What are the moments in your life when you felt that you were doing something natural, exciting, and powerful at the same time? When you felt truly present with no desire to change what was happening to you. Our guest Nataly Kogan, the founder of Happier.com, believes that these moments are signals that you should pay attention to. Signals that act as a window into what you really desire and where your passions might lie.
Nataly didn’t realize her real calling until she was 40, even though she had already attained incredible professional success. In our interview she talks about a dark period in her life that helped her reinvent herself and created a path where she can teach others how to do the same thing while avoiding hitting the proverbial rock bottom.
We discuss how to remove the ‘should’ thinking that’s present in most of us to focus on the things we want to do instead. We also talk about what correlates to true meaning in one’s life and the importance of manifesting meaning in the work we do.
In part two of our interview we’ll discuss how her company Happier evolved over the last three years to reach millions of people, and why emotional intelligence and even happiness is a skill that can be learned by anyone.
00:51 It’s funny, I didn’t set out to become a speaker. It’s about 50% of how I teach. 50% of what I do and 50% as our whole Happier @ Work program and the stuff we’re doing with leaders. But 50% is me on stage talking.
02:48 Speaking naturally is partly about getting out of your own way and getting to your deeper true self. After that, it’s about repetition. So there’s your little pep talk on public speaking.
03:42 I think part of it is muscle memory. There’s a writer called Michael Singer, he’s a spiritual teacher. I consider him my teacher even though I’ve never met him. And he wrote two amazing books, one of which was part of my journey of total transformation and it’s called The Surrender Experiment.
04:08 He talks about this realization that completely changed his life. And by the way, he went on a spiritual journey and then started a two billion dollar company that he sold. I used to think spiritual means you’re lazy. That was how dumb I was. But he talks about this concept that really truly changed the course of my life.
04:35 And so this idea that this voice that we hear in our head, when you’re listening to your self talk, or the voice, the thoughts, the voice that we hear in our head, that’s kind of our, ego self, outside self. And there is a deeper wisdom, there’s a deeper true self.
05:41 When speaking you don’t need to listen to yourself all the time because the reason you’re listening is because it’s the doubt in you listening. And so when you can get to a place where you don’t need to check yourself all the time, you can just do it freely.
06:30 Vadim: I think part of the reason why you can connect so much with your audience is because it sounds like you are someone that has high emotional IQ. You can not only read the room in this scenario, but I’m almost certain that when you’re one-on-one with somebody, for example, you’re probably very well aware of their facial expressions and what they’re thinking. You’re probably quickly able to connect with them. So I would bet that that’s just part of who you are. But I’m curious, so you’ve been speaking now in public and that has been a big part of your job and what you realize is your passion for how long?
07:00 Let’s say three years.
07:03 Vadim: I actually did read the article that you mentioned earlier and I have a screenshot of part of it here that I want to read where it says that in terms of you finding your purpose, that it didn’t happen over night. “The universe had to chip away at my refusal to let go of my story of what my career path was supposed to be. Slowly and consistently.” I want to hit on that because you’ve had a very varied career, if you will. You started off at McKinsey as a consultant probably right after college. You were a VC by 26, you started a publishing company, you started your own startups, you were part of other startups, you were in leadership positions.
07:43 You’ve helped sell companies, you’ve done a ton. And through this work, you know, you’ve been featured through New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Bloomberg TV. So you have a lot of accolades. You’re a writer as well with a very successful book. And only three years ago, you, I guess hit on the fact that where you find a lot of purpose, or passion is this work that you do through your speaking. But you did mention in the sentence you had this definition of who you were supposed to be. I think a lot of people have that idea in their mind, they map out what their career should look like, what they should do to get there, and maybe sometimes too late, hopefully not too late. They realize that they should’ve been doing something different all along. But you luckily realized that earlier on. So how were you able to chip away at that? Was it just like an aha moment or was it really that slow?
08:35 It’s a great question and I’ll try to be as succinct as possible. You know, even in asking your question, what you’re revealing is kind of this concept that most of us have. And I’m not judging, I’m just illuminating it. The ‘should’ thinking.
08:58 I grew up in the Soviet union. I came here as a refugee when I was 13 and you know, you come to America, it’s the dream. Your parents gave everything up. I didn’t speak English, we lived in the project on welfare, on food stamps. Everyone made fun of me. It was kind of this really tough beginning. It got me into this mindset of like, okay, it’s me against the world and everything is gonna be a struggle.
10:25 By 28, I’d had an incredibly successful career. I’d made so much money that I paid off both of our crazy college loans. I was being able to take my parents on nice vacations. I had a child, we lived in New York City, I was a managing director at a venture firm. At the same time we started our own publishing company.
10:57 I was so caught up in the “should” that I literally never in my life paused to ask what do I want to do, ever, and I want to own up to this.
11:59 I think fear is at the core of most of our ‘shoulds’. And it’s not always fear. We recognize, but it’s fear of not being successful.
12:34 So I have opportunities to speak, whether it was a panel, or someone would invite me to do a talk. And every single time I did it felt amazing.
15:19 Sergei: What do you say to somebody that says, but how do I achieve or remove this ‘Should’ thinking without having to kind of get to the bottom or have some kind of breakdown?
15:31 Of course. Yes. And by the way, let me just say I’m not recommending it. And in fact, I have dedicated my career, my company, the mission has always been the same. I’ve always wanted to teach people emotional health as a skill so they can thrive. We focused on gratitude, we built a very popular mobile app, on gratitude, 8 million gratitude moments. 1 million people using it. But then when I went through my whole burnout and breakdown, I came back when I realized that I wanted to teach, that we wanted to teach people. I changed my entire company to do that. But I’m not recommending people wait until they reach a breakdown moment because I don’t think it’s necessary.
16:32 I’ve kind of now developed what we call the Happier method, which is these five, science backed skills to improve not just your emotional health, but to help you thrive at work as a leader, as an entrepreneur. One of these skills is what I call “the bigger why”. And that is connecting to your sense of purpose and meaning.
17:08 So what I say to people who haven’t yet touched upon that is think about what are the moments in your life where you felt you were doing something that just felt so natural and powerful? What were the moments in your life that you felt really excited to be doing what you were doing? What were the moments in your life that felt meaningful or purposeful? Those are signals to you of what you may want to lean into more.
19:11 Sergei: One thing that I want to dig into a little bit here is, and maybe we can start from a moment or a series of moments where you started to recognize for yourself that speaking is something that gave you pleasure, that teaching others and imparting maybe what you’ve learned and what you’ve discovered in your life gives you purpose. You mentioned this notion of follow the things that make you feel good, that things that you feel maybe that you’re good at. But there’s also the other side of that coin, which is that you, yourself, are with this company that had a million people that use the app and you had a technology company you were building, you were starting to discover this.