This is a recorded talk over at the TechMap Cofounder Event.
She’s an entrepreneur, speaker, and just a joy to know as a person. In her talks, she blends in wellness, science, and plain common sense which is not that common.
I hope you enjoy this episode. If you’re like to learn more about Melanie, check out melanieweinberger.com, i.e weinberger.com.
You can find Melanie over at:
And I’m going to share things that don’t often get shared that are extremely vulnerable. After I do that I’m going to give you five tools to set up your life in a framework that will help you avoid some of the pitfalls that I made along the way. And then after that we’ll open up for Q&A. Does that sound good? Okay.
So you are all here, you’re all founders or want to be founders because you have an idea, you have a suspicion that you’re capable of building something absolutely extraordinary. Raise your hand if that’s true, right? And you totally are. But my question to you is what does it mean to be extraordinary? What does it mean to live an extraordinary life?
And I think as founders when we think of people who lived extraordinary lives we think about Elon Musk or Oprah Winfrey or Mark Zuckerberg. We want to be just like them and we want to build these amazing startups and leave our mark on the world. But when we’re thinking about that and about the extraordinary things they’ve delivered, what we’re not thinking about is what it’s actually like to be that person. What’s it like to wake up every day and live the life Elon Musk is living?
This screenshot is from an article from August 2nd, so it’s at two weeks ago, Elon Musk says he may have depression. Just like millions of overworked Americans in their 40s and 50s, except in startup land it’s now starting as early as teenage years.
So we think creating an extraordinary contribution to humanity is what it means to be an amazing founder, but we’re not listening to what it’s like to actually be the founder. And so the message I want to share with you tonight is that it’s not about what you deliver to the external world, but what you’re doing to your internal world along the way that’s going to matter. Because at the end of it when you’re on the deathbed and you lay down and think about what you’ve done, you’re going to think about your experience, you’re going to wish it was fucking awesome. So that’s what I want to help you focus on tonight is living an extraordinary life and the way that it feels wonderful to be you on a daily basis.
So my startup life, Well Shift is a corporate wellness company that was a great attempt, Moby, at explaining what we do. Thank you. So essentially we delivered wellness activities into organizations. And we started sending fitness instructors, massage therapists and scientists, doctors, nutritionists people who could speak about wellness was. And companies would purchase this on a on-activity basis.
And I’m the chief everything officer, so I’m the lead salesman. And I do my cold calls and my cold emails and I set up my meetings and it go in, and the conversation always went something like, “Well, we’re running a weight loss competition right now. So we don’t need this.” “Oh, we’re playing Biggest Loser so we’re all set for the quarter.” And I mean I went to at least a hundred of these sales meetings and I heard this at 90%of them.
I just intuitively thought, “There’s got to be more to well-being than just weight loss,” right? We don’t step on the scale every day to make sure we can have a good day. There’s something much more important in this picture.
And so my definition of living an extraordinary life was of course making an extraordinary contribution to the world and building an empire. And after enough of these meetings of getting frustrated I came back to my team and I said, “That’s it. We need a conference. And I’m going to change the world. I know exactly what we’re going to do.”
And instead of talking about weight loss and making everyone feel like there’s something wrong with them, I mean literally these companies are inviting employees to come secretly get weighed in HR’s office, right? And it’s like a lock box, no one really knows what the numbers are. What does that make you feel like? That’s a culture of fear. My company is telling me I’m fat every day.
Who wants to work there? No one wants to work there. So we need a conference and at this conference we’re going to redefine what it means to be well. We’re going to expand the definition beyond weight loss.
This became the ultimate mission, because I love speaking in front of people so I’m like well I’m going to build this big old stage and we’re going to tell this big story and it’s going to be amazing. Except what I did instead was create a future of failure. I got very, very scared, because I’ve never created a conference before and I had no idea what I was doing.
And we didn’t raise a lot of money, I didn’t really know how to manage money, and all I wanted everyone to know is that I’m a successful entrepreneur. I’m on my way to 30 under 30, I’m going to be on the cover of Forbes and all the sexy things.
So instead of asking for help about how to create this conference I hid myself in isolation. I had a little like apartment cottage, my sister-in-law house in Austin has these like a house behind a house on the east side and I would sit in my house behind the house, and have my Eventbrite page up and just refresh it over and over to see how many tickets got sold.
And if anyone runs any kind of analytics on their company I know we’ve all sat in front of the screen and hit the refresh button over and over to see if anything moved.
I had to sell tickets because live events aren’t like launching a website, you can’t just fix the bug. You fail in front of everyone in real time. So we booked the conference to be at Brazo’s Hall, and Brazo’s Hall holds 300 people. So I said, “Well, we’ll have 300 people with no plan about how to get them.” And I spent then next four months absolutely panicking.
I’m going to show you what panic looks like in the body. Has anyone heard of something called heart rate variability? Okay, so heart rate variability also known as HRV is developed by a nonprofit called heart math, a heart math institute, I recommend you do a little reading on them, it’s fantastic.
And heart rate variability is a measure of stress. So if you look at the top graph you’ll see HRV looks very smooth and the variability is not very variable, right, you’ve got a nice smooth ups and downs. And in the bottom it’s going wacko, your heart beat is just losing its mind. And you can imagine that if you stay in the state for a long, long time you might eventually experience a catastrophic event.
People whose HRVs look like the bottom one are on their way to having a heart attack. So when you think about Elon Musk and most Americans in their 40s and 50s who are overworked, walking around stress every day, this is how you step on the path to chronic illness and catastrophic events.
While you’re walking around like that you’re also not breathing. So what I want everyone to do now is put both feet on the floor, kind of sit up straight, giving you a little dose of wellness. What I learned along the way, when you’re stressed you’re walking around breathing with one-third of your lung capacity, which is starving your body from oxygen starving your brain from oxygen so you obviously can’t perform your best.
When I was stressed during this conference I remember going for a run and I literally couldn’t catch my breath. I also think I started developing an ulcer just from being worried so much. So we walk around stress, we’re breathing up here, and with the real way to breathe so that you relax your body is to actually expand your diaphragm. And we never do that because we want to suck it and look awesome, right?
But what I want you to do right now is take a deep breath in, and instead of holding in here, expand it like you’ve got a balloon in your diaphragm. Feels a lot different. So now you’re increasing your lung capacity by 2/3’s. Every time you’d stop and do that you have the ability to flip your brainwaves to get you out of a stressful state.
So all these things are happening at the same time, this is the state I was living in for three months leading up to the conference, three or four months. So it’s just if you remember what heart rate variability look like it looked very much like this line over here, the smooth ups and downs., This is alpha brainwaves, when you’re in alpha brainwaves you’re in the most creative headspace you can be in. It’s like flow state.
Does anyone heard of flow state? You’re in the zone. It’s just coming to you, you’re getting new ideas, you’re white boarding like crazy and that’s where you want to be. But when you’re stressed out and you’re not breathing you’re actually experiencing beta brainwaves, which is the top, which eerily looks a lot like HRV, right? And beta brain also known as monkey brain keeps you in a reactive mode of repeating past patterns, which means you cannot create new innovative solutions to anything.
So not only are you not breathing and your heart rates freaking out, which is leading you closer to a catastrophic event, you also can’t fix it because you’re just stuck in reaction mode. And so you end up in this awful, awful spiral.
Fast-forward to the conference it ended up being beautiful. It was an absolutely wonderful event. The night before the event this panic state that I was in, and this is important, spread throughout my company for the whole time I was building the conference, and my co-founder started to panic right along with me.
The night before the event at 3:00 in the morning I get a phone call, he’s my developer and we were also re-launching our brand, re-launching our site, at this conference while we launched the conference so a lot of stuff is on the line. And he called 3:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the morning and he said , “Mel, I broke the site. I’m not coming to the conference.” And he was going to hot spot the whole event and man the booth and do the co-founder thing, in which I launched into a total panic attack, which looks like hysterical crying, like … can’t catch your breath.
My boyfriend was there and he helped me through it. I was supposed to be ready at 6:00 in the morning, my team was going to show up and get all the boxes and we’re going to create this amazing conference. And they showed up and I had my bathrobe on and I had bags under my eyes, and I was like, “You’re just not going to ask me what happened.” And they didn’t and they took all the stuff and I met them there later.
I don’t even know how I gave the opening keynote to the event, but I did it, and it came out rad. But I wasn’t even present for it and it really was a beautiful event. And after the conference my team started celebrating and I dropped down on my knees and started crying. It makes me emotional every time I tell the story.
And someone on my team came up to me and he was like, “Ah, are those tears of joy?” And I was like, “Yeah,” but they were not. I killed myself building this event. And it was like this release that I have been waiting to have and everyone left and went out to lunch and got drinks and I went home and I got under my covers and I hid for like two days.
I was completely depleted, completely depleted. And after you go through something like that … I don’t know if anyone’s ever had a panic attack or similarly if you got like a migraine headache, whenever you get on the other side of something like that it takes your breath away you just kind of like … this is then super calm state.
So I’m in this state and I’m sitting on my couch and across from the couch in my old place was a bookshelf. And I remember looking across at the bookshelf and thinking, “Man, I must be missing something super fundamental about life. Because I’m working really, really, really hard and I think I’m smart, like I’m not totally dumb. So what am I doing wrong here? There’s something I don’t even know I don’t know.”
And sticking out from across on the bookshelf is his book called The Power of Now. Has anyone ever heard of that book? That book changed my life. I read that book and realized that I was waiting for some validation moment to finally be happy. Oh, when the conference’s is full, when all 300 people buy tickets that’s when I’m a successful entrepreneur and everyone will like me and I can be happy. Oh, when my company makes this month this much in monthly recurring revenue that’s what I’ve officially made it and my mentors will be proud and my investors will be proud and now I can go out and play.
And so you’re kind of dangling this carrot about this one day that you get to be happy, one day when my conference does XYZ I can smile. And you never actually get it because you’re placing it in some future state. And I learned that the happiness that we’re seeking outside of us in this external world actually is available at all times in our internal world. And that we are the only ones in charge of that. And that was a major distinction for me.
And I’m actually going to take a page out of my friend Reuben’s book. Reuben, are you in here? I had the opportunity to hear Reuben speak at Creative Mornings the other day and he did an exercise that I thought was really powerful and I want to try it out here as well. So this distinction is so important that it’s a message I’ve been sharing ever since and it’s part of my purpose.
There’s a lot of different ways you can say it, but I think this way is very simple and I want to have you repeat after me on the count of three and say, “I am in charge of my own happiness.” You down with that? Give it a shot? Ready? 1, 2, 3. I am in charge of my own … Hell, yes, you are in charge of your own happiness. It’s in your hands in every single moment.
And the five tools I’m going to give you are going to be about how to enable you to do that. So I’ve been working on these tools for years, I started practicing right away, and I was so pumped about it that I was like well we need to do another event. And I have to tell people that I know what happiness is now. I have to tell them exactly how it works.
So I did that, and it was in this room, and I invited all these different HR teams because that was my deal, selling to companies. And I said, “We’re worrying about weight loss and we’re talking about wellness and we have to understand how to create happiness within all of our people. And I know the answer.” And from my lowest low, from that complete collapse, from that catastrophic event I had at the conference came the most beautiful high.
I did this event and I told people I know the distinction. And three months later I got a phone call, and it was from a woman who came to the event and she said, “Mel, I went to your event about happiness and your event changed my life. And I realized that I’m the one in charge of my own happiness. And you know what? I’ve always wanted to work at Google. And I quit my job and now I work there. And now I want to bring Well Shift in as our wellness provider.”
And I got this phone call … I was alone in my kitchen in my pajamas and I was like, “Who is it? Google?” Like that’s like the logo, the company customer that you want on your website calling me dropping 40 grand on a wellness program, which by the way that contract closed in a week, enterprise.
So there’s a twist to the story, because that sounds like a happy ending, right? The funniest thing happened. Two weeks went by and I woke up and I’m still wearing the same pajamas. And I’m wearing the same socks with holes in them. And I’m eating the same scrambled eggs. And I realized it seems to me that this doesn’t really matter. I thought this was supposed to matter. I thought this was like the thing. Don’t I float up to the startup castle in the sky now? Shouldn’t everyone be calling me? Shouldn’t I be wearing silk robes, walking around and just living the life?
Oh, look, it’s just me again. And this twist in the story has a name, it’s called hedonic adaptation. Hedonic adaptation is a phenomenon where for humans whatever circumstances you’re in you get used to them really fast. And so they just don’t seem to matter.
And it works both ways so you get a raise and you get something really good and you feel good about it for like a month, and then you’re used to it and you want more. Also if something bad happens and you have to shift your life downward, the good news is in two months you get used to it and it just feels like life again.
And so it occurred to me once more that all the things we think matter on this entrepreneurial journey, these achievements, they don’t. It’s not what’s happening outside of us.
So when you have a suspicion that you could live an extraordinary life and I told you it was true, it is completely true. But I want you to think about it from a different angle from now on. I want you to think about it as how you’re going to live an extraordinary life from the inside, because your monthly recurring revenue’s not what’s going to matter. There’s a study that says I think it’s like over 60 or 70 grand in salary a year, your happiness does not increase at all.
And when you close Google that will only last two months on your happiness radar, I’m proof of that, unfortunately.
So what we want to look at is what is actually like to be you in your state of creation, in the action moment, in the flow zone. What’s it like to be you in the go? Because the dots along the way aren’t going to make the difference, it’s the journey that you create for yourself.
My friend the other night and I were talking, and she said if you’re going to be an entrepreneur you better like climbing mountains, because you’ll be climbing them your whole life.
And so how do you make that journey as beautiful as you possibly can’t? Start within. So I’ve got five tools. And if it’s helpful for you to take pictures of them so you can remember, feel free to do that and I’m happy to give these slides out after also.
So the interesting thing about building a company that’s great news for you is that building a wonderful life and building a wonderful company have a lot of parallels. So a lot of the things that you might have learned at Capital Factory University or in whatever books you read about the foundation of building a company can apply directly to your life. And the first is defining your mission.
I learned the importance of this from a woman named Susan Yenzer who’s actually here. Susan, can you wave? If you need any help building your company from a mission perspective, from the human resources values that are going to count, that are going to drive purpose Susan it’s the person to talk to.
So when you are thinking about the mission of your company I’m wondering if you ever stop to think about what the mission of your life is. Why are you here? And what do you want to do for you? And someone recently asked me how you find that. And I think it lives at the intersection of your passion and your purpose.
So when you think about your passion for me I’m doing it right now, I love speaking. I don’t know why. I like teaching. I like speaking in front of people. It feels amazing to me. And I know that. So when I think about my passion, I’m like, “Okay, well that’s my passion.” And sometimes I have to fight with myself about how much ego lives in there and then sometimes I just let it go and decide it’s okay to be me.
And then there’s your purpose – who do you want to help? How do you want to serve? You can apply your passion in any way, you can pick those two different intersections, and create a unique application for you. And once you figure out your mission, you want to create a vision about how that comes to life.
So for me I want to help people understand that they are the creators of the experience of their lives, you’re the creator of your experience, you’re in charge of your own happiness, you can live an extraordinary life in any moment. And I want to do that through your speaking. Well where am I going to do that? Who am I going to do that with? How are we going to monetize it?
And there’s so many different angles, and I have got two different organizations that I’m running that are helping me live out my mission by thinking about different visions of how it comes to life. So when you start to think about your vision this is actually something where you kind of want to hide in a dark room and close your eyes and dream, because whatever the mind sees you can create.
It’s one of the superhuman powers that we are the only animals that have that. If you can see it you can create it. So giving yourself the time to create a vision that helps you live out your mission will actually start to let you do the superhero things you imagine yourself doing.
When you’re clear on your vision the next thing you do is uncover what your core values are. Do anyone know Gordon Doherty from Capital Factory, he’s the director of the accelerator I believe. And I’ve had the opportunity to have him as a mentor and I took one of his class as once and he said to me core values … Well, to the whole class not just me. The core values are what help companies make some of the hardest decisions they’ll ever make. When they’re deciding if they should take this customer or shouldn’t take this customer, should hire that person, should go after this new market segment, they’re going to hold it up against their core values and if it rings false against any of them that’s how they know which way they’ll go.
So as humans we’re faced with over 1,000 decisions a day, and every time we make those decisions you want them to be lined up with your core values so that you feel wonderful in your own skin. There is nothing like the feeling of saying something out of integrity or giving your word and breaking it. You just feel shitty and then you kind of hide from that person for a while until you either … you just got to hope it goes away or you don’t talk about it or whatever happens. But if you maintain integrity with your own core values you’re able to stay to your word way more often.
I have maybe eight or nine core values that I’m very clear on. And again this is something I’ve been working on for four years now. And so to help you figure out what your core values are there’s an exercise that you can do, and the first step is actually to start with what it is you want.
So when you think about your vision for your life you might have pictured a house in Miami in, a house in Austin, and also I want to have three kids and I want to make millions of dollars and I want to travel all around the world, whatever it is you vision. You’ve got a list of the things you want. Those are your what’s. You can use your what’s to now back into your why.
Why do I want three kids? Well, because I really value family connection. Cool, that makes me feel good. Why do I want to travel all over the world? Oh, I want adventure. I want an adventure life, which by the way is one of my core values, adventure, have to have it. So I won’t make any decisions that keep me away from adventure for my life.
Another example of a core value for me is freedom. I want freedom of my time and my space. So I won’t commit to an office that I have to go into every day, because that takes that away from me, and then my life feels bad to live.
So you want to create a life that lines up with whatever your core values are so that it feels great to wake up and live and be you every day. And maybe that means freedom of time and space too, and now you’re going to start to consider how you can get a remote job, right? Or like what are the baby steps that get me to line up with my core values.
So we did mission, vision and values, following along the path of parallels of building extraordinary life and extraordinary company you need to create a personal financial framework. I threw all my money into my business right away. My total savings account, I even liquidated my 401K so that for that conference I could hire a call center to call 5,000 businesses in Austin three times to convert X many tickets so that the room was a little fuller.
And I was like, “Well, that’s fine because obviously we’re going to make tons of money after the conference and then it’ll just work itself out.” And that it doesn’t really work that way. You have to make a plan and you have to keep yourself very safe.
After I spent all our money I had more than a year where I didn’t know how I was going to pay rent every month, and I have to tell you it’s one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had in my life. You’re walking around with glasses the shade of fear and you don’t even know it, and it’s painting every single decision you make. So you have to set yourself up with a financial framework so that you don’t put your happiness on the line by starting your company.
And there’s things to think about when you do that – there’s your immediate framework, so you want to have at least three months of expenses in your savings account at all times in case shit gets real, right? I didn’t have that, I spent it all. So when it got real it was like real-real, like scary real. And I just don’t want that for you guys. I borrowed money from my brother. I hated making that phone call. I hated it. And he was always super cool about it, but if he didn’t do that I don’t know how I was going to pay bills.
And then you want to think about your long-term self, you want to start investing for your future now and this is just a good practice whether or not you start your own company. There’s a few really easy things to do. One practice that I really like is every time you buy something new for yourself deposit the same amount in your savings account right away, kind of like an auto deposit. And that way future you has money waiting and you’re not just putting all the eggs on one day I’m going to be like Mark Zuckerberg and build a billion-dollar company.
Because you might find out two years into it that building a billion dollar company doesn’t actually matter to your experience of life, which is what I discovered.
And the last tool of the five tools is your team. Does anyone read the book Good to Great? He talks about getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus. Same thing with your team but your life team. Life team is the most important team. These are the people who are going to pick you up when you’re down, who you’re going to laugh with. This is who you’re actually living with on a daily basis.
And this is … it’s a hypercritical. This is what makes up a majority of the way you’re experiencing live is by surrounding yourself with people who make you feel wonderful with positive vibes. And these people, there’s three categories that I think are really wonderful to intentionally place people in.
The first is a role model. And I don’t want you to think of role model again as someone who’s created something amazing. I want you to find someone who’s lived life where they felt extraordinary on a daily basis, they just loved their life, whether they’re being adventurous, they’re being creative, they’re being authentic, they’re just clearly loving life. Those are the role models we want to look at, not the super depressed startup grind billionaires. That’s not a fun life, okay?
So that role model can be dead, it can be alive. It’s someone who’s done it that you can learn from. So either way if there’s an autobiography written on this person, grab a copy, just get it off Amazon and read how they did it.
I’ve studied a lot in wellness and one of the things I’ve studied is actually the link between the thoughts and the mind and the creation of disease in the body and also the reality around us. And there’s a school of thought called Neuro Linguistic Programming that talks about how you can get in charge of your thoughts and intentionally design your life, and it’s for short called NLP, and NLP says if one person can do it anyone can do it, because the only difference between me and you and you is the software running on this piece of hardware that we’re all born with. So it’s just a matter of reprogramming a new reality and then living into it.
And by reading the autobiography of someone who’s lived an extraordinary life that you want to live, there’s a roadmap of how they did it. I’m giving you mine.
The next category in life team is mentors. These people have to be alive, not optional. And this one’s really important because as you start to live into whatever extraordinary life means for you I promise you that your definition is going to be different than everyone else out there, because we’re all completely unique, which means it’s never been done before. What you want to do has ever been done before, just impossible.
So you’re going to have questions that you’re not going to be able to find in books and you’re going to want someone to ask and be like, “Hey, am I crazy?” Someone who’s done something along the path of what you’ve done. Whether it’s you wanted adventure and travel the world, how did they do it, how do they live Nomad life. I’m exploring that right now. Whatever those things are, find someone who’s done it and be able to call them and ask questions.
And the last category and life team is friends. I didn’t put family in here because I am a big believer in chosen family. And sometimes that means blood relatives and sometimes it doesn’t. So I don’t want to force that on anybody. But friends is really important, and these are the people you can snotty cry with when things are really hard.
Support groups show up over and over and over again in all the happiness studies about what’s the difference between certain countries in the world and their happiness factor, and it has to do with community and support. So if you can have a group of people that you trust, one or two people you’re setting yourself up for a life that feels really good.
So you might want to think about who those three people area and intentionally start to keep them close.
So I think those are the five tips. And I want to leave you with one thing before I go, and it’s the fact that you are a leader and you’re the leader and the creator of your own life. You might think leaders have to build great companies to be someone to look up to, and that’s just not true. And you’re the only one who’s going to make the decisions that make you feel happy on a daily basis or a monthly basis. It’s a practice, right? I don’t wake up every day and have like a giant smile on my face. I practice these things that I’m sharing with you truly.
And along my wellness path I’ve had the opportunity to work with the global head of recruiting for Whole Foods, his name’s Andres Traslavina. And he told me there’s really only two traits that you need to be a leader. So for your life there’s only two traits you need.
And the first trait is to have a vision. And if at any moment during this talk tonight you actually did a little bit of visioning when I said what is your amazing life look like, that means you have one. That means you have a vision. So you’ve got the first characteristic of a leader.
And the second characteristic is the ability to inspire others to believe in that vision with you. So when you think about life team and the people you really, really trust, these are the people who you want to share what your extraordinary life looks like. Share what your values are. It’s fun to do that actually. I do that. I have a group that I meet with on Mondays and we talk about Neuro Linguistic Programming, and actually we’re all studying it together and we share our core values and it’s really interesting to see what some people value. You learn a lot.
But we all support each other in our visions, and it actually makes it exponentially faster to create because you feel believed in.
So if you follow the tools you have everything you need to be the leader in your own life. And whatever you do build I hope that you remember that the most important thing you’ll ever build is yourself. Thank you.
Moby: That was great. I’m not sure how to follow that. All right, cool. Thank you so much, Melanie. I mean I still … from your last speech I still remember a few phrases that you talked about at three-day
startup, but this one was – don’t live a life that’s bad. What was it again? It’s just … is that something like that. It can get really hard and thank you again for being here.