With so many things happening around us, we tend to lose focus on why we are doing something or what we can really gain out of it. But by understanding our inner purpose in life, we can get a better grasp of our reality. In this episode, John Livesay sits down with speaker, author, and the Founder of Live For Yourself Consulting, Dr. Benjamin Ritter, as he shares how he changed the course of his career from being a government employee to a full-time coaching professional by discovering what he really loves to do and where his strengths lie. Dr. Ben also delves into his Three C’s of Leadership and explains how every workplace should have the ability to redesign itself according to the tide of times – even a global pandemic.
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Discovering Your Inner Purpose With Dr. Benjamin Ritter
Our guest on the show is Dr. Benjamin Ritter who runs a consulting business called Live For Yourself. He helps people who are unhappy in their careers get unstuck. We talk about that we don’t have to be attached to the path that we are on. Finally, we also talk about that you, as a leader, have to work on clarity, confidence and control. Enjoy the episode.
Our guest is Dr. Benjamin Ritter who is a leadership, career and empowerment coach. He is a national speaker, podcaster, author, mentor and he’s passionate about guiding others in finding and creating a sustaining career they love. With many years of experience coaching and a background in organizational leadership and adult learning theory, he understands how to navigate any career path you decide you want to travel. Since launching his coaching practice, he’s guided hundreds of professionals towards creating the career they love and impacted thousands through his events and media content.
From empowering young professionals to take accountability and feel empowered over their own job level with satisfaction to guiding senior leadership on how to stand out from the competition, develop executive and discover meaningful work. Ben is an expert in his field and guides people towards truly living for yourself at work and in life. I get to call you Ben because we’re friends as opposed to Dr. Benjamin. Welcome to the show.
Please call me Ben. You can call me Neb sometimes. For some reason, people want to turn my name around.Being clear with what we can and what we love to do is the first step in discovering our inner purpose. Click To Tweet
You and I are relatively new to living in Austin and that’s part of the joy is getting to meet people. We both are also from Chicago. It’s been fun to look at the similarities and our passion for helping people in different ways. Would you mind taking us back to your own story of origin? You can talk about childhood or school and where you got this premise of, “I’m going to live for myself.” I don’t think that’s normally a concept that we think about. I’m sure there’s a great story of origin there.
I never thought I’d be a coach. I still don’t think I’ll be a coach, even though I’m a coach. At every single major turning point and milestone in my life, especially the ones where I felt lost, stuck, underutilized and questioning things, having those existential moments that we all tend to have, coaching popped up. The first time it ever happened, I was training to become a professional athlete in college and I didn’t make it. There were many things that happened to that.
I had my major canceled in college. I had hip surgery when I thought I was going to go abroad and play. I went abroad to play and got told that if I stay there, then I might have a chance, but I only had a semester left in school. There were many different rough points in that separate story. I lacked confidence there. When you set yourself up to achieve something outside of yourself, all you do is focus on achieving it. You hold yourself accountable to that and you define who you are by that, and then you don’t achieve it. Along the way too, you struggle to achieve it. You experienced some tough internal dialogues.
When I finally realized that I wasn’t going to make it, when I realized that I had to make the decision to make this my main priority or take away this priority for my life, I had to figure out how to redefine who I was. Luckily, we had the internet then. It wasn’t still that prominent, but I went online and searched something along the lines of, how to be confident, how to find yourself, what is the meaning of life? All of these keywords that you think you might type if you’re questioning life and searching for them on the internet, which is an interesting strategy, which I don’t think is as interesting nowadays.
What came up was this field of personal professional development. What came up were articles upon articles and books upon books on how to become more attractive, how to become more confident, how to become successful in business. It was never, “This is the meaning of life.” You’re probably more likely to find books like that nowadays than you were back in 2005. In my search engine results, that didn’t pop up. I spent the next 4 or 5 years studying that industry, studying all the material I could find, and not just studying it though, but going out and applying it.
As I mentioned, confidence was a big issue of mine. All of the material that you find on confidence as it relates to men is mainly focused on attraction, dating and being social. I would go out by myself to bars. I would walk up to strangers on the street. I would do things to make myself extremely uncomfortable to ensure that I never felt those things were uncomfortable. I probably lend a lot of those experiences to my stage presence, my ability to walk into a room, to my networking capabilities nowadays. That was the first little pinpoint in my life where coaching became influential and became something important to me.
If you fast forward a little bit, coaching came back when I got out of grad school. I couldn’t get a full-time job for about two and a half years because of the recession. I wanted to work in the federal government and public health policy at that time. I was doing some work for the Illinois Department of Public Health. I thought I was going to keep doing work for the Illinois Department of Public Health after grad school but the world had a different story. It had something else planned for me. I got a job offer from the Illinois Department of Public Health, from the CDC, and from two other health departments, but they were all canceled after I signed them.
It was almost like clockwork into the next day or within three days, they were pulled back due to funding. That was a two and half-year period of time where I was getting a job and then not getting a job. I made it work. I bartended and then interestingly enough, I was out by myself one day being social, because this is a habit that I kept. Someone approached me and said, I know what you’re doing. You need to meet my boss. The next day, I ended up getting hired to run a nationwide bootcamp program for men in relationship to interpersonal dynamics. For the next year, I was leading men on bootcamps in how to be more social, how to be more attractive, and how to have more confidence. At the same time, I ended up getting federal funding for six months of free life coaching for public health professionals. This is hilarious because there was no funding for a job. It was a grant that I applied for through networking, through going off on my own and meeting people.
Coaching again came up. I never thought about it as a full-time job. It was always a way for me to make some side money. It was a way to develop because after working for this guy, I ended up seeing an opportunity starting my own business. I started my own coaching practice but again, as a side hustle, there was demand to make some money. Fast forward another 6 or 7 years, I’m working in healthcare which I got that job because of the networking and meeting someone across the bar. I get selected to become an executive in my system. Because of that, I get the opportunity to receive sixteen months of leadership training from our Director of People who was a coach, who then becomes my coach. All of a sudden, I realized, “This could be a job. I could do this for a living.” I’m sitting here going into work on a daily basis feeling stuck, underutilized and feeling like, “This isn’t the place that I belong.”
Every job I’ve had up to that point was a reaction to the environment that something I needed to do because I needed to put money in the bank. I needed to create a career journey for myself. I finally felt empowered at that point in time to ask myself, “What is it that I want to do? What are my strengths?” I now have control. I have the ability to live for myself at this very instant. I don’t have to be held in handcuffs to the economy or to what people think I’m able to do or not able to do. I went and asked my coach, “How do I do what you do? How do I do this?” We came up with a little bit of a plan. I went back to my boss. I asked her to be involved in the talent development space. She said, “You can do this. Talk to the department. Get involved in projects.” I had a lot of energy for the first time in probably six years at this job. I felt like I was going to do something that I wanted to do, and then we got acquired. Everything I was going to do stopped.Are you truly living for yourself in a way that is positive and proactive towards what you care about and what puts you front and center? Click To Tweet
I’m proactive and action-oriented, so plan B is I’m going to find a job in this field. All of them were about half my salary because I had no resume experience in this other than my side coaching business coaching men. That doesn’t make a resume seem lofty. I don’t have a lot of expertise in talent development and coaching individuals from my side business, at least not on my resume. I’ve been running this coaching practice for 5 or 6 years. I have experience doing this. I know I’m good at it because I got hired to do this in the past and I have a lot of media attention for it. I was writing for AskMen and Men’s Health at that time. I was getting interviewed on a live stream Facebook show with 100,000 or 200,000 people. I can prove it. I was in the Apollo Theater in Chicago as a panelist for The Great Love Debate.
There was stuff that was like, “You’re good at this,” but it wasn’t the industry I wanted to do it in. I’m like, “I’ll take all this knowledge and I’ll start my own business again. I know how to do this, but I’m going to do it in an industry that I’m passionate about, that I care about.” This is always a theme in my business development stages. How do I get seen as someone credible with no experience here? How do I sell myself to individuals? I’m like, “I know how to get media attention, but I’m still 30 and I want to work with executives. How does that work? I want to work with managers. I want to go into organizations. How are they going to believe me? I’m going to get my doctorate. I’m going to get the golden key to open up the door to at least get people to listen to me.” That led to me getting published in this field because I got to do some research in it and I got to speak on it. It did skyrocket my business. It probably sped up the timeline for more than a few years in terms of becoming successful. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past few years.
That’s not an easy feat getting your PhD, but that gives you the credibility. A lot of people write a book to try and get that credibility, but the PhD is at a whole other level of commitment and time. What I hear as a consistent theme is a lot of resilience going on. This awakening that you were stuck in something that you didn’t love and there are many people out there that feel that same way and because you’ve been in their shoes, you know what it feels like. The irony of you can change jobs, but you still have similar challenges if you’re not doing what you love. Would that be a fair assessment?
Taking what was way too long of a story. I’m distilling it down and saying that I’ve been stuck. I’ve been underutilized. I’ve been overworked and I’ve made decisions for my career that weren’t based on what I wanted and mutually living for myself. They were based on what I thought I needed to do at that time. Instead, I hit a point in my life where I wanted to change that. I dove into what I cared about, what challenges I wanted to face. I plotted the course and I went to take action.
The good news is not everybody has to get a PhD like you did to have credibility and find their dream job or your consulting firm is Live for Yourself, LFY. You have something in there that I wanted to double click on which is The Three Cs of Leadership. This applies whether we’re leading other people or leading ourselves into a career we love. Can you talk a little bit about what those three Cs are?
It was working with clients and I had the Live Framework, which is a decision-making tool to live a much more aligned life for yourself. I was noticing that through working with clients, we were developing core traits within themselves like these pillars. I identify those pillars as the three Cs of self-leadership: clarity, confidence and control. If you have these, you’re able to lead yourself. You’re able to take action towards what you truly care about. Often, when I first start working with clients, they have this pain and they have this desire for change, but they don’t truly know what they stand for, what they care about, and how they’re going to get there. Because they don’t know that, they don’t have confidence in themselves. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, you’re never going to take action. If you get clarity and confidence, all of a sudden, you can prioritize that in your life. You can have control over your life.
I have not heard anybody phrase it like that. Without clarity, you don’t have confidence so you don’t know what the next step is. They build on each other. It’s not like you work on three things simultaneously necessarily. It seems to me like you do one, you get clear, which gives you the confidence to then have the ability to control. That concept of control from your perspective now, having felt like you’re not in control. All of us are experiencing what it’s like to not be in control when a pandemic comes. Let’s say we have some clarity, we worked on our confidence, and then all these other outside things, whether a funding going away or a pandemic. How do you advise people to get a sense of control when there are many things going on outside of their control?
First, if we start with clarity and confidence at least at any given point in time, we know what we stand for. We know what’s important to us. If we have that and outside of us, we’re not able to go along the path that we set ourselves to go on due to a global pandemic or shutdown, anything that can happen because we don’t have control over the external world, we then can reflect and say, “I still want to live these values. This plan doesn’t work anymore,” but those values are still the goal. The goal is not, “I want to achieve X, Y, Z.” The goal is, “I want to live a life that allows me to apply the values and strive towards what I care about in any fashion.” The first step to control is understanding that no matter what happens outside of yourself doesn’t change what you can feel about yourself.
As long as you keep applying your values throughout your life, you wake up and you know what you care about, you feel like you’re making an impact towards what you care about, and you can do that in any way possible. There’s an infinite number of ways for you to apply your values in the world. That’s what control is. It’s noticing what isn’t working anymore and a couple of different avenues that could work that could allow you to feel fulfilled on a daily basis. Just believing that you’re capable of that, that you have the choice and the ability to take action in a new way or a new path that’s still is important, and that your ego isn’t attached to whatever this other path was because the path itself isn’t important. It’s what you’re working towards and how you’re living on a daily basis. That in itself is inspiring and motivating that lends us to take greater control of our life and apply it to our life.To gain full control of our lives, we first need to figure out why we are doing something and if we really love doing it. Click To Tweet
That’s going to be a great tweet, “Outside events don’t change what we feel about ourselves.” That’s a big a-ha. I know for myself, when I was laid off, it was like a kick in the gut, overwhelming and scary. You realized, “I haven’t lost my identity. My job is not my identity.” Getting re-centered around that was a big moment and realizing that if we don’t do what you’re saying, we’re going on l the self-esteem roller coaster. We only feel good if things are going well and bad if they’re not. To reframe that is wonderful. This premise of not getting attached to the path that we’re on, that’s a big one. We tend to like comfort zones and routine. We think, “If I’m doing this, then the outcome is that. I’m staying on this path. I can’t vary from that path.” In your own life, whether it was your athletic career getting derailed or a company getting defunded, you have to constantly be willing to not be attached because you said there’s something bigger than the path which is your purpose.
Your purpose isn’t bigger than you because you create your purpose. We lose sight of that often. There’s this interesting mindset of you need to think that the world is bigger than you because that keeps you motivated and that there’s more. I like to turn away from that and say, “You create all the things you care about.” You’re more than everything else around you. You come first or your health comes first. When you wake up and don’t feel good, it’s okay. Let’s figure out what’s going on in me, not what I have to do outside of myself.
If we were able to have that focus and say, “My purpose is important because it’s a tool for me to find more happiness in my life.” All of a sudden the, “I need to do this because it’s my purpose,” changes from, “I enjoy doing this because it brings me happiness and it matters to me.” I give it energy, power and intention. I will define it as my purpose, but only to the point where it brings me a level of happiness. That doesn’t mean that struggle can’t create happiness. Waking up and building a business, figuring out solutions and the stress from that is something that I enjoy. That can be filtered through this lens of, “This is how I’m enjoying my life right now,” but the “This has to happen,” or “I’m not valuable,” that’s where I get lost.
I like to think that we’re the movie director of our own life. We can say cut, we can recast it and change locations as opposed to being at effect of everything that’s coming at us. We’re the thinker thinking the thoughts. That’s the whole concept of we created the purpose, therefore, the purpose isn’t bigger than we are.
I was listening to an interview and the guest said a few things that resonated with me. One of them was, “Are you the actor or the character?” I think in our life, we need to be the actor. The character is who we’re playing at the time, the things that happened to us, but it doesn’t define who the actor is. If we know who the actor is, it all allows us to play a variety of roles.
The other thing that you’re good at and when people hire you to come to speak is helping people find jobs satisfaction and get motivated even if it’s a job that they’re just doing for the money. It’s not necessarily something that they see as a career, but it’s what they need to do now. That could be working at a fast-food restaurant. Companies could bring you in to say, “How do we motivate somebody who is not making a lot of money and the job is fairly routine, yet we’re pressuring them to give amazing customer service?” When you have a client like that, how do you help them keep these people motivated and feel like what they’re doing is meaningful.
I was running in Lady Bird Lake in Austin. We were running by this kayak shop and there were already people lined up getting their kayaks. I was like, “It’s a cool scene here.” As I was running, I saw the guy lifting the kayaks up and bringing them to the water, going back, talking to the customers and getting the oars. I had a thought that I have all the time. When I’m in Chicago, watching someone shovel the streets of snow, which I’m happy we don’t have here. I always think to myself, “What motivates them? What gets them going to do this job each and every single day?” It doesn’t connect with me. I don’t know if I would want to do that each and every single day, and doing what I enjoy doing.
You work on this. You find people stories. You help people figure out why they’re doing what they’re doing and what matters about that work to them. That is such an important component of figuring out how to motivate and engage your employees. It’s one of the pillars. It’s what motivates you, what drives you, what brings you to the office? It doesn’t have to be the paycheck. It could be, “My kids get to go to the school that’s a little bit safer. We get to have a special dinner once a week because now, we have a little bit more disposable income. My dad did this and we get to resonate and share stories about what it’s like to give people kayaks and then see the smiles on their faces,” or whatever it is. It’s their drive.
“I don’t have to worry about filing reports or sitting behind a cubicle.” I did that for five years. It could literally be anything that touches someone that sparks somebody. It’s very easy to forget these stories because these are the broader world. Each and every single day, we don’t live in that broader world. We live in that right now. A manager, a leader or a speaker can come in and remind them of those stories. It’s like what you do as well in terms of sales. You remind people of their stories to help them be more energized. You teach them strategies on how to remind themselves of their stories on a daily or weekly or monthly basis.Each and every single day, we don't live in that broader world. We live in that right now. Click To Tweet
That’s probably the most important component of all the different things that I’d speak about in terms of job satisfaction. The other two are figuring out what work your employees love to do and what work they don’t love to do. Getting in there as a leader and crafting their work to be more fit to their strengths and likes, and helping minimize the work they don’t like to do, or knowing what work they don’t like to do, and then praising them for that work. It’s figuring out ways to make the work that they don’t like a little bit more enjoyable. It’s maybe giving them some more freedom to say, “You don’t like to do this work you do on Wednesdays, do it from home.”
You can come up with strategies to help someone to enjoy certain aspects of their job they don’t like. The other aspect is the social context of the way that we work. Where is the conflict in your department? Are there conflict between two specific members? Figuring out ways to mediate and solve that conflict, and then also to figure out who are friends at work and try to pair them up more and more together. At least build in time for them to talk not about work stuff, but venting about personal stuff, and being the conduit to positive relationships within work itself.
I think to allow that a lot of people are having to work from home versus being in the office so much, they don’t realize how much value there is in those water cooler moments, catching people in the hallway, “How was your weekend?” a little bit of a download or grabbing a coffee with somebody to vent. Without those release valves, the stress builds up and the sense of isolation that work is more than a paycheck. When someone like you with your expertise can come in and help people reframe that, sometimes those little moments of scheduling people to go on break together that like each other. That little detail showing that you care enough about them can make a huge difference. I love that specific example as well as the example of the person unpacking the kayaks.
There’s one more thing to add because I think it’s important in the remote world. It’s the resources. This goes along with the actual work that somebody is doing. What do they need to do their job? Many organizations sent everybody home and they’re like, “Go for it.” I don’t have a working webcam. Do I have to buy new headphones? Can I get a second screen? I don’t have pens. I don’t have printer paper. I don’t have a journal. I know these are extra expenses, but as a leader, have you ever sat down and spoken with your employees and say, “Think about your workflow. Where are the struggles? Is your computer slow? Is there a program that’s not working? Do you wish you had a different type of program? You have pens? Do you want me to send this stuff to you?”
You think about the level of productivity like, “I don’t have a stapler.” “I can go order one on Amazon,” but it’s like, “I could probably use a stapler.” That’s overlooked because organizations thought working from home was a day off. They thought it was like Fridays at least in Chicago. You work half day on Fridays or you don’t work. Nowadays, there has to be a very different mentality in terms of, do your employees have the tools and the resources they need? Are the same work boundaries also in place, which we didn’t even touch on? That’s just a side.
As you said, it’s the details, whether it’s a break time with someone you like and/or what do you need to do your job? Let’s not assume that you’re going to have it all figured out by yourself. Originally, they’re like, “This might be a month. We’re not going to worry about it.” Now, it’s much longer. The resources become much different. This is going to be a long-term thing versus a short-term thing. I’ve worked with people on basic sound and lighting. If you’re going to be presenting, especially if you’re in a sales role, people need to see your face. You’ve got to be properly lit so they can trust you. That’s a thought you’ve never take into consideration. When you’re seeing people in person, you don’t worry about the lighting in the conference room, but you need to worry about the lighting on a video call at home. Any last thought or a favorite quote you have that you want to leave us with?
If you haven’t noticed, I’m very big in personal empowerment and personal accountability. I think that’s also highlighted through my story, but personal accountability and responsibility that is healthy that is focused on you being at the center of everything. It’s not other things being at the center of everything. You are your own universe. Even in general, you’re preceding the world around you. You’re making that up. Everything you’re seeing is based on your brain and your eyes in how you see the world. You are literally the center of your own universe. To that point, you are the most important leader that you’re ever going to be. Are you truly living for yourself in a way that is positive and proactive towards what you care about and puts you front and center? If you do that, life gets a little bit more enjoyable.
It’s like the oxygen mask on the airplane. You’ve got to put it on yourself first before you could save a child, and a lot of us don’t do that. We put everything else ahead of that, including our career at the expense of our happiness and our health. You are definitely helping other people realize without that, inner happiness is not something sustainable because you burn out in one way or the other. If people want to find you, they can go to LiveForYourselfConsulting.com. Ben, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your own story, your insights that are certainly well-earned and much needed right now. I’m looking forward to hearing how you continue to make a difference in big and small companies.
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