Lisa: 00:00 My guest today is Kacy Qua. Kacy left school at age 13 and began learning independently then after a New York city banking internship at 17 and getting into an ivy league school earning an Mba. She joined the x prize foundation to incent innovators to solve the world’s biggest problems regardless of their resume qualifications. After that, she started an apprenticeship company and has recently completed a book. Welcome to the podcast, Casey.
Kacy: 00:29 Thanks, Lisa. I’m happy to be here.
Lisa: 00:31 Great to have you. I have so many questions to ask you. So much curiosity about your life and the things that you’ve done. Given that you describe yourself as a contrarian and a self-led entrepreneurial spirit. I know that there’s going to be a lot we’re going to connect on because so many of those are my values too. So let’s start off by having you share a little bit about your childhood and your education, which I know is somewhat unusual.
Kacy: 00:58 You know, normally Lisa, if somebody is going to have me talk about my childhood to them, I ended up having to pay them so this feels like a pretty good deal. A few years back I was at a workshop, a professional workshop, and they were doing a sort of icebreaker where they asked everybody to think back to when they were a child and what they wanted to be when they grew up. And I sat there and I was mulling it over and I couldn’t really remember because what I wanted to be when I grew up with constantly changing and the only answer that I could really come up with, what did I want it to be the boss and I don’t mean I want to be telling everybody what to do all of the time. It was more the opposite. Just that I really didn’t want anybody telling me what to be doing with my life.
Kacy: 01:45 And so I think that the clearest evidence of that was when I left school, I decided to self teach and was able to convince my parents that that was a good idea at the age of 13. And so from that point I self taught and it was the early days of the homeschooling movement until there weren’t as many resources online or as many groups. And so it was really a self-directed process and frankly one that I completed in a sort of haphazard fashion. So while I think you could say from a traditional academic standpoint that I had a rather mediocre education from the perspective of self organization and self-directed learning, I was really miles ahead of my peers because I was starting to learn early on how to self direct and motivate in the absence of somebody pushing towards it.
Lisa: 02:39 The practice of being self-directed is, in my opinion, one of the most important skill sets or metal learning skills that we’re going to need going forward as the world continues to keep changing. And I’m curious to know how you came to the idea that you should be independently educated. What was your inspiration? How did you come to the conclusion that you should leave school and and how did you convince your parents?
Kacy: 03:10 At that point in time I didn’t really like the idea of doing the same thing every day and showing up, seeing the same people getting into such a routine. And I had trouble with the idea that I should be conforming to all of the norms that were existing there and I was very curious about what was out in the world and it seemed to me like school was the thing that I had to complete before I could go out and start really learning. And so my motivation was to get the stuff out of the way so that I could go out and start my education. In terms of my parents, I think they did a great job of being supportive and trying to help follow the traditional path. But in the end I was so strong willed that they were kind of like, look, you know, she says that she’s going to do this. We know that she is because that’s how she lives her life. And they just kind of said, go. If this is what you really feel strongly about, if this is who you are. It wasn’t a matter of me not wanting to do the work. I had good grades, I was an avid reader. It was just that I liked the idea of doing it on my own terms, and so I think they recognize that there was a creativity and a curiosity in me that was not being met in the school system and so they just figured, well, you know, we’ll give it a try and see how it goes.
Lisa: 04:33 It’s interesting that you put it that way because the child that you were 13 is exactly the type of person I tell parents, this is an ideal person to be home-schooled. This is the ideal candidate and that’s the kind of kid that ideally we should all be trying to raise. Someone who has an idea about what they want to do with themselves about how they want to learn, who understands who they are and are willing to take the reins and make that happen.
Kacy: 05:01 Exactly, yes. Yeah. I think that it’s not the best idea for everyone, but it is something that we should at least make available to everyone because when we go through the system and we sort of lose that sense of self and that sense of self direction and so later I think it becomes harder to get it back and if more people knew from the start that this was an option or that this was something that was going to give them a lot of value in their life and provide them a set of skills and resources that would be really valuable as an adult than perhaps there would be more people developing those skill sets. And of course there’s going to be a spectrum, you know. There’s always going to be people who would prefer to have more guidance or to learn in particular ways. But I think we do it a disservice because we train it out of people immediately and it’s harder to get it back after you’ve it.
Lisa: 05:57 So I want to talk about the organizations that focus on the notion that school is not the only route to learning. It’s not even necessarily the best place to learn for some people. It is not as you pointed out for everyone, but sometimes I believe that that’s because we have a bit of a gap between the kind of learners we’re nurturing in the world and what’s possible, so it’s like the opportunities are almost ahead of the skill set. We have this generational lag where for generations we have been in institutionalized learning where we have not been asked to develop the muscles around self-direction and so you happened to be someone who had that skill naturally, but so many people just have been so steeped in old models that they don’t necessarily have that skill. So I know at one point you’ve asked the question, what should people learn about life and work that isn’t taught in school? I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about what kind of answers you’ve discovered in that query.
Kacy: 07:01 It was a question that drove me to start a company actually because I was thinking we have to be doing this better. We have to find ways outside of the system because the future, as you noted, requires a different skill set and really school is a poor simulation of life. Nobody is going to follow you around and tell you how you’ve done or what the next challenge is going to be. There is no answer key to the test. Everything classified clearly as right or wrong and you know, being a good student may correlate with being good at life later, but it’s not necessarily causal. And so I actually started thinking about this question much more in depth while I was working for the X-Prize foundation. I was doing early stage design for a global learning X Prize, which is a multi-million dollar competition to try to drive entrepreneurs to solve some of the big global grand challenges that may not have the right market incentives to attract the best minds.
Kacy: 08:04 And through the course of that that you spend a lot of time interviewing people who are experts in the field, innovative in the field, innovative, orthogonal fields. And one of the things that happened while I was doing that is that I was asking a lot of people, why are you teaching? What is the point of education? What is the purpose? And it was shocking to me to find out that many people had never even thought about that question. People who were teaching, who were leading educational institutions, you know, it was just not something that they had ever thought of beyond the metrics or whatever their goals were for their institution. And it was through that experience that I first started to see a pattern among some of the people that were known as the global innovators.
Kacy: 09:02 You know, X-Prize has a very impressive board of trustees that includes the founders of Google and Elon Musk and Arianna Huffington. Really Brilliant, innovative thinkers. And the pattern that I saw when I was interviewing people like that, they were looking at the system and asking questions based on something called reasoning by First Principles. And so what we normally do when we innovate or improve things is we look at the existing system and we think about how can we make it better and how can we improve our GPA, our graduation rates, the number of kids who end up in college, those sorts of things. Whereas people who are reasoning by first principles actually start at the place of “what is the point of learning?” “What is the point of education”, “what is the system supposed to accomplish?” And I thought a lot about the idea of helping people become self sufficient, healthy, productive members of society, and that that was something that really was important to me. I liked the idea that the things that I was working on, we’re going to help drive towards that vision.
Kacy: 10:14 And so through that experience, I started playing with the idea of what would be the most valuable thing that if we could make sure every person had this knowledge, then we would be doing well. Our society would have some hope, you know? And so the thing that really came down to for me was that people need to have an understanding of their Self, the one thing that they have a competitive advantage over anybody else and understanding and that if they were reflective and interested in self discovery and we didn’t create negativity around, you know, focusing on getting everybody to have exactly the same knowledge, but instead focused on everyone recognizing what their own individual passion, talent, skill, purpose, then I think that that would have long-term ramifications for our workplaces, our societies and for the world. And so when you ask that question, what should people learn?
Kacy: 11:19 I think as important as basic numeracy and literacy is this muscle of self reflection and self discovery and it’s not a skill that you learn it and then you know it for life. It’s something that needs to be fostered and built upon because we grow and we develop. And so having the ability to recognize the things that you’re good at or not good at or are really passionate about, or the situations in which you thrive. As long as you’re able to tap into that, then the other stuff becomes a lot easier.
Lisa: 11:52 Yeah. The skill set you’re talking about is both a mindset and a muscle, like you said, and something that is needed going forward. We constantly are needing to reinvent ourselves and when we need to constantly address what is the next thing we need to learn, what is the next thing we need to do? How do we want to re envision a redesigned the next stage of our lives at various points in it. We need those skills. We need to keep going back to self reflection and self awareness, which is why I recognize it as what I put under the larger moniker of a meta-learning skill.
Lisa: 12:24 Can we just back up a little bit to the X Prize and and maybe say a little bit more about it. I’m a big fan of Peter Diamandis and the whole, the whole world of creating competitions, but for people who don’t know about the X Prize, can you just give a bit of a description about the general principle and the various prizes that exist?
Kacy: 12:44 Of course, Peter is now more known than he was when I started with the X Prize Foundation. He’s since written “Abundance” and “Bold”, which were two best-selling books. He had initially held a $10,000,000 competition for private space flight and the idea behind it, the underlying rationale was that there are some problems that are so big and that if there isn’t the right market for it, then maybe we’re not attracting enough minds to solving that problem. And so with space, it had always been something that fell under the umbrella of government and the idea that private companies could go to space seemed outlandish. Even though there were a few people who were toying with it, there was a lot to overcome in terms of not just technology, but belief, regulation, getting capital to flow into such crazy ideas. And so the X-Prize puts the money up and it defines what you have to complete in order to win.
Kacy: 13:54 And then it says, we don’t care how you do it. You know, it has some rules and guidelines just to sort of make sure that what results is actually something that’s commercially viable in the end, but in general, you don’t need to have the right degree. You don’t need to have gone to the right school. It’s something where the way that you win is that you solve the thing.
Kacy: 14:19 And the other thing that is really interesting is that when the prize is won, you have this ecosystem, this community of people who are interested and passionate about that particular problem. You have people who understand it and who are used to problem-solving and so immediately you have kind of an ecosystem with which to start a new industry and an area that may not have been able to get the capital and the interest and the belief before. I think one of the things that Peter always said that I really loved was that sometimes belief is the biggest thing that stands in our way and that mindset that something is impossible, well, we have confirmation bias as people. We find evidence of the things that we already believed to be true, so as long as we believe that it’s not possible, it’s not going to be possible.
Lisa: 15:09 So somebody being willing to put up a whole bunch of money to say, I believe this can be solved is in itself an inspiration for people to start changing their mindset on the possibility.
Kacy: 15:16 Exactly, and the other thing is that it’s really powerful at accomplishing is that it attracts people who weren’t necessarily in that space before. There’s a great book by Steven Johnson called “Where Good Ideas Come From” and in it he talks about how we have this vision in our head of these big leaps forward as being “aha moments” where the lone scientist is in the lab and all of a sudden there’s an epiphany and then boom! we have the next big thing. But in reality, most of the time there was a small tweak to an existing solution or existing technology that somebody who was looking at the problem every day might miss because they’re an expert and they know all the reasons that this type of thing wouldn’t work. Somebody who’s from outside of the space might say, well, what if we did it this way? And so an example of that was the team that solved it were not from the space world per say. They were more from the aeronautical field and so I think that that was another interesting thing about the X Prize is that it isn’t just the people that you expect to be solving the problem that show up. It’s some people that are in related fields
Lisa: 16:35 So it levels the playing field, not only in terms of credentials and degrees, but also in terms of domains of expertise and basically says anyone who’s willing to contribute to this problem is welcome to take a shot at it.
Kacy: 16:47 Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I think that competition is a dirty word these days. You know, and people think of it as in terms of a zero-sum game. And the thing that I found so fascinating was during the Automotive X Prize, one of the team said, you know, the best thing that can happen is my team wins. The next best thing that can happen is *a* team wins because then all this work that we’re doing is validated…that we can have these super high-efficiency vehicles. And what you saw during the competition was not this cutthroat mentality but rather people sharing tools or resources and when you hear the kind of traditional conversation we’re having around competition, you would never expect that. But that was actually what was happening on the ground.
Lisa: 17:38 That is such a great point about competition and as I told you before we started recording, competition is a topic that I want to talk about and want to look at what’s generalizable from it as a concept and as a structure and as a principal and as a motivator, and like you’re pointing out, really as a connector and as a collaboration process. I’m a competitive ballroom dancer and the notion of competition is so interesting to me and I see how in many cases it’s taken as a sort of a structure that, like you say, has dirty word connotations or tearing each other down type connotations and it’s possible that the work you’ve done in that organizations like the X Prize have contributed to this, is that it really is an opportunity to work together to level up. It’s an opportunity for us to challenge each other to be our best selves and I think you just articulated that in such a beautiful way with the idea that the best thing is for me to win and the next best thing is for *someone* to win because really then we all win.
Kacy: 18:38 Yeah, and the other thing that I think is really interesting about competition is one of the main things that I’ve found really interesting in my company, Qualifier, we get jobs by telling what we can do and really the best way to go about showing what you can do is to show what you can do. And so I think that competitions offer a really interesting opportunity in this world of work as a mechanism by which people can demonstrate skill sets without necessarily having to have had all of the experience and requirements that you typically need to have for a role and also just as a kind of mental model to think about how we can forever be doing the thing that we want to do rather than a simulation of it. You know, if we can learn things while doing them, then that has much more value than creating simulated environments. Of course, there are some situations where you need a simulated environment in order to make it say for in order to create the right conditions. But in general, I’m always trying to drive toward actually doing the thing and doing it in the circumstances that you would have to do it in real life.
Lisa: 19:54 I really love that you raised the possibility of application, especially the notion that as we start to see alternatives to say, for example, higher education and when you look at options and opportunities for replacing the signal that is college with proven skill set or application or you know, like you point out competitions, places where people can show their work. I think you open up all kinds of opportunities.
Lisa: 20:21 One of the things that I always come back to is the idea of what is your skill set and what’s your Super Power. So because that’s the focus of this show. I wanted to dig a little bit into that with you. I read the Medium post you wrote called “Enough Complaining” and you outlined a three-step process I really appreciated where you first identify an area that you care about enough to really make a difference in it, and then identify the skills and talents that you possess that could apply to that problem. And so I’m wondering what are those for you right now? What do you care most about? What unique skills do you have generally and that you’re applying to whatever you’re working on currently?
Kacy: 21:00 Yeah, so I was really attracted to coming on this podcast with you because I think that it’s a really fantastic question to ask. I’d say that my Superpower lies in that realm of –and I didn’t know it at the time, but sort of throughout my youth and throughout my life– of constantly using this concept of First Principles and looking at things almost from a really high level, almost an abstraction where I think about things as they could be or what’s possible and then I take little steps and translate that big vision into action. How that’s playing out right now is that I was doing a lot of work around as you mentioned, like what should people learn that they aren’t learning in school and it occurred to me that I was falling into this sort of more systemic thinking because I was thinking about it in terms of the system.
Kacy: 22:00 Whereas my personal experience in my life has all been about self-direction and when you consider that for the past hundred, 50, 200 years, we’ve had this very single, a definition of success. This one size fits all version that’s really not fitting anybody that we’re going through the motions and becoming this corporately approved persona. That that is something starting to shift right now. And the primary reason is that technology is becoming better at following rules than humans. Right? So if you think about AI, robotics, these technologies that everybody is so excited right now and you think about, OK, well what’s going to be left for humans to do? And that’s what we hear about is this dystopian scenario in which the machines take our jobs and then what about us? And I actually envision it in a much more positive light, which is that the future will allow us to really be human and to embrace the arts and music and creativity and the things that give us meaning in our lives.
Kacy: 23:17 But in order for people to realize that we have to have a different skill set than we have right now, and the way that we go about shifting in that direction is through realizing that success is something that should be intrinsically motivated and individually defined. And so right now my intent is to, through my book, “Burn The Ladder: Central Questions for a Purpose-Drive Career” is to provide the questions that help people get past that place of OK, success is the cars, the money, the houses, and success. For me personally, it’s really empowering self-directed learners. It’s enabling them to feel like they have a community. It’s helping people understand the skills that are necessary for self-motivation and self-drive so that we start equipping people for the future that I think is coming very quickly and, and those sort of future of work as I envision it. So that’s how I’ve taken my particular skills of abstract thinking, looking at the future big ideas, and then translating it into actionable steps.
Lisa: 24:30 Wonderful. I love it. I read a Brandon Deroche quote saying that you’re particularly good at translating big vision into practical application. And it sounds like that’s what you’re also recognizing as the Superpower that you bring.
Kacy: 24:43 And the other thing that I think is one of my superpowers is asking good questions. Part of what school does is it focuses on coming up with the right answers and answers just by their nature are reductive. Whereas I think that questions are more generative and so the superpower that I want to share with the world or help other people get comfortable with is in asking good questions and not feeling the immediate drive toward the right answer. Because as long as you feel like there’s a right answer, you’re going to exclude a lot of possibilities. But when I started my first company, one of my backers was Tony Hsieh, who was the CEO of Zappos and he always asked me, “But what if you’re wrong?” And it was such a powerful question because it gives you space to be wrong, to fail, to rethink the things that you think, you know. And I would suggest for your listeners that when they are convinced of something not being possible or they are spending time in the place of, well, here’s the reason that can’t work for me…maybe that can work for you, that question, “What if you’re wrong?” is a powerful way to move beyond it.
Lisa: 26:07 One of the episodes I have coming up is specifically on asking good questions and I’d love to dig a little deeper into that. I think one of the most obvious characteristics of a good question is that it’s open-ended. I mean that’s a pretty straightforward one, but what are the qualities that could be generalizable? And let me give a little more context. One of the places I was going to go with this next is the role of parents, right? What’s the role of parents in learning and what’s the role of parents in supporting the development of self-direction? And another of my episodes is recommendations for parenting from Gen x and Millennials. And one of the patterns I’ve already seen come up is the idea of keep asking your kids questions. Don’t make assumptions. And so I’m seeing a couple of different topic areas intersecting and looping and so I guess as someone who wants to become a better question-poser, a person with a good questions, both as an interviewer and as a parent and as just a human and a friend I’m still wondering about the qualities that make a question a good question.
Kacy: 27:19 So there’s an academic researcher who has been a tremendous inspiration to me. His name is Sugata Mitra and he won the Ted Prize a few years back with his self-organized Learning Groups. They’re called Soles. And one of the things driving his self-organized learning groups is that they start with big questions and so they’ll leave a room full of kids together and they’ll give them a huge question. Is Life on earth sustainable? Or what is the brain? And these are questions where it can take you in many, many different directions. And so I guess I would say that the type of questions that are the most powerful are not the ones that you ask with the intent that there is one right answer, but rather questions that bring you in other directions and lead to more questions and in and of themselves stimulate a conversation and further curiosity.
Lisa: 28:24 I really liked the idea of a big question and as you talk, the other thing that’s occurring to me is that there could be some aspect of aspiration in a good question.
Kacy: 28:34 Of course, the most inspirational people that I’ve worked with, Peter Diamandis and Tony Hsieh being at the forefront of them, both of them would set in front of me big ideas because if you fail you might as well fail doing something big. And so the idea of opening things up to massive possibility is really exciting and can help you keep being motivated even amidst challenges because you are doing it in service of something that is much bigger than yourself.
Lisa: 29:12 You, like most of my friends and guests and the people I know, are kind of a big abstract thinker. I’m definitely attracted to abstract high-level thinking and one of my personal challenges and the challenges I always pose is how do we bring this down to something actionable and something strategic or something that can be applied and so what kind of day to day practices or tools or approaches do you try to integrate into your life to have the large impact your after.
Kacy: 29:47 An example that comes to mind…For me, a big abstract idea that is really challenging to think about is purpose, right? We all have this big question of what is my purpose? Why am I here? What is my reason for being? And I started really thinking about it in earnest a couple of years ago after I had closed up shop on my first company, paid off some massive student loan debt and for the first time in my life felt like I had a minute to be really deliberate about what I wanted to do, but the challenge was that I tend to get bored easily and so I was having a hard time homing in on the thing that was worth focusing my life on. It felt like a really big, intimidating challenge to choose my purpose or to find my purpose. And so I had previously seen a video about ikigai, a Ted Talk that was really… [The Dan Buettner one]. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking.
Lisa: 30:52 It’s awesome. I loved it.
Kacy: 31:03 Yeah, it’s an example of an incredibly powerful concept…what you love and what you’re good at, and in the west, we’ve said, you know, what you can be paid for, but also what the world needs. And it helped people put their arms around the idea that purpose is something that is not just about you, but it’s about leaving a mark or leaving your impact on the world. And so I started approaching it like a class, you know, and I could go through the steps and at the end of the steps out would pop my purpose. And what I found through that process was that I was incredibly lonely. It was such a lonely experience. I think a lot of people who are searching for purpose and have this vision in their head. If a hermit climbing up the mountain with their little lantern and going to, you know, to learn the things and to discover them.
Kacy: 31:55 When you get in the thick of that, you realize that you’ve sort of separated yourself from other people. And while I think that it’s important, self-reflection does require some solitude. I realized that part of the reason that everybody’s struggling so much is that we’ve made it this chore. We’ve made it like a class and we’ve sort of put the pressure on it is something that we find, aha, poof. Whereas in reality it’s something that you have to build and the way that you build it in sort of this taps into the idea of practical application and tools and resources is you just start small. I started out thinking that I was going to write a book about ikigai, but through the course of it, I realized that the more powerful aspect of it…there were two things. One is this idea that the search for self is social and that we can’t be doing it alone.
Kacy: 32:49 So much of human nature is about our communities and people are happier when they have friendships and relationships and really when you think about your purpose, hopefully if it’s in line with ikigai, isn’t just about yourself, it’s about the impact that you want to leave and so what better way to make sure that that’s at the forefront than having these conversations with other people. And so for me, ikigai was not so much about having the exact right list of things to do and the right answer at the end, but rather about opening up this conversation of things that are normally restricted to our journals and our therapists, and you know, if you can afford it, going away on a fancy retreat and instead make that conversation part of our daily lives. If we are going to transform this critical moment in history where there is a will toward doing something really powerful and important and leaving your mark on the world than it needs to be something that comes from a place of authentic connection with other people. And if you have a big vision of what you want to do, then the best way to help others help you is to give them a sense of the who you are behind what you do. And so when I was thinking about purpose, it really became OK, how do we democratize purpose? How do we make it so that it’s something that’s not just available for people who happen to have enough money to go there? How is it something that becomes part of the normal conversations that you have at lunch? You know, can we, can we talk about these things that have been restricted to our journals?
Lisa: 34:33 Oh my gosh, it goes so much back to what is a good question, right? How do we interact with each other in a way that is authentic? It ties into your idea of self-awareness. How do we start with self-awareness and then ask each other good questions and stay connected and create our communities. So much good stuff.
Kacy: 34:47 Yes!! I love the idea of this becoming kind of like a salon discussion where…what I would like to do is through my book, provide a list of questions that people can use as inspiration to gather the way that you would have book club or gather the way that you would to go to workout at the gym during lunch and people kind of really just having these conversations. I mean, the first time that I did this was with a group of about 60 social entrepreneurs and we’re in a room and I said, look, we’re going to think about the future of work from the perspective of First Principles and if we’re thinking about it that way, then let’s consider how we can have success defined at an individual level and purpose be something that is intrinsically motivated. And so as a start, you guys are all here. I bet that you can all help each other somehow and we’re not going to do that by exchanging business cards. We’re going to go around and we’re going to ask some really powerful questions. We’re gonna ask, what legacy do you want to leave? What was the most influential moment of your life? And I threw in a real thinner, which was, what are you overcompensating for? And I said, you know, you can pick one and whichever one you feel most comfortable with, and what I found was that everybody answered all three questions and they did so in spite of being terrified. One of the guys in the circle said, you know, I am an entrepreneur and CEO. I’ve spoken in front of thousands of people, no big deal, but sitting here in this group about to tell you guys about myself, I’m trembling. And there was this kind of recognition of honoring the fact that other people were trusting you with their secret stuff. With their vulnerability. And because of that, the conversations were much more interesting and authentic. And then you remember somebody afterward and you think, oh, you know, I heard about this opportunity. Let me connect you. Because you see that the thing driving them is that influential moment of their life or that that’s they care about leaving the world a better place.
Lisa: 36:56 I think the fact that, as you said, in spite of being terrified, people answered all the questions that were available to them really speaks to the fact that we are hungry for authentic connection. We as a collective and especially in the business world, I think where things have been driven by an old model of leadership and old structures, I think people in the business world are looking for someone to show up and say, let’s be real. Let’s get deep. Ask the real stuff and let’s have that be a competitive advantage by building our companies in ways that are connected through meaning and connected through purpose and connected through real human connections and emotions. And I think this is a new leadership that, uh, I’m so thrilled to hear you speaking about and I’m so thrilled that you’re out in the world driving companies and business leaders who might not other otherwise head in that direction or who just need that little nudge to really go deep and look at that kind of stuff. So thank you for that contribution to the world because it’s so important.
Kacy: 37:58 We’re all also tired of putting on these work masks, you know, where it’s like, oh yeah, now it’s one day and like I dreaded all weekend and maybe sometimes even the weekends become work moments and I have to speak in this way and I have to wear these clothes and we’re all reading the same book and I have to be so professional and appropriate and it’s like, where has it gotten us, you know. People are just waiting for the clock until they can go on vacation and recover from the thing that they spend a third of their life doing and you really hit upon it with the idea about these things being the foundation by which a company is built on. Then when times get tough as an entrepreneur, you’re not just there for the cash. You’re there because there’s something deeper that’s driving you to do that and your customers are there because they support that deeper thing that you’re trying to achieve. And I think you’re really hitting on a paradigm shift in terms of businesses. And so this is really important for entrepreneurs because if you look at the companies that succeed, it’s because there is something more than the profit motive driving them and keeping them going.
Lisa: 39:11 Absolutely. So I’m going to throw one of the questions that you asked on Medium back at you. And it’s the question where you ask your readers to think back to a moment in time that changed everything for them. And I quote you a time that shattered your notions about how the world should work. An event that inspired you to go out and create something or fix something or simply wake the fuck up. Think of the day after which nothing would ever be the same. So can you share one of those for you?
Kacy: 39:42 Isn’t that an amazing question? So powerful? I remember the first time my friend Rafe asked me that; I was in the middle of a career crisis. And uh, you know, as I have been for many years thinking about purpose and he started with that question and it really opened up a Pandora’s box, in a positive way. But I have to disappoint you because I did just write this book and one of the first chapters is this question. So each chapter is a question and this is a really fundamental question, so I need to save something for my readers.
Lisa: 40:20 OK, well that’s good. That’s actually a really good segue because my next question…let my listeners know how they can follow you, how they can find out about the book when it will be available, et cetera. So that’s a great little teaser into talking about your book.
Kacy: 40:37 It is called “Burn The Ladder: Essential Questions for a Purpose-Driven Career” and it explores how I went about building a career that was based on my passion, my interest, my skills, and how these questions can be used to highlight things that you may not have been paying attention to if you were thinking about the resume approach, where you list what you’ve done before and the positions you’ve held. This is about really designing your career in a way that you make an impact on the world in a way that you make an impact that only you can make, and so some of the themes in it are the idea that the most challenging aspects of our lives equip us to leave our mark in a really powerful way and so how can we take things that were challenges and turn them into competitive advantage?
Kacy: 41:36 How can we think about the unique story that we have and the unique experiences that we have as a way to direct us as to what we should be doing because there are so many problems out there in the world today and there are so many things that are in need of passionate, intelligent people to tackle them. But people feel overwhelmed and this kind of breaks it down into questions that help you take a bite-sized approach to it and then at the end…here’s how you can try it, but also here’s a way for you to gather with your friends and explore these questions together.
Kacy: 42:14 I’m in the very long process of going the traditional publishing route. I have an agent who’s just starting now to reach out to publishers. So I think that my timeline is probably not for another year or so, but I am blogging and speaking at events. So there is an opportunity to get things in the interim. I can be found by my name. Fortunately, I have a unique name so everything is Kacy Qua on twitter, LinkedIn, Medium, et cetera.
Lisa: 42:47 Great. And I’ll be linking to all of those platforms in the show notes. So I have one more question that I want to ask you that it wasn’t really expecting to ask you, but I’d like to see where it goes. And that is…one of the great things I love about my life is the ability for cross-generational learning, whether that’s in the homeschooling community because kids and adults spend a lot of time together or because I happened to have friends of many generations and there’s so much that we can learn from each other from our various perspectives. And I see so many women of your generation in such an amazing position of being able to have an impact in the world and I’m always curious about if they intend to have families and how they imagine that happening. I wonder if you have any personal or sort of collective insight into where the future’s going with regard to making a difference in the world and having an impact while also balancing family and relationships and kids.
Kacy: 43:41 I think we’re in a very special moment in time in which the binary nature of things is starting to crumble a little bit.
Lisa: 43:41 Absolutely! Crumbling on so many levels. Gender, relationships, work…. Yes! Go on.
Kacy: 44:01 I mean those are all the things. Right? And so one of the things that I struggled with a lot in my life was being spiritual versus being professional. And I think that right now you don’t have to make that choice. It’s not an either or. That doesn’t mean that there’s not a prioritization that has to happen in your life about what is most important at this time. Of course there are moments where if you’re having a family, then that has to be the priority and that is the priority and hopefully our workplaces will catch up and start being reflective of what I think is a mindset shift we’re starting to have and, and now I think that people are starting to awaken to the reality that, that there’s tremendous value in families and in communities and an authentic connection and so we no longer have to make the choice, you know. And I, I can hear people saying yes like, good for you to say, you’re not at my office…or whatever. And it really goes back to the idea we were talking about before around confirmation bias. Well, if you believe that that’s true, then you’re going to find all of the evidence to support the thing that you believe to be true. And so I think that it’s important now to believe that this balance in our lives, this, this emphasis on love and family and authentic connection is something that is not incongruent with success. It actually is part of success…
Lisa: 45:31 And that it’s not only part of success, but in a new model, it may be the basis of success and the foundation for how we do things and how we connect and how we create. And the other thing that I just want to add to what you said is it’s also important for us to not only to nurture that thinking of possibility but also to know that we’re in transition and were actors in the transition and the evolution of where things go. So you’re right that there are people who could say, well easy for you to say, and that’s not the case in my work environment, but I think we can hold a vision for and act on and support each other in ways that encourage those workplaces to change shift and to adapt to this new vision of what’s possible.
Kacy: 46:12 Exactly. Because there aren’t any heroes coming to save the day. It’s us! We’re the ones. You look around and you wait for somebody to solve it and then nobody comes. Or you can realize that more so than any time in history, you have the opportunity to impact the way that things are going. And then all of the amazing things that we see out there in the world, the tremendous achievements and technologies were first an idea in someone’s head and then they just started taking little steps, putting brick by brick to bring it to fruition, to bring it to realization. And so that’s the opportunity that we have now. So what is it that you want to create in the world and go and just start doing it because nobody’s going to stop you if you’re going to reach the hurdles, but nobody’s going to stop you. It’s up to you.
Lisa: 47:02 And that we’re on this journey together and you know, that’s a perfect place to just say, I’m so grateful to have gotten to know you through this conversation. And I, and I hope to go deeper into connection with you and knowing what you’re doing in supporting what you’re up to in the world. Because, you know, we are kind of on this journey together. We’re taking the steps in the road and um, you know, I can say from my part that I’m here to support you and other people who are, who are taking those steps and making this change. And so I just want to thank you not only for your time today in this conversation but for all that you’re doing in the world to be an example and a model and to shift the way that people think and to support people in finding their purpose and to live a mission-driven life.
Kacy: 47:50 Well, thank you so much. It was really a pleasure and the feeling is mutual. I think that you’ve really touched upon some essential themes for people to be thinking about.
Lisa: 47:50 Thank you Kacy Qua. I appreciate your time and thank you for all you do.
New Speaker: 47:55 Thank you so much, Kacy. I appreciate your time and thank you for all you do.
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