Alanis Morissette has been charming us with her music since her big 1995 breakout album, Jagged Little Pill, which sold 33 million copies and garnered her seven Grammy Awards and numerous other prizes. Now she’s dazzling us with many more gifts. I have known Morissette for several years, and the one thing I have always known about her is that she’s passionate, intelligent and empathetic. She is recovering from her own work addiction, which she professes openly to help others who struggle. She’s a huge advocate of work-life balance, mindfulness meditation, stress and burnout prevention and workplace wellness. In addition to her singing and songwriting, Morissette offers her gifts of teacher, podcaster, conscious boss, actor, writer and producer.
The Gifts That Keep On Giving
Morissette sometimes teaches at California’s 1440 Multiversity—named for the 1440 minutes in a day—a place where you can explore your personal growth and contemplate what’s important to you. In her workshops, she asks, “What does it really mean to live in connection? It’s a state where we understand that our truest and core selves have all the intuition, vision and capacity for us to be who we were born to be.” On her website, Morissette gifts you with a free podcast series, “Conversation With Alanis Morissette,” which features talks with highly reputable teachers, authors and leaders from different philosophies and psychological and neuro-biological backgrounds—all with an eye toward healing, wholeness and recovery. The conversations are rich, lively and deeply thoughtful.
The Other Sides Of Alanis Morissette
I had a chance to sit down with the multi-talented Morissette and chat about her commitment to personal growth and discovery and its implications for work-life balance, mindful productivity, stress and burnout prevention and workplace wellness.
Bryan Robinson: Hi Alanis, it’s great to be with you again so we can talk about the other sides of Alanis Morissette.
Alanis Morissette: Thank you, Bryan. My pleasure.
Robinson: As you know, I write about mindful productivity. And you’ve worked since you were young. Tell me a little about that since you were, how old?
Morissette: I started writing songs when I was nine and started a record company when I was ten. That’s when I started meeting with lawyers and producers and started the active part of my professional life in earnest. I started learning what conference calls were, about legal conversations and what publishing meant. As you know, these were the first few steps toward a well-honed work addiction. I started feeling like my sense of self was best defined through my work. There are pros and cons to that. The self-expression aspect is a boon and exciting, but the overwork aspect is a little hard on the nervous system and turns into a full-blown addiction. I started going on the road at around 15 and worked with local producers between 12 and 18 and released two records in Canada. In my teens, I did a lot of charity work and entered talent contests and performed for $20 an hour. When my work became more visible back in the 1980s and 1990s, it was a “pick-a-lane” mindset. You were either a writer or a director or an actor. You picked one thing. For those of us who are “multi-tentacled,” as I call it, the challenge became, “What part am I going to cut off to pick that lane that I’m supposed to pick?”
Robinson: What about today?
Morissette: The good news about 2019 and 2020 and onward is now that’s welcomed. It’s a boon to have the multitudinous gifts and forms of expressions, whereas before I was shamed for it. I remember on the cover of a magazine people saying, “Alanis and her psychobabble” or “Stadium therapy” when I would play stadiums as though that were something to be disparaged. But now it’s something for which people seek me out. So thank God for the evolution and change so that “multi-tentacled” is sought out and appreciated now.
Robinson: You’re a spiritual and psychological leader, clearly. What led you on the path of spiritual seeker?
Morissette: The quality of being deeply curious has been a big aspect of my life agenda. I’ve always related to a deeper questioning, wanting to know more about what’s underneath a pat answer. I’ve always been that way, asking questions, wanting to know more. God bless my parents for standing by, admittedly sometimes in confusion, while I went down my many rabbit holes of naming the un-namable. Also being an empath and highly sensitive has contributed to this. So there’s a tendency to not only want to know more, but to express more and give more details.
Robinson: Earlier this year, the World Health Organization classified workplace burnout as a medical illness. I wonder, with the advent of the hustle culture, so many workers under the gun and the rise in burnout in the workplace along with your many “multi-tentacled” projects—as you call them—what was your experience with burnout?
Morissette: There were so many versions of burnout. It was predictable for me. I would burnout and have the equivalent of a nervous breakdown about every three months. I would anticipate them. I knew they were coming, and they were equally intense. It would give me 17 minutes of permission to meltdown. It’s horrifying, but it was as though the illness or the debilitation of the burnout was the only time I gave myself permission to rest. That’s not the case anymore because I lean on my friends and reach out in relationships, and having my kids pulls me away from work. It’s a mandatory integration—it’s energy management versus time management and realizing my energy is limited. I used to think I was invincible. I could, in fact, just go and go that is until I burned out.
Robinson: What do you do now to stay balanced, maintain wellness and prevent personal burnout?
Morissette: My survival strategy has always been to soldier through things. For me the challenge was, “Can I lean on someone, risk being vulnerable, learn about having needs, open myself up to expressing more than just how resilient I could be in the face of intense circumstances?” It really became about painting a fuller picture of who I was. So I put controls into place. I render myself accountable by asking people who are my professional partners, as part of their job descriptions, to require me to be accountable for my well-being. Because I can’t be trusted, I ask people around me to keep me on my toes in terms of my self-care. It might be me sitting in the garden, getting a massage or having a friend swing by for a visit. I used to say eventually my self-care will get higher on the list, but as you know there is no “eventually.”
Robinson: That’s right. It never happens. You’re teaching at 1440 Multiversity, and you’ve been through a lot and have a lot to offer as a result of that. What wisdom can you share for people in any workplace today in terms of well-being?
Morissette: One big question that’s been really helpful for me is, “What do you really want?” Work addiction has us chasing something. We’re chasing a sense of peace, a sense of fulfillment. Instead of thinking that the only means through which we can feel that feeling is through work, the question becomes how can I cultivate a sense of peace. A lot of me was thinking that I would arrive somewhere, somehow, someday and eventually I could rest. The goal all along was to find a sense of balance, but I never knew how to do it. My addictive tendencies were always set in the extreme. One evidence of my maturation is that things are more moderate. I’m having the time of my life. Everything I thought would eventually happen is actually happening. Some of that has to do with family. It has to do with career being expressed from a serviceable place—a place where self-care must be maintained. I still get to play music. I’m just finishing a record. I’m working on a musical. I’m writing articles and blogs and my book. My husband and I un-school our children. It feels like my life is a match to what I’ve always valued.
Robinson: One of the things I’ve always admired about you since I’ve known you, Alanis, is not just your music, which everybody loves, but also your commitment to personal growth and learning. You’ve given us so much. What are you most proud of?
Morissette: I’m most proud that I’m still alive, Bryan. A lot of my colleagues and peers are not alive. There’s a bill of goods that is sold about what fame and notoriety and success will afford someone. There’s a big underbelly to it. It’s an odd, almost inhuman way of living in the public eye. I realized if I wanted to keep contributing and being of service at the cost of my own body and sense of self, I would drive myself into the ground. With any addiction—and work addiction isn’t exempt from this as you know—if we keep going, we die. There was a juncture a few years ago when I was at this fork, and I could keep going and die. Or I could turn right here and really mean it and surrender. It was then that Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington and Dolores O’Biordan—shortly after George Michael, whom I respected and loved—died. Their passing was highly resonant and impactful for me. I was at a rock-bottom juncture. I remember thinking, “Okay God, I want to live.” So for me to still be here and to be thriving and to continue to make music and write and still have that fire. It’s like my pilot light has never gone out even in the worst moments when it was down to a flicker. I think that flicker is what I’m most grateful for. I had to do a pretty big about-face, and so I started down that journey and that for me was a turning point. I’m so happy I did that.
Robinson: I am, too.
Morissette: Thanks, Bryan. I’m forever grateful to you, and I tell anyone who will listen.
Robinson: Is there any parting advice you want to give people in the workplace?
Morissette: I would say, “deathbed it.” People say you can’t take your work with you. I do meditation sometimes, as macabre as this may sound: I’m on my deathbed and these are my last moments in this body. What’s going on in my imagination? I’m definitely not thinking about work. It’s my relationships I so often see in these meditations. I might be sensing my sense of connection—re-emerging with that oneness beyond our sense of self. If we overwork in a world where technology supersedes the soul, we lose that sense of connection. For me it’s about matching both—humanity and technology. When you match both, mountains are moved.
A Final Note On Morissette’s Multi-Tentacles
Alanis Morissette clearly knows how to move mountains with her “multi-tentacled” talents. Just when you thought the mother of three had done everything on the planet, her gifts keep on giving. This holiday season Morissette’s production of the musical, Jagged Little Pill, inspired by her hit album of the same name, opened on Broadway this month to rave critical reviews!