As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Mr. Phil La Duke. He is a principal consultant in a London, England-based global company that is the world’s leading sustainability consultancy where he works with on large-scale organizational change programs primarily in worker safety. He has 28 years of experience in the fields of Worker Safety, Organizational Development, Process Improvement, Cultural Change Implementation, and Training.
Phil La Duke is an internationally renowned executive consultant, safety expert, speaker, blogger, trainer, and business author. He frequently guest lectures at universities including presentations at. Mr. La Duke sits on the Wayne State Biomedical Safety Board. Mr. La Duke is the author of a popular weekly blog on performance assurance topics www.philladuke.wordpress.com. He also guest blogs on the popular Australian blogwww.safetyrisk.au.comand the prestigiouswww.monsterTHINKING.com.
Phil La Duke has over 300 published works in print (86 of which appear in Entrepreneur magazine) including two popular books:I Know My Shoes Are Untied, Mind Your Own Business: An Iconoclast’s View of Safety, andLone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violenceand he has contributed content to numerous notable magazines and is published on all inhabited continents. Mr. La Duke’s take-no-prisoners style garnered him positions on Industrial Safety and Hygiene News (ISHN) magazine’s Power 101 (a list of the world’s most influential people working in worker safety) and its list of Up and Comers in Safety Thought Leadership. He was recently named to Thinkers360’s lists of the 20 Global Thought Leaders in Sustainability and its list of the 20 Global Thought Leaders in Culture. La Duke lives in Detroit, MI.
Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
After being laid off working the line for one of the Big 3 auto companies I went back to school and found a job as head of Training for a billion Construction Company. I worked there a short time but it wasn’t a good fit for me, I was recruited by the head of my college program (I was working my way through college) to work as a organizational development consultant for another auto plant because of my background with the UAW. I switched jobs every two years or so learning as much as I could about how to change organizations, and what I learned most from these experiences is that you have to know how to get people to change before you can change an entire organization. I landed as head of Training & Development for a large tier-one international auto supplier where I was charged with helping both the organization and individuals to change. After nine years I was dragging kicking and screaming into the world of safety, where I worked, again in the change field. When the recession hit in 2010 I was laid off and immediately founded Rockford Greene International with Patrick Sullivan, a successful businessman who worked in the Environmental field. I took a day job working for a not-for-profit highly spiritual healthcare system, and just Rockford Greene was starting to blossom, I was recruited by a larger, global firm where I feel I can apply everything I learned.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
The most exciting project I worked on was my second book that was just released January 1, 2019. I had written my first book when a publisher contacted me at the insistence of one of their clients a best-selling nonfiction author. The book met with moderate success and my publisher greenlit two more. I was just finishing my second book when my publisher suggested I write lone gunman. This may sound like a shameless plug but it’s not meant to be. You see many of the statistics around workplace violence involve people who struggle with relationships and self-understanding. Let me illustrate. There are two types of workplace killers: 1) the person who feels his life is spiraling out of control and he blames his boss or a coworker and 2) the domestic abuser whose wife or girlfriend has left him. He feels out of control and angry, and heads to the one place he can be pretty sure he can find her. When you add mental illness and/or drugs or alcohol to either of these situations it can become volatile very quickly. I keep thinking about how that if the perpetrators or the victims could just learn to break the cycle and pull out of the tailspin in which there life is they could be far happier and more productive members of society. In many cases the victims believe they deserve to be abused and the killers have branded themselves the bad guys so deeply that they don’t see another way out. I don’t explore it in the book, but I think a little self love would go a long, LONG way to solving this issue.
I am also working on a project to better understand resilience as it pertains to worker safety, much of my work is done in worker safety, but I have a robust background that includes a considerable need for introspection.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self acceptance?
I mentioned that I was laid off from one of the Big 3, but what I didn’t mention was that about this time my daughter was born one month premature and was dangerously underweight there was very little hope of her survival at first, and then the doctors came to me and told me that there was a very strong chance that my wife was going to die. I stood there numb trying to process what was going on. My daughter was in the hospital for six weeks and my wife was ill and becoming increasingly unstable. By the time my daughter was 18 months old my wife left me. I was crushed and terrified that I would lose custody of my daughter. I remember thinking “I did everything right. I had a great job, I was an excellent father, and always took the safe route, and still my life was a total mess. I was deeply in debt and struggling at every turn.” So that was one tipping point, I was determined to take more risks after that and do things the way I thought they should be done and not how society thought they should be.” I know you just asked for one but I hope you will indulge me in sharing a second story. About that time I got a job that paid about what I had been making at the auto plant and I was starting to reconstruct my life a piece at a time. We were delivering highly-scripted training and I was horrible at it and it was shown. My boss called me into his office and told me that my course evaluation scores were the lowest among the 8 trainers. I could feel myself backsliding and became deeply depressed. And then, like an epiphany, it hit me. I could control this. I knew the audience and I threw out the script. I remember thinking that if I am going to get fired it will be because of who I am, not because I can’t pretend to be someone else.
According to a recent study cited inCosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what
some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
Whenever you achieve success, there is always someone around to throw stones at you. We can change how we look, and while it’s easy to blame the media’s preoccupation with beauty I think that’s a facile argument — the job of the media is to deal with issues that people care about and we the readers are the ones who become obsessed with celebrity. We become unhappy with our lives — we don’t have a (or the right) girlfriend or boyfriend, we don’t make enough money, we hate our jobs, and so on. We don’t want to make the really tough commitments to making our lives better, so instead we become preoccupied with how we look. If we have a big nose, for example, sure we could change that, but it would involve expensive and painful surgery that is not typically covered by insurance.
It is far easier to see yourself as a victim than it is to do what it takes to make the journey to loving oneself. If you really are unsatisfied with your life a good measure of this dissatisfaction rises from not only not loving yourself, but in many cases not even liking yourself. If you don’t love yourself it makes it very difficult for others to love you. This dislike of oneself leads to failures in dating, failures at work, and a downward spiral of self-loathing. It can lead to suicide, domestic violence as I mentioned, violence, alcoholism, or drug use. It also you makes you less resilient. Resilience is a person’s ability to bounce back from tragedy. The highly resilient person not only can rebound more quickly from a bad breakup or the loss of a loved one, but studies have shown that happy, optimistic, people living purposeful lives, in other words, more resilient, have stronger immune systems and they get sick less frequently and recover more quickly.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
For starters at the end of the day, YOU have to live with yourself and living with a miserable complainer who you can’t stand is exhausting. I didn’t always love myself, and while I sometimes disappoint myself, I am so much happier than I was ten years ago. My job involves travelling all over the world, and when you travel so much can go wrong. I found myself complaining about the service I got in restaurants, in hotels, at car rentals, and even complaining that I was paying for cable that I was never home to watch. And then one day I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I realized that I couldn’t control these things, but I COULD control how I responded to them. I devised a simple plan: for every complaint I made I would complement people who do a good job with equal vehemence. If I escalate a complaint to the executive office I would force myself to examine my life and find THREE situations that I could complement to that same extent.
The results amazed me. And as cheesy as THIS sounds it’s true. I became more optimistic, I have less and less complaints because I find myself being polite (no one will do more than the bare minimum if you are screaming at them) to the people providing me services. I love when I call the manager over and he or she is expecting a rant and I lay a compliment on him or her. The response of sheer delight when people who are used to listening to complaints get when they are complimented instead make me happy. I’ve also found that I don’t sweat the little stuff (because I don’t want to have to look for three little things to complement. I’m optimistic now, after almost a lifetime of expecting disappointment. What I did costs nothing and anyone can do it. Optimism and happiness are choices; The glass is either half empty or half full. So why is this so absolutely life-altering important? Because your attitude affects how the whole world sees you. Attitude can dictate who you date, whether or not you get a job or a lucrative promotion, and even your physical health and wellbeing.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
People stay in mediocre relationships because breaking up is such a hassle. When you think about it, almost every element of your life is turned upside down. Your friends treat you differently and you may even lose friends. In many cases you may have to find another place to live. You have to explain to your family why the two of you broke up. Being single means having to get back out there, which isn’t easy. But mostly people stay in a mediocre relationship because they believe that is all they deserve.
Staying in a mediocre relationship (and this applies to both romantic couplings and friendships) is just more comfortable than changing your life for the better. When I was single I would often approach a woman I found attractive and ask her out. When she would respond, “I’m seeing someone” I would ask if she was in love with this person, and if she said yes I would congratulate her and move on. But if she said, “I don’t know…” I would respond with then maybe you need a better boyfriend.” The line “I have a boyfriend (or girlfriend) can mean a lot of things. Everything from “I’m just letting you know that I have a boyfriend so you should consider that before going out with me” to “I think he is going to propose” to “I don’t find you attractive” and everywhere in between. So I would encourage readers to ask themselves these questions about their relationships: Am I truly happy? Does this person (romantic or platonic) reinforce my happiness or detract from it? And why do I stay in this relationship? I would apply this to everything from romance and friendships to jobs and careers. Life is too short to settle for mediocrity. I consider my life an incredible adventure and I intend to enjoy it to the utmost. People should live lives that amaze them, but for that to happen you have to know who you are and what your amazing adventure looks like.
When we talk about self-love and understanding we don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
That’s a great point. Think of self-love as being the kind of a love a parent has for his or her child. Do mothers think their children are perfect? Do fathers look at their 8-year old sons and think that they have it all figured out? For the most part no, but that doesn’t diminish the parents’ love for their children. In a similar sense, we can love ourselves and see opportunities to improve, grow, and change. We see these things not because we don’t love ourselves but precisely because we do love ourselves and want ourselves to become the best possible versions of ourselves. So here are the tough questions we should all ask ourselves: 1) what’s missing in my life? 2) how can I improve to be the best possible versions of myself? 3) where do I want to be in 10 years? 4) am I truly happy? What makes these questions tough is that they are specific and you can’t qualify your answers with excuses. For example, you can’t answer “am I happy?” with “yes but…” or “I would be if…”
I don’t have a bucket list. If I want to do something I just do it. And so can everyone reading this. Does it require planning? Sometimes, does it requires sacrificing and saving? Sometimes. But a plan leads to something where a list seldom does.
Once I was working in a toxic job and every day brought some fresh hell. The tipping point was I wrote an innocuous email to a client letting him know that if I didn’t receive his changes by October 1st I would not be able to meet my deadline. He called my boss in a frothy rage. Unbeknownst to me, I was the fifth writer assigned to this project that was now over 2 years overdue! It was completely understandable that the client would be enraged, but instead of apologizing to the client, my boss made excuses and told the client that he would replace me with a sixth person.
The owner of the company came in screaming at me and when things cooled down my boss called me in his office and began the conversation with, “you’re not going to get fired”. I thought why on God’s green earth would I get fired? I had nothing to do with this mess and in fact, with a modicum of cooperation from the client I would have no problem meeting my deadlines. I went back to my office and decided after some soul searching to look for another job and vowed that I would never again allow an employer to have such an economic power over me. I moved on to a job that while it wasn’t so much fun that they charged admission it wasn’t toxic either. I’m surprised that it took that long. I knew during the interview that the owner wasn’t quite right in the head, but inertia kept me there. From that moment on I thought of myself as Phil La Duke Incorporated and that my employer was my most important customer, but they didn’t own me or control me. I was there because I CHOSE to be there, and I would encourage your readers to always be mindful of the fact that whatever their situation (even in circumstances lead them there) they made a conscious choice as to how they reacted to it.
So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
I have always found it aggravating when people worry about dying alone; everyone dies alone. What is so terrifying about being alone? Not knowing what to talk about? Part of living a purposeful life and achieving inner peace is nurturing your spiritual side and that takes reflection and contemplation, and these are things require you to be literally or metaphorically alone. So many people don’t want to take too close a look inward for fear of what they will find. I firmly believe that everyone in a household should have a room where only they can enter without knocking. Unfortunately that tends to be the bathroom which in most cases doesn’t lend itself to silent contemplation. Do you think it was an accident that the creators of Superman gave him the Fortress of Solitude? They either consciously or subconsciously understood the need for the need to be alone.
I think it’s worth mentioning that there’s a big difference between being alone and being lonely. Loneliness is another form of self-loathing and it too is a choice. Now some might push back and say “I don’t CHOOSE to be lonely” to which I would answer then what are you doing about it? I walk my dogs every day, usually twice a day, sometimes with someone but usually just the dogs. I use that time to develop myself spiritually. People are often uncomfortable talking or thinking about spirituality. You don’t have to be religious or even believe in God to develop your spirituality. Spirituality is about loving yourself to the extent that you tear down the barriers in yourself that prevent you from loving others or allowing people to love you.
So how to be alone: 1) focus on the presence not the absence. Most people fear being alone because they focus on the absence of others. By focusing on what’s present, that is, YOU and your thoughts and the opportunity to work on the aspects of your inner self. 2) occupy your mind. Don’t waste your “alone time” by clouding it up with distractions on your phone or reading emails, or whatever. These activities aren’t really occupying your mind, rather they are just killing time. Time is precious and we only get so much of it, why would we ever want to kill it? 3) process your feelings. At the risk of sounding like a psycho-babbling hipster, being alone is a wonderful time to process the world around you. Think of the major things your life, about the things that make you YOU, and ask yourself how you feel about those things. There is very little in life that we can’t change if we are unhappy with it. If you can’t be alone then you don’t really love yourself. I am an extrovert and have many friends and yet I guard my alone time with grim determination. It’s important to find a balance between being alone and being with others and one should never delude themselves into thinking that someone or something external will meet the needs fulfilled by reflection and silent contemplation,.
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
You can’t completely give of yourself while still holding back, and to do that you have to not only love yourself but also understand what it is about yourself that makes you love yourself. Rudyard Kipling in his poem If“says if you can trust yourself while all men doubt you, while still allowing for the doubting to.” That verse has always stuck with me. He’s saying that you can’t let the world define you, and yet you can’t dismiss how others perceive you. It’s profound point that is applicable here. I have said on multiple occasions that for every misunderstood genius there are 500 perfectly understood idiots. You can only trust yourself while all others doubt you if you know your limitations, understand all the peccadillos that you possess that might drive others crazy. When someone insults you, or says hurtful things about you, you have to have a certain level of self-understanding to know if what has been said to you has any element of truth to it or if it is just the other person’s hang up. People who don’t love themselves tend to be mean and vicious when dealing with people who love themselves. “He thinks he’s so much better than me” or “She thinks she’s so hot.” When you are around those people you need to recognize that some people can only feel like they are building themselves up by tearing someone else down.
You really can’t fall in love with someone else until you love yourself, you will only end up driving the other person away.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
I think we do too much delineation between the individual and society, but for starters people and society should look for ways to improve themselves before starting to work on others. It’s great to offer help, but insisting on helping others without being asked is just meddling and it’s neither invited nor welcomed.
I recently posted on social media that being “politically correct” doesn’t mean you have to mollycoddle people so you don’t hurt their feelings, it just means you have to stop being such a jerk. I am one of the least politically correct people around. I don’t say that because I am a misogynist, bigot, or other social maladroit who actively seeks to offend people, but I find that the politically correct phenomenon is more about taking offense on behalf of someone you don’t even know. I find that true political correctness is a way of deflecting your view from looking inward to looking outward to find the faults in others. Now I am not defending hate speech, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with telling someone that you don’t like the words they use, but if you do, you have to be prepared to get a mind-your-own-business response.
As a society I think we worry too much about taking offense and not enough about giving it. I would prefer that society encourage to look inward instead of encouraging people to expose everything to their social media friends.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
1) I spend time alone with myself contemplating how to be the best version of me I can be. I write a highly contentious blog and deliberately use words and make statements to elicit emotions from the reader. That would seem to be at odds with what I have said so far, but brain research has determined that it is the emotional mind, not the logical brain, that needs to be engaged to really change someone’s opinions. Sometimes I take it too far, and sometimes someone will become enraged and send colorful hateful emails. In those cases I have to ask myself is it me or the other person who is to blame for the controversy.
2) Apologize and forgive. “Fess up when you mess up”. Unless you are a sociopath you know when you have wronged someone — whether it be cutting someone off in traffic or slept with your best friend’s wife. When you apologize be sincere and understand exactly for what you are apologizing; that takes introspection and contemplation. What
did you do that was wrong? How could you have handled it better? Don’t make
excuses; not to the party you wronged but also to yourself, and remember that
others have an absolute right to feel whatever emotions they feel and that you
are not guaranteed forgiveness from them.
Forgiveness is a gift that you give yourself. That sounds incredibly corny unless you have chosen to forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it. Holding a grudge serves no good purpose and only serves to eat at you and create some really ugly aspects of the inner you.
3) Exercise and eat right. The more we learn about the connection with mental health and physical health the more we learn that it is important to eat right and exercise. I get up at 4:45 a.m. and put in 30 minutes on the elliptical, I do another 30 minutes on my lunch break and still another 30 minutes after work. I work from home so this is easy, but when I worked in an office I would routinely walk during my breaks. I eat half my breakfast immediately after my post shower workout (something high in protein) and the second half at around 9:00 a.m. My lunch is the biggest meal of my day, and I eat dinner at 6 or before. I try not to eat anything after 7:00 p.m.
4) Engage in relentless introspection. I’m not advocating that you got to the mountain top and ponder the mistakes of mankind, but ask yourself every day, what can I do to be more of the ideal me? Take small, incremental steps toward self-improvement as you drift off to sleep ask yourself, what did I do today to make the world a better place for the people I encountered? Celebrate your successes, and commit to do better in the areas where you failed. As I mentioned I walk my dogs every day, and have been doing this for 18 years, although sadly not the same dogs. For the first five years I would see a man working on projects in his yard. Every day that I saw him I would smile and say “hi” and every time I did he scowled at me with a “what do YOU want?” look on his face. I did this for FIVE years until he looked at me and said “hi”. I was shocked but didn’t show it. He introduced himself and asked what my dog’s name was, and asked me if I wanted to see the project he was working on. I told him I did and he showed me a float that he was making for the Boy Scout’s Halloween parade. It turns out that he was a retired policeman who was a scoutmaster. Now when he sees me he greets me with a smile and a friendly hello. What was it about that particular day that made him decide to engage with me? I don’t know and I don’t really care; the bottom line is that it made me happy then and it makes me happy now. Maybe my self-love helped him on his journey or maybe he just got tired of me saying hi and it wore him down, but I feel good about it.
5) Keep a journal. My job is writing, speaking, and providing advice. In effect, my life is my journal. But for those of you who don’t write for a living I would encourage you to keep a diary or write journal because it forces you to be introspective and inwardly focused. Don’t worry about what you write just keep asking yourself “what do I want?” and “how can I become the ideal me?”
As I said, I practice this through my writing. I’ve written over a million words in the last decade and most of that was for publication and on my own time. My blog is essentially my journal and while it can be mean, petty, aggravating, uplifting, self-pitying, helpful or any one of a myriad of feelings, it helps me sort through the world and it touches many people who were feeling isolated and hopeless.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
While certainly there are many non-fiction books that are great resources How To Make Friends and Influence Peopleby Dale Carnegie comes immediately to mind, as well as well as Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Hugh W. Missildine’sYour Inner Child of the Past is an absolute MUST READ for anyone trying to achieve self-awareness. But some of my most powerful insights and inspiration come from fiction. I love John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Menand The Grapes of Wrath both of which provide great insights into the human condition, intimacy, and how important relationships are to one’s well-being. William Golding’s Lord of the Flieswas similarly instructive to me. Dickens’ A Tale of Two Citiesdemonstrates how sacrificing oneself for the benefit of others is the greatest of acts. And finally, all of these things can be contained in John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meanya book about intimacy, self-awareness, and sacrifice.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
I would love it if someone could start a movement focused on looking within before looking outward. I think if we focused on “the plank in our own eye before trying to remove the splinter in our neighbor’s” the world would be transformed. And it wouldn’t take much. If just a handful of your readers made a commitment to do that EVERY DAY we could solve a lot of the world’s problems and end a lot of human misery.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use
to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you
in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
One day I was walking into the faith-based healthcare system at which I was working at the time when I found myself walking next to one of the executives. Passing pleasantries he said, “how are you doing?” to which I replied my standard glib response to that question, “so far so good, but it’s early”. The executive stopped and looked at me very seriously and said, “Make the day, don’t let the day make you”. We parted ways but his advice stuck with me. Now every time the world hurls every manner of adversity my way, I try to remain true to what has now become my motto. “Make the day, don’t let the day make you.”
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!