159: Chris Schembra: Expressing Gratitude (transcript)

March 20, 2019 by Dani Mihaleva
in Podcast

Chris Schembra

Do you feel gratitude toward people who have helped you? Do you express that gratitude more than enough, not enough or about right? You’re probably familiar with research that expressing gratitude and feeling it improve people’s lives measurably. I love my exercise of writing ten gratitude messages a day for a week. I’ll link to the Inc. article piece that I wrote on it. It was challenging but worth it in ways that I could not have predicted before I did it. Today’s episode is Chris Schembra interviewing me as part of his research project including Bill Gates, Simon Sinek and other luminaries. He asked the question of all of us – “If you could credit or thank one person that you haven’t enough, who would that person be?” This conversation doesn’t directly relate to the environment but does to leadership.

The leadership part of leadership in the environment is what a lot of people miss because they get hung up on the environment part which is important but the leadership part is about joy, passion, meaning, value, importance, purpose, growth and things like that. The emotional side of things I think it’s critically important. I think people miss it by telling people what to do but not leading people to want to do these things or to realize that after they do these things, acting on their environmental values that is, that they’ll enjoy it.

And what Vince Lombardi says about winning that it is not a sometimes thing but an all-the-time thing applies to leadership. It’s not a sometimes thing. You can’t be a leader sometimes. I see a lack of this all the time approach to leadership to people’s approach to the environment. Too many people say things like, “Coal miners in West Virginia they simply have to accept that times have changed. We can’t just keep digging coal.” If that means that that community suffers, well, they’ll be better off after the change. But then these same people who say these other people have to change refuse to consider polluting less themselves we just have to accept that their job or their family requires flying. Other people have to change but I don’t. That’s not an all-the-time thing. That’s not leadership.

So the following is my answer to whom I feel gratitude toward but don’t express it. It’s personal but so is leadership.


Chris: Well, Josh Spodek, it’s so great having you with us today and to be able to ask this question of you where you’ve been able to ask so many questions of others over your amazing creative years. The question I have for you today is if you could give credit or thanks to one person in your life that you don’t give enough credit or thanks to or just have never thought to give any credit or thanks to, whether that’s someone you never met before, someone you’ve only met once, someone you’ve known your entire life, who would that be?

Joshua: You know I’m going to give the answer that I gave when we had our dinner when I was at your place for the dinner and it’s not one person but I can restrict it to one if you want. But what I said was the women that I’ve loved in my life who sadly have left me over the years that when I look back at some of the most tremendous growth that I’ve had in my life it’s been the people who I have been open up to and been the closest with, who have been vulnerable with me that have enabled me to be vulnerable with them and ultimately helped me grow when they found… You know they broke my heart. Actually, I should say that – the women in my life who have broken my heart. I’m a straight man so it’s women, and they’re the ones that I’ve been the closest to, that I’ve opened up the most with, that have opened up the most with me. And my heart got broken because there’s something in me that they despite my love for them and their love for me that wasn’t there and I didn’t find it when we were together and only after they left me did I find things about myself that were missing, that were incomplete, that I covered up, that I didn’t let out, that I kept protected and things like that. And while I don’t enjoy the tears and the heartbreak and the crying what it’s made of me has been some of the best parts about me.

Chris: How many women are we talking?

Joshua: Well, I’ve had… Let’s see, I’m 47. I would say that there have been three women that I’ve had very deep loving relationships where at some point we felt like maybe we should go the distance together. There’ve been other women that I’ve said, “I love you too.” and that who have said, “I love you.” to me back and so there’s three main ones that I think of. And then there’s others that we didn’t quite get reached that level of like let’s see if we can go the distance together but still it was deep love.

Chris: And I want to dive back into the vulnerability between the two or between both parties in each different relationship. Did you find that each of them had a similar approach to get you to be vulnerable in your love, in your sharing of things with them or were they all three different and vastly opposite or complementary type of people to each other in helping you find that space?

Joshua: I have to say it’s both and a big piece of it is also their individuality and there’s also the decades, the different time period in one’s life. So one was high school and college, one was end of college and graduate school and the other was during my professional life and I was a very different person in those stages and they were very different… I mean the ones that I’ve kept in touch with they’re very different today than they were then.

So you know in high school and college you’re exploring your individuality, you don’t really know who you are, you don’t really know what society is yet. In a professional context you’re discovering what you want to do with the rest of your life on your own you know not following the path that was set for you.

And so I was doing that with them and it was just different experiences at each stage but always the intimacy you know the vulnerability to me it’s almost synonymous with intimacy and allowing yourself to be open. And so each was sharing something about herself and finding things in me that she wanted to learn and vice versa. None of that answers your question.

Chris: It does. And the breaking of the heart did most of them break yours or did you break any of theirs?

Joshua: Let’s see, the first one I don’t think… I mean we got together in high school and we went to colleges in different cities and we probably tried to keep it together longer than we should have being very romantic but I think that was ultimately the situation. And so I think both of our hearts were broken but I don’t think either one of us did it. The second one I think each of us took a couple of turns because we got back together several times and in the end I feel like… I mean also you know I ended up going to grad school in a different city so some of it was the distance and some of it that we just went different ways and each of us took a turn breaking the other’s heart leaving and there were times when I wanted to stay together and times if I look back I probably tried to hurt her not with the goal of hurting her but in the way that you know like a mother spanks her child. You want them to notice you more and change and grow but that’s youth. And then the last one, that one wasn’t so much a breaking of hearts so much as we moved in different directions. It still felt like a heartbreak because of the loss, because you wake up in you’re, “Oh, I’m going to do something. Oh, no, I’m not.” That feeling…

Chris: And now that you’ve moved on past, this particular set of women what in your life do you do to create that intimacy or vulnerability with others outside or within a relationship?

Joshua: Oh, man that has been my deep passion. I mean I teach and coach leadership and I wrote a book on leadership. A lot of people think of leadership as the guy in the corner office telling people what to do which is about as far from what I teach as you can get. It’s about becoming aware of your emotions and your emotional system and developing the social and emotional skills to learn about what’s important to you and to put that out there knowing that some people would disagree with you and people criticize you and that makes you vulnerable. That’s intimacy… I mainly teach about it in a work context or school context. But it’s all life and allowing yourself to be vulnerable by sharing what’s important to you. You know if you don’t share what’s important you people can’t really hurt you.

One of the ways I’ve been saying lately is if you want to get Superman, you get Lois Lane. He’s invulnerable. But you find out what he cares about. And so most of it protects what we care about, we keep it inside, we act as if it’s not there and that keeps us from getting hurt or manipulated or laughed at or judged but it also keeps us from connecting with other people.

And I spent too many years trying to protect these things and having people that I spend a lot of time with saying to me things like, “I’ve known you for a long time but I still didn’t feel like I really know the real you.” And so I put a lot of work back into figuring out how to make myself able to share what matters to me, what I care about. You know I’m not the Dalai Lama but I think compared to before I’m believe much more available than I had been.

And I teach that to others. I enable people to follow that path in a predictable way that works pretty well. I mean that’s one of the most important… I mean that’s why I picked the women who have broken my heart because they’re the ones who pointed out to me the importance of openness, vulnerability, intimacy and the tragedy of covering it up and keeping the best parts of yourself to yourself. I don’t normally speak this way by the way. I appreciate the question. I think this way. I feel this way. It just doesn’t come out… It’s funny that I say that I talk about it but I just talk about it more. I don’t talk about it enough, talking being a subset of communication which could be non-verbal as well.

Chris: One of the things that I picked up on is that only after they left you did you learn the things about yourself which you know they were talking about that they wanted to leave you because. In which way have you set out that self-learning, that self-observation process so that you don’t have to learn the important things after something occurs but learn it while something’s occurring? How have you changed that aspect of your life?

Joshua: The way that I’ve learned to handle big emotional and social challenges is through baby steps is to… What you want to do find out little steps that you can take to get there. I find the challenge isn’t opening up, it’s opening up a lot all at once. At least this has been my experience. And so you got to tentatively take steps. Also I should say the steps are also not just to open up but to develop the skills to identify these things. I mean I don’t want to sound too pedantic or like an educator but when I teach and coach I give people small steps that they can take to develop small skills and then by the time they get to the big ones of really opening up they’ve done a lot of little things. And so the step that looked really big at the beginning is small compared to where they just were. I don’t know if that’s too broad or general.

Chris: It’s what it is and what it is is present and perfect.

Joshua: I appreciate you saying that because it’s out there right now. Talking that way I don’t normally talk.

Chris: How much of where you are now and what you’ve learned since have this particular set of women been in the loop of what you’ve become?

Joshua: I am not sure… Can you say that again?

Chris: How much did they know of what you’ve become and what you learned in hindsight?

Joshua:  Oh, man, I don’t think to see how much they’ve influenced me. I think that probably their impressions of me are probably more dominated by the time that we spent together than how I’ve have changed since. I’m not even sure… It’s funny when you know someone a certain way, if they don’t tell you that they’ve changed, you’ll keep seeing what you’ve always seen. I mean not always but you know this is confirmation bias, maybe something like that. And I would guess that it would be hard for them to see the changes, especially I mean, let’s see, one of them has… Two of them are married, they’ve got kids, I mean they have lives. I don’t know to what extent they’ve kept up with me. I mean besides like keeping in touch every now and then but nothing like no serious conversations, no depth, not in the way that we were before.

Chris: And if you could say something to that population of women that you weren’t able to tell them while you were together, what would that be?

Joshua: I guess that you know it’s been so long that the pain is gone and it’s just been replaced by gratitude that I can’t blame them for being themselves and if I was hurt in the process, so be it. I don’t know anyone who gets around that and at the time I probably felt it was personal and now I don’t see it that way. So it’s a sense of gratitude toward… I guess that I’d want them to know that, I don’t know, whatever water is under the bridge that I like who I am and more of who I am is due to them that I generally communicate out loud about.

Chris: I appreciate it and I thank you for this talk.

Joshua: You’ve got me thinking now. Now after we hang up then I’m still going to keep thinking about this for a while. I appreciate the question. I can see why so many people get involved. I kind of thought about it before but actually voicing you know action is different than just thinking.

Chris: Well, I look forward to seeing what kind of daily article or what kind of thing this turns into for you. I think it’s a really neat platform that you’ve just shared and I think the world can learn a lot about intimacy and vulnerability and learning how to acknowledge your faults in the moment and not in hindsight. I think it’s a beautiful thing.

Joshua: Yeah. I mean I have a pretty solid education and you know externally you know I’m always going to be able to pay the bills and get a job that I love and things like that. And those are cool you know. There’s definitely passion in my work and so forth. But the relationships with people, I think that’s been a major direction in my life has been to learn more about myself and to act more on my values and to learn more about the people in my life and to get closer with them and relationships with the closest people in your life are some of the most important things we have. They’re the greatest sources of joy and value and emotional reward and things like that.

Chris: Thank you for being with us today, Josh.

Joshua: Thank you for taking the initiative and prompting the conversation and all you’ve done to bring it to the stage, to where we are and I know… I mean I look from the outside. I can imagine how much work goes into it and how much you must have gone through on a personal level to get here and how much more you have left. I’m sure you get thanked a lot but it’s probably still not enough. But I feel a lot of gratitude and thanks to you as well.

Chris: Thank you. I accept your thanks and I’ll just leave it at that.


I wasn’t sure if the conversation was too personal or distinct from the environment so I won’t mind if you let me know if I should share more things like this conversation or less. Also Chris hosts regular dinners as part of what he does as you’ll see if you click on the link on the podcast page for this post. So I feel a brotherhood in how we work based on my famous no packaging vegetable stews. Also, if you liked Chris interviewing, I recommend going to his podcast which is at 747club.org. And I’ll have the link on the page so you can just click there.

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