Dr. DiGangi holds a Ph.D. in psychology and has worked in the field of neuroscience. She has published extensively in the scientific literature. She is known for her engaging, funny, and relatable communication style, which allows her to help others think about how the brain’s “wiring” affects workplace behaviors such as motivation, performance, and relationships.
She has also worked extensively in U.S. politics, including on presidential campaigns and at The White House Press Office, so she is accustomed to helping people gracefully navigate fast-paced, high-stakes professional environments. She has also given a TEDx talk on the relationship between our brains and stress.
In this episode, Julia tells her favorite mistake story about the very painful mistake of leaving academia. When did it feel like a mistake that “ruined everything” and how did she reach the point of “post-traumatic growth”? We also discuss her expertise in how the brain and the body react to mistakes and how we can go from “avoiding pain” to “choosing the most powerful pain.”
We also talk about questions and topics including:
- You talk about overthinking, overworking, etc. — Did you “OVER” in your academic work?
- Was there a time when it DID feel like a mistake?
- “Leaving the pain behind??” – “the brain is a pain detection machine” – the brain will generate pain
- How did you end up in politics? This was before academia
- What happens when you make a mistake — reaction in your nervous system?
- Perfectionism — fear of mistakes
- How do we move forward from those feelings?
- Leadership & emotional intelligence are key themes
- Are we OVERcomplicating E.I.?
- Understanding others vs. understanding ourselves?
- Upcoming book — tell us about that
- “From Pain to Power….” her future book
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- Full transcript
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Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)
Mark Graban (0s):
Episode 191, Dr. Julia DiGangi, founder and CEO of Neuro Health Partners,
Julia DiGangi (7s):
And it was a very, very painful decision.
Mark Graban (15s):
I'm Mark Graban. This is my favorite mistake. In this podcast, you'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes because we all make mistakes. But what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at myfavoritemistakepodcast.com. To learn more about Julia, her company and more, look for links in the show notes, or go to markgraban.com/mistake191. If you like the episode, please share it on social media Rate review.
Mark Graban (56s):
Follow. As always, thanks for listening. Well, hi everybody. Welcome to my favorite Mistake. I'm Mark Graban, and we are joined today by Dr. Julia DiGangi. She is the founder and CEO of Neuro Health Partners LLC. She holds a PhD in psychology and has worked in the field of neuroscience publishing extensively in the scientific literature. She is known for, you know, helping others think about how the brain's wiring affects workplace behaviors on things including motivation, performance, and relationships. And I think that includes how we respond to mistakes. So I think we'll be able to explore that today.
Mark Graban (1m 38s):
So, Julia, before I tell everyone a little bit more about you and your background, welcome to the podcast. How are
Julia DiGangi (1m 43s):
You? I'm so glad to be here. So thanks for having me, Mark.
Mark Graban (1m 46s):
Yeah, I'm excited to hear your story and we're gonna have a great conversation ahead. But to tell you a little bit more about Julia, she has worked extensively in US politics, including presidential campaigns and at the White House press office. So she's accustomed to helping people gracefully navigate fast-paced, high stakes professional environments, and, and, and that's a realm where some people don't gracefully do anything. So I'm glad there were some people that had your counsel and advice, Julia, and she's also given a TEDx talk. I'll put a link to this in the show notes on the relationship between our brains and stress. So, you know, with that, Julia, of the different things you've done, I'm really curious to hear, what would you say is your favorite mistake?
Julia DiGangi (2m 30s):
Geez, you got me thinking about this question for a while. So I think that my favorite mistake, and it's still a little bit bittersweet, but was my, I don't even know if I would call it my decision, but at the moment when I left academia, so as you mentioned, I have a PhD and I have worked and trained and conducted research in, frankly, the top labs in the world. So Harvard, Columbia, university of Illinois, Chicago, Georgetown. So I had been, I had quite literally gone to school for 28 years. So this, this coding to be an academic was in me so fiercely, and it really felt like a vocation, right?
Julia DiGangi (3m 15s):
So my, my area of expertise, neuro scientifically, is the relationship between the brain and traumatic stress. But there was a lot of stress happening in my own life. So I had two children under two, my mother was very sick, I have a very disabled brother. So these sort of personal, well, I don't know if you would call them personal situations, personal factors had come to a head and it just kind of became clear that academia was not the route for me. Just the schedules that you have to keep in academia, especially if you're grant funded, you know, you're constantly hustling.
Julia DiGangi (3m 55s):
It has a very entrepreneurial spirit, right? And it was a very, very painful decision. And I, when I first made the decision to leave academia, I felt like my life had ended because such a huge part of my identity, how I'd been coded to understand myself, what I thought my purpose on this planet was. I really thought that I was here to help neuro scientifically understand the neural underpinnings of traumatic stress and how to alleviate disorders, like, you know, ptsd, panic and so on. So it was bad for a while. So why is it my favorite mistake? It's my favorite mistake because it has been the most expansive decision of my life.
Julia DiGangi (4m 40s):
So I have always been good at taking very complex science and translating it for people who are not scientists. So in other words, telling really, really powerful life changing stories about the science. And one of the things that really occurred to me was, we have this just powerhouse of information in, but it's oftentimes locked up in the ivory tower, right? So it's either, it just stays in academic conferences, it's in scientific journal articles, which if you're certainly not sharing, then that jargon, it doesn't make any sense. Or even now, sometimes it's behind paywalls. Yeah. So I decided that my job was now going to be this translational leader.
Julia DiGangi (5m 22s):
And what that means is sort of really taking the, the neuroscience, the neuro scientific truths of our life and rooting it in people's lived experiences. And I really talk about the relationship now between the brain leadership and emotional intelligence. And I certainly talk about it, you know, scientifically, but the other thing I wanna say here is I think everyone who's a leader can relate to what I call the overs. So the overs are, what do you mean overworking, overthinking over-delivering overanalyzing, overgiving over, pleasing over, I mean, over, over, over, over, over. Right.
Julia DiGangi (6m 2s):
What I really had to, and isn't it interesting how sometimes we can know something intellectually, but then we can't really control our, our behavior? So this is a little bit of a iron as a neuropsychologist, but I talk about the knowing of the brain and the knowing of the bones, right? They're very different. You know, I'm really kind of now talking about this knowing, this embodied knowing. And I think a lot of high performing leaders, we overdo it, we overwork, we overgive, we over deliver. 60 hours of work is not enough. And I will tell you what that is. That is a, that is a pain response and that is a trauma response.
Mark Graban (6m 40s):
Julia DiGangi (6m 41s):
In other words, the only reason a human being would ever overdo, right, it's one thing to give, it's another thing to over give, it's one thing to work, it's another thing to overwork. The only impulse for that is danger. In other words, I feel unsafe, I feel insecure, I feel like I'm somehow being threatened. And so I have to over, but this is a dysregulated posture of the nervous system. So I now really talk to high performing leaders, and I have kind of these, these two streams. One is obviously my neuro scientific and academic training, but this other is this very lived experience of what does it mean to really perform well?
Julia DiGangi (7m 24s):
And I don't think over performance, I don't think that's performing well on any level. I don't think it's performing well, relationally, interpersonally, or intra personally.
Mark Graban (7m 34s):
So when you were in academia, would you say you were overing, were you overperforming over publishing, over
Julia DiGangi (7m 42s):
Mark Graban (7m 43s):
God, yes. So what, what, what drove that in you? We could say that's a positive, like you have passion for your work, but did you connect that like personally to a pain and trauma response? That's that's,
Julia DiGangi (7m 55s):
Yeah. You know, I always say I have this, I always say that no one has ever in the history of my career come to see me because they've been getting hit in the face with a two by four. In other words, the first time you get hit in the face with a two by four, it's just unequivocally bad. It's just unequivocally painful. You're like, let's just stop. We never need to repeat that. But any pain that shows up in your life, honest to God, more than three times, it's because it is, it is a both and situation, meaning it is pleasurable and it is painful. It is good, and it is bad. It is light and it is dark. So did I love my work? In other words, was there a part of it that really absolutely brought me joy and meaning and stimulation?
Julia DiGangi (8m 36s):
100%. Yes. Yeah. Was there also a part of me that felt like it was, it was sort of touching some level of insufficiency
Mark Graban (8m 46s):
And you try and compensate for that?
Julia DiGangi (8m 48s):
Yeah. Right. Gotta hustle. It's this whole idea of like, we have to hustle for our worth. We have to hustle for our value. We have to, to hustle for our, our identity. But the second you start doing that, can you, can you even feel, in my words, how it starts to feel like this push energy, there's a little bit of like, instead of me, you know, standing up at an upright posture, I'm really starting to lean.
Mark Graban (9m 9s):
Julia DiGangi (9m 10s):
That is, you know, it makes perfect sense if we're talking about physical posture. And it's also absolutely true of our nervous systems. The second we start to step into beyond kind of the healthy zone, we're operating in ways that are not powerful.
Mark Graban (9m 29s):
And you make me think one thing, and sometimes people I work with who know me well enough, call me out on it, or my wife will call me out on it, not to turn this into a counseling session, or we, but like, there's times where I suddenly feel like I'm fired up about something. And even just tone of voice goes from kind of normal to suddenly being a little, just a little more, not, not, not necessarily too much. I'm gonna have to think back of like what, what those triggers are, or frustrations or, you know, it's usually, I think, yeah, not necessarily a positive enthusiasm, it's, it's a response to some pain,
Julia DiGangi (10m 10s):
I think too. Like really my whole career, both academic and now, you know, and I still, what's, what's wonderful now is I still get to collaborate on research projects and I'm still very involved in science, but not to the same degree. I'm not doing it for 60 hours a week. So I'm doing more, you know, individual work with patients. And then I do a lot of coaching, I do a lot of coaching of leadership teams, I do a lot of coaching of couples, and I do a lot of coaching of families. So if you think about the parent child reaction, and one thing that you just made kind of this great point. So I believe that obviously, well, this isn't really a statement of belief. It's quite evident that our entire life is governed by our brain, right?
Julia DiGangi (10m 51s):
So like without the brain, like there's no human life, certainly as we understand it. Yeah. So the, I really think that it's very useful for people to think about the brain as a machine. Okay, it's a machine. Great. Well, my cell phone's also a machine. Okay? So my cell phone, it works until it doesn't. Meaning at night I have to plug it in and get an energy or, or an electricity supply. So there's this really powerful question, which is, what is the electricity that powers the brain? And the electricity or the energy that powers the brain is emotion. And I mean that metaphorically, but I also mean it right? By literally, right? Emotions are electrochemical impulses.
Julia DiGangi (11m 32s):
This is almost like mind blowing if you really like, kind of feel into it. But there is nothing in your life, there is nothing in your life that has any meaning until an emotion is assigned to it. In other words, the way that human beings derive meaning entirely comes from affective or emotional systems in the brain. So is it good to be a leader? I don't, don't know. How do you feel about it? Is money good? I don't know. How do you feel
Mark Graban (11m 57s):
About it was being in academia Good.
Julia DiGangi (11m 59s):
Mark Graban (11m 60s):
Feel about it? You had to think about that here. I'm sorry, not thinking about my, how did you feel about it?
Julia DiGangi (12m 4s):
Right? But, but, and, and you know, obviously emotion and cognition, they, they're, they go together. But you just kind of said like, I don't, sometimes my voice will go up and I won't really know. Like obviously there's some nervous system arousal, but is it like, is it excitement or is it more fear, or is it more agitation? Yeah. I think what happens to a lot of us, and I'm gonna explain this like from a developmental perspective and it's gonna make perfect sense, is we have severed ourselves from the native language of our brain. Hmm. In other words, we're not, we're not deeply in tuned with the powerful nuances of our emotions. So we oftentimes don't know, does overworking feel good to me?
Julia DiGangi (12m 46s):
You want me to tell you the number, the number one question people come to me to ask? And they, they might put different words to it, but they're saying, I don't know what to do with my life.
Mark Graban (12m 54s):
Julia DiGangi (12m 55s):
I dunno. So the question then becomes like, well, where does that confusion come from? I want you to think about childhood really quick. Children are never young, young children are never, I have two little kids, they're never confused about how they feel.
Mark Graban (13m 12s):
They want candy,
Julia DiGangi (13m 14s):
They want whatever they'll want. Like, they'll be super happy about the candy and then they'll be mad because the candy's gone. And then they'll be screaming. Yeah. And then they'll be laughing. So it's like this pure unbridled emotion. And they're never confused. They're never like, you know, I'm, I'm actually feeling sad, but I'm gonna put on a happy face for you. Right? Sure. So the question becomes, go
Mark Graban (13m 36s):
Ahead. I was gonna, or I want the candy, but I know I shouldn't because I'm trying to watch my health and Yeah.
Julia DiGangi (13m 42s):
Mark Graban (13m 43s):
Julia DiGangi (13m 44s):
Yeah. But if you look at what happens early in our development, we start getting these messages. Go, go tell her you're sorry. I'm not sorry,
Mark Graban (13m 56s):
Julia DiGangi (13m 56s):
Sit down, I don't wanna sit down, keep your mouth shut. But I wanna talk. Don't, don't, you shouldn't be. Little boy shouldn't be doing that. Little girl shouldn't be, but I wanna do that. You know? So very early in our childhood, we start getting this coating at the time that the brain is the most plastic, the most ame, you know, open to change, right? That our emotional experiences are not to be trusted. So now, fast forward 20 years, 30 years, when we're in jobs that make our bodies hurt, they make us sick, they make us feel depleted, they make us feel depressed. It's like we have severed ourselves from our own emotional power and our own emotional intelligence.
Julia DiGangi (14m 37s):
You can't get the math on that to work.
Mark Graban (14m 39s):
Yeah. So I want, I want to go back to your story. I mean, did, did you have, you said it was bittersweet. It sounds like it was a tough decision to leave academia. Where, where was, was that sort of that inner emotion, or your core, or your gut, or however you might describe it, like, I need to leave this, but part of your brain was trying to say, Hey Julia, no, you, you've spent 28 years working toward this, you're good at it. You need to stick with it. Like that, that
Julia DiGangi (15m 6s):
Conflict. Absolutely. That that pain or that tension of like, I, you know, we, we have parts of ourselves, right? There's a part of you that wants to do this, and there's a part of you that wants to do that. There's a part of you that likes this and there's a part of you. So there were two parts of me that were very loud, right? There was a part of me that was like, I have, but a lot at that point, like right before I left the part was, so I'll, I'll tell you another story. So it's, it's actually like alarming to me to tell this story. My, I have two children. My, my first labor was, it was awful. It was horrific. And it was, it was very, it was bad. So with my second child, I think there was some anxiety about I didn't wanna get to the hospital too early.
Julia DiGangi (15m 51s):
So we, I live in Chicago, there was a snowstorm going on and it was clear that I was like deep into labor and my husband kept going, Julia, like, we need to, we need to get in the car. Like, we need to go. And I was like, no, I can't get in the car yet because I'm working on a grant. So my husband's like, alright, like obviously it ain't my bodies, but this seems a little bit. And finally he's like, now the snow's like picking up and not like the contractions are coming. And he was like, we are getting in the car. Like, I am not gonna be the dude on the news who has to deliver a baby on Lakeshore Drive because you are working. So I got to the hospital and this child Mark, she fell out of me like right when I walked in the triage, like the baby was out.
Julia DiGangi (16m 38s):
So, okay, so then I, so in other words, this labor was much easier in a way, but then, you know, you stay in the hospital for two days to recover. You wanna know what I did for my recovery? Cuz I was, I was, I wasn't, you know, cut open or I started work. Yeah. Did more work.
Mark Graban (16m 53s):
Julia DiGangi (16m 54s):
I did more work.
Mark Graban (16m 57s):
Is that because,
Julia DiGangi (16m 58s):
And I'm, I'm, you know, I'll be honest, like I'm gonna sh this is why mental health is so confusing. If you had talked to the, like, psychologist in me, the neuropsychologist, the mental health expert about someone else's behavior, in other words, my own emotional systems weren't involved. I could have been like, I don't think that's the healthiest thing to do right now. How about you just rest?
Mark Graban (17m 20s):
Julia DiGangi (17m 21s):
But do you see how rest, for those of us who feel like we need our work to be safe, rest feels like trauma,
Mark Graban (17m 28s):
Or, or, or that's where our identity is found is, I think you were saying earlier, I mean, was how much of it was loving your work versus avoiding something else? You said you avoiding going to the hospital was work just, or was it both of those things?
Julia DiGangi (17m 44s):
Well, I think the delay in me going to the hospital was, I think there was like, obviously the trauma from the first birth that I was just like, I can't go there for that many days again. But I also think too, and this is very true of a lot of women, we do not, especially the, you know, like when we've put so much into our careers, we do not feel safe. So it's like, I kind of knew I was gonna have this child and then is, is intense as labor is, which, oh my god, you kind of know the first three months, four months, five months, six months is gonna be a, just a battlefield. You know, you're not sleeping, you're, there's fluids everywhere. The baby's screaming.
Julia DiGangi (18m 25s):
Like, so you, I feel like I'll just speak for myself. Like, it wasn't logical, but there was this kind of pain, panic reaction. Like, if I could just like pump out this grant, right? It's the illusion of it'll be enough. But the problem with that illusion is like, there is no bottom on my cup. So I, I do this grant, I publish this article, I, I, you know, I make this deal, I sell this widget, oh, I'll be safe then. But really the, the problem is in the way that I hold my own energy. Does that make sense? Yeah.
Mark Graban (19m 2s):
And, and one thing that I've had the opportunity to be exposed to and learn about through professional circles in healthcare is a, an approach called motivational interviewing, which has so many insights, including the idea that even at a very individual level, yet alone organizational change is that we're complicated. We'll have reasons to change, reasons not to change, and somebody can help us sort through that, right? So back to academia, you had reasons to leave academia, you had reasons not to, and, and sometimes people just get stuck.
Julia DiGangi (19m 36s):
Yeah. It's very easy to get stuck. And I think the stuck is precisely as you described. It's because again, if it was just the two by four in the face, you'd be like, what do I need to do to change this immediately?
Mark Graban (19m 46s):
Julia DiGangi (19m 46s):
So it's the, it's the good and the bad. It's the light and the dark. It's the yes and the no. But you know, I do think this idea of, there's so much out there about emotional intelligence and this next phase of my life where I'm really like embodying emotional intelligence, really teaching others to embody emotional intelligence. It's a gorgeous thing. In fact, I just did another podcast interview on it earlier today, and the person was saying, well, there's all these domains of emotional intelligence, right? There is perseverance, there is communication, there's empathy with others. But I, I feel like now my job on the planet is to just simplify.
Julia DiGangi (20m 29s):
Just like, it's amazing to watch people kind of give this much attention to emotional intelligence and mental health, but I think we're unnecessarily complicating it.
Mark Graban (20m 38s):
There's another over, we're over complicating. Well,
Julia DiGangi (20m 41s):
There you go. There you go. Exactly. Yeah. I think this is the only definition people need to understand for emotional intelligence to really land in their lives. And it's this, who do I become? Who do I become in my own moments of pain? Now pain is a big word, but the brain is a small thing, right? So it's just less than three pounds. And the parts of your brain that give rise to any of your bad feelings, I don't care if you call it stress, overwhelming anxiety, fear, agitation, frustration, rage. It's still the same parts of the brain that give rise to those sensations pretty clear. So I call it emotional pain because they are the pain circuits in the brain. Yeah. So any time that, let's take communication as a form of emotional intelligence.
Julia DiGangi (21m 25s):
If I'm working with you on a team, or I'm your boss and you are listening to me and agreeing with me, and you think everything that comes outta my mouth is great, or you're very amenable, that's wonderful. I hope we all occasionally have situations like those, but that doesn't require anything of my own leadership power, Right? In fact, in a lot of ways, you are the one who holds the power in the situation and people get this confused. In other words, you are giving me your listening. You are giving me your understanding, you are giving me your cooperation. Sure, I should be very grateful for that. But if we're talking about how to become a more powerful version of ourselves, how to meet our mistakes and meet our pain, then I need to know what happens to my behavior, my emotional systems and my thinking systems when I don't like the words coming outta your mouth when you won't do it my way, when you don't agree with me, when you're pushing me in a direction that no one needs help with communication or empathy or perseverance.
Julia DiGangi (22m 28s):
I mean, the only reason perseverance is perseverance is because it hurts.
Mark Graban (22m 32s):
Julia DiGangi (22m 33s):
It's not perseverance until it hurts. So I think, again, there's this, there's this like much simpler and then paradoxically much more powerful conversation about how to show up as leaders in our life.
Mark Graban (22m 48s):
Is it fair to say, I mean one, one thing, one impression I've gotten when it comes to emotional intelligence, we could break down, we could maybe break that down into our ability to understand others. So maybe that's empathy and, and things like that. And then how much of it is our ability to understand ourselves?
Julia DiGangi (23m 6s):
But see, I think those things are one of the same. Again, I wanna even simplify it more because do I really need help understanding you when we're getting along? The only time I need to draw on the power of empathy, which is a gorgeous thing, is when you start to put pressure on me, I need you to be at the office, but you can't be at the office today because of your mental health. I need you to be at this meeting, but you can't be there because you got something going on with your kids. And I start to feel my own stress. I start to feel my own. But that's all my own stuff. In other words, every single relational problem in the world on our teams at work with our clients, our customers, with our, with our partners, and with our children happens because, so the brain has two super fundamental but competing drives.
Julia DiGangi (23m 59s):
Okay? It is the drive for connection. And this is a neurobiological thing, right? The clearest sense is, you know, we see it in the infant, right? The, the parent literally regulates the infant's nervous system. But we also see this with our, our romantic partners. Tons of scientific evidence out there that our partners regulate us and disregulate us. So for better or for worse, yeah. And there's also this fascinating research out there now that like we always knew that we, we liked our coworkers, that they could drive us a little bit batty. There's now starting to be research into the interpersonal neurobiology of the people we work with. Makes perfect sense. Okay? So the drive, the brains drive for connection is very clear. Here's the competing drive, the brains drive for choice.
Mark Graban (24m 41s):
Julia DiGangi (24m 42s):
And I don't care if you call that autonomy or you know, is just the 4th of July, independence, freedom. And you know, if you ever had a little kid, it starts very early in development. You give the one year old, the orange cup, when the one year old said she wanted the green cup, hell have no theory,
Mark Graban (25m 1s):
Julia DiGangi (25m 2s):
So from cradle to grave, the human is wired to express choice. Okay? So here's, here's where the conflict comes. Mark, I totally wanna be connected with you. I love working with you. I love talking to you. There's only one stipulation. We're gonna do it my way. Okay? And the reason that always creates relational tension or relational pain is because your work and your own script, in other words, your work and your own drive for your vision of what your life is supposed to be. So until leaders understand that we both need connection and we need to give people sufficient freedom, there's gonna be relational disharmony, relational pain,
Mark Graban (25m 41s):
Right? It it seems like taking away the choice or forcing your choice on others hurts that connection.
Julia DiGangi (25m 46s):
A hundred percent.
Mark Graban (25m 47s):
Julia DiGangi (25m 48s):
A hundred percent. You can have compliance or you can have connection,
Mark Graban (25m 52s):
Right? And, and, and that word c compliance is a said many times. Like having an organization that's compliant full of compliant people is not a pathway to greatness. Like, that's a pathway to surviving maybe or mediocrity at best. You, you, you, you can't breed. I've worried, I've been in workplaces earlier in my career where leaders were absolutely just satisfied with compliance and, and it was really, really damaging.
Julia DiGangi (26m 23s):
I, I love how you said, like even that word, right? There's like a frequency to that. Words like, ooh, kind of makes you, but there's also a myth there too. Like you can't, you, you could nev So this whole idea of like command and control leadership models, right? You wanna talk about a big mistake that was always an illusion, right? And, and the way that we know this, the most powerful leadership on the planet is the leadership between the parent and child, right? Just neurobiologically. It's the strongest, it's the strongest leadership on the planet just because of the biology. Sure. So we can't even get, like, have you ever tried to get a two year old in the car seat? Like you the child,
Mark Graban (27m 2s):
You can, you the, I'm, I'm, I'm not a parent, so I, I don't really, but
Julia DiGangi (27m 5s):
You can imagine, right? You having like, like the toddler plank, like their, their body just goes limp. It's like, well you're 30 pounds, so it can still pick you up right now. But I'm, in other words, like command and control doesn't even work with the people who are literally wired to love us. Like, good luck with making that work with Bob and finance and Susie and HR and it doesn't work,
Mark Graban (27m 31s):
Right? But that's been perpetuated for a long time that it works or it's necessary or whatever excuses people make for that. And I've, I've found, I mean, I've, again, early in my career, worked in an environment where I've, I've, I've noticed, no, nobody ever says, yeah, we're a command and control organization and like, as a positive descriptor, they would just say we're managing or we're doing. It's always those of us that are critical of it that use that term stop, stop at the command and control leadership. There's a better way.
Julia DiGangi (28m 5s):
Yeah. Yeah. That's a great point. Cuz there is like, there is like a pejorative connotation to it. But but also too, again, to go back to like the premise of, cause I just want it to be so simple for people. The whole reason, the only reason I would ever need to control you is because I can't control myself. Hmm. In other words, if you don't do X, I'm not gonna get Y. Okay? But Y is never y cause it only, I already said in this interview, Y is meaning is entirely determined by my emotions. So if you don't do X, I'm not gonna get Y. And that's gonna make me feel behind, it's gonna make me panic, it's gonna make me stress out.
Julia DiGangi (28m 46s):
I'm gonna be laying it in bed at night thinking about it. In other words, there I am again, back in my own feelings, back in my own painful feelings every single time it takes us back to our painful feelings. So if you can't figure it out there, you are not, you are not working from the most powerful upstream place. It is, it is neurobiologically. That's simple.
Mark Graban (29m 9s):
So I, I'm, I'm, I don't mean to bring you back up upstream to pain, but I did want to close one loop a bit on the story that you told Julian on leaving academia. I mean, again, it sounds like it was a tough decision and that you agonized over. I I, I mean I I'm, I'm not convinced it was a mistake. I mean, it seems like it's opened a lot of doors to, for you, and you've done a lot of great things. But what I'm curious is, was there a period where it did feel like a mistake, or at least you were questioning? Can, can you tell us more like, about that phase and then how you managed to get past
Julia DiGangi (29m 42s):
That? Yeah, no, I mean, I, it felt like a mistake. I mean, let me just kind of paint the picture for you, right? So I, it becomes clear that, so I'm at a, at a, an amazing institution. I'm with, you know, working with some of the top cognitive and affective neuroscientist in the world. You know, we're just publishing really exciting stuff with fmri and EEG and really kind of like understanding powerful things about the way the brain regulates emotion. Now I have another baby, it's a, it's a newborn. So this happened right after she was born that I decided not to come back. So I have two children under two. I'm also living with my mother who is unwell.
Julia DiGangi (30m 25s):
So I'm taking care of three people. I'm not sleeping. And I'm just thinking like, so, so in other words like the lack of sleep, just like, obviously disregulates your nervous system in and of itself. So I'm just thinking I have made an unrecoverable error because one thing about academia too is it's very much like once you leave the, I don't wanna get too nuanced, but there's like a very specific trajectory of how you get grants and things, sort of benchmarks that you hit. It's very, very rare that someone would leave and come back in the same capacity, right? So I was like, I just ruined everything, you know? It was, it was depressing.
Julia DiGangi (31m 5s):
That's the right word.
Mark Graban (31m 6s):
Julia DiGangi (31m 7s):
And so I was going through the motions because I had quite literally, you know, people to keep alive. But I was like, I don't, there, I, there's no meaning to my life. I'm, I'm just kind of swimming in this more ass of bad feelings. And I, I've lost my identity did not feel good. But I think I had to, you know, I had to kind of come to Jesus moment with myself where I was just like, all right, again, kind of this intellectual knowing. And I said, whenever, so one of the big things we study is post traumatic growth, right? This idea of resilience. So I was like, okay, Julia, you know this stuff. Like what would you say to a patient? And I said like, the, the whole idea of growth after pain, cause I wanna be clear, it did, you know, you asked it feel like a mistake.
Julia DiGangi (31m 53s):
It did. It wasn't like, this is great and I'm gonna go on to this really thriving career and build this business. And it was, for a long time it was dark and it was slow and I waffled. But the whole idea of resilience, once again is about emotional power. Well, emotional power only happens in the context of emotional pain. You can't be resilient in the absence of resistance. You can't be powerful in the, in the absence of resistance. So I had to say, like, even in the darkness, I'm gonna have to hold a vision. I'm gonna have to get up, I'm gonna have to start moving. I'm gonna have to take baby steps. I'm gonna have to go slower than feel satisfying.
Julia DiGangi (32m 35s):
But like, you, you, and I think that's a great example of power. Like how do we draw on ourselves when we don't feel like it?
Mark Graban (32m 44s):
Mm. So that, I mean, that's one of the things I say we, me as host or we as an audience and guests are trying to figure that out, right? Like, it's not about dwelling on the mistake, but figuring out how to grow after that pain. Or is, is an appropriate way of phrasing it, of like how to leave the pain behind? Or is that, is that not even
Julia DiGangi (33m 5s):
No, I don't possible. Let me tell you, this is a great frame. So obviously like I as, as a sort of pain researcher, if there was a way to leave pain, you absolutely should. In other words, I'm not like a, a champion of pain or a glutton for pain. But one thing that it's so important for people to understand is like, the brain is a pain detection machine. This is what it's fundamentally around to do. Just like you would never ask your lungs not to breathe or your heart not to be. If you put people in an austere laboratory environment, there's literally nothing to do. You just have to sit in a room, people will report feeling pain.
Mark Graban (33m 45s):
In other words, with no obvious or
Julia DiGangi (33m 47s):
One's shocking you, no one's threatening you. So the brain will gen. Haven't you ever heard people like, look, people can't be bored. Have you ever noticed that?
Mark Graban (33m 57s):
Julia DiGangi (33m 57s):
It's quite, it, it becomes a painful experience. It's, so the best question is not how do I avoid pain? There's a really difficult conversation I wanna have with you, mark. I'm afraid to have it. I'm gonna avoid it. There's a really, you know, brave thing that I wanna do, but I'm too scared to do it. I'm gonna avoid it. There's a, any, every time we avoid, we're not actually avoiding pain because now I have to sit with the pain that I abandoned myself. I really wanted to have a tough conversation with you. I really had this dream for this business that I wanted to build. I really had this expression I wanted to make on this podcast that I wanted to do, and I didn't. I know that I abandoned myself.
Julia DiGangi (34m 39s):
So the more powerful heuristic for your listeners is not how do I avoid pain? Because the brain will always detect pain. The more powerful question, and this is such a powerful question, is how do I choose the most powerful pain? So if it's, so let me go back to this example. I'm thinking about talking to you, mark, but it's making me anxious. That's pain. Who would want, who would wanna feel anxious? No one, right? All right. But if I don't talk to you, I'm gonna have to know that I didn't stand up for myself, that I didn't express myself, that I didn't deepen my relationship with you.
Mark Graban (35m 16s):
Sure. Different pain.
Julia DiGangi (35m 18s):
Different pain. It's a more powerful pain for me to have the anxious conversation. That's what I choose. And the second I choose that, I expand the edge of my emotional power and I expand the edge of my emotional power. I'm sure you know, when you started doing the podcast, weren't they way more anxiety provoking than they are now?
Mark Graban (35m 36s):
Sometimes, yeah. It, it depends on a, a number of things. How much, how many other things do I have going on that day? Do I feel like I've had taken the time to properly prepare in terms of like research or background or just mentally prepare? There's some people I, I interview, I, I feel I, I interview and it surprised me sometimes when it comes up. It's not that I'm intimidated, but I dunno if it's a, you know, an excited kind of nervousness. I interviewed Jim McCann recently, he's the founder of 1-800-FLOWERS, if you know that company. And I wasn't nervous going into it, but then seeing 'em live on Zoom and I've seen 'em do TV commercials and I don't know, like that familiarity maybe should have been comforting.
Mark Graban (36m 24s):
But like in the beginning I felt very nervous and I kind of called it out and said, okay, hopefully I can move on from that. But there's more to reducing that nervousness than just practice and experience. There seemed to be other factors, I think is what I'm seeing.
Julia DiGangi (36m 39s):
But do you think even that novel, cause it sounds like there was something about the novelty of him, like his public presence and his, what's the word? Fame or, you know, sort of notoriety.
Mark Graban (36m 52s):
He's well known. Yeah,
Julia DiGangi (36m 54s):
Yeah. You know, if you, if you think about the neuroscientific of, of anxiety, the, the best way to overcome it is through exposure. So this idea that that practice really does reduce anxiety. It, but it, you have to practice the right thing. So in other words, I, I would lay ads to dollars cuz I put my money on a literature that if you started interviewing 15 famous people, whatever you classify that as that by the 15th person, there would be absolutely a decrement in the anxiety. Mm,
Mark Graban (37m 27s):
Okay. Yeah. Yeah.
Julia DiGangi (37m 30s):
Mark Graban (37m 31s):
I could believe that I, I could, so, you know, famous, famous people, you know, I did get to interview a congressman back in the second episode. I had met him before, but still there was that nervousness of like, wow, he's giving his time. I don't wanna somehow disappoint him or give him a bad experience. I think that
Julia DiGangi (37m 51s):
There's not people pleasing. There's not people pleasing.
Mark Graban (37m 54s):
Yeah. But I think it, I think it worked out well. But I was gonna ask you though, you know, as I referenced in bio of, of what it seemed like you moved on from academia. How did you get to work in politics? Can we talk about politics without being political? But I'm just curious like how you made that shift and did
Julia DiGangi (38m 13s):
That feel like earlier that earlier in my,
Mark Graban (38m 15s):
Julia DiGangi (38m 15s):
Yeah. So I, I was in pretty high level politics very early in my career. So I, I started at the White House and then from the White House I did a, I did multiple presidential campaigns and then I worked for a very large political consulting firm and did a lot of congressional races and gubernatorial races. So I've really kind of run the gamut from the White House down to Congress and even some mayoral stuff. And so one of the things, again, I I've always been, my father is a psychologist, so I come from kind of a lineage of psychologist. I'm a natural listener. I'm always drawn to people's stories. So I always had a psychol, you know, I used to read his psychology textbooks, his bedtime stories.
Julia DiGangi (39m 0s):
So just really, really deep academic understanding of emotional intelligence and psychology from an early age. So even in the political, I was like, why, why are people having the same conversation? And this was me 20 years ago, right? Why are people having the same conversation over and over? It's just a tug of war. I say red, you say blue, I say yes. You say no, I, yeah. And then it becomes this really recalcitrant dynamic that creates so much pain and so much destruction. And one of the things I was saying the other day is I could take, you know, news headlines from 20 some years ago when I was at the White House and like take out all the identifying details and you would swear that they were from today's news.
Julia DiGangi (39m 45s):
And the reason is because people are overly focused. Here we go again on the, on the situational specifics. And they're not thinking enough about the emotional energy, the, the rage and the fear and the sadness. So I was always thinking about kind of how psychological or emotional energies were moving. And I, I wanted to, I didn't think there was enough of an emotional exploration process in the political process. In other words, I thought it was just gonna be the same thing day in and day out. So I wanted to move more into field and policy work. So I started doing a lot of international humanitarian aid. So I've worked all over the globe in very, very traumatized environments.
Julia DiGangi (40m 27s):
I've worked with combat veterans, I've worked with child soldiers, I've worked with torture survivors. Very intense trauma, right? And just started to realize like there is a need for different ways to talk about emotional intelligence in our larger systemic processes. Whether that's a business process or a political process.
Mark Graban (40m 47s):
Yeah. So you say 20 years ago, was this the, the George W. Bush White House?
Julia DiGangi (40m 51s):
No, the Clinton White House.
Mark Graban (40m 52s):
Clinton White House. Okay. I I, I had a guess previously. Rebecca Contreras, who was a staffer in George w Bush's administration. So we have equal time to, to people from both administrations. So, so thank you for telling us about that. So, you know, a couple, maybe a couple other questions to ask you here as, as an expert, what happens with our nervous system? What, what is that reaction that, that seems to occur when we realize we've made a mistake?
Julia DiGangi (41m 25s):
So yeah, there's a, there's a part of the brain that is in charge of error recognition. So error recognition is, you know, and you can imagine if we put people, so neuropsychological testing, you put people in very kind of emotionally austere environments. So for example, we would say every time you see an X on the screen hit the space bar and people, the task is very tedious. There's boredom again. People do not do well with boredom. Yeah. So after time people start making mistakes and a lot of times people will be able to immediately detect, okay, I hit the space bar wrong. And so we'll, we'll kind of recognize that with certain activity in certain parts of the brain, the situation. But those aren't the, the mistakes that bother people.
Julia DiGangi (42m 7s):
The mistakes that bother people are always when there's some painful emotion. And I'm gonna just be, get really right to the point. It's the energy of humiliation. Mm. If there's shame, humiliation, inadequacy, embarrassment, again, all those things that you're thinking about the brain, they're the same. I don't care what words we give them, they're the same processes. So if I think I was supposed to be, if I was really smart, if I was really good, if I was really competent, I should be an academic my whole life. And then I can't, my brain is not just gonna be like, oh, that does, we don't recognize that as part of the pattern. It's also gonna add this emotional valence, well, you're not good enough.
Julia DiGangi (42m 48s):
You couldn't hack it. You, and then, and then that's when the brain becomes super, super sensitive to mistakes. Think about perfectionism. All perfectionism is, is fear of mistakes. Well, do you think that's a powerful position or do you think that's incredibly emotionally brittle? The perfection, the perfectionist is, is living in pain. In other words, if I don't not only do the double triple flip, but I don't also stick the landing, I'm a total loser. It's another, it's another example of the over that is not emotionally powerful that is so brittle and the amount then that you can actually accomplish in your life, the amount that you can experience the sensuality, you can have, you know, the, the room for joy, the room for experience, the room for memories.
Julia DiGangi (43m 39s):
It's, it's very, very constricted. And so it's, it actually leaves people feeling quite unfulfilled.
Mark Graban (43m 49s):
But then how, how do we best try to move forward from that?
Julia DiGangi (43m 54s):
So I think there's a great physical analogy that I think rings very clear for people. So if I, I call this the emotional shake. So if I want to get more powerful physically, I would, I go to the gym and I can lift five pounds today. So tomorrow when I go to lift 10 pounds, my muscle is again quite literally going to shake. We've all kind of done that thing where like our bicep starts to fatigue, right? Okay. But no one goes, oh my God, this is a disaster, mark quick, like call 9 1 1, my muscle's shaking. Yeah. It's like I, it doesn't feel great, but I actually can feel quite satisfied because I know that the shaking is itself the evidence of my increasing strength, my increasing power.
Julia DiGangi (44m 42s):
Yeah. Now notice on the emotional side, and, and the, the analogy almost applies perfectly when I go to, let's go back to like, I'm gonna give a big speech or I'm gonna, yeah, let's say that I'm gonna get on stage and give a big speech. Never, never done this before. I'm going to shake, in other words, my body might shake my hands, might shake my voice, might quiver my stomach might be in knots. But notice here that a lot of us will go, oh my God, no, that's, that's imminent death. I'm gonna totally, I'm gonna totally wreck my reputation. I'm gonna, and then we avoid, I'm never doing that again. Well, if I go to the gym and I lift five, I try to lift 10 pounds and the first time I lifted I, my muscle shakes and I go, I'm never doing this again.
Julia DiGangi (45m 23s):
Right? It's clear as the day I'm never gonna get more emotionally powerful, but now here. So the number one thing to do is to say I have to start seeing the emotional shake, the, the knots in my stomach and the quivering in my throat and the sweating of my palms and the dilation of my pupil. All these kind of neurophysiologic signs of intensity as, as satisfying. Not something that I need to run and stick my head in the sand. Number one. Now here's number two. If I can only lift five pounds, would I go to the gym tomorrow and try to lift a 100 pound dumbbell? No, no. I'd rip my bicep off. Right? So we're not trying to go and create extreme pain.
Julia DiGangi (46m 4s):
We're trying to say what is the edge of our power? So maybe I need emotionally, maybe exactly. Maybe I need a teleprompter this time. Maybe I need to memorize my speech. Still gonna be hard cause there's a big crowd, but I have it memorized.
2 (46m 20s):
Julia DiGangi (46m 22s):
It's like we have to be willing to confront. And if you think about all that is, this is the part that like blows my mind all the time. And I, when I really see it pop for business leaders, it's like, you see, they finally get, it's such a, I get chills every time cause I'm like, oh, they're finally, they're finally home. They're finally almost free. Yeah. The only thing that we're really afraid of is not the thing that's happening in the outside world. It's just sensation. It's actually only just the beating of my heart. It's actually only just the tightening of my throat. Like I, I, I do a lot of PTSD treatment. So when we do PTSD treatment, I have people, for example, processing very, very horrific things.
Julia DiGangi (47m 6s):
I'm not talking about just confronting, you know, a difficult boss. I'm talking, let's take sexual trauma, let's take combat trauma. So I'll have people say, lady, you think I'm talking about that? I'm not talking about that. And I'll say, okay, well tell me what do you think is gonna happen? And they'll say, I, I think I'm gonna die. And I'll say, okay, totally get it. Let's talk about that. Do you think that any anyone in the history of the world has really died from talking about anything? And then they're like, well no. Okay, well what else is gonna happen? My head's gonna explode. Have you known anyone's head to explode?
Mark Graban (47m 42s):
Right. Okay, so hi everybody. Those who are watching on YouTube are go going to notice what Hollywood would call a continuity error. I am no longer wearing a hat. I no longer have AirPods in. Julia is wearing a different blouse. The power went out. So I apologize Julia, that we were interrupted there.
Julia DiGangi (48m 3s):
You don't need to apologize. This has definitely been the most exciting podcast I've ever been on. I, when it first happened, I was like, oh my god, did my internet just fail? You know, you start to panic. So as soon as I realized it wasn't my mistake, I was super cool. So I don't mind at all. And it was a very exciting journey
Mark Graban (48m 20s):
And I don't think it was a mistake on my part. A thunderstorm came through, the power was out for three or four hours as it, as it turned out. So I think there's a lesson sometimes something, there's a problem, but it's not necessarily caused by a mistake. But then thankfully, and thank you for Julia for hopping back on here as it turns out a couple months later, but we'll, we'll bring the podcast in for a close here. But you, you remembered more clearly than me that we had mentioned the previous internet outage that had interrupted a webinar and that was kind of more based on a mistake of something I could or should have anticipated.
Julia DiGangi (48m 58s):
It was kinda wild. It was funny cuz we had talked about like, oh, we were laughing, like that will never happen to us. And then we had an outage. So these things happen and again, I was just like, oh my god, did my kid, you know, trip over the wire or something. So these things happen,
Mark Graban (49m 14s):
Things happen. So I want to, you know, kind of bring it back to what I was gonna ask you. You've written a book that is an upcoming book, you said fall of 2023, is that right?
Julia DiGangi (49m 26s):
Yeah, the publisher is Harvard Business Review and right now they're saying fall of 2023. So we were just kind of talking before we came back on camera, how the whole publishing world is a fascinating world. This is my first popular press book, so I'm learning a lot.
Mark Graban (49m 40s):
Well that's really exciting to, to be published by hbr. So, you know, tell tell us about the book. What, what, what are you writing? How is it being framed for a business reader? Audience, A general
Julia DiGangi (49m 51s):
Audience? Yeah, so the book is tentatively titled From Pain to Power, the Neuroscience of Powerful Leadership in Painful Times. So hopefully the, the title is pretty elucidating, but it's this idea of these are incredibly uncertain times, they're volatile times, and the brain, as we've talked about, has an allergy to the uncertain. And really, if you look at the way the brain processes uncertainty is, it becomes a very painful response. In fact, if you look at laboratory settings, there's plenty of studies that show that people would rather receive an electric shock than be uncertain as to whether or not they're going to get an electric shock.
Julia DiGangi (50m 34s):
So it just really goes to show, yes. So when we say that uncertainty is painful, we mean that, not just metaphorically, but literally. So how do we lead, how do we show up with really, really powerful leadership in painful times and what's the neuroscience behind it? So I think the book's gonna offer, well I know for a fact the book's gonna offer what I'm calling eight energetic codes of how to think about really powerful leadership for yourself as a leader. And then also how to think about powerful leadership in relation. So how do we build the most powerful relationships? And I'm very, very excited about it.
Mark Graban (51m 13s):
Yeah, well I'll look forward to that. And you, you answered the question I was about to ask of, you know, it's one thing to describe, here's the neuroscience, here's how we generally are, but then the, the, the next interesting thing is, what can we do about it without, we're not gonna change our brain, right?
Julia DiGangi (51m 31s):
Absolutely. I think that what's so cool about this day and age right, is like we do have a lot of very powerful, insightful neuro scientific evidence. And I think that so much of our dysfunction, so much of our stress, so much of our challenges, so much of our pain, I'm gonna, I use that word a lot in our conversation comes because if you think about it, the brain is really a machine and we just don't know how to operate the machine. So I think we create a lot of pain and dysfunction by asking things of the brain that we're really quite sure of that neuroscientifically the brain can't deliver. So it's like how do we, if we know that the brain has an allergy to uncertainty, what's the best way, for example, to think about uncertainty in a really powerful way if we know relationships can be challenging to the point of being painful, how do we think powerfully about what our brain as the leader needs and the people who are trying to lead?
Julia DiGangi (52m 28s):
So I think, you know, one of the things I was super, there was two things I told my editor I wanted, I wanted the book to be beautiful and I wanted the book to be practical. My editor was like, that's interesting. It's not usually a combination you hear together. Yeah. But he was pretty excited about it and I think we really nailed that. I think it's a gorgeous book and I think it's so practical.
Mark Graban (52m 50s):
Well, well send some updates out, you know, through maybe, you know, maybe we'll come back and when, when it's done and the uncertainty about the title even has been resolved, you know, we, we can come back and, and revisit your episode and announce the book being out. There's one other just thing to share and get your reaction to you. I, I worked for a company once where one of the behaviors that they wanted to see from people, I think the phrase was com being comfortable with ambiguity. Maybe it's just a different way of saying, Hey, be cool with uncertainty. But what I hear you saying is, Hey, easier said than done.
Julia DiGangi (53m 30s):
Absolutely. One of the points I make in the book is like, we have, so language is so beautiful and it's so rich. So you can call it uncertainty, you can call it confusion, you can call it amorphous, you can call it ambiguous. But the brain, right? It's less than three pounds. It's processing uncertainty or ambiguity the same way, right? So similarly, the reason I felt so comfortable using the term pain is whether you're saying anxious and I'm staying stressed and he's staying frustrated and she's staying annoyed. The circuitry that's getting activated is the same. So to your point, like getting comfortable with ambiguity is so important. And the fundamental mistake I think people make is they put their energy in the wrong place.
Julia DiGangi (54m 13s):
So they try to control situational outcomes. In other words, they try to control external things. How do I fix this situation? How do I make sure this person, how do I make sure that person and really the power play and people don't think about this, but the allergy to uncertainty becomes so much more attenuated when we start thinking about self power in another way to say that is trust. In other words, if I am very, very strong in my trust of self, the uncertainty out there becomes far, far, far less painful.
Mark Graban (54m 53s):
Well that's, that's very interesting and thank you again for, for being a guest. Certainly wasn't painful to have you here on the show. I it wasn't painful for you there, there wasn't certainty. Not if we would get back together to, to do the wrap up. It just uncertainty around when, so
Julia DiGangi (55m 10s):
I'm, I'm, oh my God. Right.
Mark Graban (55m 11s):
I'm glad that pain is behind us and that we could make it work
Julia DiGangi (55m 14s):
Out. Likewise. I had so much fun with you and I think, again, we were talking about this before the camera started rolling, but I think what you're doing about this idea of favorite mistake, I think it's so fascinating and I think there's just so much juice in there, like for emotional intelligence and how to kind of rise from the ashes.
Mark Graban (55m 33s):
Well, thank you. I appreciate that. So again, we've been joined by Dr. Julia Ganji. Her website is neuro health partners.com. I'll put links in the show notes. You can go learn more about her and her work, and I'm sure, do you have a email newsletter or something people can sign up for to get notified about the book?
Julia DiGangi (55m 51s):
Yeah, the best way to get in touch with me and I sort of post this just to find me on LinkedIn. So LinkedIn at Dr. Julia DiGangi and then on all the social media. So Facebook, Dr. Julia DiGangi, and Instagram, Dr. Julia DiGangi. So easy place, kind of pretty centralized.
Mark Graban (56m 6s):
Okay, great. I'll make sure there's links there in the show notes. So Julia, thanks again.
Julia DiGangi (56m 11s):
Thank you so much. Had a great time. Thanks, Mark.
Mark Graban (56m 15s):
Thanks again to Julia for sharing her story and her insights about learning and recovering from mistakes. To learn more about her, again, look for Links in the show notes or go to markgraban.com/mistake191. As always, I want to thank you for listening. I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes, how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive. I've had listeners tell me they started being more open and honest about mistakes in their work, and they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about problems because that leads to more improvement and better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me firstname.lastname@example.org. And again, our website is myfavoritemistakepodcast.com.