The Secret To Living A Life Of Meaning — Every Day
Listen to Episode 177:
Episode 177 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth. On the web at businessadvance.com. And now here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and sitting right across from me as always is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi Pam. It’s always great to join you again for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio, and as always our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to accelerate themselves — and their companies — to their next level of game-changing innovation, transformation, and growth.
But Pam, we have to get real here. We have to face that the world is experiencing a series of so many types of upheaval that have turned life upside down and inside out for all of us. The crescendo is so loud with all of this happening at the same time that quite honestly, it’s hard for anyone to know what the next level should even look like, much less chart a path to get there.
Pam Harper: What we do know, however, is that as leaders of companies and organizations, you are in a unique position to be able to shape an environment that’s filled with opportunities for you and everyone you impact to have a more meaningful life and create a better world. But before you can do that, you need to look at yourself in the mirror and ask some tough questions. These include: Who do you see? What’s being asked of you? And how are you living a life of meaning every day?
Scott Harper: Things like this can be extremely uncomfortable to face, especially if you’re honest.
Pam Harper: That’s right. So to get some deeper perspectives on this issue, we’re speaking today with Jann Freed PhD. She’s a Leadership Development Consultant, author, and speaker that organizations hire to improve employee engagement, navigate change management, or develop leaders at all ages and career stages.
“Dr. Jann,” as many know her, is particularly interested in helping employees over 50 find meaning and purpose beyond their careers. She does this through the use of a concept she developed called the Breadcrumb Legacy in which people create new meaning for themselves and others through small daily actions. A partial list of her clients includes American Enterprise Group, Drake University, IMT Insurance, and UnityPoint Health.
Dr. Jann is a professor of business management emerita and the former Mark and Kay De Cook Endowed Chair in Leadership and Character Development at Central College in Pella, Iowa, and is an adjunct professor for the University of Iowa. She’s also a Director for the Bank Iowa Board.
Dr. Jann is the author or coauthor of five books and her most recent book, Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts, features interviews with prominent leadership gurus such as Jim Autry, Marshall Goldsmith, Sally Helgesen, Dan Pink, and Margaret Wheatley.
Dr. Jann blogs weekly on her website about leading, living, and sage-ing, or conscious aging. She also has a monthly podcast series, Becoming a Sage where she interviews top thought leaders in the field of conscious aging. To learn more about Dr. Jann Freed, go to growthignitersradio.com, select episode 177, and scroll down to her bio.
Pam Harper: Jann, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio!
Jann Freed: Thank you very much. I’m honored to be here.
Pam Harper: This is such an important topic, especially at this time. So, tell us about this concept that you’ve developed called a “Breadcrumb Legacy.” What does it have to do with living a life of meaning every day?
Jann Freed: Well, that’s a great question. What I’d like to do is maybe give you a little background, how I kind of developed this or even came to this place in life. So, I was a college professor for 30 years and I taught Business Management Leadership at a small liberal arts college in Iowa. And in the course of that, I also started a research project. And in 2004, I had a sabbatical and I was also an endowed chair in leadership and character development. So given that new endowed chair position, I undertook this leadership research project where I wanted to interview leaders or thought leaders, people, practitioners, researchers, or authors about leadership.
I like to tell this story just because it shows how persistent I think I am. My main strength I don’t tend to give up. So Jim Collins had just written his book Good to Great. He was in Des Moines in about 2004, and I went to hear him speak. I just took the day off and I was the last person in line. And I said to him, “I’m going to be on sabbatical; can I come study with you? Can I be an apprentice? Can I shadow you?” And he kind of looked at me and said, “Well, what do you want?” And I said, “Well, I just want to talk about research and leadership.” And then I pulled out my leather Franklin Planner (this was 2004) and in there I had a one-page article from 1999 that I had been carrying around with me written by Jim Collins.
Jann Freed: And I pull this out and I say, “I carry this article around with me everywhere.” And he said, “Okay, here’s my business card. Give me a call.” So I called him and he said, “I’ll give you one hour of my time free.” And he said, “What do you want?” I said, “I need a research project.” And he said, “Well, there’s so much being written. Everybody’s seven habits of this or six principles of that.” And he said, “Who’s tying it together?” He said, “Why don’t you be that person who synthesizes what’s going on?” So I started that in 2004 or 2005 and interviewed more than 100 actually, some of the top thought leaders, Warren Bennis, William Bridges, Sally Helgesen, Marshall Goldsmith…
Pam Harper: That’s quite a group.
Jann Freed: Yeah, it was a pretty impressive group. And the longer the list got, the easier it actually got to get people because I would say I’ve interviewed these people to date. So fast forward; I had a book come out in 2013 called Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts. It was published by ATD, Association for Training and Development. And I think it’s timeless; it’s not what I think, it’s what I learned from interviewing all these people and analyzing the data. Each chapter is a theme. But one chapter, in particular, drew attention. When I would give talks on this book, the theme that resonated the most was one of the last ones, which was “Leaders Live Their Legacy.” And so I really went head first into this legacy work. At the same time that I was analyzing the research for this book, I also went through a certification program to be certified as a Sage-ing leader. The organization is called Sage-ing International. Sage-ing is kind of a fancy word for positive aging-
Scott Harper: Becoming a sage…
Jann Freed: … Right; becoming a sage. And that’s the name of my monthly podcast, Becoming a Sage. So now I interview people about wisdom and leadership. All of this work made me realize that what I’m really drawn to is this whole idea of legacy and making a difference. And when I would integrate this work into my corporate workshops, if I had five main components, this is the component that I would hear about on feedback. Like, “I’ve never thought of my legacy. I’ve never considered it.”
Jann Freed: So, I created this concept only recently, like in the last year, that I call the “Breadcrumb Legacy.” And the idea is that each day in every small way, we are leaving crumbs of our legacy. Crumbs that people will remember. And they can be positive, and they can be negative. And so I think that when we’re more aware of what we’re leaving behind, and that this trail accumulates, it will improve how we live our lives, and how we can find meaning. And I think it’s particularly relevant at this point in time with what’s going on because I think people are going to be searching for meaning and purpose. And this treadmill and whatever we’ve been on I think people want to get off and really focus on what matters most.
Pam Harper: I’m particularly struck by the fact that in my experience, a lot of people don’t really understand that they are leaving a legacy. People go through life, they’re doing things and not connecting that what you’re doing today is going to impact your legacy. Now, you told me that you want to be the Dr. Ruth of the second half of life, what does that mean?
Jann Freed: Dr. Ruth is an expert on sexuality. She started out with a radio show. And so she was talking about sex in the ’80s and ’90s when it was not really out in the open to talk about sex. She was a pioneer and she was out there. She was very open about, we are human beings, we are sexual beings and that regardless of your age, it matters that it’s an important part of our life, and we should embrace that and not be embarrassed. And so she kind of gave people permission to talk about it and to read about it. And what I find fascinating is that when I initially started using this phrase, “Well, I’d really like to be the Dr. Ruth of the second half of life.” What I meant by that was, I want to be writing books, I want to be speaking, I want to be out there talking about sage-ing, that is, positive aging when I’m in my ’90s, that’s what I meant.
Pam Harper: This becomes your legacy, is that right?
Jann Freed: That’s right. Except, here’s what’s fascinating. I was explaining this to a lawyer friend of mine, and I used that phrase and she said, “Oh, Jann, you are onto something.” Because she said, “Most people don’t want to talk about legacy or death and dying, or they don’t want to think about the end. And they certainly don’t want to talk about retirement in the workplace.” So I’ve created workshops where I call Beyond the Money, meaning if you have enough money, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? But what got me thinking is she said, “You’re talking about, you want to talk about retirement and you want to talk about what’s next, just like Dr. Ruth wanted to talk about sex when no one wanted to talk about it.” So she said, “I think you’re onto something. It’s an interesting vision.”
Pam Harper: So what it comes down to is that we need to stay aware that every single day, whatever we do matters, and we need to be comfortable looking at ourselves now and saying, “Am I doing things that are going to create a meaningful life starting right now?”
Scott Harper: And meaningful starts with mindful.
Pam Harper: Exactly.
Jann Freed: Perfect.
Pam Harper: So what we’re going to do is take a quick break, and then when we come back, we’re going to dig deeper with Dr. Jann Freed about the keys to leading a life of meaning and starting to create that Breadcrumb Legacy. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. And as always we focus on enabling visionary c-suite leaders to accelerate the momentum it takes to create game-changing innovation, transformation, and growth. Pam neuroscientists tell us that when we’re in a crisis, as we are these days, it’s natural for our brains to go back to try it and [inaudible 00:12:27], tacit knowledge, ways of dealing with similar situations. But this could present a real challenge to visionary leaders, especially in turbulent times like this.
Pam Harper: Well, relying on familiar solutions can work in a stable environment. It doesn’t work when the rules no longer apply, and we’re in the uncharted territory of today. I agree. That’s where we come in as strategic growth advisors. Our clients have told us that we’ve helped them to gain clarity, frame their challenges so they can make new, more powerful decisions, and most importantly, take new actions that have led to game-changing results. You can learn more by reading our success stories and testimonials on businessadvance.com.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper, that’s me and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today with Dr. Jann Freed about living a meaningful life and creating what she has termed a Breadcrumb Legacy. Jann, how can people find out more about you and your work?
Jann Freed: Well, thank you. My website is jannfreed.com. That’s Jann with two Ns and Freed with two Es. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m also on Twitter. So those would be good ways. My email address, if people want to email me, it’s email@example.com. So two Ns and two Es on both sides.
Pam Harper: Okay. And you can see more by visiting growthignitersradio.com, episode 177. We started in the first segment that a Breadcrumb Legacy starts with awareness, but what’s after that? How do you keep going about creating this legacy?
Scott Harper: And why do you call it breadcrumbs?
Jann Freed: Well, great questions. Breadcrumb, because one of the things that’s interesting is in workshops, I’ll say to people, “When do we leave our legacy?” And people will say, “Well, when we leave.” And I say, “Well, when we leave what?” And they’ll say, “Well, when we leave the earth, or we leave a job, we leave a career.” And I said, “Well, what about when we leave a meeting? What about when we leave an interaction, a conversation? I’m leaving some of my breadcrumbs with you and your audience today.” And so people remember that. So I kind of go on that. But another point that I want to make, I’m actually working on a book with this focus called your Breadcrumb Legacy, How Leaders Can Live a Life of Daily Meaning. And in the process of writing this book, I kind of want to go back to my leadership book called Leading With Wisdom: Sage Advice From a 100 Experts.
Jann Freed: And in that book, I interviewed these thought leaders about leadership and they ended up telling me about life. And so one of the conclusions I came after doing all that research and analyzing the data is, it’s hard to be a good leader if you’re not a good person.
Pam Harper: Exactly.
Jann Freed: So my book is also about how to become a good person. In there a big theme is overcoming death. Talking about embracing death and how when you do that you’re freer to live. Another chapter’s on relationships and why it’s so important to think about the relationships that you keep in your life and mindset, which you’ve mentioned being mindful and aware. So I’ve got a whole chapter on the mindset.
Pam Harper: One of the things that you and I were talking about was how early do you begin to start building this legacy? It’s common wisdom to think about legacy issues, oh, you’re in the second half of your life. What do you want to leave? But you were saying to me, it could start much, much younger. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Jann Freed: Yes, and I can even give some evidence. First of all, it starts today. And I think when you have that awareness, you live differently.
Pam Harper: Okay, so some of the people that are listening are 20 something years old, 30 years old, does this apply to them too?
Jann Freed: Yeah, absolutely. When I was doing my research, I was still teaching at the undergraduate college. And so for probably five, six, seven years, I would integrate these concepts into my leadership course. And undergraduates… And it was a traditionally aged college student body. So 20, 21, 22, these students ate it up. In fact, one of the assignments that I have them do is to write their own eulogy. So death and dying, it was a very strong topic of my leadership course. At first, they don’t understand it, but after we’ve done all the reading and discussing, and then all of a sudden, it’s like, “I see how the pieces fit together.” And so at the very end of the course, and I did it at the end because I wanted a very safe environment because it’s a mandatory assignment. They’re going to share it with their classmates out loud, but it’s not graded.
Jann Freed: So there’s no right or wrong. It can’t be good or bad, and there’s no evaluative component. It’s just, you have to do it and you have to share it. And it was the most meaningful part of the course. And that came up over and over on feedback. So I call it forward-thinking. That legacy thinking is forward-thinking. And so my message is, if that’s how you want to be remembered, then you need to start living your life like that today. What are the crumbs that you can be leaving today that will lead in that path?
Scott Harper: So as you talk to people, leaders, and others about this concept that you’re building your legacy constantly for your entire life, what have they told you as their toughest obstacle?
Jann Freed: That’s a good question. I would say probably death and dying because in our society as a whole, when you talk about aging… And we’re all aging every day, but when you talk about it, so much of our society is on anti-aging. Whether we’re talking chemicals or plastic surgery, or whether we’re talking about the ’50s are the new 30, tje ’70s are the new 50s — so much of what we hear, what we’re bombarded with from society is anti-aging. And what I’m saying is we need to embrace who we are, use our wisdom, and particularly during these troubling racial tension times, sages need to share the wisdom because some of us lived through the ’60s or the ’70s, and we need to learn what’s the best way to do this and not repeat from bad things in history. So, that’s where wisdom really comes into play. And so in saging talk, we don’t talk about how old we are. We talk about how many years of life experience.
Pam Harper: That actually impacts not only how you live your own life, but how you shape it for the people that you’re leading. It’s a different approach.
Jann Freed: Exactly. And that’s another good point about legacy because legacy what people remember about us, we may not think we’re role models and even if you look at it within your family, what are you modeling for them? If you’re a grandparent or if you’re a parent, what are you modeling? Are you modeling that we don’t talk about these issues or are you modeling, it’s okay to talk about these issues? I’ll admit I got some therapy when I was raising three teenage sons at the same time-
Scott Harper: That will do it.
Jann Freed: … yeah. I mean, I would say I have a Ph.D., but it’s not in parenting. So, I would go get wisdom when I needed it because that’s not my expertise in parenting. And so, we’re all just kind of trial and error, right? But I also thought though that by going to a therapist and getting help when I needed it and having my kids get it when I thought they needed it, that was good parenting. I was modeling. It’s okay to get help when you need it. And I think that’ll be part of my legacy that she wanted self-improvement. She wanted to get better. She wanted to learn. And I hope that they say that she gave us, my kids permission to do the same. So I think we’re leaving a lot of crumbs all the time. So all of that is legacy work.
Pam Harper: That’s right. It starts with gaining awareness, goes on to build wisdom, create wisdom, experience in our lives, and to recognize that we are not just leading ourselves, but we are role models for everybody else that we’re leading. We’re going to take another quick break, and when we come back, we’ll talk more with Dr. Jann Freed about immediately actionable steps that you can take to start building your Breadcrumb Legacy and a meaningful life every day. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated on the web @businessadvance.com. Pam, we’ve been talking about the challenges that all of us face in bringing a sense of purpose and meaning into our lives on a daily basis, and one of the things that can help us do that is to encourage high quality, but sometimes really tough conversations that can help us focus on what’s really important. But the thing is that sometimes these conversations that really need to happen just don’t happen for a number of reasons.
Pam Harper: Well, that’s what we’ve been talking about. And especially now, when so many companies are taken up with the challenges of getting things done in the midst of new expectations and gut-wrenching change, it’s easy to get tracked away from the unresolved issues. And this can grow into elephants in the room, the issues that everyone knows about, but no one wants to talk about, and this leads to major problems that can stop momentum [inaudible 00:22:19].
Scott Harper: So you don’t want that. So how can you begin to take control of these issues? Well, find out by downloading a copy of our report, How To Take Control of the “Elephant in the Room” by going to growthignitersradio.com, [inaudible 00:22:32] episode 177 and clicking the link in the resources section of the webpage.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been talking with Dr. Jann Freed about living a life of meaning and creating what she’s termed a Breadcrumb Legacy. Jann, how can people find out more about your books?
Jann Freed: Well, thank you for asking. Probably the best way is to go to my website, which is jannfreed.com. Two Ns, two Es. I’m on LinkedIn, I’m on Twitter. I wrote three books on continuous improvement, focused on the college market. And then I wrote a book on Mexican women leaders called, Women of Yucatan: Thirty Who Dare to Change Their World. And that was an interesting project. Then my last book is called Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts.
Pam Harper: And of course we will have links to Jann’s website as well on growthignitersradio.com, episode 177, scroll down under resources and it’s all there. So Jann, this is the part of our podcast when we discuss practical ways to bring the ideas that we’ve been discussing to life. And this time it’s three immediately useful ideas for creating your Breadcrumb Legacy. What would be a tip?
Jann Freed: Well, I think one tip is, especially now, there has been a lot written about how people are updating their wills and if they don’t have a will, they’re writing a will. Because I think this pandemic has brought front and center, there’s a fine line between life and death and you never know. Like I know my husband and I, we revised our will. We have a will. We’ve had one for a long time, but we revived it about three weeks ago. So I think that’s one thing.
Pam Harper: Let’s talk about that a little more, because I think that what you’re hitting on is a very important point. We need to be thinking about what it is that we are leaving. And if you’re talking about being a leader, not only do you need to think about it for your family, you will also need to think about it for your company. So, if you thinking about how are you going to make sure that your family is okay, how are you going to make sure that your organization, your business can continue?
Jann Freed: Yeah. If there’s a succession plan, how clear is that?
Pam Harper: Exactly.
Jann Freed: In fact, when I’ve done corporate workshops with senior leaders, I often say, let’s say it’s a small senior leadership team, I said, “What if all of you were on a plane and the plane went down? What’s the plan? What happens if the key leader gets hit by a bus or falls over with a heart attack? What’s the plan?” So I think you’re absolutely right. We have to think about what’s best for the company. We have to think about what’s best for you personally.
Pam Harper: What’s in the second idea?
Jann Freed: A second idea that’s very important in legacy work is what we call legacy letters. And a legacy letter can be written at any time, but it’s similar to the last letters home. And I tend to write legacy letters, always on my son’s birthdays. And now they’re 34 and I have two at 31. So I’ve been doing this ever since I discovered the concept of a legacy letter, which was probably about 2008. And so I just write to them what I want them to know at that point in time and the message changes based on their age and where they are.
Jann Freed: So if they’re in college, I might be talking about friends and decisions and grades and professors. And when they got out of college it’s career and… And now if they’re in a relationship, it’s what might matter in selecting a partner. The whole idea is writing what’s important to you. Getting it down in writing and sending it so that they have that. That’s another record. I think another tip is just being very aware, which goes back to mindfulness, that before you go into a conversation before you go into an interaction is to just remind yourself, they’re going to remember something about me after this conversation or after this meeting or after that decision is made. How do I feel about that? And being very self-aware.
Pam Harper: That’s a very important point. It goes back to what we were talking about before I introduced you, which is we need to look in the mirror and we don’t always do that. And so connecting when you’re looking in the mirror in the morning, who am I? What’s being asked of me today? I was just speaking with a friend who was saying, “I want people to be asking what is asked of me every day.” And we don’t do that. We are not reflecting enough. So your points are so on target about that. And if you were to connect, what’s being asked of you today with what you’re talking about, that would be so powerful.
Jann Freed: Yes. No, I think so too. I mean, we all make a difference. I think this is a modified Jane Goodall quote, but it’s something like we all make a difference, what difference are you making?
Pam Harper: I like that.
Jann Freed: Because again, a legacy isn’t all positive. And the other thing that I talk about is even though a legacy, it can accumulate over time in a sense it could change overnight. And I’m thinking of Charlie Rose or Matt Lauer, or people who’ve just fallen overnight. So I think that’s also interesting. That it might take a long time to climb up the mountain, but we can fall in a hurry.
Pam Harper: And it can go up again too, right?
Jann Freed: And it can go up again. One example that kind of sticks my mind… In fact, sometimes in my writing, I often use professional athletes as examples because athletes have to retire from their career much earlier than most of us. I mean, if you’re a gymnast, a professional gymnast like Sean Johnson, and she was from Iowa, you might retire at 18. But professional tennis players, soccer players, whatever, they have to retire earlier than most people. And what do they do with their life? So I think you’re right. People can rebound, but I think it takes work. That definitely takes work.
Pam Harper: It’s a great way for us to leave this conversation is to think about the fact that there are things we can start doing every day. Right now we have to think about the end that’s in mind, but at the same time, live a life of meaning every day. Jann, thank you so much again for being our guest in Growth Igniters Radio.
Jann Freed: Thank you. I’m honored.
Scott Harper: Thanks so much, Jann, And thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, read Jann’s bio and the episode transcript, or open a conversation with us, go to growthignitersradio.com and select episode 177.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: …Wishing you continued success and leaving you with this question to consider.
Scott Harper: What am I going to start doing differently, and even more importantly, stop doing so I can create a trail of breadcrumbs that leads to a legacy from a meaningful life?