April 21, 2021

Julie Lythcott-Haims — Award-Winning Author, TED Speaker, Activist & Former Dean at Stanford University

Dana Safa

1Huddle Podcast Episode #35

On this Bring It In podcast episode, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci sat down with Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the New York Times best-selling book How to Raise an Adult. Her newest book Your Turn: How to Be an Adult was released this month, and it’s already topping the charts as the #1 most popular book among Amazon’s Adulthood & Aging new releases. Before she was a bestselling author, Julie was Stanford’s Dean of Freshmen. She had a great reputation for advocating for students and was known around campus for her fierce critique of the growing trend of parental involvement in the day-to-day lives of college students. So she started writing on the harm of helicopter parenting, which gave way to her book How to Raise an Adult and her popular TedTalk on overparenting. 

On this episode of Bring It In season two, Julie and 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci talked about everything from why successful adults have to adopt a growth mindset to how we can lead by example.


Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. 

TOP 6 HIGHLIGHTS

Below are some of the insights Julie shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.

  • “At some point, parents will be dead and gone, and God help the child who has led a life so involved with parental involvement that they will not know how to do things for themselves, solve problems, and cope with inevitable setbacks”
  • “Having a sense of purpose keeps us alive.”
  • “You want to tell your kids they don’t have to be perfect; they’re not going to believe you unless you demonstrate that.”
  • “I remember the folks who mentored me who had high expectations for me and treated me with dignity and kindness, and I remember those who couldn’t show up with that second piece. Today’s employees…they’re going to ask you to be bigger than that, and I think that’s a good thing. People just want to be treated with dignity and that shouldn’t be a hard thing to do in the workplace.”
  • “Humility and respect will make your employees more connected, and that connection will make them work harder and more loyally for your company.”
  • “When different people from different walks of life come together, better decisions are made and problems are solved more adeptly.”

FULL TRANSCRIPTION

Sam: Your background is as a dean, and you’ve been up close and personal. You are doing a lot of writing around the harmful effects of helicopter parenting. What inspired you to pick up the topic of helicopter parenting? 

Julie: I was a Dean working on campus, a very elite private campus called Stanford University. For years, I had the privilege of working with young people aged 18 to 22. I saw the manifestation of the profound changes in childhood. Namely, parents were all up in their kids’ business, arguing with their teachers, being involved in their child’s interactions with other humans, solving problems, making choices as if the student was still 5, 8, or 12 — and I found myself worrying as I sort of put two and two together because I saw this parental involvement since my job was to listen well to my students. As I met with them in office hours and small groups, I saw this kind of reliance on parents, a gratitude for all the help parents were giving, which is to a large extent appropriate. But where was the hunger in these young adults to lead their own life? Where was the agency of a Gen X-er? Who would have said “stop parents, what are you doing here? You don’t need to talk to my professor.” I didn’t see that in them. Increasingly over the years, I saw a psychological intertwined in this as if a student and parent are kind of the same person. As a matter of curiosity, I wondered: is that ultimately always a good thing or at some point, doesn’t every human have to kind of say “okay, so this is my life, and I love you, but I’ve got it.” Because at some point parents will be dead and gone and God help the child who has been led a life so intertwined with parental involvement that they will not know how to do things for themselves, how to make choices, solve problems, and cope with the inevitable setbacks of life. My concern for what will happen to these over-parenting young adults led me to write that first book. 

Sam: What was the feedback you got?

Julie: This book came out in 2015, and in the early months as I traveled around the nation with it, I got some pushback. Is this a problem? It’s not a problem. But slowly the mounting evidence on how mental health is harmed from over-parenting began to come out, more data came out, and people stopped pushing back on: is this a problem? People were seeing the problem manifesting in their high school communities and in the form of young adults returning home — kind of that boomerang concept. The fragility of young adults was becoming more appreciated. The lack of workplace readiness… employers were saying: you know what, I got to tell him precisely what to do and how to do it. They need really clear stuff. I can’t just say, run with this. They can’t take the initiative. They want to please. They want to be very good. They’re accustomed to constant feedback from a childhood where they’ve been told: “perfect, great job.” What does that translate to in the workplace? Maybe not initiative-taking needs a lot of direction, needs a lot of applause. Folks began basically nodding their head and saying “I get what she’s talking about. I’ve seen it in my house. I see it in my town. I see it in my extended family. I see it in my workplace.” My whole thing is I’m writing for these young people; I’m not blaming them for how they are. We lay this at the feet of those boomers and Gen X who’ve raised folks who may be less capable. Folks are more interested in that because it’s a problem. What do we do about it? 

Sam: Now we’re moving from parenting to adulting and your new book is coming out April 6th. I thought that the stories were poignant. I thought that the book felt direct, it felt compassionate. It felt like I was being coached. I felt like I was in the Dean’s office, but maybe the Dean who was the teacher that let you stick around a little bit after the bell and talk, the teacher you wanted to be around. That was my takeaway. What do you hope readers take away from Your Turn: How to be an Adult? 

Julie: Thank you for saying that. I love that image. I was that Dean who was trying to be visible and show up where the students are so that they know that their stuff matters to me, that I cared about things that they cared about, and that I was credible. When I opened my mouth and offered some advice or some ideas, they might be interested in what I had to say, and there’s so many of us who can play that role as parents and as managers in the lives of people who are coming up on the path behind us. So ultimately, I’m trying to be that voice in these pages, which is hard to do. It’s one thing to have a conversation that’s compassionate and frank and funny and offer some advice. It’s another to try to achieve that on the printed page, where it is a one-way conversation. I’m hoping that the reader will be responding in their own way, but I won’t be with the reader as they do it. That’s the challenge of trying to create a good coaching or mentoring conversation between the pages of a book, but that’s what this is. It’s for a young adult who’s like: I’m kind of adult-ish, but not quite adulting. I’m trying to be good at this. I don’t know how to, and I’m worried. This is me saying: you know what? I respect you. I respect where you are on your journey. I have some advice based on the life I have lived. I’m going to be vulnerable with you and share some of the stupid things I did or the problematic things I got myself into, where ultimately I learned and grew. I’m trying to pull away from this notion that they’re raised one path and it’s linear or that you have to be perfect. I’m trying to slay those norms. Ultimately, I’m trying to get them to pay attention to that inner voice — although it can be really clouded by the expectation of parents and society, and peers — that inner voice that says: this is what I’m good at. This is what I love. This is who I am. The more we can listen to that voice, the better guidance we give ourselves around: so this is the work I should pursue, or I should pursue work in these types of environments, or these are the places where I should live, or these are the people with whom I want to be in community with because I feel respected and loved and cherished as I am with them. This book is saying: I’m trying to give you permission to be you, figure that out, and go be that person. You will literally feel in your bones the delicious feeling of success that is currently alluding to you or feels like it’s far off in the distance.

Sam: I think it’s also for that reason that the book makes such perfect sense for not just young adults to read. If you manage other people, if you’re a teacher, if you’re a coach, if you’re a parent, if you’re a leader, if you’re a CEO — understanding your people is so important. There was a section in the book where you talk about “the beautiful F words.” I think it was failing, faltering, floundering, and so on. What can organizations do in your opinion to create environments where failing, faltering, floundering, flailing are okay?

Julie: I think number one: you got to talk about it being okay. That has to be an articulated philosophy in the workplace. Number two, as the manager, as the leader, you got to model it. You can’t just talk the talk; you gotta walk the walk as we do in parenting. You want to tell your kids, you don’t have to be perfect, but they’re not going to believe you unless you demonstrate that when they are imperfect it’s okay. First and foremost, you should share some stories from your own life of your imperfection that makes your child or your employees in the workplace believe you. So as a leader, pick out a few choice stories: “I remember when I was a junior person in this company and I did X, Y, and Z and this is what happened.” They see you as more human that way. Your willingness to be vulnerable. Don’t go too far. Don’t overshare such that your employees are now trying to be your therapist and helping you deal with these unresolved feelings you might still have. Hold the line a little, share enough so that they know you’re human, but then work out whatever you need to work out about that lingering story with your therapist. The third thing, which I’ve already alluded to, is when they fail — which they will, which you have invited them to do — and you’ve shown them that you can show up and say: all right, failure is normal. What did you learn from it? How are you going to turn that into a lesson that will make you stronger, better, more agile, and more compassionate for next time?

Sam: How did the impacts of COVID change any part of your book, or how you think about it today?

Julie: Well, let me speak to it personally, then let me say what I think it’s done for young adults. So if you had told me last March that we’d still be in a pandemic a year later, that I would nevertheless complete a massive book, and that my book tour would be entirely virtual, I wouldn’t have believed any of it. I don’t think many of us outside of the infectious disease world had a sense of the long tail of this pandemic and of course how people would respond and comply and all of that. I feel that it’s a triumph personally that I can look to this and say “good job, Julie. It was a pandemic, and it was really hard and you had your grown children back at home and your 82-year-old mother and she needed you more than ever, and yet you also managed to do your work.” I feel proud of myself, I even opened the chapter called: how to cope when the shit hits the fan where I talk about people who have bad things happen to them. I opened by saying “not going to lie, I’m struggling right now. I’m trying to write a book, and it’s a pandemic, and I end up saying: I’m going to do the best I can to process what’s happening and press on and write this book for you while being attentive to my own emotional needs.” In some ways, that’s the whole point of this chapter. It became a way for me to practice what I was trying to preach or teach in terms of what the pandemic has done to us and to young adults. It kind of all depends on how they spent this past year and how they’re still spending it. Many young adults have been out there in the workplace, in college, enjoying greater freedoms and independence and the responsibility and accountability that come with that greater freedom. If they came back home and retreated to their childhood bedroom and to childhood norms in the family, then that might have impeded their forward adulting momentum, particularly if the parents were very eager to say “oh, you’re back, let me treat you like you’re 15 again.” If the kid was okay with that, then I think it may have undone some of that growth and learning that they’re going to have to now regain. But for the young adult who came back and who — both within themselves and with the support or expectation of family — said “you know what, I’m an adult now. Let me go pick up the groceries, it’s safer for me to be out there than you all.” Or: why don’t I make a meal once a week? Or what are some of the chores I can take on to be of use? You know, there’s nothing inherent in being 20 or 25. At this moment, that meant you had to receive the childhood norms. It all kind of depended on how you showed up and how your family treated you. For some, it will have accelerated their adulting because they acquired more skills. They learned how to bake. They learned how to handle the tasks of life previously handled by parents. This comes down to how much personal choice there actually is, even when things are happening around us, over which we have no control. We always have the ability to say: okay, fine. This is telling us what we can’t do. What can we do? What is it that I am in charge of? What is it that I can take on? What are some of my goals, despite these constraints? We always have that individual ability to be in charge of our behaviors and choices and the way we cope with things.

Sam: I’m familiar with the book Mindset with Carol Dweck, and there’s a section where you talk about how to verbalize growth mindset and how to make it real versus it just being a model that talks about growth mindset versus fixed mindset. I thought that was powerful. I think it’s like a set of tools. I think I felt throughout the book that in many ways you were speaking to young people, you were giving them almost a toolbox of sorts to prepare for not just adulting, but the responsibilities that young people have to make sure social progress continues in the direction with the momentum that we currently have. Maybe you could talk a little bit to that, and there’s a whole chapter to go on, make things better that you speak to. 

Julie: I was just searching my bookshelf for Carol Dweck’s book. It’s right here, growth mindset, mindset, the new psychology of success and it’s all about: don’t be in this fixed place of “I am perfect.” You should change that to “I am trying to get better at this, or I can take the first step, or this is hard, but I do hard things.” That chapter you talk about comes at the end of the book after we’ve talked about your body and your identity and your work and your finances and your relationships. Then it’s this outward-facing chapter called “to make things better from your town to the world.” It starts with a bit of an apology. As a Gen X-er, I say on the page: it takes a lot of gall for older people right now to tell younger people to make things better in the world, because our generations have failed to address so many of the things that played us — from climate change to systemic income inequality just to name two examples of these macro-level things that the younger generations are inheriting. It’s another example of how I’m trying to give advice on the page without purporting to be the guru on high who has all the answers. I’m just another human farther down the path who’s trying to shine some light on your life path so that you are a little bit more aware, maybe sooner than I was, of the various possibilities life offers and being of service, being of use, trying to make a difference. What people might call having a real purpose; having that sense of purpose is what keeps us alive. That thing you’re passionate about, whether it’s your little side passion project, that thing you do on Saturday mornings, or taking care of a pet regularly, or founding a nonprofit around a topic that matters to you. The scale is up to you and subject to your capacities and limitations and circumstances in life. But think beyond the self and discover how rewarding and liberating it is for the self: we know ourselves most fully when we are in service somehow to something beyond us. That chapter aims to be inspiring about the myriad ways in which you can use a bit of your time, a bit of your body, a bit of your life to improve something. 

Sam: You mentioned de-emphasizing profits and reemphasizing people, as you talk about identifying companies. 

Julie: I came across this guy, Dave Whorton. I was giving a talk in Ketchum, Idaho, and learning about this guy who had helped facilitate my visit from Silicon Valley to be in Ketchum that particular weekend. We’re chit-chatting over coffee and he starts to tell me about his work. And he’s like, I’m really interested in companies that are for-profit companies but aren’t just trying to get bought or go public and make everybody a gazillionaire. I’m interested in the companies that are around for the long term, that are gonna make a profit, but that emphasize the people who work there and the quality of the goods and services they provide. I just leaned in and I was like,
“whoa, I’m writing this book for young adults, and I need to tell the young adult readers of my book about this.” So it turns out he’s got this whole concept. He’s coined the term evergreen companies, which are the way that you and I have just defined them. They’re in many different industries and their whole thing is: we will not take on outside investors who require us to go public or get bought. We want to grow, we want to be profitable, we want to reinvest those profits to strengthen our companies. We want to share those profits with our investors and with our people, our employees. These are places — not coincidentally — that tend to show up as having done quite well on the Forbes best employer rankings list — of which there are myriad different types. I’ve got a lovely chart in my book that is an intersection of the evergreen companies Dave Whorton has named and Forbes’s assessment of those that are very popular in the minds of employees who have ranked them as great places to work. For example, Trader Joe’s, a food market company which is everywhere around the country; that’s an evergreen company and it consistently ranks as the number one or number two or number three employer, according to Forbes, as ranked by employees. There is something about what it feels like to work in the grocery store or behind the scenes in the warehouse or in a backroom of Trader Joe’s that consistently really satisfies employees and makes them feel valued. I was super excited to put that concept on these pages. Like, hey, don’t think that corporate equals it’s all about money and you’re going to hate your job. You can be very much in the for-profit corporate world and feel cherished and valued as a human. Those are the companies that squeeze the most work out of their people. You got your employees happy and satisfied and love coming to work, regardless of what the product output is. Those profits are going to soar because when people love coming to work and feel respected and valued by their managers, by their peers, they will do anything for you.

Sam: There’s a Gallup study that came out pre-pandemic that talked about employee engagement being somewhere around 15% globally. Can you imagine what that got to over the last year? There is momentum in some of the best practices you’re talking about. I want to put the CEO in the Dean’s office with you for a minute as a different type of Dean. Maybe you want to play that role. What do you say to leaders out there who are not moving as fast as they should? 

Julie: I would probably begin with: tell me about who you are and when you decided this was your passion. I would dip into their memories of their own self. I would then say: all right, so now let’s think about a big struggle you had. What’s an embarrassing thing that happened when you were 22 in the workplace or 25?  I’m trying to reconnect them with themselves coming up on the path because that’s how you’re going to build empathy for current young employees. So just returning them to that younger self will help build empathy. Then I think I would say: young people today are a lot like you were, and they’re different in several wonderful and important ways that it will behoove you to get up to speed on. First of all, your workplace is likely to be far more diverse than it was 20 years ago or 50 years ago. The young adult population inherently in America is far more diverse. Racially, ethnically, in terms of gender identity, in terms of sexual orientation, in terms of life experience; that has never been the case before and you have to understand that value. Understand that when different people from different walks of life come together, better decisions are made and problems are solved more adeptly. It’s important to understand and appreciate the diversity but also maybe lean into what is your gap of understanding around these differences? What can you do to be sure? You’ve not just let people who don’t look like you in the door, but you are coming up to speed on how people have felt excluded and undervalued in traditional workplaces? What can you do to ensure that everybody in your workplace feels a sense of inclusion? They can be their actual self and the fullness of their identities — whatever they may be — in your work environment. In some ways, the most marginalized people — trans employees of color — are the ones you ought to have a listening session with and say, “you know what? I want to know what it’s like to work here from your perspective. I care about that. And if things are not great in any particular pocket, I want to know about it and we’re going to do something about it.” When you take care of those who are most marginalized or have the greatest degree of intersectionality in terms of identities, you’re looking after everybody. I think the third thing that I would say is that Millennials and Gen Z are accustomed to being treated with kindness, dignity, and respect, which is wonderful. They’ve been raised that way. Schools have taught them to be that way, and they expect it in the workplace. Gone are the days of your boss is a jerk. If you are that way, if you can’t treat each employee with dignity, kindness, and respect — they’re going to leave. They’re gonna go find a manager. They’re going to go find a company where they can be treated that way. So it’s time to bring humanity into the corporate dynamic. I come out of corporate America; I was a corporate lawyer before I was this Dean that Sam was talking about, and now I write books and speak about them. I have very much been a corporate human and I remember the few folks who mentored me, who were able to have high expectations for me, but also treat me with dignity and kindness. I remember those who couldn’t show up with that second piece. Well, today’s young employees — the millennials, the younger millennials, and older Gen Z in particular — they’re going to ask you to be bigger than that, and I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s a benefit for our country and our companies and our economy. People just want to be treated with dignity, and that shouldn’t be a hard thing to do in the workplace. The way we treat one another with dignity is through eye contact, a smile, put our devices down, and give people some time. For a C-level person to decide, you know what, Friday afternoons are going to be my office hours. This is what I did as Dean of a Friday afternoon office hours. You can do it too. You can say, “I have office hours, sign up for a 20-minute slot or 30-minute slot.” You’re going to be delighted when someone comes in and wants to get to know you. You’re going to delight in getting to know them. You’re going to say, “tell me how long you’ve worked here. Tell me what you’re about. Tell me what you wanted when you decided to work with us. How can we make your experience here better?” You’re hearing humility and you’re hearing respect and don’t think for a moment that any of this will make you weaker; It’ll make you beloved. It’ll make your employees feel connected, and that connection will make them work harder and more loyally for your company.

Topics Discussed: Topics Discussed: Leadership, Mindset, Growth, Adulthood, Development, Responsibility, Accountability, Leadership Books, Future Leaders, Future of Work

Dana Safa, Manager of Digital Marketing at 1Huddle

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