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Hey, everyone, I'm Elise Hu, continuing our TED Audio Collective Friday series.


We've got something a little different today, an episode from our podcast Zig-Zag, the Business Podcast about being human. And this season comes with a twist. It's interactive, something Zig-Zag has never done before.


Listen on to see how you can take part in the Zig-Zag project and find the show wherever you're listening to this. Like Ted talks, you should check out the TED Radio Hour with NPR. Stay tuned after this talk to hear a sneak peek of this week's episode. Ted talks daily, is brought to you by Lululemon, I am a long time runner and my attitude about workout clothing is I don't want to have to think about it at all. And that's why I run in Lululemon these days.


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You name the department. We've got it covered and they're all connected. Join the six million users who stopped wasting time and started getting stuff done. Go to ODU Dotcom slash Ted to start a free trial. That's Odilo dot com slash Ted. Himan ish, I would describe this moment in my career as a roller coaster and stuck or maybe a stuck roller coaster, I would describe this moment in my career as stagnant and confusing.


I would describe this moment in my career in business as dormant and directionless, emergent and a restructuring, weird transitional, a zig zagging period of lull and grief. Oh, yeah, listeners, this is a really weird time for a lot of us, for most of us when it comes to work, our businesses and our lives. And I wish that I could get a clear vision of where I ultimately want to go so that I can figure out how to chart a path to get there.


We have had to shelve so many of our big plans and rethink what the heck comes next. Where to begin.


I wish I could just be patient and I wish I would just fast forward to when my business is established. I wish I could figure out what that next direction should be. Is Zig-Zag the business podcast about being human? I'm a new semrad, and this new season is something I'm calling the Zig-Zag Project six episodes to get you from stuck to inspired. Every two weeks, you'll learn about an issue in work and business idea about how to make it better with stories from listeners and insight from the folks who inspired me to come up with an assignment for you to do.


The assignments might remind you of ones you've done in the past. Maybe you've done career workshops or something where it might be completely new to you. But I do hope you'll join us because I have run interactive projects with thousands of listeners before and knowing that you are waking up in the morning trying to figure something out and thousands of other people are doing it, too. It is an incredible feeling. Will we solve all your problems? Probably not. Well, I don't know.


Maybe who knows? But more likely, we're going to put some fire in your belly and get you to make a concrete plan, because this past year has made clear that the way we work has maxed out our psyches and our planet.


It's also, of course, left us unprepared to support the most vulnerable in our communities during the worst of times.


And many of you have told me because of the last year, your ambitions have changed. You are defining success differently, and you want to align your work with what you want to see in the world. You're ready for a reset.


All right, Maneesh, I would describe this moment in my career as stagnant and unfulfilling, and I wish I could find something more contributive. I think I just made up a word there. But you get the idea. I want to contribute more to society and I'm trying to figure out a way to do it. Oh, I like that word.


Contributive. Yeah. So unlike the usual career or startup guidebooks or podcasts, this project has a twist. It's not just about finding a new job or what color your parachute is.


It's about considering really deeply how you can align your personal values with your professional ambitions in a post 2020 economy. And that is going to mean very different things for different people.


A couple of months ago, one hundred and fifty listeners volunteered to beta test the Zig-Zag project. They gave me feedback on the assignments. They shared their hopes and their fears, and they took a pretty lengthy survey anonymously, which turned up lots of fascinating data points.


All of that has been compiled into this six episode season for anyone. So listen along to all six episodes or better yet, join us, do the exercises, see if you can find your next zig zag. And I'll tell you more about where you can get more info at the end of the show. For now, off we go. In 2020, our lives were dictated by the headlines, the pandemic, racial injustice, a fraught election here in the US, intense natural disasters.


And we saw the world differently because we were alone or we couldn't get away from our family because we got sick or we realized how lucky we were to stay healthy because maybe we lost our jobs or we saw how fortunate we were to continue making more money than most. Now, more than a quarter of American workers don't have a job that lifts them above the poverty level. Billions of small businesses have scaled back or closed entirely.


A quarter of adults in the US say that they or someone in their household was laid off or lost their job because of the coronavirus outbreak, with 15 percent saying it happened to them personally.


And that is pretty much what Zig-Zag project beta testers told me to. 13 percent reported losing their job.


But let's get into the nuance of what you told me, because that's pretty illuminating of those listeners who took the Zig-Zag Project survey, 70 percent were women. Now women are more likely to respond to surveys. So I'll take that with a grain of salt. And on the whole, this group has some advantages. Most of you say you've got a college degree or higher. Many of you are married or have a partner. So you've got some backup. A quarter of you say you run your own business, but only one person had to shut down.


And now here's the data point where things I think it really interesting, 40 percent of you say that big social issues have always been at the heart of who you are and what you do. But another 20 percent, one out of five say that 20, 20 changed your understanding of the world and social issues, and you want that to be reflected in your work going forward. If that statistic translates to the workforce at large, even just a little bit, we could see some huge and interesting shifts in how people work and do business in years to come.


Your top issues were climate change, wealth disparity and racial injustice.


And I mean, Zig-Zag listeners, you're obviously motivated people. You're listening to the show. Right. And beta testers, you especially you volunteered to be my guinea pigs. But I heard lots of folks say they are balancing this strange sense of optimism right now with feeling freaked out and exhausted.


I would like to describe this moment in my career as fun but muddy, exciting and scary. I would like to float sometimes not the constant swimming to survive, just some moments to exhale would be really nice.


I finish this is Megan from Michigan and I would describe this moment in my career as frustrating and uplifting.


And I wish I could figure out why I would describe this moment in my career as a transition point and full of promise. And I wish I could get started now.


Yeah, I get that. And those of you who are feeling flat out miserable right now, no sense of optimism. It's OK. You have company, too.


I would describe this moment in my career as a body blow and total blindside, and I wish I could respond.


I would describe this moment in my career slash business as nonexistent and lacking energy and time.


I would describe this moment in my career as transitional and testing the limits of my tolerance to anxious thoughts and feelings.


Yeah, those anxious thoughts translated into sixty percent of our beta testers saying that they think about making a big change in their life and work at least once a day, if not multiple times a day.


But there's something you need to know. All that thinking about making a change that is not ruminating, that is doing some hard mental work doesn't necessarily feel good, but it is a good thing.


What I mean. Exactly. And your first assignment after the break. Every 12 years, a massive city is built by the Ganges River in India. It is considered to be the largest gathering of human beings on the planet.


Then two months later, the whole thing is dismantled. And really there is no memory.


There is no trace cities. How they rise, fall and evolve. That's next time on the TED Radio Hour from NPR. Subscribe or listen to the TED Radio Hour wherever you get your podcasts. So maybe you remember on the last season of Zig-Zag, I had a fabulous conversation with Chaplain Greg Epstein. Greg is the humanist chaplain at MIT and Harvard and he writes about tech and ethics. And we got super deep into resetting.


How we can possibly reset the tech industry is moral compass. But months after we taped that interview, Gregg told me about a concept that has nothing to do with the tech industry and a lot to do with rethinking how we live and work.


Maybe you've already heard of the Neutral Zone? I had not. Here's Greg.


I'm Anoush, it is Greg Epstein here, and I'm finally getting a chance to record this voice memo for you, you asked me to catch you up on what feels like an absolute lifetime since we talked, everybody questioning everything, rightly so, about what it means to live in this country, what it means to be a student, what it means to be a person of faith or an atheist or a humanist, or what it means to be a chaplain or a critic of the tech industry.


There really is a desperate call for support for people who are trying to figure out how to live meaningfully in this time. I find myself having these conversations in my head every single day about what does it mean to cope with a pandemic like this? Is our life ever going to be the same? Is this the fall of the American empire? Should I radically reinvasion my own future? Should I radically reinvasion my child's future? Of course, the answers are yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.


But, you know, the specifics are really important.


And so I've been thinking a lot about some writing that I read a few years ago when I was zigzagging out of my work with my congregation where I was deciding to stop doing my congregational work. I read a couple of books by an academic named William Bridges. Who studied life transition? He died several years ago, but his wife, Susan Bridges, now continues his work. They've got an institute that William and Susan Bridges Institute where they study life transition.


And essentially William Bridges's model is as follows. He analyzed data over decades of people experiencing life transitions. And what he found was that a life transition begins not with a new beginning, like getting a new job or starting a new school or going back to school after a pandemic.


A life transition begins with an ending with a sense that something in your mind, even if not in the external circumstances, has come to a major end point and you don't know what's next.


And he then found that the most successful people in terms of getting to a sense of a new beginning after a major ending in their relationship or their career or their studies or their family or whatever, it was, the people who did the best at getting to a sense of a fulfilling and satisfying and meaningful new beginning were not the ones who move quickly from the end point to their next point, but rather were the ones who allowed themselves an extended period of what Bridges calls a neutral zone.


Could be several months, could be years of not knowing where we're headed.


The Neutral Zone. So here's how William Bridges describes his concept in a video he made before his death in 2013.


Phase two of transition is the neutral zone. Most organizations don't even have a name for it, much less a way to get people through it. And because they're in a hurry to get the change finished, they figure that the best way to deal with this in between time is to rush through it.


Here's where you need to distinguish change from transition. It's true that you need to keep the change moving, but to try to hurry through the transition gets you into trouble.


It is in the neutral zone that the real transformations take place and that energy, purpose and commitment are renewed. This place, that many view is just wasted.


Time is actually precious.


Bridges mostly applied his ideas to companies getting taken over or reorganizing. Maybe your business has used his framework for figuring out your transitions.


I hadn't heard of him, but I've realized that the research that I've done in the book I wrote about using boredom as a productivity tool for the mind isn't actually all that different. Anyway, I digress. The point is, first comes an ending, then this neutral time, which is supposed to be full of confusion and stress. Bridges said that Western culture doesn't make time or space for a tough period like this. We want to rush and begin anew already, but we shouldn't.


And Greg Chappell and Greg is trying to spread this message right now because it is so applicable in all our lives.


Psychologically speaking, it's the sense that we allow ourselves this time to not know. And that's what I want to say as a quote unquote, observer of humanity.


It's what I'm trying to say to as many students and and even professors and deans and line cooks and whoever else I get a chance to talk to, you know, Uber drivers or whatever, although I haven't gotten in a car other than my own in a long time, it's allow ourselves the time not to know.


Yeah. Give yourself some permission not to know. And please, if it's helpful, think of the zig zag project as your neutral zone, your place to sit with all the ideas and yes, emotions that are going to come up. Which brings us to your first mission.


Should you choose to accept it, you are going to take your own pulse, survey yourself and observe where you are right now before even trying to figure out where you're going.


Don't think about your next career move or try to pin down your ambitions.


Just be with your brain. Rev your engine in neutral.


Today has two parts together.


These assignments will probably take you between twenty to thirty minutes, but absolutely feel free to take more time and don't rush.


And also don't overthink your answers. Try to just go with it and enjoy taking this time to think about yourself. OK, all right. So the first is fill in the blanks.


You have been hearing beta testers throughout this episode doing it. Here's the sentence. Right.


I would describe this moment in my life and career as blank and blank, and I wish I could blank I would describe this moment in my career business as completely new and uncharted, and I wish I could keep moving through it.


I would describe this moment in my career in business as new and unpredictable, and I wish I could see the future.


I would describe this moment in my career. Business is stuck and starting to generate new ideas, and I wish I could figure out how to split my time between my current project and the new one.


I would describe this moment in my business as strenuous and frightening, and I wish I could make the day's last longer.


I would describe this moment in my career as perplexing and frustrating. I wish I could have advanced into a role where I feel like I'd be making a real difference to people. I didn't even realize that's how I was feeling about work until I read it.


Now, I would describe this moment in my career as fragmented and detached, and I wish I could fix that.


Trying to fix it will come soon, really soon. But we're not there yet. For now. Fill in the blanks again. Go with the first ideas that pop in your mind. Don't overthink it and do not judge yourself. For heaven's sake. What if you are inspired to do so?


Record yourself, record your sentence and send it to me at Zig-Zag at stable dotcom. And after that, please make sure to take the self reflective survey. I ask you quite. Jones, to help you consider how you are thinking about money and vacations and creativity right now, all kinds of things go to Zig-Zag Pod Dotcom, click on the link. Your responses and your data will be anonymized. Unfortunately, because I'm such a privacy freak, I cannot send you a copy of your answers.


But, you know, if you feel like they could be useful later, go ahead and take some screenshots of your responses.


Oh, and one more thing. After you take the survey, just observe what questions your brain starts mulling over. Let those ideas marinate. OK, so I'm going to see you in two weeks when we move on to step two of this process and we get some help from conflict resolution expert Priya Parker. For a period of my life, probably eight years, I began to realize the importance of vision and clarity and conscious decision making.


And I wanted to understand how to help people get very, very, very clear on on their sense of purpose.


The method Priya put me through years ago that made a huge difference in my life and work. I'm going to get you to do it to a little bit different.


If you know someone who you think should join our little experiment, please tell them about the show. If you'd like to do this process with extra added information and links to all the stuff I mentioned in the episode plus articles. I think you might like reading while you go through this. Please sign up for the newsletter. It's at Zig-Zag Pod Dotcom.


You can always find me at my other job as host of NPR's TED Radio Hour. Oh yeah. You can also email me any time at Zig-Zag at Stable Dotcom. Tell me how this Zig-Zag project thing is going for you. Many thanks to audio engineers and composers David Herman and Dan Bismullah, to Lauren Reimer for this season's illustration, Zig-Zag as a member of the TED Audio Collective and comes from stable genius productions in the summer.


And thank you so much for listening. Parsecs.