Take Time to Be Present with Eric Brooker (2/2)

Welcome to episode 140 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 2 of our interview with Eric Brooker, covering topics such as disconnecting, being present, and Eric’s experiences in podcasting.

Original Recording Date: 7-20-2021

Eric Brooker is a veteran in tech sales (experience of over 20 years) and has progressed from individual contributor to sales leader. Check out part 1 of our interview with him in Episode 139.

Topics – Taking Time Away, Disconnect and Focus, Eric’s Podcast, Closing Thoughts

2:02 – Taking Time Away

  • Eric is 41 and has been in tech sales for 21 years. He and his wife like to travel, but they have always traveled to visit family.
    • They had never taken a vacation just the 9 of them (Eric, his wife, and their 7 children) until recently. They visited Lake of the Ozarks.
  • The podcast Eric hosts (Counsel Culture, formerly The New Norm) is all about culture and leadership.
    • Every company out there talks about the amazing culture they have, even the really bad ones.
    • There are few companies out there that really strive to have a great culture (may not have one but strive for one).
    • Eric has been with his current employer for 2 years now. They are great people. They do everything they say they are going to do (a bit of a cultural anomaly in Eric’s industry).
  • Eric’s wife helped him realize they had never done a vacation with just their family. So she sold him on the idea of taking a week off for just such an endeavor.
    • Eric has 6 bead jars that sit at his desk with a specific number of beads in each, which decreases each week, representing the number of weeks he has left with his kids before they turn 18.
      • This trick was taught to Eric by a former Disney executive.
      • Every Saturday morning an alarm goes off, reminding Eric to take a bead out of each jar and reflect on the week before (how present he was to the kids). It’s a reminder to him to be present and that there is only so much time left with the kids.
  • Eric decided if he’s taking a week off, he should probably NOT work. What does not working mean?
    • He was fortunate enough to not have a cellular connection at Lake of the Ozarks (a big reason it was a great vacation). But Eric wanted to do more to make sure he would be present.
    • Eric called his boss and said he had made a conscious decision to delete e-mail from his phone.
      • During the vacation, Eric was more present with his family than he had ever been, owed no one anything, and really enjoyed it.
      • No one needed him for an entire week, and if they did, it was going to have to wait until he got back.
      • No one died, nothing catastrophic happened, and the world went on.
  • We often think the company will fall apart if we’re away, and that is simply not what happened in Eric’s case.
    • Eric was present to his kids. They did so many fun things hanging out with one another that they will remember for many years to come.
    • Eric is almost angry at himself for waiting this long (i.e. starting at age 41) to disconnect.
    • Even if you are single, take the week to be present to yourself, and take e-mail off your phone.
    • Eric’s company was incredibly supportive.
    • Eric plans to do this once per year moving forward.

10:02 – Disconnect and Focus

  • If your boss is not ok with you taking a week off work and not actually working, you work for the wrong person or at the wrong company.
  • Eric is confused as to why he’s never done this before now.
  • None of us really disconnect when we take time off. We have our cell phones, our e-mail, etc.
  • Thirty years ago, this is how we took time off (mostly total disconnection).
  • Eric’s dad will go missing in action for a week on end, and Eric won’t hear from him much.
    • Early on in this, Eric would ask "what if something happens to you?" His dad would say "either way you’re going to find out I’m already dead."
    • Horrible things have the potential to happen whether we are connected or disconnected. Why not just take the time off and be present?
  • You will never get the time back. Eric recalls stepping out on a family vacation for half a day to resolve a customer issue. Why would he do that?
    • John says sometimes it is ego (i.e. "I need to be the one to handle this").
      • Someone else can fix it. You’re on vacation.
    • The other is the martyr’s viewpoint. When all is said and done we want to be able to say how much we’ve bled for the company.
      • Eric thinks this may be the reason he took half a day in Boston to deal with a customer issue.
      • Whatever the issue is, it is unlikely we are the only one who can fix it and perhaps even more unlikely that we would need to stop everything and handle it regardless of where we are and what we are doing.
  • Eric wishes he had taken this time once or twice per year as a gift to himself and to his family.
  • Sometimes we may fear that if we don’t do it (handle the problem), someone else will do it, and that will impact our ability to be promoted.
    • As a sales leader, the more admirable thing is to be present to your family and to be more present in life.
  • There are also those who are addicted to responsiveness. They feel like they cannot close down e-mail even for a couple of hours.
    • Some of the most successful people Eric has met check their e-mail only a couple of times per day. This has created a behavior for internal / external customers of this specific executive.
    • We think the sky is going to fall if we don’t respond to that e-mail or return that call.
  • John cites the core lesson as being present. Even checking e-mail a couple of times per day is about being present and focusing on a single task.
    • Most technologies today are setup to distract you.
    • If you can’t trust yourself to be present with your family can you really trust yourself to be focused on the job?
    • Eric has been working to be more present at work (i.e. shutting down e-mail to be on a call, focus on a task, etc.).
      • How often have we been on the receiving end of someone affirming what we’ve just said (not in a meaningful way but because they were distracted)? We know that person was not listening. How often today were you that person?
      • The hardest thing to do in life is to be present. You can turn your phone over so you cannot see the screen, turn it off, or put it in a drawer to focus on what you’re doing.
      • If your job is so important that you cannot miss a call, text, or e-mail you probably have an executive assistant. Tell that person to only walk into your office / buzz you when it’s hair on fire.
  • Are you willing to set do not disturb on your phone during meetings, turn it upside to keep it from ringing, or block off parts of your calendar for do not disturb?
    • These are systems to help you focus.
    • Eric says you can even set an alarm on your phone to help.
      • He is currently in the process of writing a book (just started) and uses a 30-minute window before work for streams of thought related to the book. There is nothing wrong with scheduling time for tasks like this.
    • This reminds Nick of Josh Duffney’s efforts to focus that we discussed in Episode 124 and that he needs to re-read Deep Work by Cal Newport.
      • Many times prolific thinkers and authors would disconnect or go somewhere else to do tasks requiring extreme focus.
      • For Eric, it’s working on a book. For others it may be spending 30 minutes with kids before they leave for school each day.
        • It starts by figuring out what your priorities are in life.
        • Eric says his priority is family but wanted to make sure his actions are in alignment with what he is saying.
      • Nick set a goal to write a blog for his daughter weekly. And before he set the goal he was not doing it consistently. He found after setting the goal it was easy to do and sometimes results in 2 posts per week.
      • If you tell people about what you plan to do, it is more likely to happen (the accountability factor).

25:35 – Eric’s Podcast

  • Eric got a phone call about a year ago from Tanner Brock asking him to come on a podcast to discuss a few things.
    • The discussion was on culture and leadership, something Eric is very passionate about.
    • This comes from a horrible job Eric had a number of years ago where he was run into the ground emotionally.
    • The motivation to start the podcast was getting sucked into what looked like a great culture on paper but really wasn’t.
      • It was not about Eric. It was about the company’s bottom line and Eric not taking vacation time or focusing on his family, feeling the company was working people to death.
      • Eric did not want others to make the same mistake.
  • The podcast is about creating a new norm in our lives about culture and leadership. It’s about taking a leadership role in our own lives.
    • The name of the show at the time of the recording was The New Norm but has recently rebranded to Counsel Culture. Full details on the podcast can be found here.
    • There have been a number of incredible guests such as the former CE of Chipotle, the VP of Talent at Chick-Fil-A, executives from Twitter and Disney, and folks like John O’Leary and Jason Schechterle.
      • Jason was a 26-year-old police officer rear-ended by a taxi cab going 120 miles per hour, and it changed his life. Listen to more details of the story from Eric.
    • The podcast has been a lot of fun and has really stretched Eric, releasing weekly on Tuesdays.
    • He originally committed to 75 episodes and is pretty close to that mark now. With all the fun and success he is having he plans to keep going.
      • Nick and John talk about how many episodes they felt they could get in the beginning.
      • Someone told Eric most podcasts don’t get to 10 episodes, so he immediately set a goal to get to 25.
  • Eric is reading about a book per week to try and keep up with his podcast guests. It forces him to grow and mature as a person and allows him to share unbelievable conversations with people, which makes him want to keep doing it.
    • Why should we learn things the hard way when we can learn from other people’s experiences?
    • The technology is such that you don’t have to go through the hassle of reading a 300 page book. You could find a 40-minute podcast and learn from subject matter experts.
  • John likes the idea of transmitting knowledge via some kind of broadcast medium (podcast, blog, video, etc.). What kind of feedback has Eric received to continue to work on his podcast?
    • Any guest Eric gets to speak with is a guest he might not have had the change to talk to otherwise.
    • Eric got to know the founder of Self Esteem Brands (which encompasses Anytime Fitness) who happens to live just a few minutes away from him, a relationship Eric otherwise would not have forged.
    • The conversations about episodes with listeners have been very enriching.
    • Listen to Eric’s story about someone asking to be a guest on his show to discuss a 3-year recovery from alcohol addiction.
      • A large number of people reached out to Eric about the impact listening to the conversation had on them (like the person Eric knew from church who has been sober for 350 days but was going to drink to celebrate and decided against it after listening to the podcast).
      • There is so much information you can get from spending 15-30 minutes daily listening to someone else’s experience.
      • Catch the full interview with Michael Gallagher here.
  • How can we be more meaningful and intentional in our actions every day? Think about it.
    • John cites the theme of being present, being focused, and doing things intentionally.
    • Eric cites a Disney executive who used to open and close conversations with "happy present moment" – Jeff Noel. See also [this episode of Counsel Culture].
      • We’re in such a rush to get to the next thing. Be happy in the present moment because you are there for a reason.
      • People are transmitting what their values are, etc. to you in the present moment.

38:33 – Closing Thoughts

  • The worst thing Eric has ever done is get impatient. He was looking for success faster than he needed to, thinking a year into a role he had earned the right to get a promotion or the role as manager.

    • Eric would get mad and wouldn’t be patient, often times leaving the company.
    • Be patient. The grass is not always greener on the other side, even though we think it is.
    • Eric wishes he had been more patient, feeling he had missed out on opportunities in front of him even though things were not easy at the moment.
  • Bobby Dysart said "don’t wait, start small, learn as you go." So many of us are waiting to gather all the info to write the book. Just take the first step.

  • John recommends checking out the Deep Questions Podcast from Cal Newport.

  • And make sure to check out the Council Culture Podcast!

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