“In the 2000s, I dreamt of living a big, important, impactful life and in the 2010s I exceeded every expectation of what that meant to me. I’m very excited to not know what’s coming into the 2020s because I know it’ll surprise me. Christmas album, clown school, turtle farm, who knows?!”
This is a tweet posted by today’s guest, Meg Lewis, and it perfectly describes her perspective on life. She loves not knowing what the future holds because it feeds her eagerness to constantly discover her capabilities and overcome self-limiting beliefs that get in her way.
Meg’s goal is to help other people find out what’s amazing about them, what makes them different from everybody else, and start to change their career and their life in tangible ways that align with their unique gifts. Her approach to empathy toward herself and other people is unique and it naturally blends into the growing conversation around this key topic. It’s clear that there are more of us heading in that direction.
In today’s episode, Meg shares some key ideas on empathy that loosen up the brain and unlock our creativity in unexpected ways. We talk about what society teaches us from a young age, how we’re programmed to fit in certain boxes, and how we can allow ourselves to draw outside the lines in a way that feels less risky and more rewarding.
Meg is a living example of how this process works to help creatives thrive and I cannot wait for you to listen to her and feel her energy and enthusiasm! I’m sure you’ll be inspired to get on a personal journey of discovering your own potential, both at work and in your personal life – which, by the way, should not be separate journeys.
Meg Lewis is a designer making the world a happier place through books, talks, writing, podcasts, workshops, and videos. Her signature mix of performance art, design, and comedy creates experiences that help both people and brands shine in their unique way.
Companies like Dropbox, Slack, NPR, Vox, Samsung, VICE, Google, and many others worked with Meg for her clean, bright, personable design that sticks to your brain in the best way possible.
She is also the host of Dribbble’s weekly design podcast – Overtime – and has her own comedy podcast that she recently launched, called “Sit There & Do Nothing” – where she explores the world of meditation with a different perspective that allows her to showcase creativity in a unique and playful way.
On top of everything she does, Meg launched – all by herself – the book called, “Full Time You” to encourage readers to explore their true selves and empower them to do work that matters and fulfils them.
So, sit back and relax, as we take you on a tour of how empathy works in design and self-discovery, and how the two are inseparably connected.
Stuff I was curious to find out:
- If there was a particular moment that made Meg realize that her approach to empathy was perfectly normal and natural. (05:36)
- How she managed to get comfortable with the uncertainty that is inevitable in creative roles. (14:29)
- How Meg came up with a fresh, revolutionary, and fun way of practicing meditation. (23:39)
- How she’s manifesting her creativity through podcasting and what’s different about this medium compared to visual expression. (30:15)
- How Meg practices empathy in the process of hiring people. (33:48)
- How Meg managed to organize her insights and experiences around self-discovery to create the book “Full Time You”. (47:23)
- How brands can encourage, practice, and cultivate empathy in design. (57:52)
What you can learn from this episode:
- How having a different spectrum of emotions gives people a unique skill set they can use to create a more empathetic world. (02:54)
- The things that make you different are the things that make you amazing – contrary to what we’re taught as children. (07:15)
- Practicing self-love opens a window to be more empathetic and love people for who they are. (12:19)
- A different approach to setting goals for yourself: how to reframe your experience of failure so it can help you grow. (17:21)
- The process behind creating an empathetic brand before people even know your product exists. (31:55)
- How the ideal workplace looks like, especially in creative industries. (36:52)
- How to find a space where you can feel safe to experiment with who you truly are. (43:46)
- How you can attract clients that share your values, so that your work matches your true self and intentions. (53:30)
Stop getting in your way!
Most of us are taught early in our childhood to hide anything about our personality that makes us different from other people, that makes us stand out from the crowd because we might be ridiculed. So, we just play pretend our whole lives, trying to fit in and be normal. But, the only thing this approach results in is a lack of internal alignment, a paralyzing inability to unleash your potential.
Just take a moment and imagine what it would be like if you were dancing at a party even though you think you’re not a good dancer. Or how it would feel to wear those pants you love them so much that you’ve been told don’t suit you. How crazy and liberating would that be?
Well, trying it is the only way to find out! Do the first thing you feel like doing but you were afraid of before because you kept asking “what would people think?” You might be surprised how some of them will appreciate your courage, so stop getting in your own way because you’re the only one that’s stopping you from being you.
Embrace the unknown – open all the doors and windows.
Usually, having goals for yourself is great. Goals help you get organized. They make you feel like you have a purpose. Every time you get closer to one of your goals, you feel accomplished. No arguing with that! But, there’s a catch here.
Whenever you’re setting a desired outcome for your life, you do everything in your power to achieve that dream and you risk missing some opportunities along the way. Sure, these opportunities might deviate your pre-established track, but they can also get you on a better, smoother one.
What if you changed your goal?
What if the answer to “where do you see yourself in five years?” would be, “Wherever the road takes me after I’ve seized all the opportunities that came my way”?
Be open to the unknown. Do everything you feel like doing because you might get to strange places you could’ve never imagined at the beginning of your journey – and you might like it!
Draw outside the bullet points of a job description
We all know how every job description looks like: it has the things you’re required to do and the abilities you need to have in order to fit in.The more boxes you check off, the higher your chances of getting hired. Great!
But, in addition to all those bullet points, there’s a huge list of other things that you could offer. Way too often, these things never get used in the workplace. So, naturally, you go home and start your side projects because it makes you feel better and happier.
Imagine this scenario: what would happen if your employer asked you about these other things you could offer and he/she gave you the opportunity to use them in the workplace?
Let’s say you are hired as a copywriter in a company, but one of your secret skills is graphic design. Your employer would know that because he asked you in the beginning, when you met. One day, his graphic designer has a personal problem and needs to take a day off. Then, you step in and help the team with an urgent deadline.
How good would you feel to know you’ve been given the chance to showcase your talents and, on top of that, you saved the day?
This is something that more companies need to understand when hiring – we could have more fulfilling jobs if we could utilize all these other little skills that we have and bring our whole true self to work. Engaging with others and all the things about their personality that make them unique is an act of empathy.
Andra Zaharia: When I look at my guest’s work, I’m happy! Her playful, honest and bold approach to design, self-worth, community building, and just life, fills me with joy and curiosity to explore more. I can feel my brain cells loosen up, and I bet you’ll do too, while listening to my conversation with designer, author, and fellow podcast creator, Meg Lewis.
Andra Zaharia: Welcome to the Drag & Drop show, where we explore how practicing empathy transforms how we do business and live our lives. I’m your host, Andra Zaharia – a fellow podcast listener and creator. This season, I’m on a journey with Bannersnack to discover how leading women around the world use empathy to connect and do work that matters. Join us to find out how to drag and drop small acts of empathy into our lives, to make it more rewarding for us and those around us.
Andra Zaharia: Meg Lewis is a designer making the world a happier place through books, talks, writing, spaces, podcasts, workshops, and videos. Her signature mix of performance art, design, and comedy creates experiences that help both people and brands shine in their unique way. Companies like Dropbox, Slack, NPR, Vox, Samsung, VICE, Google, and many others worked with Meg for her clean, bright, personable design that sticks to your brain in the best way possible!
Andra Zaharia: Meg is also the host of Dribbble’s now weekly design podcast and she also has her own comedy podcast that she recently launched called, “Sit There & Do Nothing”. Alongside all of this, Meg also co-founded a shared workspace, she does a series of workshops, she wrote a book, and generally makes the world a brighter place through her tweets and Instagram posts. So, sit back and relax, as we take you on a tour of how empathy works in design and self-discovery, and how the two are inseparably connected. So, Meg, when did empathy make the biggest impact on your life?
Meg Lewis: Oh my gosh! Okay, so, I think that one of the more interesting parts about my personality is that I have an unusual spectrum of emotions that I can and cannot feel. And when I say that, my whole life I thought there was something wrong with me because, for example, I’ve never felt anger before, I’ve never been truly in a point of rage or deep anger. I used to think there was something wrong with me – if I would share that information with anybody, they would say that there was something wrong with me or that I was hiding something, or, you know, protecting myself.
Meg Lewis: It wasn’t until I went through years of therapy to learn that everybody’s spectrum of emotions is so different. So, some people go from very high highs to very, very low lows, very easily, and other people kind of sit on the lower side of the spectrum, other people sit on the higher side of the spectrum – like me. And so, we can categorize anger or love or happiness on a scale of one to 10; Most people feel anger on a scale of one to 10 – 10 being rage, total anger, and rage. And for me, frustration is the angriest I’ve ever been. So, I get really frustrated and that is about as bad as it gets for me and as angry as it gets for me. And so, for a long time, I would kind of explain this to people and they would say, “Well, that’s a problem because it means that you can’t be an empathetic person, because you don’t know how it feels to feel the same way that other people feel.” And that’s been a hard realization for me to make and assess and realize.
Meg Lewis: But, what I have been able to do – because I feel like I am a naturally empathetic person – but I feel like what I’ve been able to do is learn more about myself and learn what’s unique about me and what’s unique about my brain and my DNA and my personality and my skill set. That’s helped me to become more empowered about what makes me unique and different from most people. And then, it helps me to be able to embrace and identify in other people what makes them unique and celebrate that. So, I’m not sure what definition of empathy that is, but I do know that I have parts of myself that are so different, but so does everybody else, and being able to identify what those things are for others and help them identify what those things are for themselves is so wonderful, and has been great for my career.
Meg Lewis: So, I’m kind of dedicating everything I do in my life to helping other people to be empowered about what makes them different, and I’m really just creating businesses and new offerings and offering more things that I can do utilizing my unique skill set as a designer, as a lover of comedy, and somebody who loves to create experiences for other people. I’m taking all those skills and I’m trying to push them out onto other people and help them. And so, I think my naturally empathetic state really allows me to work towards something greater than myself in trying to help others identify these things for themselves. But I think I’m just working towards something even bigger than individuals; it’s working towards making the world a more empathetic and inclusive place about those things about ourselves that make each other different.
Andra Zaharia: That is so obvious in everything that you do. I mean, everything you just said, your work captures it perfectly. Whether it’s your book or any video that you put online or everything else, it just captures that essence perfectly, and it does so in a way that makes people connect instantly, and I feel that’s true not just about myself, but many other people who know you and follow your work and learn from it. And it strikes me that people tend to confuse, I guess, sympathy and empathy because they usually think of empathy in a, let’s say, not necessarily a negative context, but in the context of pain and some kind of anxiety and all of these emotions on the spectrum that is just reminiscent of bad experiences that we all have. But, it’s not as often that we get to discuss empathy in a good, positive context, where it actually makes the biggest difference in helping us kind of offset all this negativity and all these deeply hurtful and impactful experiences. So, can you pinpoint any moment where this kind of string of realization happened for you? Was there any specific experience that helped you realize that your definition, your approach to empathy was perfectly normal and suited and not necessarily normal, but it was just natural to you?
Meg Lewis: Yeah, I think that almost 99% of us, our whole lives we’re taught that anything about our personality that makes us different from other people, whether it’s the stuff that you’re wearing, or the way that you are or the things that you’re interested in, or just anything about us that makes us stand out as different from others, usually, we’re taught that we need to hide those things because they get us attention, it’s usually not good attention; even if somebody points those things out in us, we’ve learned very quickly, as a child, to hide those things and to suppress them and to learn, “Oh, those are things that are wrong about me.” And so, for me, I became a more empathetic person the moment that I realized that the things that made me different are actually the things that make me amazing and that it’s such a waste if I’m hiding these things about myself that I could actually be bettering the world with, all along.
Meg Lewis: So, for me, when I was growing up I realized that I couldn’t feel the same emotions that other people were feeling, so I would study what other kids did, and I would just pretend. So, I pretend to throw temper tantrums; I remember there was a sweet boyfriend I had in middle school where he did something – I can’t even remember what he did now – but I thought that what he had done was something that I was supposed to be mad about, based on what I had seen in the movies, so I was like, “Oh, he did this to me. I should be mad, so I’m going to do what mad people do.” So, I took this little necklace that he gave me and I smashed it up with a hammer and I gave it back to him because I thought that that’s what angry people did, and so, I just replicated it. It’s still, to this day, the worst thing I’ve ever done to anybody.
Meg Lewis: But you learn to pretend to do things that feel normal and you learn to kind of curate yourself, your personality, your life, to seem like the façade of what a successful well-adjusted human is. I had a series of epiphanies a few years ago, and it was kind of around my career and my personal life together at the same time, where I started learning more about myself and, at least, assessing what I was doing and what I was holding myself back from doing and how I was getting in my own way. Most of it was around just hiding who I was all the time; I was trying to present, personality-wise, as somebody who was the perfect mix of smart and funny and introspective, and I was just watching everything I would say, I would rehearse things in my head before I would say them out loud. In groups, I wouldn’t speak unless I had something I felt was so important to say – and my self-esteem was so low, so I never thought I had anything important to say, so I was never speaking, of course.
Meg Lewis: And so, once I started to learn about how much every single day I was getting in my own way – I noticed that because I would study other people and say, “I want to wear that outfit. I wish I could wear something like that”, or “I want to have a career like that, but I’m not great in public and I don’t have anything important to say” – and it was really, really messing with me and getting in my own way so much that one day I decided to just have an experiment with myself and anytime that I’m having these thoughts in my head about “I wish I could do that, but I can’t” for whatever reason, I decided to assess what those were and to try and get past them, in small ways. So if it was like, “Oh, those pants are really fun! I wish I could wear pants like that!” I would say, “Why can’t I?” And then I would realize that of course I can, what’s the big deal? And so, I’d start a little bit by wearing the pants.
Meg Lewis: And another one was dancing. I was never the person that would dance at all, like, at a wedding or in public I would never dance because I knew it would get me attention, I wasn’t good, I wasn’t trained, I didn’t know what I was doing. I remember, there was one party that I went to, where I was like, “Nope, you know what? I’m just going to be the person that’s dancing – I’m going to do it, I’m going to hop in and pretend like it’s not a big deal!” So, I started dancing at this party, and, of course, the perceived outcome of what I had in my head this whole time of everybody pointing and making fun of me, didn’t happen. Of course, it didn’t! Everyone was ignoring me, or they would say like, “Nice moves, Meg!” And that was kind of the epiphany that I needed at that time, to realize that the perceived outcomes of everything going wrong or whatever I was assuming would happen, never happened. Every time I would make one of these big leaps for myself, that scary moment that I thought was going to occur, never did. And then, I kind of realized how silly I had been my whole life of pretending to be somebody I wasn’t, when really, once I finally stepped out of that comfort zone and did it, it wasn’t bad at all! In fact, it was wonderful!
Meg Lewis: And so, I just kind of got hooked on discovering all these things that I had been hiding about myself my whole life and pushing them out, bits at a time, and it’s been so wonderful! So, that was really the moment where I learned about myself, and the empathy that I felt for everyone else just came immediately at the same time because I started to love myself for who I was, and so, then, I started to love other people for who they were. That self-love really opened the door for supporting other people that are so different from me. And now, if I look at somebody who’s way better at something than I am, I don’t feel jealous, I don’t want to tear them down in my own head anymore, I don’t want to tear myself down about it anymore. I say, “Wow! Look at them! They’re so good at that, naturally – that thing that I’m not good at – and how wonderful is that!” And so, I think the ability for me to just embrace who I am and what makes me awesome has allowed me to kind of shine a light and see in other people what makes them amazing and different from me and then be able to actually celebrate that.
Andra Zaharia: Yours is an absolutely incredible example of the process that some of us – and hopefully all of us – will go through, eventually, to discover, to have these realizations about ourselves, to learn how to practice this self-empathy. And looking at you, and at your work, and at your personality, and how you express yourself in so many ways, you would never even suspect that you went through everything, through all of this. It just feels so natural because it is natural, of course, but we don’t always learn how to harness our native abilities or personality traits naturally – it doesn’t always come naturally what’s actually natural for us, and that’s a paradox that many of us grapple with and we don’t know which end to begin with, and where you start to pull the string to just untangle everything and make sense of it.
Andra Zaharia: The way you talked about aligning with yourself, aligning with what you thought was right for yourself – the type of behaviors, the type of self-expression – I think those are such important topics, no matter if we’re talking about a creative role or a creative industry; at the end of the day, we all have the same mechanisms, we all work in similar ways, but giving ourselves the freedom to do that is so important! I feel that we are also privileged because in our societies many of us have the privilege and the freedom and the level of comfort to actually do this. And it’s examples like yours, not just what you do, but how you do it and the fact that you talk about all of this, and the fact that we’re having this conversation right now is so important to show others that they can do it, too, and that it’s not this Hollywood life or an overwhelming process that you can’t do; it’s actually very small bits that anyone can do and try out. I think we’ve been taught that our decisions are definitive, and then they have this kind of dramatic impact – and certainly, some decisions do, but not all of them – and the sooner we realize it, actually, the better off we are.
Andra Zaharia: So, I guess this is a very long-winded way to saying thank you for sharing so honestly, and for sharing everything so articulately and so clearly that anyone can understand and just pick bits of it and try to practice on their own. Your work and everything that you went through, this entire process, involved a lot of change and uncertainty, and I was curious if you were always comfortable with this because you tweeted at some point – and I want to read this because I just love the idea – “In the 2000s, I dreamt of living a big, important, impactful life and in the 2010s I exceeded every expectation of what that meant to me. I’m very excited to not know what’s coming into the 2020s because I know it’ll surprise me. Christmas album, clown school, turtle farm, who knows?” I absolutely love that and we’re living in such uncertain times. How did you get comfortable with this uncertainty? How did you do it? Teach us!
Meg Lewis: Well, I think that this being okay with the unknown is a very unique part of my personality that I don’t know if I can teach. But, I think that my perspective might be a little bit refreshing. So, for me, I really love the unknown. I like it when I can’t see what’s happening next, or exactly what the future looks like because, first of all, I’m not a naturally goal-oriented person. I don’t like making too many concrete plans for myself or my career, and that’s because I’m a very self-motivated person, if you can’t tell, so the way that I like to work is, if I gave myself a goal for later this year or two years, five years from now of where I wanted to be, I would work really hard and work to the goal, and I’d get there and I’d probably be really satisfied. But, what I’ve realized throughout my life and my career is that, if I leave all of the doors and all of the windows open, I end up so much further than I could have ever imagined for myself, but completely in a different direction than I could have ever seen myself going, and that’s what I’ve loved so much about my career and my life so far, is that I work so hard and I advocate for myself so well, and I advocate for others, too, that I always end up surprising myself and finding out more things about myself than I ever knew, and I end up in so many different strange places that I could have never imagined for myself at the very beginning of my journey.
Meg Lewis: So, that’s the magic of my career so far, is that I’m trying to create something for myself that is a true reflection of who I am and what I can offer the world. So, all these things about my personality and my brain that make me different from other people, all of these seemingly random interests and aspects of who I am, that have been at my core my whole life since I was a kid, I’m just trying to take all of those things, and create something and make things that no one else in the world can. And so, it’s very hard for me to imagine what that looks like because I have nobody to compare myself to, anymore. I’m trying to do things that nobody else is doing, so it could be very frustrating for me to not be able to visualize what that looks like for my future, but for me, I just go with what’s available for me at the time, that also allows me to make money and be able to survive, and then, that kind of shifts and molds into more things because the more I do, the more people are watching or maybe will help me get opportunities, I’ll make more friends and I’ll meet new people that might influence what’s happening in my life. And so, again, if I were to just define, “Oh, by the end of this year, I want to work with this client” or “I want to do a project in this realm”, of course, I would work really hard and I’d get there and it’d be amazing, and I’d have a celebration, but I really love my career because I always end up way off in the distance somewhere completely different.
Andra Zaharia: The way you describe your approach to life, and to work, and to everything – I mean, the mix of it all – I think you’re really describing how we’ll all work in the future, not just in creative industries, but in any industry. I feel like this is the new way in which we’re able to just bring our whole selves to work since we’ve only started to talk about emotional and mental health in the workplace, recently – very recently in our history, if we look at a bigger picture. This is accelerating so fast! I mean, all the old ways in which we see and artificially separate work from the rest of our lives are no longer working, they no longer serve us; I don’t think they ever did, but those were different times, different contexts, and we haven’t reached this level of comfort in our societies. I think it’s time that we followed more examples like yours because it’s also a very healthy way, in my opinion, to cope with uncertainty and to make the best of it, and not to limit ourselves not to lock ourselves in very rigid goals and objectives and just enjoy them for five minutes when we reach them and then start the cycle all over again.
Meg Lewis: Yeah, I think the scary part about the goal-oriented planning and the rigid structure is that I think it puts a lot of pressure on things either succeeding or failing for people. That’s usually the mindset we’re taught to have – categorizing everything as a success or failure – and I think that that’s so scary to me. I don’t like thinking that way; I really just follow what I’m passionate about, and if I approach everything with the excitement and the motivation that I usually do, then the success always happens because it’s fulfilling for me, and my only goal is that I feel fulfilled and that I’m offering something to the world that makes it a better place. And so, if anything that I do accomplishes that, then amazing! And sometimes I naturally move on to something else, and if I naturally move on to something else, it doesn’t mean that last thing failed; if it was fulfilling to me, and it made the world a happier, a better place, then I consider that always a success! And so, I think that that mindset has been really helpful for me because it gives me kind of like a no-regrets type of way of living. Like, I truly haven’t done anything in my life – except for smashing my middle school boyfriend’s necklace that he gave me.
Andra Zaharia: If he’s listening to this, he’ll know what the bigger context was.
Meg Lewis: But I truly haven’t done anything that I regret doing or I feel like was a waste of my time because everything truly has led and I built my life and my career in a way that everything that I do is always a stepping stone to get me to the next place that I’m excited about. And so, I don’t feel like I’m a failure ever, I don’t feel like I’ve had anything that I’ve done that has failed – everything’s been vastly important to my career, and to the relationships that I’ve made along the way.
Andra Zaharia: That nuanced perspective is a leap, it’s a huge way of leveling up your perspective towards life, towards work, towards our own development and our development as a group, as a community, as an industry, as the world, generally. I love this vibrant approach of yours and everything that you do that kind of encompasses so many types of manifestations – visual, audio, video, everything in between – and it seems like you have just this constant stream of high energy in everything that you put out there. How did you learn to sit there and do nothing? Because to me, that’s a very difficult thing to master when you’re this kind of person.
Meg Lewis: Yes! Oh, well, I couldn’t agree more with everything you’re saying. I think that, naturally, I’m a pretty mindful person in the fact that I am totally a live-in-the-moment kind of person. I only think about what’s happening now, which is great! That’s just how my brain is. I’ve been that way my whole life. So, that natural mindful state has been really wonderful for me. I do have anxiety, and so, that usually will creep its way in. And so, for me, the only time that I hop out of my mindfulness state is if I’m feeling anxious for some reason, and that is just so frustrating, of course, because it’s always bopping in my head, and I’m trying to swat it away, and it’s getting in the way of my now-thinking, which is my comfort zone.
Meg Lewis: And so, for me, I started meditating to help with my anxiety, and I really started to enjoy the story meditations, the guided meditations where I’m doing something, I’m visualizing myself in this other world, something’s happening and I can feel the textures and I can hear the sounds; I liked that because it took my brain somewhere completely different and would help me reset once I was finished, rather than the meditations where it’s completely silent, and then my mind wanders off and then I get frustrated with myself for wandering off again, and I’m just like, “Come on, Meg!” and then I find myself frustrated with myself throughout the process, which I know is against the point of the meditation, and then I feel worse.
Meg Lewis: And so, I think that it wasn’t until I had an epiphany one day when I thought I mistook somebody in a conversation and I thought they asked me to lead a guided meditation for a workshop that was going to have meditations. So, it was a workshop that I was going to be co-teaching with them, which would have my self-discovery exercises with guided meditations mixed in, and my immediate reaction was like, “Please don’t make me do guided meditations, they would be so silly. I don’t even know what I’d say, I’d probably be laughing the whole time.” And the person was like, “Oh, no, no, no, no, don’t worry! I’ll do those.” And then, weeks later, I realized, why can’t guided meditations be silly and funny and have different themes to them that are a little bit goofier than the common very serious guided meditations we’re used to getting because the goal of meditation is to help you feel clearer and better and brighter than before you started. And so, I think the same goal could be accomplished if it’s silly and funny the whole time, too! And so, having that sort of realization was the moment that I’m always waiting for, honestly, when I realized that I can offer the world something that doesn’t exist yet, and I kind of have to do it right now because people want it right now, and otherwise, somebody else might do it in their way and it won’t be as good as the way that I can do it.
Meg Lewis: And so, as soon as I had that epiphany, I kind of dropped everything I was doing and my brain was like, “Okay, I guess I’ll work on this now” and I just got out all the ideas I had in a couple of weeks and recorded a batch of episodes and sent them around to people and had them listen, and I think it’s so exciting because it truly is something that doesn’t exist yet, and people really like it because it’s a fresh take on something that they already enjoy doing and they can inject into their meditation routine or for people that are more comedy fans, that are more skeptical about meditation – this categorizes as much of a comedy podcast as it does a meditation podcast. I think that, in general, it relaxes people and it helps them to be in a better place than before they started listening, so mission accomplished! But it also helps me so much because it helps me to get out these weird and wacky ideas that I have about comedy writing and these scenarios that I imagine in my head in my day-to-day life. So, again, it’s something that I’m making that just I can offer the world. It’s a true reflection of my brain and what’s unique about it, and it’s not influenced by anybody else. I record it myself, I edit it myself, I do everything by myself, so it’s a true reflection of me and my brain and where my brain goes, and it’s really nice to have something like that.
Andra Zaharia: It’s really great to get to tag along on this journey! Listening to your episodes I was absolutely fascinated with them – this combination I’d never come across. It was so new to me, and I had the same experience with silent meditation, with my brain wandering off or guided meditation – still my brain wandering off – and I know that it’s part of the process of getting to actually do this, but your take was so different and I can just feel my brain start to loosen up, start to be more creative, start to connect, and I don’t know, open all the drawers and put everything on the floor Marie Kondo style, but not to actually declutter and put them back again, but simply to connect the dots in ways that I’ve never done before. I find that just so absolutely wonderful, and I’m really glad you’re doing this, especially because I imagine that you, being a mainly visually-driven person, obviously, that this is a form of self-expression that’s, to me, very colorful and very descriptive, and I guess that that’s one thing about my brain that actually made me click with your podcast instantly. So, I’m curious how it works for you in the sense of, what type of, self-expression or what type of reward you get from podcasting that’s different from all your other ways of manifesting your creativity?
Meg Lewis: Yeah, so, a lot of it is, like you said, visualization, and I can create these worlds that… So, I’m not the world’s best illustrator, I never have been; I just am so in awe of illustrators because I have that issue where I have an idea in my head and I can see it so clearly, but then I go to use my hand and my hand won’t go the direction that my brain wants it to, and then I can’t illustrate. So, that happens to me all the time, and I think with these meditations and these stories, I’m able to create worlds inside other people’s imagination that I have there, as well, and so, it helps me to kind of live out that part of myself, that curiosity and that imagination that I naturally have, and to help people to see what that looks like and feels like and smells like and all of that. So, I don’t need to be an illustrator in order to do that, and that has been remarkably helpful for my creativity, just to help me get these ideas out of my head, finally, because I’ve always had them and if you’re creative, the only way that I could with my skill set would be to make an illustration or use design in order to create those worlds and because I’m not naturally good at doing a lot of that stuff that I would need to in order to create these elaborate worlds, I can do that with my words, and still help with that.
Meg Lewis: And I think that, also, in addition to that, creating all the branding for the podcast itself – like the cover of the podcast, the art direction, and the photo – was so fun to do. And creating all the artwork for every episode was amazing and thinking about it from a design perspective has been really fun because I also had this challenging problem to solve for, which was that I was popping a meditation podcast into the iTunes store, and I was so scared that a regular meditation listener would stumble upon my podcast and then be so confused and so angry or whatever about the fact that they were expecting traditional meditation and they got this funny, weird stuff instead. And so, that was a design challenge to me, to try and figure out how I could design the graphics and the cover in a way that people would stop for a second and realize that this is an unusual, funnier version of meditation. The cover image, for example, is me, sort of floating on a cloud in the meditation pose, but I’m wearing funny glasses, like joke glasses, and so, you know something is going on here that makes it funnier and more unusual than traditional meditation.
Andra Zaharia: That layer is beautiful in how it all works together and makes it stand out, and the way you just approach everything from a very empathetic angle because you already thought of all these people, of their needs – you were connected to them before they even knew that your podcast existed. To me, that’s a level of empathy that’s absolutely fantastic, and I can kind of feel it in everything that you do. And I bet that having your unique voice, your unique approach is something that… I’m curious how all of this kind of impacts how you work with others because you recently wrote about that you started looking for a junior designer and you emphasized that there’s just not enough transparency around the rates, and that juniors have such a difficult time knowing how much money to ask for. So, how did you go about practicing empathy in this process? Because hiring is always a very intense process for everyone.
Meg Lewis: Yes! Well, I think that, especially when it comes to hiring and creating a workplace, it’s very important to me – and I hope that it’s as important to almost everyone – that I work with people that I truly care about seeing them feel fulfilled in what they’re doing. And so, whenever I was hiring this person, it was very important to me that I was both supporting them as a creative and as a human, learning about where they want to go, what’s exciting to them, what they love doing and putting the job requirements aside and trying to figure out what I can utilize their amazing self and what makes them fulfilled into the role. So, even though there are very specific tasks that they have to work on, I wanted to keep it largely open-ended so that I could utilize them for what makes them amazing and different from me.
Meg Lewis: So, the role was quite flexible. And I got all kinds of applicants that were so talented in so many different areas, and I wanted to support that individual and help them take this role and get them to where they want to be going in their own career fulfillment. So, in order to do that, I really just needed to be able to adapt the role to utilize what makes them truly amazing so that I could see them shine because it makes them create better work if I’m creating this environment where they feel more fulfilled. So, that was the most important thing to me.
Meg Lewis: And when it comes to payment and rates and all of that I wanted to leave it open-ended to where I was trying to get them to suggest how much they wanted to make, first, and I asked them for their ideal number – what would make them very excited, where would they like to be – which was really helpful for me to see a sense of somebody’s self-worth combined with their loftiest ambitions. And so, it also helped me gain more information about a baseline of what people are expecting, because I also didn’t want to naturally underpay somebody. So this gave me a perfect baseline to go from – because I’m a freelancer, I don’t have a lot of experience with hiring people and I’ve had many interns that I’ve paid in the past, and of course, I quote a lot of people for my job, but I will always want to make sure that I’m taking the market rate and paying on the higher end because that’s what I would like to receive as a freelancer.
Meg Lewis: So, all of this was, I guess, in your words, is kind of an empathetic approach because I truly just want everyone to feel fulfilled in the role that they have, whether it’s working for somebody else or working for themselves. I think the best way to feel fulfilled is by being able to utilize your full skillset and also being able to utilize your unique personality and work somewhere where you feel safe enough to be yourself and work somewhere where your employer is excited to embrace who you are. A lot of times, for employers and employees, that means that sometimes you grow out of the position or something better comes along that’s more fulfilling to you and I would feel very excited for that opportunity for them because it means that they’re getting one step further and creating a fulfilling career for themselves, which is always my number one goal.
Andra Zaharia: And it’s good for everyone, too; it ripples throughout teams, throughout companies. Sadly, I guess, I’ve often seen designers be outliers in teams and be perceived as difficult, and I now realize that even I sometimes thought that and I don’t feel good about it, and I guess I hadn’t reached a level of self-awareness around my own needs to actually understand what was restricting them from behaving how they thought and felt like behaving. Plus, I hope all of us know that creative work is not something that can be summoned or disciplined or fit into an eight-hour schedule – that’s simply not possible – and the more we advanced and the more technology around us advances, we realize that that sort of creativity and critical thinking and the way that the human mind puts things together is our unique ability that separates us and differentiates us from everything that we might create in the world of tech that can replace some of the things we do, but never this layer, this particular layer. And it’s just, as I see it – and it’s not just me, I see it all around the world, as well – this is going to be the thing that we need to work on, the thing that we need to harness, the thing that we need to explore and embrace and use. So, having people like you, to guide us on this path and on this journey is so incredibly valuable, and I just can’t get enough!
Meg Lewis: Good, yes! And that’s really where my work is focusing and everything that I do is to try and get and inspire and do what I can to offer my services in order to give people the prompts that they need to learn more about themselves and learn more about their teammates and in order to work together to be more excited about ourselves first, internally, which ultimately allows us to be excited about others and want to support them, too. And so, yes, that’s where I’m excited about right now, is working with individuals, working with teams to try and create a more supportive environment for themselves as individuals where they can learn what they have to offer because from a team perspective and an employer’s perspective, of course, every applicant is going to say that they can meet all of those bullet points in a job description, that’s easy for us all to say that we can – we probably can – and if not, you lie about it, and you figure it out as you go.
Meg Lewis: But what I’m really interested in is getting people to realize, in addition to all those bullet points, there’s a huge list of other things that they can also offer, and employers aren’t utilizing people as much as they can. We could have a more fulfilling job if we could utilize all these other little skills that we have, and I think that’s when you have a fulfilling career, is when you can utilize your whole true self, all of the skills that you have to offer, all the things about your personality that make you the most unique. So, when you’re able to utilize all of that, you feel more fulfilled at your job. And so, I think people end up feeling less fulfilled and end up going home at the end of the day, and starting side projects or getting hobbies or doing all these little extracurricular things, that allows them to use the rest of their skill set and personality that they don’t get to use at work. So, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to take our lives and our careers and kind of smush them together and figure out how they can work together in order to create a work and a life that is utilizing all that we have to offer.
Meg Lewis: I definitely can create a career that’s a true reflection of everything I have to offer and that’s so wonderful, and I’m not going to waste that because I can do it, but most people in the world can’t. They don’t have careers, they don’t have jobs that allow them that much freedom to be themselves or they work in a place or they live in a place where they don’t feel safe enough to be themselves. And my number one goal and objective for everyone is to first find a small place in any way where you feel safe enough that you can explore who you are, and at least gather that information so that you have it going forward. And for me, my whole life, my safe place was myself – I was always this person that I am today around myself, but as soon as I would get around anybody else, I would shut down and become a curated version of me. And then, it wasn’t until I got a friend group that made me feel really safe to explore who I was that I was able to kind of test new things and be myself a little bit more and more in public. And so, that’s definitely the first piece of advice I have for most people is, if you have safe spaces where you can be curious about who you are, and learn about yourself and be yourself, then don’t waste that because not everybody does, and that’s a beautiful place to at least start. And then, I think once you start doing it, you realize that it’s not as scary with those people and with those spaces as you thought it was, and then you can start testing and going out of your comfort zone a little bit at a time.
Andra Zaharia: And that is a good and such a doable way to go about it! I mean, it requires a bit of courage, it requires a bit of effort, but everything that involves growth in every other way, just has that packed into the process. You talked about that group of friends that allowed you to finally start just expressing yourself, as you did when you were alone in context that you’ve never done that before. How did you come together? How did that group happen?
Meg Lewis: Yeah, for this particular group, it was as soon as I moved to New York. I grew up in the Midwest in the US and moved around my whole adult life. I’m definitely that person that if you point out something about me that is unusual, then I just shut down – it’s just a defense mechanism I’ve had since I was a kid. So, if I’m doing something that’s unusual, or wearing something that’s unusual, and somebody’s like, “Meg, what are those pants?!” I would never wear those pants again. And that’s kind of how I was my whole life. Once I finally got to New York, the magical thing about the city of New York is that everyone there is doing so many interesting things that you have to, in order to survive – you kind of have to be a unique person in order to have a thing and succeed there because everybody has such interesting lives and jobs and every day I would see somebody that was so unlike anyone I had ever seen before. And the wonderful thing about New Yorkers and the attitude and personalities that they have, is they all just ignore each other. And that was the exact environment that I needed to succeed because I just needed to experiment with who I was, wear something a little unusual, do something a little unusual and have nobody say anything. Everybody ignored me. I found a friend group that they were like, “You do you! We’re not going to judge you.” And so, if I was doing something, they would either support me and give me those words of affirmation I needed to support me, or they would just pretend like nothing was happening. And going on the subway and being out in public and not having people point and laugh at me or point anything out, was amazing! Being ignored was key for me to have this environment where I felt safe, in order to explore who I was and try new things and put myself out there a little bit more and have everybody just not react – it was all I needed at the time. That space was so important for me, and now I feel so confident about who I am that I can move anywhere in the world and hopefully start to create those safe spaces for other people to do the same.
Andra Zaharia: That is beautiful, and I just kept nodding the entire time because coming from a small town, I empathize so much with the pants experience or any other comment in that area! And it was only after I moved to a bigger city where no one knew me and you couldn’t run into anyone who knew you – well, that’s not the case anymore, but I actually enjoy it now – it just felt so liberating! And that liberation, that safe space, just creating space for others and holding that space, I love that expression, I love that idea, I love how I see it in my head and how I appreciate it so deeply when others do it for me – and I appreciate you for working to create this. And to kind of sum it all up in this beautiful name that you gave it, which is, “Full Time You”, it immediately just communicates everything about your work that is essential and that other people need to know, and it immediately triggers that “Yes, I want to do this! Yes, I want to be this! Yes, I feel it in myself that I can do it!” I don’t know exactly how, but with the right support, you can definitely get there. So, you turned it into a book, into a video series, and workshops, and talks, and I’m very curious how you kind of organize your insights, how you put together all your personal experiences about self-discovery, just articulating them in a way that others can connect with. How did you get to that point?
Meg Lewis: Yeah, this was all a little bit challenging for me because, at the time when I first started creating Full Time You, I wasn’t really a writer, I didn’t know how to write a book, really, I didn’t know what I was doing at all, and my safe zone for me was teaching an online class because I had done that before, and I kind of waited for opportunities that were a little bit easier and less risky to arise – I taught a class through a service called Creative Live, which was basically the Full Time You curriculum, but it was at least supported by a company where I could kind of be curious about what this curriculum looked like and test it out on an audience first. So, I taught it through them and actually, this order is normally the opposite of how I normally go with my projects. Usually, I create something on my own first, and then do it on my own – all on my own – and then I wait and see if a brand will then pay me for something similar. This time, a brand approached me and said, “We want you to teach a class. What would you like to teach it on?” And it was the same curriculum as Full Time You, but I didn’t have the name Full Time you yet – it wasn’t born yet.
Meg Lewis: And so, I taught it through this other website and this other platform, and it resonated really well with people, and I enjoyed doing it, and so, from then I just thought, “You know, now I can be really weird with it and do it in a way that I really want to do, that’s a reflection of who I am and not a reflection of this brand’s version of who I am.” And so, I decided to teach an online class on my own, and I launched it to a little test group to see what people’s thoughts were, and the feedback was largely like, “Well, most of the work, Meg is being ourselves in this PDF workbook that you gave us, so we’d really like to be able to write it down. So, can you just give us an actual book instead?” And that’s when I was like, “That’s a very good point! That’s great feedback, but I don’t know how to write a book.” I didn’t know anything about that. And so, I had to figure out how to take the online video series that I had already made, with the PDF workbook worksheets, and turn it all into writing that goes along with these self-discovery challenges.
Meg Lewis: That was a remarkable experience for me to learn how to write, because my whole life, especially when I was in school, everyone would criticize me that I wrote just like how I talk and, “Meg, you have to write more academically!” And so, I think when I was writing the “Full Time You” book, I had this wonderful epiphany that I have to write the way that I talk, I have to write in my own voice, because that’s the point of the book, is that I’m teaching people how to find their own voice and then push it forward 100%. So, I really, really double-down on writing in my own voice and injecting the writing with words that I’m making up and all these phrases that I’m trying to coin that don’t work and all these funny things that I just think about in my head – I wrote them down and I kept them in the book. In doing that, I’m supporting other people and showing who I am, and hopefully allowing to create a safe space for them to feel comfortable exploring who they are. I think that’s really wonderful and worked in my favor. I ended up self-publishing it, I didn’t use an editor for that reason, because I wanted it to just be my voice, and it was very scary because I didn’t know what I was doing, but I found a printing company that only needed a week’s notice for the orders, for them to be able to print and ship them, so what I did was I launched the book on my fulltimeyou.com website, and I said that orders would ship a week from then. And so, then, I just took all the money I made from the pre-orders, and I used that money to print the actual book, so it ended up being a zero-dollar process because nobody helped me!
Andra Zaharia: That’s an excellent process! Very startup-oriented in the best way possible!
Meg Lewis: Yes! And so, now that I’ve sold thousands of copies, I ended up eventually getting a copywriting editor to just come through and take out all the punctuation errors. And so, now it’s a wonderful second edition that is still in my voice and nothing about the language has changed. There were just a few semicolons that have been moved around, which is good. But now, it’s just this wonderful product that I’ve started as this book that goes with the video series and now I’ve been able to teach workshops, and now I give talks around the same subject and my goal with all of it is to just help other people to find out what’s amazing about them, that makes them different from everybody else in the world and start to change their career and their life in ways that are tangible for them. And so, as long as I’m able to do that for people, it helps me to feel like I’m working towards something greater than myself, and it helps me to feel like I’m working to make the world a better place – which I can’t get enough of.
Andra Zaharia: You definitely are, and I think that choosing to use your own voice and to just write as you speak was a great choice! I think many people kind of fall out of love with writing simply because they had a different experience with it, and it’s the same with reading books and so many other things, that these learned behaviors that we got from school, that don’t fit our way of expressing ourselves or learning and we get stuck in them, and we actually just go about disenchanted with things that actually bring so much magic and so much creativity and energy into our lives. I’m very curious how your process with working with brands looks like because we’ve talked a lot about how you work with people, and from the outside, I see that you work with brands in a way that really captures what makes them special, and then you share it with the world in a way that makes others empathize and click with it instantly. So, what kind of working relationship do you have with these brands and how do you go about this entire process?
Meg Lewis: Yes, this is a great question because this has been ever-evolving and changing throughout my career. When I first started designing I would categorize myself as a classic problem-solving designer, to where I tried to change my style and alter the way I was working based on creating a solution that the brand would need for that problem they were trying to solve for, which is the way that designers are taught to work – this is normal, this is how designers work. And so, my brain just kind of naturally would churn out a certain style of work and I would really struggle in certain areas and it would be frustrating, but I’d do it because the brand needed it. And so, now, what I’ve done as I’ve learned more about myself and my skill set and what I can offer is, now I kind of got hired a little bit more like an artist than a problem-solving designer, which just means that usually brands have gone through a solution-finding exercise and they found a solution for their problem and my style kind of happens to overlap with the solution that they’ve already determined to solve this problem with.
Meg Lewis: And so, now I get to apply my artistic style, and within that brand, I skew things and things change just depending on the brand’s needs and the personality of the brand, but my design, as an artist style, is very personable, very friendly, very clean but very bold and loud in showcasing those personalities. And so, as long as a brand needs a design that fits in that realm, that spectrum, I’m able to work with them and they generally hire me more like an artist now, which is a very fascinating space to be in because most designers, especially in the branded design world don’t work this way. Fine artists do, for sure! Illustrators do, but not many designers are doing work like this, and especially in the design industry this is kind of a hot topic of conversation because most designers, their jobs are to solve problems and to have me being like, “I don’t actually like solving problems.” This is kind of a controversial thing for a designer to say but I found a way to make it work for me that also works for the world. I don’t think it’s causing any harm, and it’s making my career more fulfilling to me.
Meg Lewis: But I think that my approach to empathy and my excitement about showcasing my own personality forward helps me attract brands that are interested in the same values that have very, very, very similar missions to me, and that helps create more fulfilling work for me, but it helps them to showcase that mission to the world. So now, even if I’m doing something for the world that isn’t design-related – like my meditation podcast, or all the videos I have on the Internet of myself dancing, for example – the more stuff I do like that, that’s just a reflection of my brain and my personality. I get more opportunities from brands because they’ll say stuff like, “We loved your dancing videos and we’d love you to bring that energy into our office for a team-building exercise”, and I just get the strangest opportunities now that I could have never seen coming before. And it’s all happening because I’m just putting my own personality out there, and I’m attracting people that want to work with my personality and people that want to be around me, which makes my work so amazing!
Andra Zaharia: And that makes them amazing in turn, and it kind of propagates through the entire community and it sets a good precedent, it sets a good healthy example of bringing our whole selves and being that full time us everywhere, all the time, and actually ending up getting paid and doing fulfilling work because of it. One very last question: How do you think brands can encourage and practice and cultivate empathy in design? What do you think are the key ideas, concepts, that are behind that? How can they do it in a way that’s meaningful?
Meg Lewis: I think we need to bring humans into brands a little bit more. This is a trend that’s happening, and I’m so happy about it! But I think that brands and companies just need to start presenting as a person because our companies are made of people, and I think we need to stop hiding that a little bit. I think until the last five, six years, it was pretty common for brands to seem like… You needed to seem like a structured corporation in order to be taken seriously, you needed to have that authority and respect, and the only way to get it was to seem very dry and authoritative and serious. And now, it’s becoming very popular for brands to celebrate their teammates and their office culture to have actually healthy workplace culture is so important, and to give great benefits, finally. Support and being inclusive of our teammates is something that’s really popular now, which is wonderful! I think that’s a great start.
Meg Lewis: And I think doing that is easy for some brands to just study it and say, “Oh, okay, so you just want us to add a ping-pong table to our office so that people can have fun.” And I think that’s where it kind of started, but now I think it’s taking it a huge step forward, in not only creating careers that are fulfilling for individuals where you’re learning about what they actually need and want to feel fulfilled, and then altering their role to be custom for what they can do – I think that’s a great first step – but also showcasing to your customers and your audience that you are a company made of humans, and having a voice that’s a reflection of human voices, showcasing your team as much as possible; I think all of those create kind of a happy company atmosphere and a fulfilling company that you’re marketing out into the world and people can see that. I think humans today are very good at noticing when brands are actually inauthentic – we’re very good at it, we can see. And so, I think you have to look internally and create an internal structure first. It’s like, all this work you’re doing with yourself of looking inward first, as companies, we have to look inward first and figure out at our office, at our workplace, how we can fix this culture and make it healthier, and make it more supportive and inclusive. And then, that will just bleed out into the way that our audience and our consumers and customers see us, and I think that that is really wonderful! I’m so happy that this is popular and more companies are doing this now, but we just have to get all of them!
Yes, I completely agree! I think that our conversation, these key topics about alignment, self-awareness – whether it’s as a company or as people – and if we practice it as people, it helps us to practice self-awareness as a group as well, and obviously, as a company, because basically, that’s what a company is, it’s a collection of groups of people, and the faster we acknowledge that, the faster we’re all going to have better jobs and better roles that we’re more proud of. Thank you so much, Meg, for sharing everything so candidly, so honestly, so very filled with joy for everything. I have a deep sense of gratitude for being able to talk to you, to learn from you today and every other day and I can’t wait for everyone else to hear this episode, to listen to it and hopefully be inspired to go on or progress through their own journey. So, thank you so much!
Meg Lewis: Wow, yes! Thank you!
Andra Zaharia: Thanks for exploring empathy and its many nuances with us. If you found it helpful, subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app and leave a review. Until next time, this is Andra Zaharia, and thank you for listening to the Drag & Drop show, from Bannersnack!
Connect with Meg:
Resources mentioned in the episode:
- Full Time You website
- Book: Meg Lewis – Full Time You
- Podcast: Sit There & Do Nothing: Weird Stories to Soothe Your Brain
- Podcast: Overtime
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