A renewed understanding of what we truly “need” to live on: Since we’ve been quarantined, I don’t find myself buying or spending nearly as much as I typically do. There are likely lots of reasons for this. I’m rediscovering what I already have in my home that I haven’t paid attention to for a while. My wife and I live in a small home and since we’re here 24/7, we don’t want to add more “stuff” that might rob precious space from us. And lastly, seeing so many people in a mindset of scarcity, it becomes painfully clear that I don’t need to buy it all, potentially keeping others from getting what they need.
Asa part of my series about the the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Parker Gates.
Parker Gates is one of the co-founders of Stoked, a global culture and strategy firm. He has been leading Stoked as well as coaching executive education workshops at the prestigious d.school at Stanford for the past 10 years. He calls Nashville, TN home, but finds himself working and traveling all over the globe — in person and virtually.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
In a word, desperation! For several years I was in a job I didn’t like, but I was hooked on a paycheck and I had a hard time seeing that I could be valuable to any organization without a very specific skill set. I was an IT guy. That was my skillset and I didn’t have a backup so, for too many years, I didn’t think I had a choice in what I did unless I wanted to cut grass or paint houses (again). Once I was introduced to design thinking at the d.school, my life was changed. I started to approach everything differently and I started to learn that WHO I am, and HOW I operate is more important than WHAT skills I have.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you?
Around that time when I made the switch from quitting my job as an IT guy and we started Stoked, I read Tim Ferris’s 4-Hour Work Week. It didn’t propel me into starting my own business that could run on its own, as a matter of fact I found that concept pretty depressing.
However, it did open my mind to new ways of looking at things. In particular, he reframed the idea of working your whole life only to retire when we’re old and tired to mini-retirements, where we could experience extended periods of time off while we’re still young and healthy and our bodies work! Seeing that kind of reframe in action opened up the possibility of reframing many old stories and ideas I had grown up with.
Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I think this was just another example of my mind being opened to new ways of doing things. I felt trapped for several years prior to that, because I just couldn’t see other ways of operating.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons to Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”?
A renewed understanding of what we truly “need” to live on.
Since we’ve been quarantined, I don’t find myself buying or spending nearly as much as I typically do. There are likely lots of reasons for this. I’m rediscovering what I already have in my home that I haven’t paid attention to for a while. My wife and I live in a small home and since we’re here 24/7, we don’t want to add more “stuff” that might rob precious space from us. And lastly, seeing so many people in a mindset of scarcity, it becomes painfully clear that I don’t need to buy it all, potentially keeping others from getting what they need.
A chance to really sit and be with ourselves.
The ability to just sit down occasionally and be with me has been great. Yes, it’s easy to spend our time at home looking at Instagram for 4 hours or binge watching Netflix just waiting for time to pass, but I have found it fulfilling to really take time to sit and be with myself. To take notice my emotions, how my body feels, and what I’m really longing for. Otherwise, I just try and fill that void with food, entertainment, and constant light-weight connections like texting or social media. All of those things leaving me just slightly unsatisfied which means I always need more of it.
Giving the planet a brief break.
I feel like a reduction in travel, meat consumption, dining out, and consumerism has to be good for the planet. I’m no scientist, but we’re getting reports of less pollution and less production from all over the world. I know it’s not great for the global economy, but it makes me wonder if those are things are mutually exclusive. Can we have a strong economy and a healthier planet? Either way, I think it’s good for the human race to see how the planet responds when we’re not constantly polluting it.
An opportunity to see what a slower life feels like.
In America, most people claim they are always “busy”. Several articles have been written about it, calling “busyness” a disease. We move from work to friends to TV to vacation to chores to school to groceries and on and on. We constantly fill our lives to the max and have never ending to-do lists. Finally, we have what many of us have said we’ve always wanted, time. Time to just relax and breathe. Time to connect with our loved ones (in real life or virtually). We see what it feels like to live a slower life and how that affects our moods, our bodies, and our presence with each other.
A chance to work in different ways and improve remote team communication.
Our company has a remotely distributed team like many others. For a decade we’ve experimented with different virtual collaboration tools, and have never felt that they are as satisfying as in-person work. I think this is changing. Enough bright minds and big thinkers are now forced to utilize these tools to connect and work with others, so they are finding new hacks and creating new resources for remote work to be so much more effective and dare I say, human.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious?
I believe strongly that in order to be useful to others, we have to take great care of ourselves first. Just like on an airplane where cabin pressure has dropped, place the mask on yourself first, then help others around you with their masks. So to that end:
Several years ago, my best friend was dying of cancer. I was in my mid-thirties and found that I had no ability or tools to cope with the loss of Kevin. One day, towards the end of his life, I was panicking. I felt like my head was going to explode and I didn’t know what to do. I don’t drink or do drugs, I don’t smoke, and I’d already exercised that day. I didn’t want to eat my way through it and I didn’t want to distract myself with spending money or watching TV for hours on end. So, I dropped to my knees and just a started breathing and paying attention to my breath. That was my introduction to a mindfulness practice. It wasn’t because I wanted to be better at my work, or because I was seeking enlightenment. I was just trying to get through the day without losing my cool.
I started with an app shortly after that and over the past 9 years my practice has grown to be one of the most important things I do in life. During this crazy time, I’ve doubled my meditation practice, sometimes sitting two and three times a day to just breathe.
There are enough memes out there for us all to know that it would be easy to gain 15lbs and lose sight of our health and fitness goals/routines during this pandemic. I know it can be hard for some folks to find the motivation to get moving, but I’d say be relentless about seeking the inspiration or motivation to do something! Exercise relieves stress, it can get you outdoors (by yourself of course), and it can be something to track and pay attention to. Use your fitness as something to focus on. Track your workouts, share them with others, track your food intake, get obnoxious about it for a while! It will make you feel better (scientifically proven, not MY opinion), gives you something healthy to focus on, and could potentially keep you from coming out of this quarantine in a depression.
Eat clean, healthy food.
This may seem obvious, but maybe not. I get that it’s a time for comfort food, but I find that when I take too much comfort, my body feels lethargic and awful. I gain weight, and my mind doesn’t operate as clearly as I like for it to. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE sugar. I’m a sweets person all day long, but during this time when I’m spending several hours indoors and often sitting, I can’t allow myself to consume too much sugar.
A small bite at the end of the day is all I’m allowing myself. Otherwise, eat as many clean healthy foods as you can to maintain good brain function, and a healthy, happy body. Who knows, you could even come out of this quarantine in beach body shape!
Get outside and walk every day. Rain or shine. Cold or hot. GO! Being outdoors and breathing fresh air, being immersed in the elements, and getting a change of scenery is critical to maintaining some sense of sanity and hopefully, joy.
Take time to write. Spend some time reflecting on your current experience. Dive deep into what’s really going on. Don’t stop at “I’m scared” or “I’m angry. WHY are you scared? What are you angry about? This type of reflection helps you create a self-awareness that most of us are moving too fast to ever gain. A deeper understanding of yourself will pay handsomely and make you easier to live with! Try it with pen and paper, it’s nice to take a break from our digital tools and reconnect with analog tools.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
A. Several meditation apps.
Waking Up, Calm, Headspace, or Insight Timer are a few I’ve used that I like a lot.
Connect for virtual coffee or happy hours dates with friends and family.
Of course, it’s not the same as in-person, but it’s way better than just settling for Facebook. Moving from asynchronous communication to synchronous can have a bright effect on your day.
C. Digital Diet/ News Diet.
Let’s face it, the news is filled with anxiety inducing headlines 24/7. If you’re feeling anxious, take a break from “breaking” news. Limit yourself to 10 minutes a day. You’re not likely to learn anything after that initial 10 minutes that will help you feel more comfortable. Also, put the phone/tablet down and be in your space. Be with your people. Be with your pets and be in outside. This is still your life, don’t let it pass you by while you’re looking at social media all day.
Also, think more about subtracting things from your life that aren’t supporting you, instead of JUST adding new resources to help you cope.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
Don’t get ready, get started.” — Perry Klebahn
Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Perry’s statement to me highlighted the ways in which I give myself excuses for not actually getting started on things. In particular, I bias towards thinking about things before starting something. For years I wanted to write fiction. Maybe a novel or a short story. But I never sat down and got to writing. I spent all my time thinking about what the story might be like, how many pages, what the characters might act like, etc. But I wasn’t writing anything, until I heard this prompt to take a bias towards action.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? ***You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
- I have about 10 movements I’d love to start, but the one that might have the most impact is helping people find the right occupation for themselves. We all spend so much of our lives at work, but we don’t all feel like we have a say in what we do, how we do it, and who we do it with.
- At Stoked, we’ve been working for years to teach people new ways of working that allow them to find fulfillment and a deep sense of purpose in their work. I think that’s so important. I felt dead on the inside for so many years because I wasn’t doing what I was built to do.
- Once I discovered teaching, my life changed. I felt whole for the first time since I was a child. I wanteveryone to experience purpose in their lives and if it can be at work, then we’re here to help them get there.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!