Interview with John Sanei - author of Who Do We Become?
Our June Book of the Month has been the wonderful Who Do We Become by renowned local author John Sanei. To celebrate, we asked him a few questions about his life and work. Each question is accompanied by the answer in audio form, as well as a transcription for those who would rather read these wise words.
Tell us a bit about your back story. Was becoming an author always in the cards?
I've always been somebody that thinks quite deeply about different aspects of life, but becoming an author was absolutely never on the cards. I wasn't very good at school, I'm not really very good at writing, to be honest. I voice note and work with various talented copywriters to help me bring my books to life. My deepest thinking happens when I speak and not when I write.
So, becoming an author was never really part of the plan at all but when I initially became a speaker, I really started to realise that the stories that I was telling audiences - the unexpected topics that I was connecting - was very surprising and helpful to the audiences.
I had many people come to me after my talks and thank me for helping them think about things in new ways and giving them language for ways that they were feeling that they didn't know how to articulate. So, I decided to make that first talk a book and that became “What’s Your Moonshot”, and that did incredibly well, and it was incredibly surprising that it did so well.
I had no expectation of how and what it would do in the marketplace. In fact, how it really benefited my career in many ways, and really ultimately helped many people think bigger, think bolder and think more courageously.
And so I decided to make a commitment and write a book every year because what I realised, with that commitment of writing a book, was that everything I listened to, everything I read, and every piece of information that I engaged with - I would double and triple listen to it. That was because of the commitment to writing a book.
It's actually become such a beneficial process for me to integrate information, to think about things in terms of writing a book. If you think about sort of building a container and wanting to fill that container with all the delicious information that you've heard and interacted with and read, this becomes the books that I write.
They are a reflection point of where I am in my journey and all the learnings that I'm having along the way and the book helps me refine those learnings. And as Yogi Bhajan said, “If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. And if you want to master something, teach it.”
Based off of your past experiences, how would you say our past shapes our future behaviours and attitudes?
There's a great line that Dr. Jodis Benzo uses - one of my favourite teachers - he says, “Are you living a life based on a set of memories of your past? Are you living a life based on the vision of your future?” And we realize that what we are all doing is repeating memories, repeating past trauma, repeating past patterning and we live a life that is almost a representation of our history.
Very few people have understood this process of how our memories determine our futures. And so, the whole point of my development and this book is about us realizing how important it is for us to mourn courageously, to deal with trauma so that we can break out of the patterns that keep us stuck to old ways of thinking.
And as we move into this future, we realize that how A.I. data and technology as a whole is taking away all the rudimentary aspects of our lives - all the basic processes of our lives. And we've even got the release of Dali-2 which is a new, open A.I. release which is taking any text and making it a piece of art in 20 different variations. We have GPT-3 which is taking any one of your inputs and creating original texts.
So, we are seeing that A.I. and data is just taking care of everything rudimentary and what we are left with is humanity. What is not being developed by A.I. as yet is intuition. Intuition is very much based on this gut feel that we have for the world ahead of us, and if we have traumatic memories, our gut feel is tainted by these traumatic memories.
And the best example I can think of is if you had a bad experience with a dog, you grow up thinking that all dogs are dangerous and they're not - because it was just your experience of that traumatic memory. And if you heal that, then you realize that you're released of the fear of dogs.
Now we have fears around money, about uncertainty, about commitments, you name it. There are so many of them that have been handed down to us by generations before us because of their upbringings. And so, we have to realise that breaking these patterns, dealing with our trauma, really helps us catalyse our visions for the future in such a faster and more seamless way.
So absolutely, our memories affect our futures and so we have to clean our past to develop new future memories.
When you reached rock bottom, what was your turn around point? How did you process what needed to happen next?
Well, there's been a few rock bottoms - as I'm sure anybody reading this will share. We all have different rock bottoms. You know, my rock bottom initially was bankruptcy - when I was 30, then it was divorce - when I was 40, and then it was Covid-19 - when I was 44 or 45. And, all three of them were incredibly devastating because they shattered my expectation, my identity, everything that I've worked for.
And all of a sudden I was left in pieces and so I think the process of dealing with rock bottom is different for different people but the way I've dealt with it is to seek help, to understand the process of climbing mountains and valleys through life.
And, I've realised that every one of these hits, or one of these devastating situations is an opportunity for me to heal an aspect of myself and to be able to evolve through it. Bankruptcy taught me a new relationship with money, divorce taught me a new relationship with relationships - especially with women and, Covid-19 taught me the true art of adaptability - because we all had to become agile and adaptable through the process and, also how to heal trauma, how to actually mourn courageously, which is the first part of the book – “Who do we become?”. That many of us avoid trauma, we avoid healing the trauma, we avoid sadness, we avoid crying and that sort of thing.
The more we avoid it, the more we take medication to numb it, the more it lingers with us. And so, for me it's about seeking help, it's about understanding the process from a broader picture, but also not to fast track the sadness. But to actually sit with it, stew with it and be in it all the time and realising that this is the process of growth and seeking the help from professionals that help us guide the process through the trauma to get to the place of posttraumatic growth.
And so, if you going through something tough, I would suggest you seek help and you realise that we are all climbing mountains and going into valleys and climbing more mountains. And that really is what life is all about.
Tell us about your books, would you say that they reflect the different stages of your life or growth?
Yes, every book that I've written is a reflection point of where I am and what I have learned over the past year. We're all going through incredible levels of change, and stability is the luxury that we don't have anymore.
It seems as though we are in a constant state of evolving, of instability, of uncertainty. And, as I go through the processes of working on my emotional states, my mental states and my physical states, I then share the learnings that I've experienced so that I can help people around me.
For example, I did the half Ironman last year and the lesson there that I taught, and learned myself, was how we could recalibrate our relationship with pain and how important it was for us to realise that we could push our bodies further than we thought we could - we could push our emotions further than we thought we could.
And, any of the Ironman races, I have realised, are really just an emotional process of pushing through the boundaries of pain and pushing ourselves past what we thought we were capable of doing. And so, as a physical level, that was the lesson there.
And so, every time I go through a process of learning, recalibrating, healing and catalysing ahead, I like to put that into a process of writing, sharing and teaching so that other people can benefit from my process.
In your opinion what are the main downfalls of organisations and entrepreneurs today? What do they lack in terms of future thinking and innovation?
I think all entrepreneurs and organisations don't have the same problem and everybody has very individual problems. Depending on: who I'm working with, where in the world, what sector they in, their personality - in as far as thinking ahead, being adaptable, being courageous is all very, very, different - so there isn't one blank statement.
But the truth is, is that most organisations - specifically organisations - are stuck and building businesses based on economies of scale, which is really about bringing efficiencies to existing business models. Whereas the world we're moving into requires economies of learning, which is a very different structure set up so that you can learn what your customer wants before you actually manufacture or create a service. Now this is a very structural difference and is based on the eclipse of capitalism, as we are seeing it today. What that means is that we are entering an era where everything that technology touches becomes almost free.
Think about music, entertainment, education, communication etc, and we're going to see how technology affects banking, energy, transportation, health care. Every time you have used something on your phone like WhatsApp for free, or taking photos for free, or listen to music for free, or watched YouTube for free. You realize that technology is making everything free. So the term economies of scale - and the very structure at which these organizations are built - is one of the basics based on a world before technology. As technology becomes more pervasive and more ubiquitous, we realize that we have to start building new business models and new ways to actually add value to the world.
So, the biggest problem I see around the world is that organizations are eager to evolve, but the very structure they are built on is a dated one.
You started off as an entrepreneur in your 20’s, but your career path has since changed. Could you elaborate a bit more on this – how has your mindset altered since then?
From a very young age I came from a single mom family and we were always financially challenged. So I decided that it was best that I became an entrepreneur from a very young age and I was exceptionally successful because I was so driven not to be poor, but I quickly realized that the motivation behind why you want to be rich is very, very important.
And, I never wanted to be rich because I wanted to create wealth and add value to the world. I wanted to become rich because I never wanted to be poor - and that is a dangerous place to be because you're either running away from something, or you're running towards something. You're either anxious about creating that richness or you’re excited, and I was anxious. I think many people in the world are anxious rather than being excited and so, the lesson that I learned was incredible levels of success were based on a foundation of anxiousness which came all crumbling down in my bankruptcy in my 30s.
Then I became a teacher of this alchemizing pain into excitement, alchemizing anxiousness into a future focused energy - and so I am still an entrepreneur, but what I sell now is knowledge and wisdom and the ability for us to think about things differently so that we feel about things differently. So our actions are more motivated with visions of the future, than from pains of the past.
You’ve talked about indoctrination and how we’ve been groomed to develop certain habits or patterns that are no longer relevant to modern society. How do we then unlearn this to adapt to an ever-changing, ever-growing environment?
Our society, our cultures, our educational systems, and our organisational systems have created an addiction to certainty. We study what will give us the best option of earning good money when we finish studying, we marry people that we hope give us a level of certainty, we have made decisions based on logical outcomes rather than excitements, fascination, exploration, and adventure because those will have uncertainty attached to them.
When we think about logical outcomes, there's always a level of certainty but here we are in a world with total uncertainty. Everything that you've studied could become totally irrelevant, everything that you have worked for could slowly be eroded away because of how technology, A.I., and the world is changing.
So, what we have to realize is very much so the indoctrination that we have. We must become aware of this indoctrination, that's the first step. The second step is for us to create new inputs. Create new habits that allow us to slowly, but surely, change our focus from certainty to excitement of uncertainty, or from an absolute outcome, to the ability for us to become fascinated with topics.
For us to move from this absolute need for knowing the end result, for our ability to imagine new possibilities and new ways of bringing about probable and possible futures. From a need to only do what is necessary to a process of experimentation so that we are able to think about things differently, feel about things differently, experiment about them differently and imagine new possibilities ahead of us.
And so, this becomes a brand new skill that many of us have to adopt, adapt to and re-calibrate within ourselves and within our organizations. And just like when agricultural people moved from the agricultural to the industrial revolution, their skills of physical bodies working in the fields were replaced by factories and they had to learn something new, called IQ knowledge and intelligence.
And today - as we move from the industrial Revolution to the quantum revolution, we start to realize that our intelligence, knowledge and IQ is being replaced by A.I. and data and technology. We have to develop this new skill of intuition. And so this new skill is something that we have to slowly but surely integrate into our daily habits, our rituals, and our behaviours.
This is a slow process, so we have to 1) admit to the fact that we're addicted to certainty. 2) realize that there must be a new way and this new way is about bringing in daily rituals, daily new inputs and slowly but surely through, a process of integrating these daily new inputs, change our behaviors, change our skill sets, and evolve to who we need to become and add value in a new world that the world is moving into.
As an author, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and future strategist, what books could we find on your night stand?
I am constantly listening to, reading, and watching new information. What really makes me very excited is understanding the history of humanity - human sciences, and how we are evolving through this process - technology and how technology is impacting every touchpoint of our lives, and how our consciousness as humanity is evolving and changing.
I combine these four topics into everything I listen to and everything I read. So, there isn't one specific author that I look up to, or read, or one lecturer that I listen to all the time - it is a myriad of different people. I think this is what's really important. We need the biggest variation of input into our heads and hearts as possible, and what this does is it creates new synapses and new synapse connections, and our brains gets us to think differently, feel differently and act differently.
So the question should be; “What makes you fascinated? and what - and how - are you engaging with new information on a daily basis?”, whether you're reading it, listening to it, or watching it. Because this is the real key to have us evolving and really answering the biggest question of our time, who do we become?
John Sanei is an author & keynote and motivational speaker. As a Future Strategist, he makes sense of our challenging world to create a clearer vision of tomorrow, allowing businesses and individuals to forge forward with confidence.
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