah. I think at this stage of my career and my life I know how to exert or how to move around large bureaucratic institutions a little bit more and at the time we were writing to the president when we probably should have been writing to the investment officer, the board of trustees.

Joshua: All right. Would you recommend what you did to others? I mean should others also do what you did and if so, how would you recommend and why?

Sean: I think being a little bit more deliberate in your life and finding one concrete example of a habit that you have that’s not really sustainable for the environment and might end up costing you a little bit extra money every week and giving it up for two weeks isn’t a bad exercise and it’s something that I think could lead to some unexpected changes in your life.


Joshua: Did you hit any challenges, any unexpected challenges? Because I’m with with the people that are taking on the challenges once you said, “I will commit to this.”, along the way they hit challenges that were unexpected and some of them give up, some of them take on the challenges. Did you hit anything that you didn’t expect that was hard? If so, how did you handle it?

Sean: If I was travelling over a weekend that was a little bit challenging like not grabbing a cup of coffee from a say roadside pickup like a Wawa or something like that. And since the two weeks ended I have bought two cups of coffee in disposable plastic or paper mugs and that’s far less than I was averaging before. But there there’s definitely a convenience tradeoff in life and you know if I didn’t plan ahead and bring a reusable mug or something, then I just went without a cup of coffee which isn’t the end of the world.

Joshua: Yeah, you might have to go without a coffee once or twice.

Sean: Yeah and it just takes a little bit more planning ahead. It’s not a huge deal to keep a reusable mug in my backpack.

Joshua: Is there a reusable mug in your backpack right now?

Sean: There’s a water bottle that doubles as a coffee mug or a water bottle depending on the day.

Joshua: Cool. I have to go back to something I just said. I said, “You might have to go without coffee for once or twice.” I actually have to take that back because that’s imposing my values on others and I don’t know how important coffee is to someone. So if I say, “Oh, you have to go without coffee for some time.”, if it really means something to that person and I talk that way, this is something I’ve been learning in this experience is if I denigrate someone else’s values, I think that’s ineffective in terms of influencing them, so I have to take back what I just said. It’s not just that you will go without coffee every now and then because if for someone is very important, that’s very important.

I think more is that if it’s important for you to have coffee and it’s yet more important for you not to, say, pollute other people’s worlds, that challenge of how do you when one of your values conflicts with another one figure out what’s important to you and acting on what’s more important that in the long run however challenging… Actually, the more challenging is, I think the more that you learn your values and acting by your values. And that means that sometimes they’re going to be people for whom drinking coffee is more important for them than not polluting. And if sometimes they want coffee and the only way to get it is by polluting, then they’re going to do that.

I have to support them in doing what they think is right rather than me trying to impose on them what I think is right and having them you know threw some authoritarian measure or something like that force them to do what I want them to do even if it’s against their values.

Sean: Yeah but I want to dig into something you just mentioned that living a lifestyle that’s conducive to your express values and I think that’s something that I see so many people struggling with on a day-to-day. Like taking a step outside of leadership and the environment, I have a number of friends who are not super happy with their current jobs are looking or claim to be looking for something better. But then when you dig in and ask them, “Well, how many jobs have you applied for? Are you going to networking events? How are you actually taking concrete steps to move the needle on this problem?” you often get silence or blank stares and I’m frustrated with some of my friends on this where they’ll claim on one hand to have a certain set of values or a certain life experience that they want to achieve but aren’t actually working towards that.

Joshua: To me this got really big especially because I coach people in this, I teach leadership and I also see this. I see a lot of people who are like, “I hate my job.” I am like, “OK, are you going to get a new one?” And they’ll, “Yeah. I am going to get a new one.” And I’m like, “And how long have you been with the old one?” and they are like, “Five years.” You’ve hated your job for five years and you’re not acting on it? And this gives people something to act on. You know for people to say it doesn’t make a difference, it’s really small. OK, there’s advantages to it being small. It’s just like when you learn a new skill you start with the simple stuff. You build that up and then you get the bigger things. And I think you’re saying that this gives you the ability to take charge of your life on something that matters to you however small but it gives you the skills because after that you’ll be able to take on bigger and bigger challenges.

Sean: Yeah. You can level up and by starting with something small you can get some quick wins and feel good about yourself and live a lifestyle that is more aligned with the values that you as an individual claim to have.

Joshua: And that takes action, that takes seeing where different values inside conflict. Because we all want to be comfortable and, I don’t know, if you have a job you don’t like then going out and getting a new job is not comfortable. It takes a challenge but…

Sean: It’s a risk.

Joshua: Yeah, you could be rejected. You will be rejected.

Sean: You will be rejected. You could end up in a job that’s worse. You could. There’s a thousand possibilities of things that the unknown that could happen but you could also find a new job with great co-workers working on really exciting projects and earning more than you currently are. You’ll never know unless you put yourself out there and I think that’s where people often struggle is it’s really uncomfortable to put yourself out there and to, one, make a stand and tell people, “Hey, I’m doing this thing.” because then it’s going to lead to questions and it’s going to spark a conversation that you might not want to have.

Joshua: This is one of the biggest things I’m hoping to get out of doing this podcast and having people hear that when you take on these challenges, yes, there’s a million reasons not to. Just like there’s a million reasons not to try to get a new job there’s a million reasons not to you know learn whatever skills and yet if you look inside and see it’s what matters to me only by acting on it can you get through all these things.

So you’ve talked about… Sorry if I’m editorializing but I mean your reaction is like what I’m hoping is why I’m doing this is that I also discovered that myself that I thought what difference does it make. And then when I did it not only does it make more of a difference than I thought with the outside world but it makes way more of a difference internally. It’s the difference between… I’ll say what I was about to say. If I’m overstating it or if I’m bit off it’s just because I’m saying this off the cuff but it’s like the difference between someone who is a victim all the time versus someone who takes responsibility and doesn’t blame others but takes responsibility for making things better to the extent they can.

Sean: Yeah. I agree with that in principle and I read a lot of philosophy for it and I’ve written a little bit on the subject in it. It reminds me a little bit of stoicism or Buddhism where in those philosophical schools you have the ability to control a certain amount of things in your life and you should focus on those intensely and everything else that’s outside of your control, oh, you shouldn’t worry about too much. But what’s within your control you should absolutely focus on and take steps to improve.

Joshua: Music to my ears. Yeah. I love hearing things like that. All right. So you talked about you took on yourself to reduce the waste from the coffee, you then augmented that by bringing food in for lunch and preparing that ahead of time. You’re also influencing your parents if I remember right. You said nag. Hopefully you’re developing different ways of motivating besides nagging or whatever you’re bothering or whatever you said. What’s next?

Sean: You know I’m not sure what’s next. I need to put some thought into that. Do you have any items you’re working on?

Joshua: Oh, man. You know I’m thinking that… One of the things I think I’m discovering is that this process of doing this podcast which I was doing with the intent of helping influence… My initial target is people who want to change but don’t know how. I’m living off the table for the beginning people who don’t want to change or people who disagree because I’m going for the low hanging fruit, I’m going for what works. And of course, I wanted to influence others but I think that I’m changing myself and I think that might come out and people who listen to a lot of these episodes of hearing at the beginning it was I was trying to just tell people what to do. Not in the podcast but before, pre-podcast. Not tell people what to do but I took for granted that they’d want to do certain things and I’m learning that it’s much more about inviting people to do things, it’s much more I have to listen to them. And every time that I get frustrated I realize that’s my problem, something I’m missing and something for me to learn from and to value. Yeah, I’ve learned more from the frustrating conversations I’ve had than from the easy ones.

So to me it’s like learning how to influence effectively when you don’t have authority over someone. And it’s hard to see other people’s perspectives. As a scientist I feel like the science is overwhelming and people who disagree… Everything that I read I find it wholly uncompelling. But many people find it very compelling. You know disagreements on what the population of the planet could be or what the effect is of oil and all the burning of the fossil fuels and climate change and things like that. Some stuff to me seems very clear and obvious. I’m also having trouble finding scientists to be on the program. A few people that are very science oriented and they don’t want to do anything besides talk science and yet I think the world looks to scientists for influence. I think looking to scientists for leadership that’s not what they’re trained to do. It’s not what they’re strong at. And it puts them in a position where you know they’re not skilled in influence. They’re skilled in something tremendously valuable but not influencing. And so people are looking for something there and when they start doing it I don’t think they do it very effectively. I think it takes them away from what their core is.

So these are few of the things I’m working on. I’m also trying to find… Something that comes to mind with you is I’ve had a bunch of conversations where people are like I talk to them and I say I invite them to take on a challenge and then they say, “Oh, I don’t know what I would do.” And then very brief talking leads to them saying, “You know there’s something I want to do.” And they come up with something on their own that they had in the back of their mind that is bigger than they thought and that they look forward to more. Although then often I am finding these unexpected challenges that come up are deal breakers for a lot of people. Like one guy said, “I’m not going to use the air conditioner for a while.” And that lasted until he talked to his wife about it and then that ended that. And when people travel, that’s another big one, is you know someone agrees to take on some challenge and then when they travel it becomes very difficult because they’re not used to that environment. And so they don’t know where to get you know unpackaged food and something like that. Would you be interested in taking on another challenge?

Sean: I definitely am thinking looking at September and October I have a lot of travel coming up for work and I’m already thinking about how I’ll be able to travel in such a way that isn’t like I’ve travelled in the past. So not really using as much disposable products, etc. And that’s going to be a hard couple of weeks.

Joshua: Yeah, it’s going to be hard. It’s as hard as you make it because it could be as easy as you make it either. It could be just like it’s always been.

Sean: Yeah. I think just hard meaning it will require a decent amount of planning.

Joshua: So do you want to attach a SMART goal to it?

Sean: What do you mean a SMART goal?

Joshua: Something specific, measurable, accountable, time related.

Sean: Yeah. I’m trying to think of one. You know this might be a lame copout but if I can travel for three to four weeks and not purchase any disposable coffee, that would be a big win.

Joshua: Do you want to go for it?

Sean: Yeah.

Joshua: Okay. So three to four weeks while you’re traveling no… I just want to make it clear is that you can get as much coffee as you want, just no disposable containers.

Sean: No disposable containers.

Joshua: So mugs, cool that they’re going to take back and wash.

Sean: Yeah, those are totally fine.

Joshua: Okay. And I hope I didn’t pressure you into this. Is this something that you’re going to look forward to, you’re going to like doing?

Sean: Yeah. And I think it will also… I’m also excited because I’m sure it will spur conversation with the colleagues I’m traveling with.

Joshua: Very interesting that you’re looking at something that is a challenge for others. You are turning into an opportunity something like you’re looking forward to these conversations.

Sean: Yeah, yeah. I’ve already had… Like my colleagues now ask me why I’m bringing mugs around or why I am pretty much only drinking espresso when it’s been… It’s sparked good conversations. I haven’t yet gotten anyone in my office to take on a challenge but it’s at least got them thinking about the impact of their day-to-day habits.

Joshua: Cool. Now I’m very interested to see how it works out. Can I schedule you for a conversation in say one-month time to follow it up?

Sean: Yeah, absolutely.

Joshua: Do you have a calendar handy?

Sean: I do. Maybe the first week in October.

Joshua: Okay, so October 2, October 3, October 4? They’re pretty open for me.

Sean: The third in the afternoon?

Joshua: Okay. So how about noon 1:00? 2:00?

Sean: Let’s do two o’clock on the 3rd.

Joshua: Okay, cool. All right. So I’m also closing this conversation. Now I want to close because like I’m really happy where things are. Well, I should ask. Is there anything I didn’t think to ask that’s worth bringing up that you want to share?

Sean: No, I think we covered everything I wanted to in this conversation.

Joshua: Okay, cool. Thank you very much for sharing what you’ve shared and for taking on the challenge that I didn’t even ask. It was kind of cool that you just one day were like, “Yeah, I’ve been doing this thing with the mugs instead of disposable.” I want to close the same as we started like so that everyone listening gets to hear everything that there’s no like after we finish, then we follow up with other stuff. I mean I’m sure we’ll email between now and then and we may even see each other between now and the next conversation. But as for this conversation everyone listening gets to hear everything.

Sean: Cool.

Joshua: So thank you very much. And I look forward to hearing how things go in a little over four weeks and have fun traveling and enjoying the coffee.

Sean: Cool. Thanks, Josh.

Joshua: Thank you. Bye.


I hope you are having conversations about you impacting the environment like this as well, just talking about your behavior, how it affects others, what you can do about it, what you can’t, maybe acting on it. I hope they lead to action. Again, changing behavior is not that big a deal. Why not do it? We’ll hear in the second conversation how Sean’s challenge went.

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