true WELLth Podcast: Cali Yost Episode Transcript

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Announcer:

The true WELLth podcast is made possible by Brighton Jones. Brighton Jones is the financial wellbeing firm that helps you align your wealth, your passions, and your purpose. Learn more about how you can live a richer life at BrightonJones.com.

Cali Yost:

So when I say work as a what, historically we’ve viewed work as a where. Okay? It’s where I go. I go to work. And as a result, that limits our perception in terms of what’s possible for when we work. And that’s even more important right now, because we can’t necessarily go to a physical place. So we have to pull the lens back and say, “Okay, if work is what we are doing in this pandemic situation, if we can’t do it at a place that’s not a remote place, and not everybody necessarily can do it remotely, how and where and when can we continue to do our jobs?”

Manisha Thakor:

Hello and welcome to the true WELLth Podcast. I’m your host, Manisha Thakor. Our guest this week raises some timely and provocative questions about the role of work in our self identities. At the time of this taping, a record breaking 38 million workers have been laid off or furloughed. Just think about that number for a moment, 38 million. I highlight the statistic to acknowledge what a luxury the work oriented conversation we are about to hear is. Specifically, we’ll explore what happens in a world where the new normal of remote office life has resulted in a neon strobe light being shined on a trend that has been converging for a good 15 plus years now. The trend of which I’m speaking is the increased blurring of lines between “work” and our “lives” Relative to that experience by workers in say the 1950s, ’60s, or ’70s. For once experienced, this complete meltdown of work-life barriers brought about by a mass shift to remote working cannot be unexperienced.

Manisha Thakor:

And for those of us who have identified ourselves consciously or subconsciously as “living for work” rather than working to live, this pandemic raises another question. If we have a central frontline workers to whom we all owe a huge debt of gratitude, then does that mean the rest of us by definition, fall into the category of non-essential workers? And what does that even mean? Confusion indeed. But what we can do, is study this period closely and identify new optimal ways to mesh these varied parts of our lives and identities. Our guest this week, CEO and founder of Work Flex Strategy Group, is Cali Yost. And she’s made it her life’s mission to help people fit work into their lives in a joyful, as opposed to a balanced way. A former banker and graduate of Columbia Business School, Cali coined a phrase nearly 20 years ago called work-life-fit, as a deliberate way to debunk the myth of work-life-balance. As you’ll soon hear, never have her ideas been more timely and more thought provoking.

Cali Yost:

It was 20 years ago. I was sitting in the office of a senior leader of a bank. We were doing a flexible work strategy implementation, and I was talking to him about how giving his people flexibility to balance their work and life would really benefit his business. So he puts his hand up and he’s like, “Look, I’m going to tell you right now, you are working so hard and I appreciate that, but every single time you say the word balance, all I hear is work less. And we have so much going on. We can not have people working less.” And out of nowhere, I heard myself say, “It’s not about working less, it’s about fitting work and life together in a way that allows you to bring your best to your job, and also to your life. And it’s about creating a culture of flexibility that allows people to fit their work and life together in a way that works for them, but then also allows them to do their job in a way that is effective for you.”

Cali Yost:

And he goes, “Oh yeah. It’s like my work life fit.” He’s like, “Okay. So my work life fit.” And then he starts riffing for five minutes, about how he fits his work life together. And then another person in his team goes to school at night, and that’s their work life fit. And then I realized it was that term work life fit, which just opened everything up for him. Because I realized what it does. First of all, it’s positive. Work-life-balance does not exist. So when you’re talking from work life balance, it’s a deficit model. It’s something you’re never going to get. So it’s negative. Whereas, work life fit is all about the possibilities. How could it fit in the work and life together?

Cali Yost:

And it acknowledges the fact we’re all different. There’s no two work life fit realities happening at any one time. And it’s something that changes, and it’s something that you manage. So this guy who clearly works all the time, and is fine with it, that’s his work life fit. But there is no judgment on it. It’s just his, and it allows him to understand the people who worked for him have different realities. So they have a different fit. It is like magic. So what that did was, it allowed me to find a way of describing what an individual needs to bring to the table with flexibility, that was holistic for everybody. That would encompass everybody in an organization.

Manisha Thakor:

However, before Cali could become a pioneer in the work flexibility field and change the minds of managers, she had to change her own views on the subject. As you just heard, the thought of altering work hours on an individual basis to increase productivity, is not necessarily a self evident idea to most. Pair that with a culture of ’90s workaholism, which I myself was raised in, and you’ll see the uphill battle of changing the paradigm of a culture deeply rooted in work.

Cali Yost:

It started back in the early ’90s. I was a very junior level manager in training, as this newbie manager, who didn’t have children herself, but was just sort of, I guess, open to doing things a new way, because I didn’t have any preconceived notions of how you manage. And when I would see somebody have some work-life issues that would have been supported by greater flexibility, I would say, “Hey. Why don’t we let this person work remotely?” Or let’s reduce their schedule.” Because to me, the client didn’t care where they were or when they were in, as long as they were available. Nobody understood what I was saying. It was just like, “Let’s go to Pluto and do work.” I mean, it just didn’t even make any sense. And I’m compassionate now, because I realized there were no laptops. There were no cell phones. There wasn’t even email at the time.

Cali Yost:

But I had become interested in this newly emerging area of focus called work flexibility. That was just very new, and it seemed to make sense to me from a purely business perspective. I just think it’s bad for business to not support flexibility and how, when and where people work. I was toying with going and doing this work for a long time, leaving banking. It seemed kind of crazy. But then one day I introduced myself to the CEO of another bank, and he had been served by a woman who had left the bank because she didn’t have flexibility. And I introduced myself to him, and the first thing he said to me was, “This is a mistake.” I thought he meant it was a mistake that I was taking over his account. So I said, “Oh. Well, I can assure you I am going to… We’ll give you the same level of service. We really appreciate your business.”

Cali Yost:

And he said, “No. No. That’s a mistake because in my organization, I give my bankers flexibility. And you know what? I bet you think I’m a great guy.” And he leaned over the desk. I can still see him lean over the desk, looking at me like, “I bet you think I’m a great guy.” And he said, “Actually, I’m just a hardcore businessman. Because guess what, they stay with me for ever,” is the way he said it. And I was just like, “Oh my God.” Like, this is one of those the universe aligns. The message becomes clear. The angels start singing. I’m just like, “This is it. I am leaving banking. This is going to be a thing. If this CEO right now is leaning across his desk telling me this is a business strategy for him, I am all in.”

Manisha Thakor:

So Eureka moment. Right?

Cali Yost:

Yeah. It’s funny, I had a real sort of, one of those life crisis that very much coincided with what I told you was this major career change, that on the outside, looked like a completely crazy… What is even work flexibility? Who knows? I walked the halls of Columbia business school saying I’m going to be a work flexibility strategist at 1995, and people were… But I could tell were like, “I don’t even know what that is.” It was so weird, but this moment of crisis happened around the same time, and I had been at the bank for seven years and probably the last two years of being there, I was really ill. I was just physically not well. I’m a pretty type A person. A hard charger. Working a lot. But I did not love what I did.

Cali Yost:

I was not meant to be a banker. It was a wonderful first job. I actually did it really well. I got promoted. It was… But I did not really like it. And it started to really wear on me physically. And I went to doctor after doctor, after doctor. I’d have migraines. I had all sorts of other physical issues that nobody could put their finger on what it is. And during this time, my mom was in the background sharing with me what she thought the answer was, which was meditation. And now my mom over the years, she’s a single mom, long commute. She’d come home at night and she’d go into her bedroom and say to my sisters, and to me, “I’m going into my bedroom and meditating for 15 minutes, and then I’ll be with you.” Okay. And she did this every night.

Cali Yost:

So we thought it was hysterical. We thought mom’s meditation was just the goofiest thing. So my mom’s in the background saying, “Hey. Are you ready to talk about meditation?” And because I thought it was goofy. I was like, “No. I’m good mom.” And then finally I was just so sick, and nobody could tell me what was wrong with me, that I said, “Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. I’ll listen to you. What is this all about?” And she gave me a book by Joan Borysenko called Mending the Mind Healing the Spirit. And Joan Borysenko is a doctor. Laid it all out. Kind of what happens when you meditate. Why it physically helps you.

Cali Yost:

And I started that practice 25 years ago, and I probably have maybe missed a handful of days since then. I’ve meditated every day for 15 to 20 minutes, and write in my journal. And I’ll tell you, it changes everything. My physical, I physically got well. And I was able to pay attention to the small, very subtle cues in my life, like the file drawer in my desk at the bank, where I was keeping all these articles about flexibility. And the conversation with the CEO, to say to myself, “This is my path. This is where I’m going. And I’m going to do it even though really on the outside, this looks completely nutty.” And it has served me. I’m very healthy, and don’t have those issues anymore.

Manisha Thakor:

The struggle of determining one’s relation to work boundaries has been around at least since the industrial revolution, when the concept of going into the office became a daily occurrence. Listen to this clip from a 1957 educational film titled, “Our Changing Family Life.” That seems to pine for previous time, went home at work were more coupled.

Speaker 4:

75 years in the story of the family as a social institution is very short indeed. And yet in that time, the pattern of family life in America has undergone radical changes. On a farm in the 1880s, family life followed a pattern which had been characteristic of America from early colonial times. Three generations of a family lived and worked together. In those days, a farm family was an economic unit complete in itself. A group which was knit, economically as well as emotionally. It was a secure group too, held together by a mutuality of work and of recreation. But the social forces that resulted from the industrial revolution were already at work. And this pattern of family life was to be changed dramatically and radically. A new way of life for the American family. Today, we have the smallest family unit in history, and the least stable. Our divorce rate has greatly increased. Does this mean that the family as an institution is on the wane?

Manisha Thakor:

These selective clips show that even back then, our culture was struggling with these issues of how going to work and urbanization disrupted the social norm. Now, 63 years later in an ironic shift, the family unit is once again, working together in the same household. Combined with our 24/7 365, always on modern world, this shift back is creating a need to move forward, and really rethink where work stops and home begins, when it’s all happening in the same physical space.

Cali Yost:

There was a survey that just came out that found that 51% of the US adult population said they were working remotely. Of that, I believe it was about a quarter told Mammoth University that it was for the very first time. So this really was a very rapid and radical pivot for a lot of people. And it really was only three months ago, probably at the most, that we started doing this. So it’s been very, very new. The pitfalls going forward, for organizations, are really twofold. The first pitfall is that leaders are going to see work as a wear. So they’re going to be very focused on getting people who don’t necessarily need to go back into an office, back into an office. So I think we have to switch our mindset on all levels that work is a what we do. And then we have to just ask ourselves the question, how, when and where do we do it best right now, in terms of what we’re facing from a health perspective and also a performance perspective.

Cali Yost:

So by switching focus to making work a what, we get a lot more creative about what that could look like. And, I do think there’s another pitfall here, that we get all or nothing in our thinking, that it’s either completely fair and everybody’s doing the same thing, or we can’t do it at all. So what that means is, organizations have to have a process to think through what the options are. So really what may happen is, you will have jobs that can be done pretty effectively, remotely. Those will continue to be done that way. But maybe there are other jobs that really just require some degree of physical presence in a workspace.

Cali Yost:

And that’s where we have to get creative in terms of staggered schedules, A&B rotating teaming, so that we can have that social distancing and minimize exposure. But that may be happening in the very same organization where the remote work is happening. But that doesn’t mean that’s not fair. It just means that the process of getting there had to be fair to determine what that’s going to look like. So again, I think we want to make sure we’re switching our mindsets, because that’s going to allow for the possibilities.

Manisha Thakor:

So Cali, is this something that’s going to be a temporary shift or do you see the move to work from home as something that’s going to be more of a longer term implication?

Cali Yost:

Well, I think this is going to be the renewed reality for many, many people going forward. I think again, for the sort of two and a half month, three month period, I think maybe there was a subset of people who thought if I just hold on and sort of hang in there, we’ll go back to the way things were. I think we’re really recognizing that, that’s probably not going to be the case. And so what does that mean? For not only individuals, but then the leaders, the managers that lead them. It means we have to fundamentally look at the technology that we have, and everybody needs to determine not only what technology is going to facilitate work in the most effective way, but then how are we going to use that? So making sure that we’re communicating with each other in an intentional thoughtful way. And what that means, is stepping back and saying again, “What are we trying to get done? And how, when and where do we do that best?”

Cali Yost:

A very specific example of that is, I think there was sort of a big leap to zoom, and everything went on video conferencing, but I think people were starting to find that really exhausting. And is it necessary? Maybe not. Maybe there are certain things we do that a group zoom chat is the way to make it happen, but maybe just the phone call is fine as well. Or maybe there’s a way to use some messaging platforms and apps that we probably maybe hadn’t used in the past. Maybe use those more effectively. So I think there is an opportunity to be really thoughtful on how we’re communicating, and using various channels of various technology platforms. I think the other piece of this is that we have to be probably a lot more intentional about the boundaries that we’re putting around, not only our work, but the other parts of our life.

Cali Yost:

So what I like to say is, what we have finally seen with this COVID crisis is the artificial boundary, the artificial separation between work and the other parts of life that we like to pretend was there, all of a sudden, officially disappeared. I mean, it was disappearing for a long, long time, but now it’s gone. And what that means is, we as individuals, need to play a role in determining when work starts, when work ends, when the other parts of our life begin, so that we’re making sure the priorities that matter to us are getting done.

Manisha Thakor:

Cali, you recently published an oped that talked about how flexibility was actually going to be what saves our economy moving forward. Tell us more about that.

Cali Yost:

Well, I wrote this oped two weeks ago, that appeared in USA Today, because I really believe that without testing, contact tracing, and a treatment on the horizon, as the calls to reopen the economy, were growing, really flexibility in where, when and how we work was going to be our way through this. A way to safely as possible, get people back on the job, and the economy up and going again. So how was it received? It was received very positively. I ended up being interviewed by MSNBC on marketplace, as I think it resonated in terms of we had to shift the conversation pretty quickly. Because again, we don’t have the testing that we need. We don’t have the contact tracing and there really isn’t a treatment, but we do want to get things up and going in a safer way as possible. So flexibility really is the solution. And the good news is, in the last week, I’ve been hearing more leaders talk about it. So I’m optimistic we’re going to start to be creative.

Manisha Thakor:

As we draw to a close, I have a personal question for you, Cali. You are a flexibility expert, and yet you’re also a human being. So I’m curious, what’s been the best decision you’ve ever made in terms of work life fit? And what are you looking to improve upon going forward?

Cali Yost:

The best and the worst decisions related to my work life fit? I would say the best decision that… The greatest aha that I have had, I’ve learned from my research that I’ve applied and there’s two of them. One is, that I have to always be very intentional about how I’m defining success for myself. So I have learned that as you adjust your work life fit day to day and the major life transitions, you have to make sure that how you’re defining success related to money, prestige, advancement and caregiving is intentionally aligned with that. So for example, a couple of years ago, my youngest daughter got very, very, very ill. So ill with this mysterious illness, that I basically had to put client work on hold for a period of time, because I couldn’t serve clients the way I wanted to. Because her situation was so unstable and wouldn’t allow that. And that was hard, because that all happened at a very, very, very high point in my career, where things were amazing and all sorts of great stuff was happening.

Cali Yost:

And I needed to basically say, “Okay. I’m pausing that.” But I learned through all my work that if I were to be intentional about how I was defining success in that moment, I would be able to be there. And so I just rebalanced away from prestige and money and advancement, and put a whole lot more caregiving into my equation, into my definition of success. And we made it through, and she is fine now. And we figured out what was wrong with her. She had something called pots, which is an autonomic nerve disorder. And I’m very glad I spent that time but when she got better, I was able to reset my work life fit, go back at it. And I was able to rebalance my definition of success. So I’ve learned that.

Cali Yost:

The other thing I have learned is from the people I call the work life fit naturals, that I have studied many, many years. These are people who just naturally fit work and life together. They are magical people to me. I don’t know where this naturally comes from with them, but I have tried to learn from them. And one of their secrets is they celebrate success. They celebrate what they do get done, and don’t feel badly about anything that they don’t happen to get done. And as a result, it allows them to move forward, and just feel really good about what they accomplish. And I try to do that myself. So those are the good things.

Cali Yost:

Sort of the worst thing that I’ve done with my own work life fit is, I think I don’t maybe reach out enough, and find resources to help me in my life, maybe. I try to do too many things myself, which I think a lot of women do that. And I’ve tried to be much, much better. I catch myself when I get overloaded, and I’m not asking for help. And so I’m much better about that.

Manisha Thakor:

My three key takeaways from this conversation with Cali are as follows. Number one, Cali’s insight that in a post COVID world that will most likely involve many more flexible work arrangements, we individuals, will need to play a key role in determining when our work starts and stops, and when the other parts of our lives begin. In other words, that we have to be extremely mindful of our time, to make sure the priorities that matter to us are being tended to.

Manisha Thakor:

Second, I loved Cali’s point that as we adjust our work life fit on both the day to day basis and to accompany major life transitions, we’re going to have to give some long hard thought to how we want to define “success” as it relates to money, prestige, advancement, and even caregiving and community involvement, to ensure that our energy allocation is intentionally aligned with that self-definition.

Manisha Thakor:

And finally, I love when Cali talked about the work life fit naturals. The magical unicorn she’s met over the years who have glided almost seamlessly between work and life. Specifically, I found it fascinating that the commonality she noticed amongst them with a propensity to celebrate success. And by that, she means that they celebrate what they do get done, and don’t waste time beating themselves up about everything that they didn’t get done. And as a result, importantly, they have the energy reserves to keep their focus on creating and enjoying life in the now and going forward. As always, in our show notes at truewellthpodcasts.com, remember that’s WELLth spelled W-E-L-L-t-h. We’ll have Cali’s full length bio as well as links to her two books, work plus life, finding the fit that’s right for you, and tweak it make what matters to you happen every day.

Manisha Thakor:

We’ll also have links to Cali’s USA today, oped piece referenced in this interview as well as her website and all her social media handles. Lastly, if you know of someone who could benefit from listening to this episode, please take just a few seconds to use the share feature on your podcast player, to pass Cali’s insights along to them. And if you’d like to support the show, please take a moment to leave us a five star rating, and or a written review. Those quick, simple steps go a long way towards helping other folks who share your interest to find the show. I’m Manisha Thakor. And that’s it for this episode of true WELLth.

Announcer:

The true WELLth podcast, made possible by Brighton Jones. Whether you want to save for the future or celebrate today, give back to the community, or explore the globe, Brighton Jones believes your values are every bit as unique as your fingerprints. Brighton Jones aligns your time and resources to those values, so you can go after the things that you truly care about. Explore your richer life at BrightonJones.com. Today’s episode was edited and produced by Stan Hall alongside the rest of our true WELLth team Michael Stubel, Marc Asmus, Lindsey Hurt, Tara McElroy, and John Dougherty. To get in touch with the team, visit trueWELLthpodcast.com.