Reframe & Reset Your Career Podcast

Episode 69. How Philosophy Can Boost Your Career & Life – Dr Brennan Jacoby

Learning about philosophy may seem like a luxury in our fast paced world but it has a number of benefits for your career and life, including developing your critical thinking skills and the ability to solve complex problems.   Dr Brennan Jacoby, a philosopher and the founder of Philosophy at Work, and I discussed this, his work with Philosophy at Work and much more on Episode 69 of the Reframe & Reset Your Career podcast.

In this episode, we will learn about:

How serendipity and chance can impact your career,

Plato’s allegory of the cave and how this inspired Brennan’s interest in philosophy,

The benefits of reframing and changing your perspective,

How philosophy can help manage uncertainty and decision making,

Stoic philosophy and controlling what you can control,

Strategies for dealing with failure and regret,

How doing philosophy can develop your thinking and problems solving skills and

Ways of creating space in your schedule to have time to think.

The edited transcript of the interview is at the end. It has been edited for clarity and ease of reading. I hope you find it helpful.

Dr. Brennan Jacoby is a philosopher and the founder of Philosophy at Work, a collective of philosophers that teach the thinking skills professionals need to think their best. Brennan holds a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D in philosophy, and his doctoral work analysed trust in the context of interpersonal relationships and corporate character. 

Recent projects include helping Deloitte UK cultivate a growth mindset, supporting The Wellcome Trust to explore trust in healthcare, and enhancing curiosity across Sony Music’s global community.

Brennan works across industries and sectors (examples include groups from Herbert Smith Freehills, Sky, Sony Music, Slaughter and May, Hogan Lovells, Capital One Bank, Deloitte, Media Arts Lab, Ropes and Gray, The Guardian, Nike, and The Financial Times), and with global teams, having delivered sessions in the UK, Ireland, USA, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Denmark, Spain, Australia and Taiwan.

In addition to his role with Philosophy at Work, Brennan is a fellow at the Royal Society of the Arts. Originally from Detroit Michigan, he studied in Sydney, Australia and is now based in the UK. 

Brennan talked with me about the benefits of philosophy and how it helps to develop your thinking and told me “complex problem solving, critical thinking and creative thinking are things that are needed for the future of work, for the fourth Industrial Revolution and that’s what you get, those are the muscles that are built up when you do philosophy because you’re given a tough challenge … doing philosophy is good for careers because we know that careers these days are so dependent on not just what you know but how you make sense of the data and also how you move from one thing you know to the next right or from one job to the next and so it’s good not just for work but it’s particularly good for careers because of careers being about how you navigate things right how you move from one point to the next.”

People & Resources Mentioned

Iris Murdoch – The Black Prince

Carol Dweck

Alain de Botton

The School of Life


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Thank you for your continued support of Reframe & Reset Your Career, I do appreciate it. I now have a new website, see link above, please do check it out, I hope you find it helpful. 

It would be great to hear from you, the listeners, and your thoughts about the podcast, YouTube channel or anything else, it’s always a pleasure to hear your views. I have had some great reviews but not had any way of responding. Wishing everybody a great start to 2024!

Edited Interview Transcript

Harsha: [00:00:00] Welcome to Reframe and Reset Your Career, a podcast to help if you’re looking for a job, feeling stuck in your career, or just trying to rediscover your why. I am your host Harsha Boralessa, and this podcast came from my passion for neuroscience and psychology and the interaction with career and personal development.

I will be interviewing recognized experts and successful professionals. And asking them to share the insights and strategies that have helped their careers thrive. Implementing change is not easy and does take time, but I do hope that their stories will inspire you on your path to greater success of fulfillment in your career.

Here are some highlights of today’s

Brennan: episode and just make some space, because otherwise I think there’s so many things that are more than happy to take our time and our attention. That skill or that way of being got me this far, but gosh, now the world’s like this, and now I’m like this. What might I need to let go of?

Complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creative thinking [00:01:00] are things that are needed for the future of work, and those are the muscles that are built up when you do philosophy. And actually when it comes to careers, I don’t think there is one philosophy or one approach that just fits everything.

Harsha: Welcome to episode 69 of the Reframe and Reset Your Career podcast. Before we begin, I wanted to thank all the listeners of the podcast for their continuing support. I hope you’ve had a chance to check out my new website. Please note that in this episode we may touch on mental health and wellness topics purely in general terms.

If you have specific issues or concerns, please do contact a suitable professional. Now back to the show. Brennan is a philosopher and the founder of Philosophy at Work, a collective of philosophers. The teacher thinking skills professionals need to think their best. He holds a BA, MA and PhD in philosophy and his doctoral work analyzes trust in the context of interpersonal relationships [00:02:00] and corporate character.

Recent projects include helping Deloitte UK cultivate a growth mindset, supporting the Welcome Trust to explore trust in healthcare and enhancing curiosity across Sony Music’s global community. In addition to his role with philosophy at work, Brennan is a fellow at the Royal Society of the Arts, originally from Detroit, Michigan.

He studied in Sydney, Australia, and it’s now based in the UK.

Welcome Brennan!

Brennan: Thank you so much, Hasha. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here.

Harsha: Just before we were talking about the whole idea of serendipity and these small steps that seemingly can link together. Now we initially met through the School of Life where I attended one of your talks in 2017, but actually going back.

Before that, I was actually at school with Alan de Botton, the founder of school of life, and I did know him very well, but it was through seeing Alan’s work and I liked his novels that I came across the school of life and now [00:03:00] many years later, we’re sitting here recording a podcast.

So I think it’s really interesting, this whole idea of serendipity, but I think in life, sometimes waiting for those big aha moments, you can be waiting forever. But actually, it does show that if you take these small steps and small connections, they can actually build up to quite powerful things. I mean, what do you think, Brendan?

Brennan: I do know. I completely agree. There’s so much, whether you want to call it serendipity or chance or luck that goes on. I’m a firm believer that life is not a closed system. I was really struck by this when I was reading a book by Annie Duke the professional poker player. The book is called thinking in bets.

And she says that life is more like poker than it is like chess. Now, I’m not a big  chess or poker player either way, but the idea is that in chess, it’s a closed system. So if I move this piece here, there’s a lot of moves you can make, but there’s a set number of moves. And, and, , the way to get good, I’m told, at chess is by working out , [00:04:00] if someone does that, then you’ve got these options, right?

But poker. It isn’t like that. If I play this card or this hand, you could be bluffing. There’s chance, there’s uncertainty, there’s all the pressure that comes with maybe the money that’s at stake or something like that. And I think life is more like that. And so it can’t just be, well, I studied this degree and I got this mark.

Therefore, I will be successful. It’s not a closed system. It’s much more, well I mean, actually, , when I when I met you at the School of Life, I was on the faculty there, right? And that was a. a role that I attained by having lots of cups of coffee with various people. Actually the first time I went along to the School of Life to have coffee, I made a mistake.

I was supposed to meet with one person and there was another person who was at the School of Life who I’d also emailed, just trying to see if I could get a foot in. And when I arrived, I think I was just so nervous. I said the wrong person’s name. And because of my mistake, both people then were brought from the back [00:05:00] offices.

And we all  laughed about it. And you’re like, Oh, no, you’re supposed to be seeing me, not this other person. But we ended up having coffee with all 3 of us. And that led to more opportunity. So it’s not a closed system. There’s mistakes. There’s luck. Yes, we work hard. Yes, the degrees matter. But yeah, I think serendipity is, is quite something.

Harsha: I love that. So Brennan, I, I’m a big fan of the arts. Is there a performance, song, book or film, which you’d like to share with

Brennan: our audience? Yes. One that does come to mind is a book that I think it came out last year. It’s by Nick Cave and Sean O’Hagan.

So, , Nick Cave, singer songwriter of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. O’Hagan is a music critic. They got together during lockdown 2020 and had a, well, didn’t get together quite importantly, but had phone calls over that period talking about life and everything. And the book is called Faith, Hope, and Carnage.

And I loved it because it’s very transparent [00:06:00], it’s very authentic. They’re being honest about things that really matter. So they’re trying to grapple with the meaning of life and, and pain, grief and hope, all the things that are suggested in the title. , so I listened to it and my headphones rather than reading.

I usually just read books, but I listened to this one and it was quite good because it’s a conversation between the two of them. And it’s one where when you’re listening, it provided a great backdrop for me to do my own wrestling, I think, with some of those concepts, so that was a great one because yes, it was about culture and I learned a thing or two about the Bad Seeds, but I think it’s also really great in terms of philosophy and food for thought.

Harsha: I’m a big music fan and I love reading biographies about musicians and their creative process and [00:07:00] how things evolve as much as I’d love to talk about music. I think our audience are more interested in careers, but actually  moving on to philosophy. I love the philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, especially her book, The Black Prince.

And I believe there’s a quote by her: “To do philosophy is to explore one’s own temperament and yet the same time to discover the truth.” I actually got that from one of your conversations with Aoife O’Brien, who’s a good friend of ours and a good friend of the show. And I found the whole idea of self discovery so powerful and the idea, if you can really understand yourself and try to gain the mastery of yourself.

And I don’t think you can completely do that, but it does give you so many insights into yourself. So I was just wondering what, what is it that led you to your interest in philosophy?

Brennan: Yeah, thank you very much. It really, it was a journey of career hopping all around, and actually I think it maps onto that quote from Iris Murdoch too.

I love that quote, and it’s one because, the reason I love it is because it gets to the heart of how when we are doing philosophy, [00:08:00] which I think is right. So at the start of that quote, Murdoch says, to do philosophy. I think too often we think of philosophy as something that is just writing or just ideas in an abstract, kind of removed from action kind of way, just in the ivory towers.

But actually, philo means love in ancient Greek. sophia is wisdom. So when we’re doing philosophy, we should be pursuing, we should be loving wisdom. That is something that we do, right? It’s not just  some kind of dusty, dusty study. And when we do philosophy, we’re trying, we’re trying to pursue the truth.

Trying to love wisdom, but at the same time we have to do it through our own lenses. So when Murdoch says that quote, that to do philosophy is to explore one’s own temperament, and yet same time to discover the truth, I would almost say we’re trying to pursue the truth, but we have to get through our own temperament because I’ve only got the experience that I have really, [00:09:00] and I’ve only got the, the lenses and framings through which I see everything.

It’s like we’re wearing glasses all the time that, that filter everything. And so the way that I understand life and truth and work and purpose and meaning and what I want to be doing is through that. So yes, we have to philosophy is to these two things married up and I was originally studying communications and I was working in radio broadcasting, but I was studying at a liberal arts university.

And so, as you do have to. Do a bit of everything. I took Intro to Philosophy, and I still remember the first day of class the professor who is this not particularly charismatic person, but somehow just gripped you and told great stories, , and I remember them telling the story of Plato’s cave.

That’s all about freedom. I mean, well, it feels like it’s about freedom. Really, Plato’s trying to say something about what’s really real in life, but in it, there’s this image of People being chained up looking at a cave wall and just observing shadows of what’s actually real and then [00:10:00] it is the role of philosophy that comes in and unchains the people and leads them out into the daylight.

And that’s where it feels like it’s about freedom. And this really gripped me. And I thought maybe if I switch my major from radio to philosophy and I learn how to think, then maybe I can go back to radio and have more to say because I always enjoyed not just the nuts and bolts technical sides of philosophy of radio but rather the connecting with people over the airwaves.

I thought maybe if I need to have something to say, if I learn how to think, I’ll have more to say. So it was a pivot, I initially moved to just philosophy and religion instead of just pure philosophy and so I was studying ancient Greek and theology alongside philosophy.

And I found that the theology courses felt like they were all about answers and I was really drawn to the questions in philosophy. And so it was this journey that felt like it was without intention. I mean, well, I had intention, but it was not designed [00:11:00] by me for sure. Again, there was, there was chance and things and I had lots of really kind professors.

It was along those moves that I realized actually, okay, I thought I loved ideas, actually, I love questions. I thought it was about communicating really. It’s about exploring, exploring questions. And so I never actually made it back to radio,

Harsha: I love that, the whole idea of questioning our reality. And actually, what do we need to do? Because, say, with the pandemic, a lot of people started questioning, , why am I doing this job? , the world could literally come to an end in a week’s time or people are dying. I do think with  philosophy, it helps to reframe things, reframe the way you look at the world.

And one simple thing is that, if you think about the universe, how long it’s been going on for, and we’re just like a tiny dot in that. So really what we’re doing now really doesn’t make, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t make a huge difference. I mean, clearly on the micro level, I’m not saying one should be apathetic and just sit at home and wait for things to happen, but I do think [00:12:00] it helps to just put things into perspective.

So, say, if you go for a job interview and you get rejected or something doesn’t go well at work, it’s about perspective. And I think if you can change your perspective, that really helps to try and change your path and your reality. I mean, what, what do you think, Brennan?

Brennan: Yeah, hugely. I mean, perspective is a way of taking something right. A way of making sense of something, subjectivity, self awareness biases. These things are notoriously difficult. To really leave behind or really change, right? And yet it’s possible to and there’s so many biases that were reminded all the time of these days that need to change. We need to leave behind, but it’s hard to do that.

And I think the same goes for perspective. It’s gaining perspective is hugely important, but it’s not easy because of what we’re mentioning before about Iris Murdoch quote, everything we understand is filtered by our own experience [00:13:00] and so how do you step outside of that? It’s through empathy and connection with others, right?

So I try to really pay attention when I’m talking and listening to people, listening with people that have different views of mine and try to cultivate spaces where others might have very different views to myself but then also try to build in habits to help shift some of that perspective, right?

So I know it’s very easy for me to get up. I have my routines that I like, I wake up early. I go for a run. I make some coffee. I do these things and I enjoy that routine. At the same time. I don’t love too much routine. So I know that I could just get stuck in that perspective.

But if I create a habit, so like, once a quarter, I’ll try to take an away day for one and get up early, drive out to, Wales or the Peak District or something, and [00:14:00] spend the day hiking and asking myself, throwing questions at myself to go, like, why is what you’re doing matter? What’s this about now?

And just make some space because otherwise I think there’s so many things that are more than happy to take our time and our attention. So it is cultivating a practice, having a habit of finding what works for us. I know, I’ve realized over the years that I just come alive outside. That works for me for other people, maybe it’s, it’s not doing anything early. it’s doing it late, it’s sitting by the fire or I don’t know, something else.

But yeah, cultivating those habits makes space for us, even within our subjectivity, even with our lenses on, which we can’t really take off. It makes space for us to reflect and, and hopefully break through some of those filters.

Harsha: I just love that, Brennan. I think the one point that struck me was that it’s really trying to understand yourself because I think when people are trying to give general advice about or strategies, it’s very difficult [00:15:00] because we’re all on a spectrum. I mean, it could be some people are more introvert or extrovert.

Some people are more interested in doing deep work or engaging with people. So I think it’s very much when you’re looking for answers, you need to think about what it is that , how it applies to you. So it’s very difficult to say, look, that one piece of advice or strategy is going to apply to everybody. So ahead Brennan

Brennan:. Yeah, definitely. I think there’s a huge part of it. That’s understanding yourself. The only thing I would add, though, I think we can’t do it without understanding self. That’s for sure but I think we also need to understand that, which is outside of ourselves. So understanding the world or the landscape in which we’re trying to do this.

This has been really key in, in my life lately, I would say, where the work I’ve been trying to do, I’ve gone, okay, so I need to understand what my values are, [00:16:00] what I care about. And that’s really crucial. So that I exercise my agency and choices and do things, but then I also need to go, okay, but how am I reading my landscape?

And again, that’s me reading it. So I have to understand my own subjective perspective, but what’s going on in the world now, what’s going on in my industry, what’s going on in this group that I’m trying to work with right now, which might draw out a different facet of myself so I might say, well, actually, I’m someone that likes music.

I play music. I do philosophy. I could do a number of different things and understanding myself probably actually, as I’m thinking out loud here a little bit, but understanding myself probably wasn’t what made me pursue a career in philosophy. It was almost understanding what society was kind of needing and recognizing that I had some of that in me too.

So going back to your question before about how I got to doing philosophy work, I think there was a, a big moment where, I’d done my PhD on the topic of trust and I was actually just working, consulting to businesses[00:17:00], some of which had lost the public’s trust, on that topic. And then it was through some of the feedback I was getting where leaders were going, actually we want our people to be  thinking for themselves.

We want good ideas to come from everywhere. They weren’t using this language, but it was almost like they were articulated. They wanted to run their businesses like a good democracy. Right. And because of things that were going on in actual democracies at that time, it was clear that you don’t get a good democracy just by giving everyone the vote.

We also have to have places where we can constructively sharpen each other and disagree in ways that are not just causing huge outbreaks. And so I thought, Oh, actually, yeah, if businesses would benefit from, from egalitarianism and. People think for themselves, then what are we doing there?

And so I think it was and then Philosophy at Work was created to, to help respond to that challenge and teach thinking skills and things like that. But I think that wouldn’t have come about if I was just thinking about myself. I think it was understanding myself in the context of [00:18:00] what was going on around me.

Harsha: I completely agree. You’ve obviously got to understand yourself, but clearly you’ve got to think about the way the world is. I mean, a very simplistic example, say with this podcast, I can see the analytics. If nobody’s listening, then clearly that shows that what I’m doing is not good. So, I mean, that’s a very black and white thing, but also think about careers.

If you’re getting into say an industry, which is declining, then probably it’s going to be very difficult to make a successful career in that. So I think, yeah, you obviously have to understand yourself and understand the way the the world is evolving and potentially the way industries are evolving to think, okay, it’s much better to be in something that’s expanding and growing rather than contracting. So yeah, I completely take all the points that you’re making there.

Brennan: Yeah, I think that’s right. And thinking about that, what I’m saying is right, that expansion and contraction. I think that’s the really tricky thing. It’s a really good point that you make [00:19:00] that things are always changing.

So I guess the hard work of it is to recognize that yes. Okay. I can understand myself. You understand the world both those things are probably changing. A pretty traditional view of the self was that I remember when I was studying philosophy, there’s this term, the homunculus, which translates as little person, right?

So the view of the self is that it’s like, there’s this little person inside of us that is unchanging and is always there. And then the more that science and psychology and everything has developed is we’ve said, well, actually, no you kind of can evolve and maybe your core values don’t flex too much, but actually, gosh, when you put that into the mix, there’s a lot of movement and maybe that’s challenging. But also, I think that’s part of what makes it so exciting to be alive and trying to work things out is going, okay, well, that skill or that way of being got me this far.

But gosh, now the world’s like this [00:20:00] and now I’m like this, what might I need to let go of and grieve that maybe and what might I want to hold on to or shift into gears? I think that’s exciting.

Harsha: It’s funny Brennan, one of my previous guests was telling me that, , she’s a very, , pleasant person and she worked her way up. through doing all those  technical stuff. And then she was in charge of a department and she thought leading was essentially being quite laissez faire and laid back. And that led to suboptimal performance in the department. But then when she was much firmer about, okay, this is the way it needs to be done.

We need to have order, then clearly, I think everybody knows it’s not about being too harsh a boss. But I think when people realize, look, this is what we need to do in order to get these results. And if we don’t have order, then, , clearly that’s not a good thing. So [00:21:00]you can be a good person, but also you can be a firm boss.

It’s not as if those two things are mutually exclusive and sometimes if you are a nice person, you always have to be a bit harsher because your personality is, I suppose on the more reasonable side, but yeah, it’s just very interesting. All these different takes on how we can act, but I love the point you’re making, but so turning to careers now.

So how can philosophy help at work? And I, and we were talking about. This off air  about stoic principles and how they can be very powerful. Would you like to  expand

Brennan: on that, Brennan? Yeah. Thank you. So I guess at, at a high level, the, the headlines kind of reasons that philosophy is good for, for career is that, , the skills that you get when you do philosophy.

And again here I would distinguish between philosophy, philosophies [00:22:00] and philosophers. , where doing philosophy is, is philosophical thinking. pursuing the truth, trying to grapple with tough problems and work stuff out. That, I think, is different from philosophies, which are packaged up accounts of what it means to live well. and philosophers are the people that are doing that thinking.

So if you’ve got philosophers doing the thinking, coming up with these  views of how to live well, that’s all well and good. But the reason that philosophy that is doing the philosophy is useful for careers comes out when you think about things like the world economic forum, for example, has said that in the top 10 skills actually features in the top three or four of those complex problem solving, critical thinking and creative thinking are things that are needed for the future of work for the fourth industrial revolution, all this stuff.

And that’s what you get from those are the muscles that are built up when you do philosophy, because you’re given a tough, tough [00:23:00] challenge, like, work out what the meaning of life is like, what does it mean to be ethical? And what , what’s really real, actually.

The history of philosophy is paved with papers that try to make it look like there’s a very clear right answer to those questions, but actually there’s not necessarily, and that’s why we have a really rich discourse around philosophy, but, but all those questions are so big and so buried that, or so complex, I should say, that when you grapple with them, it makes your brain have to practice going, okay, it could be this or it could be that.

Yeah. Both seem like good things, but there’s a lot of uncertainty, and yet I have to choose one answer because the next question I’m going to get to is depend, is going to depend on that one. So it makes you be very limber mentally, and that’s good for complex problem solving. It’s good for creative thinking.

It is all about critical thinking, and so doing philosophy [00:24:00]  is good for careers because we know that careers these days are so dependent on not just what , but how you make sense of the data. And also how you move from one thing to the next, right. And, or from one job to the next. And, and so it’s good, not just for work, but it’s particularly good for careers because of careers being about how you navigate things, right.

And how you move from one, one point to the next. But I think more, more deeply, it gives you examples of people that are courageously embracing not knowing and I suppose here is an instance where it’s beneficial to not just do philosophy yourself, but to read about the history of philosophy and philosophers.

So you come across people like the Stoics that you mentioned, or Simone de Beauvoir existentialist, and you go, wow, these people are not just . Sitting in a plush ivory tower or something, though, somewhere, but for many, many of them, that wasn’t the case. And they were doing so about topics that were socially contentious [00:25:00] and really difficult.

And yet they stuck with them because they cared about trying to do what was right or trying to work out what’s true. I think at this time, when we’ve got people that are going, as you said before, post pandemic going, gosh, the time I have on earth is quite precious to me. I want to do something that matters. And yet I’ve got to feed my family. So that’s a live issue.

Well, and there’s a lot of uncertainty when I started doing this, being self employed and doing philosophy, I thought, gosh, that’s pretty risky. It’d be better to be employed, but that was at a time when it felt like being self employed was a risky option.

Now it feels like, well, kind of everything’s pretty risky. And so I think that, that is leveled out a little bit. So I guess what I’m saying is, when you’re reading philosophy, and when you’re trying to do philosophy for yourself, you’ve got some other flames helping keep you warm. I mean, one thing that was really interesting was, in 2020, during COVID, one of the highest selling books was The Plague by Camus [00:26:00]

I read it then as well and it’s a little bit like, if Camus was still around, he might be sued for knowing something about what was coming. It has a lot of correlations. And I think what people maybe loved and also found terrifying reading it was it felt like there’s this a little window into what we were going through and you could read ahead to what might happen if we do this or that and, and in the same way, I think, and so that was comforting, or at least felt like you had a friend. Now, it didn’t make the situation go away. And I think that’s a core part of philosophy.

No philosopher has ever said, hey, doing this stuff is going to make your life nice. But it’s a way of thinking through it properly. And saying, okay, well, life’s difficult, but at least I’m going to understand it, or at least I’m going to try to understand it. And so, in a career context where there’s so much uncertainty complexity and all that stuff, I think philosophy is not only something [00:27:00] that gives us the skills that we need to succeed in this time, but it also. gives us the encouragement and the courage and dare I say hope.

I mean, philosophers, historical philosophers have not always been the most  like cheery bunch, they’re not going around talking about hope all the time. Quite often you have, you have philosophers talking more about death and it can seem a bit dark, but actually it’s for a really good reason because in talking about death, they’re talking about hope because remember that we’re going to die and therefore live, really live now.

Harsha: I think you made some fantastic points there, Brennan. I think two that struck me is this idea of the jobs of the future. We don’t know what those jobs are going to be. I mean, clearly medicine, law engineering sciences. There are certain things which we know, but there are many jobs , say 10 years ago, [00:28:00] digital marketing or marketing or digital, whatever creators that those just didn’t exist. So I think it shows that you have to be agile going forward, even if you have a traditional education

Also I think this idea of the environment we’re in and I think talking about Annie Duke, the chess environment, and then the poker playing environment. And I think there’s this term kind environments and wicked environments where I think kind, it’s rules based, so you pretty much know how to navigate it. So there are X number of moves you can almost train in your mind, like a chess grandmaster.

Whereas I think with a wicked environment, which I think that’s very similar to what we’re living in these days, there are much fewer rules, and in a way, it’s up to you to figure out how to navigate that path.

So I think, in a way, with philosophy, the training, it gives you an idea of how can I develop my mind to, okay, see there are these problems, [00:29:00] which I may not have come across before, but I can go down these various paths and it’s almost like, as you were saying before, it’s like a decision tree. If I go down this route, then this is an implication. If I go down that path, then this is the implication.

Brennan: Yeah, I think that’s, that’s right. And it reminds me of stoic philosophy, which was part of the question before that I didn’t respond to. The stoics were very big on, on saying in order to live well, you have two groups. The first one is you need to know your landscape, map your landscape, right?

And then the second one is turn your energy towards the things that you can control and don’t sweat the rest right now that’s easier said than done but a lot of the rest of stoic literature is basically. just giving loads of examples about ways that we might try to do that.

And so they would say things like it’s a good idea every once in a while to just sleep on the floor without a blanket. [00:30:00] I suppose to remind yourself about the fragility of your life, but also to go when you wake up the morning after that, you might go that wasn’t my best night of sleep, but I didn’t die, I’m okay.

It again, brings back some of that perspective, which is needed if we’re saying, okay, don’t sweat the stuff you can’t control for them what they thought you could control, they were quite pure about this, the only thing you can really control is your mindset, so you can’t control nature, you can’t control other people.

This was born out of a massive career pivot. So Zeno the founder of Stoicism, I mean, there’s lots of, of Stoic philosophers: Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, that are known for  Stoic philosophy, but it was kicked off by someone named Zeno who wasn’t a philosopher to begin with but was a merchant. Then was in a storm, lost their ship and therefore all their merchandise and everything at sea. [00:31:00]

The, the caricature goes that they were washed up on the beach and as you do when you can’t do that anymore, what do you do? You go browsing in a bookshop and he apparently came across the writings of Plato and the dialogues with Socrates and found solace in it and kind of like we were talking about before, had just gone through this big change and then found people talking about, well, what does really matter? What’s really real?

There’s a great deal of humility from Socrates and that was maybe comforting. So then decided to start his own school of philosophy, met under this colonnade, the word for was stoa. So they were just nicknamed the stoic philosophers and out of that, you can see how the thinking was very context sensitive.

It’s not just this like abstract academic thing. It was very real to him that life is not a closed system. It’s not all nice and cheery, and you might lose your belongings at sea. So what should we do then? And what he came up with was, well [00:32:00], you can’t control nature.

And so what can you control? Well, what’s going on inside? So I guess, yeah, I think, things like that can be very helpful because they echo in our minds and so then when our train is late for an important meeting or we don’t get the job that we really wanted, it’s not just like, oh, I read a bit of Seneca, so I guess I’m okay.

It’s going, well, hang on, let me actually think about that. Can I control things? No, this is frustrating. What can I do about this? Okay, what I can do is think about how I frame this and there’s a lot of psychological research since the days of Seneca and Zeno that have said that positive reframing actually really helps, ,  by saying, okay, I’m seeing it now as a missed train or lost job, but let me reframe it as an opportunity to do something else, something like that. It’s not just semantics, it’s not just thinking nice, positive thoughts. It’s actually changing the lenses that we’re filtering life through. And I think that is [00:33:00] really useful because it’s, it’s, it’s saying, no, actually, I’m not living in a world where I’ve just lost something. I’m living in a world where that happened, but there might be other things I can do.

Harsha: I completely agree. And I think it’s very much about the execution that you can think about these things but actually, you’ve got to put it into practice and say, look, okay, what’s happened has happened. But I’ve got to try and move on somehow.

And I suppose moving on from that, say, you come across people who are say, stuck in their job search or stuck in their career. And they’re looking back at the job that they didn’t get offered, or the promotion that they’ve missed out on. Now, it’s very easy to start ruminating on that. And think about, oh, woe is me and getting filled with regret? Do you have any thoughts about how philosophy can help us deal with that? Obviously there’s a reframing aspect. [00:34:00]

Brennan:  Yeah, I think it’s a really good point. So, I mean, one thing that I think analytical philosophy can suggest, so the  schools of philosophy are generally divided into well, lots of different camps.

But within the scope of, say, Western philosophy, there tends to be analytical philosophy and continental philosophy. And analytical philosophy is like philosophy by numbers, it’s trying to just do clear logic. And how do you define your terms? And that’s a lot of the philosophy that I was taught, just, I think, based on primarily the part of the world that I was studying in and it’s certainly not all of philosophy and it’s not all of wisdom, and it’s not even the part that like warms my heart. But one thing that it taught me was to define my terms. And I think if we think about regret, an analytical philosopher would say, well, let’s stop for a second and say, well, what is regret?

Let’s define that. What does it mean? [00:35:00] I’ve not actually read all the philosophical literature around regret but I would bet that it would be understood as a reactive attitude, which a reactive attitude is an affective, emotional reaction that bubbles up in response to not just something that has happened, but something that we infer someone has intended to do against us, right? So, now that’s one form of regret. So, someone breaks up with me, I regret that and I hold it against them to some extent, right? That’s a reactive attitude.

But there’s another form of regret, which I think almost makes more sense. It’s a regret only ever makes sense to talk about when it’s down to things that we’ve done. So if I miss a job opportunity, I might be disappointed. But in a sense, I think it’s a bit strange to say that I regret that because [00:36:00] I, maybe I had nothing to do with it. Now, maybe I did because I did the application and I went along to the interview and maybe I said the wrong thing.

But again, the Stoics, I think, would want to say, well, but it’s not a closed system. It wasn’t just up to you. If I say, okay, I could have bought these shoes or I could have bought those shoes, I can move to this city or that city. There’s still luck involved in everything but it’s my choice.

And then I moved to one city or buy one pair of shoes and I’m unhappy and I go, Oh, I regret buying that one and not the other one. That’s fair but I think a lot of things in our careers that happen, I might regret: saying the wrong thing or doing something that gets me fired, of course.

But when it comes to missing out on an opportunity, which I think is probably more what’s going on in so much of us about when we think about regret in our career. Maybe it’s comforting to go on the analytical philosophical journey and go, well, what is regret? Where does it make sense to talk about it?

Do you go, I think it only is really right for us to talk about regretting things that are within our control. And then we have to say, okay, well, was that [00:37:00] career missed opportunity within my control? No, it wasn’t. Okay. Well, then therefore it might not be very comforting to say, “Oh, a philosopher on a podcast told me I shouldn’t, I can’t, it doesn’t make sense for me to regret it then.”

No, that’s not the point but by thinking through it, you might go, “Oh actually, that was out of my control. It doesn’t say anything about me. I’m disappointed that I don’t have that job, but it doesn’t mean I’m any less valuable.” And I think when we regret things, the stab of regret is some shame.

It’s something where we’re saying, “oh, I am that and so if I can reframe the situation and say, , it was outside of my control. I didn’t miss out because of me maybe they said there was a lots of other candidates and I always feel like they’re just saying that, but maybe, maybe they really meant it. Okay. I’m therefore not really going to regret it.”

Another thing that comes to mind with regret that might be helpful here is sometimes, you come across people that say, do you have any regrets? [00:38:00] They say, no, I don’t regret anything and in our culture, sometimes that’s thought to be a really positive thing, live so that you have no regrets.

In contrast to that, I feel like if I have no regrets about things that are in my control that I do, then I haven’t been probably growing or improving. Exactly. Like when I look back on my life. I’ve got some, some big regrets, some things that I go, “Oh, I can’t believe I said that. Oh, I can’t believe it. Oh, how embarrassing.”

I would never do that now. And that is like “Oh, I, I hate having those memories because it just feels so embarrassing” but there’s solace in going, “okay, the reason I regret that is because I can now see that that was so wrong. And I can only see that that’s not so wrong because I’ve been growing.”

So I don’t know, I guess that’s where my mind goes when I think about regret and career is like, if we regret things that we’ve done, then maybe that’s a sign that we’re growing and and wouldn’t do them now. And if we regret things that were out of our control, then it’s, I don’t know if it makes sense for us to [00:39:00] be regretful because I think regret something that we apply when, when we had something more to do with it, if that makes sense.

Harsha: I think that’s a really interesting way of almost trying to split the type, the feeling into these two areas. There’s one, so I went to an interview and I said something stupid or I wasn’t appropriately attired or whatever or I wasn’t appropriately prepared.

Clearly, that is something within my control. I need to learn from that. I need to improve. But then, on the other hand, if you go and you are fully prepared, you have all the qualifications, you’ve done everything possibly that you could do.

Then on that side, it’s worthwhile reframing and saying, well, it could be that there were better candidates or the manager just preferred somebody else, which can happen. I think in life sometimes [00:40:00] maybe with the personal development work and self help, people say that you have control. You’re the master of your own destiny. But clearly that isn’t the case.

I don’t think that’s a message either of us are telling our listeners now, clearly there are huge numbers of uncertainties and uncertain things out there, but you just have to learn to deal with it and make the best of it and not get stuck in regret, regretting or whatever term we use about things that we have absolutely no control over. Is that broadly correct?

Brennan: Yeah. I mean, that’s certainly how I think about it. Yeah. I’m in two minds about how much control we have in life, so I think you’re right. Neither of us is saying, Oh, just think it and it’ll happen. But, but at the same time, I think, well, we, certainly can exercise our agency and we can influence things.

So I’m not exactly a Stoic because again their context [00:41:00], they’re writing in a time where they’re dealing with firm beliefs around ancient gods and so for them, the natural world was at the control of the gods and everything?

I don’t think that, but also I think we can do things. I’m not a pure stoic because I’m not just saying, well, I just can’t control anything. I can’t influence anything as well. Instead, no, I think we can influence but the way that I think about it is something my dad used to say, which was, it was  a word picture metaphor of some sort where he was like if you want to go sailing, you can’t control the wind, but you’ve got to put your sail up.

I’m not here saying why isn’t this boat moving? I’ve still got to, I’ve got the anchor down and I haven’t put the sail up, but , I guess I can’t control anything. I just have to accept it. No, I’m going to raise the anchor, work hard, I’m going to put the sail up and maybe I’m going to like blow [00:42:00] into the sail myself  but that’s not the whole thing.

I think that’s the point. We can’t control it all, but we can have coffees with people. We can work hard. We can do that. But also remember that we’re not entitled. Just because we work hard doesn’t mean it’s going to work. It does mean that we’re probably going to learn if we try.

And so I’m a big fan of growth mindset in general. I know that there’s been lots of critics of say, Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset, for example, and things like that. But I think the general thrust of saying, focus on the effort you put in and what you can be learning rather than just the results. I think that’s that’s a good move here as well.

Harsha: Completely agree, Brennan, I think I think from our discussions, it just shows that there are no easy answers. I think it really is incumbent on each individual person to [00:43:00] say, look, there are a number of these ideas out there some may apply, some may not.

But you have to be smart and think, okay, which one of these applies to myself? And almost trying to individualize that and make almost a path for yourself using various different philosophies. And I think being wedded to one, you can be a bit too dogmatic sometimes and look one philosophy is not going to cover everything.

So you might have to pick and choose things that work for yourself. And I think that’s a more sensible way to be rather than saying, okay, there’s one right path to success and being dogmatic and sticking to it.  It may work, it may not, but , the modern world, it’s a messy world.

Brennan: Yeah, I couldn’t, I couldn’t agree more. And that’s, , that’s why sometimes people ask me like, Oh, what philosophy does philosophy? Well, we don’t really teach philosophy. We’re much more interested in, in helping people think well themselves, and [00:44:00]it kind of scares me to think of someone just adopting a singular philosophy and go, this is going  to be my lens for everything, because I just think life is more complicated than that.

That’s why I’m a fan of rather going, okay, let’s try to live well. And some days we’re going to feel like we got it. Some days, I don’t, it’s not going to make any sense, but we’re going to be in pursuit of living fully and openly, honestly, trying to understand what’s really going on.

And gosh, if there’s a philosophy or a way of living that, that gets it all, then that sounds great. I just think life’s bigger and more beautiful than that, than rather than the dogmatic way of going it’s just going to fit into this. So yeah, actually when it comes to careers, I don’t think there is  one philosophy or one approach that just fits everything.

But the skills of thinking through all those things are again, the skills that we need to [00:45:00] work really well. So yeah, I think you’re exactly right about that.

Harsha: And Brennan, one final question how can we actually create the space and time to think? So many of us are so busy, we really have no time. So how can we create that?

Brennan: So here again, I think I have to go back to Iris Murdoch and the reason I say that is there’s things that help me make time to think that might not work for you, might not work for someone else. And so I have to understand, to your point before, I have to understand myself and the context and situation that helps me think well and do that. Some examples and also there’s probably more than 1.

So for example, right now, we’re talking, sat at my desk and I’ve got my desk  on an angle. And for some reason, I couldn’t quite articulate this. There’s probably some neuroscientists somewhere that would explain this to us, [00:46:00] but I have my office, a really open plan kind of space because I’ll come in and depending on what I need to process or think through, sometimes I’ll feel like, yeah, this is the angle.

Mmaybe I need to stand for this next hour and do this bit, or maybe I need to go and walk to do it. There are studies that will say you have your best thinking when you’re in the bathtub, Scott Barry Kaufman, the New York academic , pulled out a stat about this one time.

It was like 75 percent of us have our best ideas in the bathtub. Other people will say, no, it’s when I’m cycling or running or playing piano or these flow state kind of activities. I think as we practice them, we notice different types of thinking. So I know that when I start the day with a run, I can’t really hold a thought fully when I’m in a flow state, but it creates space in my thinking, so that later when I sit down, I have good, good ideas or I can think through things properly.

If I need to actually make a decision, I don’t go for a run because I need to be more concrete than that [00:47:00]. So instead, what I know works for me and some things I could suggest are make yourself a hot drink that you like. So for me, that’s coffee. It might be tea or just like water.

And then put on something that’s going to help you feel like in the head space, an ironed shirt, whatever it’s going to be. You should get a sharp pencil and think through it, one of the things that we do in some of our workshops, just because if we say, okay, now I think through decision, people are like “How do I do that?”

We get people to write a word at the heart of the thing they want to think through down in the middle of the page. So this is what we call our neural mapping activity. So you’ve got to work on budgets, but you’re having a hard time getting started. , how do I get moving on this?

So you write the word budget in the middle of the page, circle it, see what comes to mind. And maybe the next word is like fear. So you write fear next to it and draw a line from budget to fear. And then you think, when I think about fear, what comes to and  so on and so forth. And you map the connotations, the neural network around [00:48:00] these concepts in your brain.

Now, that doesn’t get you doing the budget. It doesn’t tell you what figures you should put in the budget, but it gets you thinking about what’s going on for you. And you might go, “Oh, do you know what, I realize. Actually, I don’t have enough information to do the budget yet, or I have an anxiety about this” you can go away and deal with that and then come back and actually get started with the budget.

So there are thinking tools that we can do. The neural map is one, just sit, , carving up some space, thinking about your physical space or movement, like the running one. Another one just really quickly that I practice and sometimes we talk about in our self awareness workshop, we actually start with this pressing pause, reflective check in.

So you just  sit or stand comfortably, maybe shut your eyes and you start by scanning through your body, just thinking through the top of your head, down to your toes, just noticing what’s going on at a physical level. Oh, there’s a pain in my knee or whatever. And then you scan through at an emotional level and you go, [00:49:00] okay, now where am I at emotionally?

And the last thing is scan through your thinking. Are there any  ideas that are hanging around? Is someone that, something from my last meeting, is it still lingering? And you just  note some of this stuff down. And it only takes, , a minute or two. You can do it in the Lift, whatever.

But by doing that day in and day out, it is a way of creating a habit that creates space where we can even have ideas. If we’re not even doing things like that, then we’re going to just be bouncing from thing to thing to thing, from meeting to meeting, or like from email to social media, whatever.

And there’s not a lot of space. Yes, we might have responsive ideas, but we’re not going to have our own ideas. And we’re not going to be thinking, making sense of what we’ve already consumed. And so I would say move, hydrate, do a neural map, cultivate a habit, like taking five minutes or three minutes, even, and just scanning through, train yourself to check in with what’s going on in your body, your emotions, your ideas, [00:50:00] and that makes a big help.

Harsha: No, I just love that. And I think just the whole idea of trying to create a habit where you can build in these small times for space and reflection. It’s great. Now, I know that we’re coming up to the end of our time, Brennan. I don’t want to keep you too long, but just a couple of final things. How can people get in touch with you? Obviously your website, you’re on LinkedIn, anything else? And all this will be in the show notes.

Brennan: Yeah, certainly. So Philosophy at Work so www. philosophyatwork. co. uk is the website. You can learn more about the work we do in businesses and the thinking skills workshops. Also, I’m on LinkedIn at dr__brennan__jacoby.

We also have Philosophy at Work, which is just at philosophy underscore at underscore work on instagram as well at philosophy at work And yeah, and then there’s there’s all sorts of ways to reach out through those platforms as well if anyone wants to pick up any of the themes that we’ve discussed here

Harsha: Fantastic and Brennan one final thing. [00:51:00] Is there anybody, one or two people who you’d like to thank, who’s helped you on your journey or your personal life, not an Oscars speech, but just one or two?

Brennan: Yeah, great question. So the first philosophy professor that I mentioned earlier, who was telling the story of Plato’s cave or Charles Campbell, he’s hugely, hugely beneficial to me, really generous.

One of these philosophers who didn’t make out, if you studied philosophy, you would discover all the answers. In his lectures, he would tell you all this really  complex stuff, and we’d be gripped with it in the lecture, but then he’d always end with something like, oh, but , who knows.

And I think it was a nice injection of humility that really gave me a hunger for the spirit of philosophy, rather than just  learning how to think so that I could  expand my ego, so yeah, Dr. Charles Campbell and also Miffa Salter is a coach and trainer. She’s been a mentor of mine [00:52:00] for years and we’ve worked together and also just a really wise, wise person that has not only played things back to me about my career and everything that a good coach does but mixed that coachy playback with also some suggestions and has been again, really generous and supportive in helping me understand my strengths.

So I think particularly, maybe it’s something about studying philosophy. that teaches you to doubt everything and critique everything. It’s good, but you can become very  critical sometimes if you’re not careful. So I think she really helped me see why what I was doing would be helpful to people. And that was a good connection.

Harsha: Fantastic Well thank you once again, Brennan, for your time. And yeah, look forward to hearing more about what you’re doing in the future. Take care. Bye bye. [00:53:00] Thank you so much, Harsha.

Thank you so much for listening and staying to the end. That was such a fun interview.

If you’d like to listen to more episodes, please subscribe to the podcast, which is available on your favorite providers and subscription is free. If you wish to learn more about any of the resources mentioned in this episode, please take a look at the show notes, which are available online. Thanks once again for listening.

Wishing you success with your career. I hope you will join me again in the future.


*Reframe & Reset Your Career, including any comments made by the host and guests, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute advice of any description, including but not restricted to financial, legal, investing or medical advice.*

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