Strong relationships. My work with clients always circles back to relationships — both at home, at work, and socially, because despite what the issue or goal may be — the ultimate life goal is always happiness.
It sometimes feels like it is so hard to avoid feeling down or depressed these days. Between the sad news coming from world headlines, the impact of the ongoing raging pandemic, and the constant negative messages popping up on social and traditional media, it sometimes feels like the entire world is pulling you down. What do you do to feel happiness and joy during these troubled and turbulent times? In this interview series called “Finding Happiness and Joy During Turbulent Times” we are talking to experts, authors, and mental health professionals who share lessons from their research or experience about “How To Find Happiness and Joy During Troubled & Turbulent Times”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shari Leid.
Former litigator Shari Leid currently operates An Imperfectly Perfect Life, LLC, a professional mindset coaching business serving clients who are in those tricky middle age years, helping them create the life of their dreams. She is the author of The 50/50 Friendship Flow: Life Lessons From and For My Girlfriends and Make Your Mess Your Message: More Life Lessons From and For My Girlfriends.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My life began far from picture perfect. I was abandoned at about 2 months of age, found in a cardboard box in a parking lot in Seoul, Korea without any identifying information — no family name, no birthdate, no birthplace. I was placed in a Korean orphanage and later moved to an adoption agency’s foster care program before being placed for adoption with an American couple.
While most Asian adoptees are adopted into white families, I was adopted by an Asian American couple, which is very rare. My parents were “older” parents at the time, my dad was 48 and my mother 41 years of age. Becoming first time parents in their 40s would not raise eyebrows today, but back in 1970, my parents were the ages of my friends’ grandparents.
The neighborhood I grew up in was in one of the highest crime areas of Seattle. It was a lower income area, in part due to Seattle’s racial neighborhood covenants that were in place when my dad purchased our family home in 1960. In addition to neighborhood covenants, many of Seattle’s private clubs did not allow racial minorities into their doors and my dad who as an engineer at Boeing was required additional security checks that his white colleagues were not required to undergo, despite being born in Seattle and having no ties to any foreign governments. At one time, the zip code where my family home sat was considered the most ethnically diverse populated zip code in the US. It still ranks high on that list.
Growing up in such a diverse neighborhood while attending private schools throughout my K-12 education provided me with a unique experience — — I grew up playing with black, white, and brown children — — and visited homes in both lower income and upper income neighborhoods, a childhood that I’m incredibly thankful for because I’ve been given the rare blessings that come from a lifetime of rich diverse friendships.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
A cancer diagnosis was my impetus for becoming a life coach. When I received the diagnosis of breast cancer at the age of 47, my first thought was that the universe must be trying to get my attention. I felt that there was a reason that cancer was placed in my life journey, and I knew there were life lessons that I was not only supposed to learn, but also share. That initial thought led me to look at my different experiences in my life, that were for lack of better words a little messy and I soon realized that these challenging experiences are what have shaped me and have been given to me so that I can help guide others through their inevitable life messes.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Hands down, my husband, Rory. Next August we’ll celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We just became empty nesters after raising two children who both chose to attend out-of-state colleges. He is my best friend and throughout our two and a half decades together, he has always supported my career decisions, from practicing law to staying home with our kids to turning our downstairs into a fitness studio where I taught fitness classes to neighborhood moms and now, he fully supports my career as an author and life coach. He has never doubted my ability to succeed or questioned when I’ve wanted to try something new. I feel fortunate that I have a life partner who celebrates and enjoys this crazy winding road of life that we’ve decided to venture on together.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
While I have several funny stories from my years as a criminal prosecutor because surprisingly funny moments often happen in court, my most interesting career mistake was made when I was in college when I chose to pursue a career based on the title it gave me rather than a career that aligned with my core values and desires. For over a decade, I felt stuck and unfulfilled in a career that gave me more daily stress than daily happiness. I finally realized in my 40s, when I became a life coach and started writing, what it feels like to work each day doing what I naturally love. Now, when I have the opportunity to speak with high schoolers or college aged young adults, I tell them to figure out what they love and once they figure out what they love — pursue that — then the title and money will naturally follow because they will be good at it and their daily work will not feel like work because it aligns with their core values and desire.
What’s the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am working on my 3rd book in the Friendship series. In this 3rd book, I interview 50 women and I ask them a variety of questions ranging from childhood experiences to relationships, raising children, careers, and everything in-between. My goal is to encourage readers to take time to have these one-on-one meetings with friends to ask questions that they haven’t asked before, to take the time to really listen to one another’s stories. When we talk and open up to each other in this way, our feeling of connection to one another becomes stronger and we learn from our collective experiences. This practice helps us to let go of the fear of judgment, realizing that we all have similar experiences and moments in our life that have shaped who we are today. I strongly believe that everyone’s story deserves to be heard and shared and each time we share our experiences, we help another person process their own life journey.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I’m optimistic, by choice. I’m optimistic because I am never stuck. I believe that I always have options and the freedom of choice. While sometimes the choices may not be the greatest in the world, knowing and believing I have a choice in everything keeps my spirits up. I learned the value of optimism when I was in my late 20s at a job that I hated. I was stressed all the time, waking up in the middle of the night with work on my mind, even driving to work with I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor blasting on my car radio each morning. One day, I realized this was no way to live. I was seeing my job through grey-tainted glasses instead of rose-colored glasses. I purposefully took a step back from my emotions and saw that I had a choice, and I was not stuck, no one was forcing me to stay at my job. Just that simple mental switch helped me see the opportunities that were in front of me even while at a job that I didn’t care for. Being optimistic not only allowed me to let go of the negative energy that was consuming me, but it also allowed me to see opportunities and show up in a way that brought additional opportunity my way.
I’m timely. The saying, “The early bird gets the worm” is true for me. Staying at home with my kids for over a decade made me realize that it doesn’t matter what my job is or what time it begins, no matter what the day holds — I wake up early to prepare for it. I also set alarms throughout the day. Being on time is important to me. I think it is respectful to show up on time. Others know they can count on me to meet a deadline, to follow-through and to show up when I say I will. It is a rare occasion that someone finds themselves wasting their precious time waiting for me.
I’m kind. Daily, I am reminded of the power of kindness in leadership. I’ve learned that in both my personal and work life being kind, even during a disagreement, allows for a much more productive discussion than yelling or showing disrespect ever has. When we were in our 20s and even our 30s, my husband and I would engage in heated arguments, the type where we were each sharing our points and not listening. It probably didn’t help that we’re both trained litigators. We weren’t being kind in our communication because being right was more important. In my 40s, the lightbulb clicked on, and I decided to approach our disagreements with grace and kindness. The most surprising thing happened, he responded in kind. We are now able to disagree with kindness and we both leave the disagreements knowing that we’ve each been heard and with an understanding of where we each are coming from and always with a resolution that works for both of us. Being kind is contagious, even in times of disagreement whether at home or at work, and it is surprising how it changes the energy and can lead towards resolution.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of finding joy?
While I’m a mindset coach and a graduate of The Happiness Academy, these credentials are not what makes me an authority about the topic of finding joy. I’m an authority because I live each day in joy. When I developed my business mission statement, I also developed a personal mission statement that I keep by my bed. It’s the last thing that I see each night and the first thing that I see in the morning. It reads:
“I am a forever student of life, placed on this earth to learn from every experience and every person that I come across. I strive to be a knowledgeable and a kind human being. I will not waste an opportunity to be a friend and I am grateful for every connection that comes my way. I want to be remembered for being fair, smart, kind, funny, and compassionate — Move through the world with grace and dignity. I strive to be a leader at home and in my community, to make the world a better place by lifting up one person at a time.”
Setting this intention each day has allowed me to live in joy and I believe anyone who achieves a daily life filled with joy is an authority — because unfortunately this level of life satisfaction is a rare find.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about finding joy. Even before the pandemic hit, the United States was ranked at #19 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low, despite all of the privileges and opportunities that we have in the US?
In our country we have the privilege of easily moving residence and changing jobs without so much of a blink of an eye. While this ability to move freely is a privilege not afforded in many countries, it also results in a failure to develop lasting relationships with our communities. Numerous studies have shown that the number one predictor of happiness comes from the strength of the relationships we have in our lives. In this age of swiping left to easily get a date or hitting a thumbs up button to convey a “feeling,” it’s easy to interact without investing the time it takes to get to know one another.
Our country also spends more time commuting to work each day, sitting in our cars alone for hours at a time, to arrive at a workplace located miles away from our home. Our workplace and our co-workers often have no connection to our neighborhood, family, and friends.
In Denmark, which is ranked # 2 in the World Happiness Report, is a country known for its positive work life balance, a working adult spends an average of 2/3 of their day (16 hours), eating, sleeping, and indulging in leisurely pursuits — thus, feeling healthier and having time to develop the relationships to their community which are so greatly needed to feel a grand sense of wellbeing and happiness. For the US to up its ranking in The World Happiness report, I strongly believe that we need a healthier work-life balance, finding a way to become more connected to our communities.
What are the main myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about finding joy and happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?
I think it is very important, especially for Gen Z, who are growing up where they are viewing and interacting on social media from the time they wake to the time they go to sleep — to recognize that joy and happiness does not come from material possessions, the perfect selfie, or the number of “likes” received on a post. Too many people rely on external factors, possessions, and people that they have no control over determine their happiness. As a life coach, I’ve worked with many clients who have felt defeated simply because a social media response to a posting was not what they expected. On the same token, I have never had a client who has had a post gone viral or who has gotten the car or even the home of their dreams and told me that because of that they no longer struggle with unhappiness.
Another example of a misconception that I experienced was when my family and I traveled to China in 2014. I assumed that I would see a lot of unhappy people. I thought that living in government housing, often what we would consider a very small apartment for a family and working in a communist society would be defeating. Instead, I was shocked when I observed the grassy beautiful parks filled with families and friends playing games, laughing, and appearing undeniably happy — much happier than what I often observe when walking through a park in the United States, where people are walking alone, and families are keeping to themselves. I realized during my visit to China, happiness can be found anywhere if you have family and friends, those strong relationships that bring connection and community.
In a related, but slightly different question, what are the main mistakes you have seen people make when they try to find happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?
Much of my work as a life coach involves guiding my clients in their goal setting. And one of the first things I ask is, “How do you envision that you will feel when the goal is reached?” When they share that they will feel, “Accomplished”, “Wonderful,” “Successful,” “Happy”, etc., … I let them know that the feeling they envision that they will have when the goal is reached, is how they should feel throughout the journey of getting to the goal. In other words, the journey is just as important if not more important than the goal itself.
People make the mistake in thinking reaching a goal will be the answer and provide happiness, but that is never the case. Reaching a goal can provide a moment of euphoria, but not lasting happiness. If you concentrate on the journey and making sure it feels the way you hope the accomplished goal will feel, then you will find you’re living daily in happiness rather than always trying to get there.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 things you need to live with more Joie De Vivre, more joy and happiness in life, particularly during turbulent times?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)
- Strong relationships. My work with clients always circles back to relationships — both at home, at work, and socially, because despite what the issue or goal may be — the ultimate life goal is always happiness. One of the most comprehensive longitude studies is The Harvard Study of Adult Development. Since 1938, it followed the lives of a group of men from their teen years to old age. Later, the researchers began to follow their wives and children, as well. The study found that wealth, social position, and an important job title do not necessarily lead to health and happiness. During this study, the researchers were surprised to find that our relationships have a powerful influence on not just our health but also our happiness.
- Curiosity — Life is the best school. We have many easy to reach resources with virtual and remote learning available at our fingertips. Challenge yourself to try something new each month or at the very least once a year. Stay curious about life. You’ll never run out of things to learn. Learning something new takes your focus away from the things that no longer make you happy and it also helps you to discover new interests that add to your enjoyment of life.
- Movement — Exercise hike, dance. A woman I interviewed for the book, Make Your Mess Your Message, suffers from an anxiety disorder and she shared that movement helps her. Movement releases endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters. Ever try being mad while you’re dancing? I think it is nearly impossible! Go ahead, try it!
- Purpose/Desire — Desires are ingrained in us. An easy example can be found by observing someone who is a gifted musician. Musicians need to play music. It is an innate desire. I dreamt of becoming a writer; however, because I carried the misbelief that writers can’t make money, I buried the desire to write. Once I embraced writing and started to do it as a profession in my 50s, I experienced for the first time in my life my desire lining up with how I spent my working day. When what you do, whether it’s for work or as a hobby, lines up with your natural desire, you not only experience happiness but you also find purpose.
- Freedom — Recognize and believe that you always have choice. You are never stuck. When I have feelings of discontentment arise, I know that it is because I am feeling stuck. Those feelings are my trigger to take a pause to step back from the situation and detach, let go of my emotions for just a few minutes, which allows me to change my mindset and gives me the ability to see choice and opportunity. When you remind yourself that you have freedom and choice, it not only feels powerful, but it also leads you towards happiness.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to effectively help support someone they care about who is feeling down or depressed?
Show up. Simply show up. Be present. If someone is feeling down, they may not have the energy to reach out. They may feel guilty or feel like a burden. Check in with them regularly. If they need the help of a counselor or coach give them those resources. Don’t wait to be asked for help. Also — how about some additional steps? Invite them to:
- Go for a walk
- Talk on the phone
- Zoom, FaceTime, Skype
- Make their day a little brighter — Surprise them with a small gift left at their doorstep.
Simply checking in and letting someone know you are there and thinking of them goes a long way. When I was undergoing medical procedures for breast cancer — I received a lot of lovely gifts, but what I remember the most are the friends who sent me texts or called on a regular basis just to let me know they were “simply checking in.”
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I challenge people to take the Mess to Message Challenge:
Over the course of a year, commit to meet with at least three people, one on one:
1. A life-long friend
2. A relative
3. A new acquaintance or someone you’ve never sat down with before to talk one on one
Let these individuals know that you have chosen to take the Mess to Message Challenge. Before your date, share the question you will be asking, so that they have the opportunity to really think about it ahead of time: “What is the mess that became your message?”
I guarantee that you will not just learn something about your friend or relative that you had not known before; it will also deepen your relationship, and you will become keenly aware of how connected we all really are.
Recognizing how messy all our lives are and seeing the purpose in the mess gives us the perspective that allows us to live a life filled with choice, freedom, and opportunity.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Television broadcaster Robin Roberts was the catalyst behind my book, Make Your Mess Your Message. I was taking her Masterclass on communication during the pandemic and in it she shared that her mom told her to always make her messes her messages. The story about her mom sparked an idea. During the pandemic stay-at-home orders which were in place in Washington state, I decided to set Zoom dates to ask my girlfriends, “What is your mess that became your message?” It quickly became a life changing experience for me. I not only deepened my friendships through these conversations, but I also became appreciative of my own life messes and I’m a much better friend, wife, and mother because of it. I would love to sit down and thank Robin and share with her the impact she has had on my life.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!