Stop chasing the passion. Oh, I just said something controversial there. Yes. Stop chasing the passion. Do things you’re passionate about. I actually think that is nonsense and it’s not accurate. It’s not accurate. Here’s what I think would be better. Most people can tell you what they’re passionate about, but very few can tell you what their natural gifts are learning, what your natural gifts are, is so important. And we all have natural gifts. And even if you don’t think it’s a gift, you probably know what I’m talking about. Maybe it’s something that you can do effortlessly just better than most people. You know you lose track of time when you do that thing. And here’s the thing. When you discover what those gifts are. I encourage you to become a servant to those gifts because if you become a servant to your gifts, the byproduct is passion.
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 Mike Veny.
Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist Mike Veny has a mission to support people in discovering the gift of emotional wellness through unique learning experiences designed to empower personal and professional growth.
Author of the best-selling autobiography, Transforming Stigma: How to Become a Mental Wellness Superhero, his expertise and life experiences have been featured on ABC, NBC, and CBS news. As a 2017 PM360 ELITE Award Winner, he was recognized as one of the 100 most influential people in the healthcare industry.
In addition to being accredited through the International Association for Continuing Education and Training for his company’s continuing education programs, Veny is a writer for Corporate Wellness Magazine and HealthCentral.com. His captivating presentations are popular with companies, such as Microsoft, CVS Health, T-Mobile, Heineken, Salesforce and The Wounded Warrior Project. Learn more at www.MikeVeny.com.
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?
I have battled with mental health challenges for most of my life ever since I was a kid. And oftentimes in childhood, they manifest as behavior problems. So a lot of behavior problems and led to me getting expelled from three schools for a variety of reasons. I was put in a mental hospital three times for extended periods. I attempted to die by suicide at age 10. I self-harmed, was violent at home, and was on a lot of different medications.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
So the thing that changed my life was drumming. And that’s what inspired me or started this whole career was drumming. Drumming was the only thing that grounded me. And so once I really started to take hold of that and pursue it. It made me feel better. And I was able to actually build a career off of that. The career that I’m doing today though, is a little bit different. I’m the CEO of Mike Veny, Inc. And I’m a speaker, mainly a teacher and I do some drumming still, but what really inspired the current version of my career is my mental health.
I was driving on Long Island, actually. One day in the rain. It was during a breakdown in 2011, I was having a mental health breakdown. It was just one thing after another and I was spiraling. And, I remember being in physical pain because of my mental health challenges, I get physical pain from them, especially my depression.
And I remember just saying to myself, No one else should have to go through this. No, no one else shouldn’t have to go through this. And that is really the start of my company, as it is today, my trademark is to be emotionally well, and our mission is to support people in discovering the gift of emotional wellness. And that’s all from that car ride where I was just in emotional pain, you know, and now I’ve gotten to see the other side of it, and I want to give that to others.
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?
You can’t achieve success without help along the way. And you know, I want to share about some people that have given me help. I want to talk about my team because I have a great team. I mean, on so many levels. It’s not just their skills that they bring to my company, but who they are as people, in some ways that are actually more important than who they are as people. One is my publicist, Ameerah Palacios and she does a phenomenal job of understanding me and helping me make better decisions around my brain. She has taught me to slow down in this fast-paced world and it’s opened up so many doors. Then there’s Stephanie Kirby, who is my content director. And she has actually. Opened my eyes to see things from other perspectives that I just never saw before. And she has also challenged me to do better with my content, challenged me to take certain risks and. I really appreciate that. And sometimes she’ll bring up something and I’m uncomfortable with it. And then I’m just like, look, you know, they’ve, they’ve, she’s helped me and Ameerah has helped me. So just, just trust it. So that’s the lesson I’ve had to learn, but they have really helped elevate this brand to what it is today.
I couldn’t have done it without them. And they give me encouragement to if they really do like challenging things to happen in my career all the time. And both of them have been there as a sounding board is as a friend, as a, as a counselor, uh, for me. And I’m just beyond grateful, young, grateful, the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?
Oh my gosh. Well, The funniest. I don’t know. I mean, every single day I got something. I think one of the most interesting mistakes that I made was not taking myself seriously as a business, meaning, I would say to myself, things like, well, I’m not at that level for contracts, for instance, since I’m a speaker. I do these events where I get paid. And for many years I didn’t have contracts. I just went on the person’s word. Oh, they’re going to pay me. And granted some most events did, but some fell through and. I was uncomfortable with the idea of a contract because I thought it was above me. I’m not ready for that level yet. You know, who am I to have a contract? And luckily my therapist helped get me through that. And we now use contracts all the time. It’s like, I couldn’t imagine running a business without them, but you know, I think the real lesson there was if you want to be in business for yourself, you’ve got to treat yourself like a business.
If you want to be in business, you treat yourself like you’re in business at all times. And that’s something even still to this day, I have to be conscientious. So that’s something I learned.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m working on continuing education courses around mental health, wellness, diversity, and inclusion. And what’s great about these projects. Is that again, the team behind me, which also includes Kayleen Holt, who’s my learning experience director. We are putting our heads together to create some great products, great products that transform people. There’s a lot of continuing education out there. Go on YouTube; you can find anything you want. But I really wanted to design something that gives people fast wins and gets them what they need. And so we’re really working hard. We got accredited this year by IACET, the international association for continuing education and training. Forgot the acronym. So we are a continuing education company right now. And so the joy that I’m having or experiencing, I should say, it’s just incredible. I’m enjoying finding ways to serve people. And that keeps me so lifted and helps me mentally and emotionally.
What three character traits do you think were most instrumental in your success?
I don’t see myself as a successful leader. I see myself as a steward. I always do see myself as just trying to learn? I think my title is the CEO, which is what it is, but you know, always being a student and saying, I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know, teach me how do I learn this! The other thing that I try to do with that is the stupidest person in the room.
When I interact with colleagues, I want to be around people. I can learn from the challenge to do better. And I realized that for many years, I would not hang out with people like that. I mean, uh, made it a point to hang out with people that made me feel good about my age. So this was a really powerful lesson for me.
And I have learned to really try to surround myself with people who make me feel like the stupidest person in the room. That’s the way you grow is by being the third lesson I’ve learned as a leader is to be a servant. And that is so overstated. I mean, there are books on it and you know, people talk about servant leadership, but what that really means is taking your ego out of the room. I recently had a company meeting in Louisville, Kentucky with Ameerah and Stephanie. And one of the reasons the meeting was successful was because I had to remind myself when I’m on stage speaking, I’m supposed to be the star. You know, if this article is about me, I’m supposed to be the star, but in order for my company to be effective, they needed to be the stars in that meeting. And they both did great. And my role was to serve them in being successful. And that’s what I walked away from the meeting with was a nice little list of takeaway items. But with those takeaway items, you know, on my mind even now is how can I support them in being successful at what they do with me.
Why are you an authority about the topic of finding joy?
Well, I’m an authority because of my own lived experience with pain. And I have been through the worst of the worst. In fact, I shouldn’t say pain is suffering. Everyone has got emotional pain sometimes, but suffering is the worst of the worst. And I have been in the spot of just not wanting to live anymore and acting on that. If you know what I mean. And I’ve also learned about the other side where I’ve gotten to use the H-word, Happy. But it’s not just the fact that I’ve been in both of those distinct states, but I’ve learned about what goes on in between them, you know, and difficult things happen to me in the past. I didn’t know how to process them. I didn’t. And that would manifest as depression and anxiety and, and I still battle depression and anxiety, but it’s not like it used to be. I’m able to take in things that happened. And work with them and I’m talking about difficult things, tragedies and setbacks. So that’s one of the reasons I’m an authority on joy.
The World Happiness Report says that happiness is low, despite all the privileges and opportunities we have in the U.S. here’s the deal. I am learning that. Joy is not about your opportunities or things you can do, or even the material stuff. Again, there’s a certain amount of material stuff.
But once you get to a certain point in your career or your life, the opportunities kind of just hit a ceiling. They hit a ceiling. Even if they keep coming at you, they hit a ceiling and opportunities feel great, but they’re only temporary. And even the privileges we have in this country think things are temporary.
So it’s important for happiness to look for it in other ways. And I’m learning that looking within is key and that is really difficult to do. Like for real, not just saying that cheesy line of happiness is inside you, but really, really being willing to go to some dark places within yourself to ultimately find joy.
What are some myths and misconceptions you’d like to dispel about finding joy and happiness? What mistakes have you seen people make when they try to find happiness?
I think one of the mistakes that I see people make is that they’re not seeking happiness. They’re seeking a place.
They want to do pleasurable things. Life isn’t all about pleasure. I mean, that’s one of the many things we can experience, but what I’m learning happiness is it’s more of contentment of just being during the pandemic in 2020. I mean, we’re still in the pandemic, but at the beginning of the pandemic, 2020, I found myself just having these moments where I would have both feet on the ground outside.
Maybe I was walking or standing. And I was just happy just being there. I was just like where I wanted to be. And it wasn’t about what was happening around me. It wasn’t about where I was, who I was with. It was just because I was, and that’s how I knew that I was on a path to finding real happiness. I didn’t need anything.
So the thing is realizing that, you know, you will always chase it. If you’re looking for it outside of you, you’re always going to chase it doesn’t matter what you think in your mind is going to be the thing that gives you happiness, always going to chase it.
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? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The first thing that I think you need to find or do for happiness is cultivate silence and stillness. We’re constantly going in our lives. And that’s great because we’re productive, but the brain isn’t meant to go, go, go, go, go. It needs to rest. And not just when you sleep, but during the day.
- Use meditation. On my 40th birthday a few years ago, I got to learn transcendental meditation, the big mama meditation. I’ll never know, forget that. Not because it was just my 40th birthday and I did that, but transcendental meditation is a very thorough, uh, training on meditation and the people who engage in it. I really developed some nice habits around meditation, but it started to change how I showed up in the world. It started to calm me down and start to center me more because now I have this practice of twice a day, 20 minutes. I get to close my eyes and just tune out, just tune out and rest. So that’s one of the things I think you need to do is have silence and stillness.
- Stop chasing the passion. Oh, I just said something controversial there. Yes. Stop chasing the passion. Do things you’re passionate about. I actually think that is nonsense and it’s not accurate. It’s not accurate. Here’s what I think would be better. Most people can tell you what they’re passionate about, but very few can tell you what their natural gifts are learning, what your natural gifts are, is so important. And we all have natural gifts. And even if you don’t think it’s a gift, you probably know what I’m talking about. Maybe it’s something that you can do effortlessly just better than most people. You know you lose track of time when you do that thing. And here’s the thing. When you discover what those gifts are. I encourage you to become a servant to those gifts because if you become a servant to your gifts, the byproduct is passion.
- Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Learn to cultivate it. It’s not something that many of us know how to do naturally can feel a little fake at first, especially when you see memes about gratitude all the time, using a gratitude journal, practicing saying thank you is thank you for simple things. Pen in your hand, the coffee right next to you. The fact that you’re breathing. Gratitude is important.
- Learn to disconnect and reconnect with nature. We’re constantly on our mobile devices. Chances are what I stop this recording and check my phone. Why, why am I going to do that? It’s because it’s a cultural habit or I could check my email. Why can’t I just stop the recording and just walk outside and be outside? Because we don’t live in a world where we see that as a cultural habit. So it’s important that we learn to cultivate going into nature, more putting down the mobile device. And one way you can do that is to. Give yourself a diet say like for the next hour, I’m not going to use electronics. That might be really hard for you. That might be really, really hard to make it 15 minutes, but eventually, you’ll get in the habit of not relying on them as much.
- Learn to embrace your difficult emotions; learn to embrace your difficult emotions, anger, grief, and fear. Learn to feel them not run away from them. Learn to sit with them. One of the things that had changed my life forever was my therapist. I was going through a rough time in 2017 and was frustrated with her because I couldn’t understand why the sessions didn’t feel like they were helping me. And I was just getting worse and worse. And I said, what do I need to do? And she looked at me firmly and said, Mike, you need to feel your feelings. I didn’t want to hear that. So then I said, let me try to listen to her. And I tried to listen to her. I was there, I was driving and I said, okay, well I’m feeling my anger coming out. Let me just feel it and did that for like five seconds. I was like, whoa, this is too intense, but you know what, like anything, it’s a muscle that you work and get better at. So over time, I’ve gotten to a point where I embrace difficult emotions. I can sit and hang out with them. They’re not the enemy. So that’s really important to do that was a challenging one.
What can concerned friends do to effectively support someone they care about or feeling down or depressed?
If someone is feeling down or depressed, one of the best things you can do is be a good energy to that person and really bring love to that person in the form of your behavior. When someone is struggling, the worst thing to do is give them advice. It’s going to make that person feel worse, but you know, you can ask them questions. Like, how can I support you? Help me understand what kind of flexibility do you need from me? Are you okay? Those kinds of questions get people talking. So I encourage you to start practicing, using language that can help you.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with at why he or she might see this?
Yes, yes, yes, yes. Yes. Malcolm Gladwell. Malcolm Gladwell has been such an inspiration to me and it’s a combination of his writing, his speaking, but most importantly is thinking how he thinks. And I would just love to be in his presence just to even talk about the food we’re eating over breakfast and experience. Some of that. He has actually taught me so much through how he thinks, uh, taught me how to question things. That I hold to be true a certain way, and it’s really opened up a lot of doors for me as the first time I’ve ever been asked that. Thank you.
And how can our readers further follow your work online?
My website is www.mikeveny.com. You can find me on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram or LinkedIn. I invite you to reach out to me though if I can ever be of help to you. One of the things that bring me joy is helping others. So I might not be able to fix your problem, but I might be able to connect you with some resources to help you get there. So thank you so much for this opportunity.
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!