Work Life Play by Design with Aaron McHugh 

Aaron McHugh is a writer, podcaster, adventurer, and author of the best-selling book, Fire Your Boss: Discover Work You Love Without Quitting Your Job. He is mastering the art of living a sustainable work-life balance that constantly interweaves rhythms of play and adventure. That includes road trips in their 1974 VW Bus, aka The Joy Bus, catapulting them into many father-daughter adventures together.

Aaron works as an Affiliate Advisor to Aberkyn, a division of McKinsey & Co as a facilitator of transformation and executive coach.

Aaron loves ideas. He loves to dream up new adventures. He is a Starbucks French press coffee snob and is at his best if he gets out for his daily run. He works for a global change leadership consulting company alongside Work Life Play.

He and his wife Leith live in Colorado Springs, CO. They are celebrating twenty-five years of marriage in December. Their marriage has survived the death of their twelve-year-old daughter Hadley in 2011. Their twenty-two-year-old son Holden lives in Costa Mesa and is thriving in recovery three years clean and sober. Their youngest daughter lives at home still.

In 2015 they rebooted their lives, sold their house and all of their belongings to reboot their life and start their life over again. It hasn’t been easy, but they would do it again. They love traveling, drinking box wine and spending time with their creative, hilarious and courageous kids.

In Work, he’s covered the spectrum from ringing in the Opening Day trading bell at the London Stock Exchange to humble beginnings of selling office supplies door-to-door.

In Play, he’s an adventurer. He’s an Ironman triathlete, mountaineer, and is learning to surf. He recently accomplished a Life List dream of mountain biking the entire Colorado Trail from Durango to Denver.


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Inside This Episode

  • Moving From Fear to Freedom
  • Optimize Your Life By Adding Play
  • Stop Keeping Score If You Really Want to Win
  • Creating Flow through Play
  • Getting Back Into Alignment
  • The Power of Developing Craftsmanship
  • When Is It OK to be a “B” Player?
  • Where is the Responsibility for Performance & Engagement?
  • Finding Your Spiritual Foundation
  • Goals, Purpose, and Meaning
  • How to Be a ‘Heretic’ By Questioning Constraints
  • Flipping Hardship Upside-Down

John Ryan
You're listening to key conversations for leaders. This is episode number 28. Welcome everybody. In today's episode, we'll be discussing work life play by design with Aaron McHugh. We'll be covering how to optimize your life by adding play, how to stop keeping score if you really want to win the power of developing craftsmanship, and flipping hardship, upside down and much, much more.

John Ryan 0:26
Leadership, it's about vision. It's about creating a vision and sharing that vision with others in a way that inspires them to walk with you towards its fulfillment. Along the way, leaders encourage motivate, guide and even challenged people to bring out their best each and every day. And it's all done through conversations. That's what this show is about better conversations for better leaders,

John Ryan 0:50
Hey everybody and welcome to key conversations for leaders. I'm your host John Ryan today with a very special guest, Mr. Aaron McHugh. Aaron is a writer podcaster adventure and Author of the best selling book, fire your boss discover work you love without quitting your job. He is Mastering the Art of Living a sustainable work life balance that consistently interweaves rhythms of play and adventure that includes road trips and their 1974 VW bus aka the joy bus, catapulting them in too many father daughter daughter adventures together. Aaron works as an affiliate advisor for Abraham in a division of McKinsey and Company as a facilitator of transformation and an executive coach. Aaron, welcome to the show.

Aaron McHugh 1:32
Thanks, john. Appreciate it. I love your New York City View back there.

John Ryan 1:36
Oh, thank you. I wish it was a live view. It's a it's just wallpaper actually I I my clients got tired of staring at a blue wall and I thought I'd come up with something a little bit more interesting. And now people tell me it's easy to find my videos. I'm from upstate New York. So I get At least have that homage I think to my hometown, although I live in Charlotte, but you you live in if I remember Colorado Springs, right?

Aaron McHugh 2:09
I do. Yeah. Right across in the Air Force Academy. So I love mountains and anything that's anything that's mountains or ocean, but that's mountains are my home.

John Ryan 2:19
Fantastic. Understand, did you get caught up and timewise speaking there was a quite a range of weather recently going from the 90s, maybe 100 degrees down to snow weather did that that did you get hit with that knowing the last two days, and then it was 91 degrees and wildfires the day before? It's a little it's a little. It's it's the Wild West is true. It is a reflection of the turbulent times that we live in, I think, well,

John Ryan 2:49
I wanted to first of all, thank you and acknowledge you for the amazing book, fire your boss, I think, you know, you got Seth Godin on the front cover there and In what a great testimony for anyone and it's a fantastic read. It really is. It really is riveting. And so I have a bunch of questions I want to get into to ask about that. But want to trace it back. So I think in the introduction, you mentioned that there are, there were three drafts, at least three drafts you have the first one was a rant and the last one ended up as more of a swan song. What was the inspiration really to even create this this work?

Aaron McHugh 3:30
Thanks for asking. I'm glad you enjoyed it, too. That's fun. You know, I think it's easy to read the title and maybe assume that I was trying to sell books by picking some provocative title and actually wasn't that at all. So probably, let's just say more than a decade ago, I found myself in my place in my career, my family, my life where I felt like I should be experiencing more joy and more fulfillment and contentment that I was because there was enough things that were going right in my life and career, that it felt like why is there such a gap between my daily experience of my life and my work, and what it looks like on LinkedIn. So at the time, I was in a really frustrating situation, and I sat down our back patio, and knew I just had something to say. And what had happened is I had gone on a bike ride with a buddy of mine. And while we're on the bike ride, our kind of normal exchange was i'd rant about work in life and he'd rant about working life we take turns. Well, this time I actually said you know what I'm going to do, I'm going to fire my boss. And remember us both laughing. Because I went on to say, like, I don't know how I'm going to do it. But this individual which at the time unfortunately, I was blaming and holding responsible for a lot of my pain They're going to, I'm going to get them out of my way. And I don't know how but I will.

Aaron McHugh 5:04
Well, the irony of it too, was that that was like, obviously, that's very difficult to do in any situation. So I sit down in the back patio, I pan out this kind of draft of how did I get here? And how do I chart a course for a future that I don't yet like a dream a far off place, you know, some Neverland. So that was the very beginning. And in that what happened was that over the course of those 15 years or so, 12 years, I kept living into these questions of what what, how could you actually do that? How could you actually move from fear to freedom from compartmentalize to wholehearted from rule follower to heretic? How can you begin to actually shift that? Well, those are easy things to say and really, really challenging things to live. And lead and live out. So that became kind of the, I don't even know, like, almost like the soundtrack of my life for about 15 years to begin to explore what might that look like.

Aaron McHugh 6:13
So back to your root question. The reason I mentioned in the intro, this is the third time I've written the book is The first time was on the back patio. And I sat down and penned this out and just became a little ebook PDF. The second time I took a crack at it about five years later. And I was like, I think I have some more things to say about this, and wrote it into a self published version. And then now here, this published version, distributed through publisher and, you know, in bookstores everywhere, then, that this time I sat down the third time, I talked to my editor, and I told him, I said, I need to write this introduction. It was the last thing to write. And I said, I really don't know what to put, like, I think I've said everything I have to say in the book itself. And I said, if I was just honest, what I would say Is is the third time I've written this book. I'm actually tired of it. I've almost quit 1000 times, but I knew you were out there, and I knew you needed a lifeline. And that's why I did this for you. And he said, right, that make that the intro? Like, okay, great. That's what I'll do. So that's what you read.

John Ryan 7:17
Exactly, though it's like, almost verbatim. So you, I can tell when you when you do write a book, you get to the point where you do start to, like, hate it. So you know, is done like, you're on that, okay, we need to finally just get it out there and do that. So well. Sounds like it took us a long time that evolution was there, and you really put your heart and soul into it. And thank you for writing it. And I think it sounds like the constraints that you had when writing that because you say in the book, and even the title without quitting your job, because really, what's happening i think is part of it is you mentioned the word responsibility. I'm not going to blame my boss, because you also say in the book that are on wherever you go, there you are, you still are going to show up and you actually You mentioned going through several different iterations of your career in your stuff, still show it up. So we don't have that life balance that work life play balance, which I know you also say is a myth. What does that mean to you? Because we hear that sometimes that there is no such thing as work life balance, but But what does it mean to you? And you personally say that the work life balance concept is really a myth.

Aaron McHugh 8:23
Similar to the fire your boss core idea. Many years ago, I started picking out this question of what does it mean to have work life balance, and no doubt like an important part of her life, to have some degree of balance and what However, what I realized was that culturally that's like a brand new phrase, in the last call it 50 years of our culture. And we're moving as a culture we're moving from just survival based living and we're now in this What would it look like to kind of optimize our living? For most of the Western world? We're not in Maslow's hierarchy of need of food, clothing and shelter is our base level needs. There are lots of people that that is their reality. But for you and for I and for many listening, that's probably not. So we're then faced with new challenges, which is what does it look like to optimize the opportunity that we have in our life, to maximize the impact and create the highest value contribution that we can in the life that we have for the years that we're interested to live? And so for me, then this work life balance idea was like, kind of an off the shelf like, great, I'll just borrow that. And then just figure out how to apply that to my life. And so then what I realized, though, is this idea of balance, I just found repeatedly I felt like I was failing. And what it came down to was this idea of like, somehow my family at the time, you know, three kids, they're probably all under the age of 10 or 12 at the time. Time, one of our daughters was in a wheelchair and severely handicapped and special needs and, you know, our marriage was everything was intense. Our marriage was intense. My work was intense. So my home life, my work life, I worked in startups, and that was very do or die, you know, did we get the check in this month or not? Can we make payroll to, you know, do we have enough money for groceries. And it was just like, I realized balance this is really, this is what I'm going to try to achieve some perfect reminds me of the teeter totter as kids, when you get on it, the seesaw, some people call it and then you get to people of equal weights and you try and get it balanced to stop in the middle. It was so hard, you know, or you get two scales where it's like this much weight on this side and this much weight on the other side. I found that just really frustrating. So what my you know, relationships are all happy and everybody's well my works perfectly happy and well. Like it was, I found lopsidedness all the time. And so what I started asking was, is that really the objective, to try and figure out how to get everything lined up an equal balance of pull and tug. And I, I'm not very good at it, maybe people can do it. And then the other thing that I noticed was that so often what work life balance means is make sure your wife and kids are happy. Your boss you're happy, your company's happy your careers in a good trajectory. And then the other secret part that never gets said is and find a way for yourself to live with less because you're so busy giving and doing in service of others. And so for me most of the time that up until, you know, the last probably handful years, I just spent a lot of time around men. With a friend groups or other missions, I was part of less about women. So I just heard a lot about men's stories. Have leading their families in these organizations. And so what I found when I started asking questions about what do you do for yourself, when everything else is in balance? What about you? Oh, well, you know, I run on Tuesdays, or I play softball in the summer, or, you know, they're, they're pretty small. And there's a season for that. But I was curious what were his play and adventure? Because the people I knew when I was 20, lots of us had stuff going on. That was adventurous and interesting. And so I started asking some different questions about what might it look like to bring in two concepts? One, how do we bring adventure back into our life and play as a way of living, not as isolated to vacations? And secondly, then what if we could look at rhythm as an everyday ebb and flow versus in categories of Have buckets is how I tried to live was my family hemisphere that all in balance and everybody's Well, you know, then I'll get to felt like I was always trying to manage my life versus trying to look at what if every day How could I live in a rhythm in such a way that was life giving were plays part of my life Relationships are part of my life, in my work, my work my family, it's all like in this kind of ball of twine, this beautiful mess, integrated together. So it's really more about integration, then about category management. And that's the big shift for me is becoming wholehearted in such a way where I can be integrated in all that I am and do versus in these categories of work life balance and some harmonious you know, equilibrium.

John Ryan 13:56
Thank you and the name of the podcast of course is work life. So for you, you try not to see them as different buckets that need to be filled in compartmentalize times, but how do I integrate them? Are those? I don't know, if you refer they're not buckets anymore, right? They're just aspects or dimensions of your life. And it sounds like do you try to fulfill those values each day? Or am I thinking it too traditional with the compartmentalization?

Aaron McHugh 14:26
No, I think it's great. I'll just show you so for video folks that are seeing now the logo, work life play as our bus in the middle and then it has the true north. In the compass, it's very intentional. There's no periods. On that there's no commas. It's not work, comma, work period, play, you know, etc. And that was very intentional all along. And so, the reason the reason I've been picking at this is because I've struggled with it. It was much easier to in in the category of work, try and keep everything in the box. And then Okay, great. My wife called let me step out, I'll go talk to her. I'll find out what's happening in my life category. And then I'll step back into work. And then colleague will say, Hey, you know, how you doing? Yep, fine, don't worry about, let's get back into this box. And so I lived that way for a long time.

Aaron McHugh 15:24
And what I've discovered is that when I think of it as being fragmented, as a human, as a person, as a leader, and then the way I was living my life versus integrated, and so for me, the category framing of work life play is really just an imitation of, so life includes you know, family and relationships and finances and play can be adventure and play can be like, playing with your puppy can be playing hopscotch, and chess, the key about play is about it's not about keeping score, and so much of our lives is over programmed and over scheduled. And then often we're keeping score. And that was true for me for a long time. I was doing things where I said I would come home like bloody and muddy because I went on a mountain bike. But I had a watch. I checked it on Strava. I plotted it in a spreadsheet, and I was keeping score. Now I had fun while doing it. And it was adventurous, but it didn't have the, the essential ingredients about really renewing me at a spirit level of just being at play at rest at ease for the sheer joy of doing it. And what I find in our modern culture, and especially with executives that I work with a lot is just play is really isolated to vacations, or never

John Ryan 16:54
does in this maybe personal experience or have you found with the people that you work with That when they let go of keeping score, that they're better able to be in the flow and really immerse themselves into that state.

Aaron McHugh 17:08
Yeah, john, exactly. There's a lot of research done around, even in Animal Kingdom, how it plays a necessary element of creativity, of just being like what I call is like when my eight year old gets, gets to make all the choices, you know what we're going to do and how we're going to do it. Then it makes it where all of a sudden my I have like an overly developed responsibility gene. So that when I live out of that place, then play is not nearby for me. When, when my inner eight year old, again, it's for me about integration about those two becoming friends. Then the more I can live from that place, then back to your question. Like flow and creativity and possibility. And then all of a sudden other things become. Yeah, access. Greg McEwen wrote a book called essentialism. And one of the things that he talked about is he has actually has a chapter on play, and how play is the antidote of stress. Because it's rooted in this not keeping score. And just, you're being a you're exploring, and you're in a creative state, which then can lead to more flow states, which ultimately, we all know unlocks a lot more possibility than were just in a tight gripping management of our life approach.

John Ryan 18:43
So it sounds a little paradoxical that the more you let go of the outcome, the more able you are to actually achieve it.

Aaron McHugh 18:52
We sure have a fighting chance. Right? And I think that's the thing is that when we look at our life like and I struggle with this, this is not a I think that's something I just want to make sure each time have conversations like this is, I have not figured this out. I am, I am on the trail. I am curious as well. And I am exploring what could this look like. And I'll be 49 in early next year, and I feel way further ahead than I was down this trail. I've explored a lot of territory. And I feel like I've so far to go and when I have setbacks, and kind of upsets in my own journey, I can feel discouraged like, Man, I'm supposed to God be the guy who knows what play is like, how come I'm so heavy, you know, heavy, burdened and stressed today, and I go back to but you know what? The difference is, I'm able to recognize it sooner. I'm able to recognize it. I have awareness and I have recovery practice. practices to adjust and to get myself back into a place heading in a direction that I want to be on. And so I find that course correction is really a lot of this. The Art of Living isn't about getting it right. It's about learning to be aware, to be conscious of our choices that we're making. And then to be actively engaged in a direction that we want to travel towards things that we desire, and outcomes we desire, and being really good at making course corrections when we get off track, because all of us will along the way.

John Ryan 20:39
You know, I think when I think about your book, many, not many, but I don't know, percentage wise, but a lot of the quotes the intro quotes for the books came from movies, and which is great. That's how we bond in our society sometimes is doing movie quotes and that kind of thing. The first chapter, of course, is about the conversation between Neo and Trinity in the matrix. And he wants to know the answer. And she responds by saying in some of the fact is, it's the question that drives us. What's the question that's driving you right now at this stage of your life?

Aaron McHugh 21:15
Yeah, great question, john. I've been reading a book by Walt Harrington. And he was a Washington Post reporter for a number of years is a I'm not sure if he's an English or literature Professor now at Champaign, Urbana, in outside Chicago, but he wrote a book and it's actually called acts of creation is the name of the title. And it's about craftsmanship. I'm really curious about what has a meal questioning kind of, what would it look like to live into? So what's the question that drives me as the As Trinity said is one of the questions I'm asking is, am I? Where am I a craftsman? And where am I? Not yet?

Aaron McHugh 22:13
What would it mean? Where do I want to really doubled down? And what would that require of me? And so for instance, being an expert, or being really gifted at something are not they're not the same as a craftsman and a craftsman. So the 10,000 hours rule that a lot of us have heard of, it takes 10,000 hours to be really, you know, exceptional at it and it has a big jump and there's all kinds of research about that and books that are popular that popularized that idea. Let's say that all being true, a craftsman there's never a finish line.

Aaron McHugh 22:59
A Craftsman is Is fiercely committed to the craft and never feels like he or she arrives at some, you know, advertised place of achievement or arrival or there's always another part. And where that comes to life for me is last spring, I was listening to Stephen King's book called on writing. And I want to say it the time it was probably late 90s or so that he wrote that I listened to it on audio read by him, and really fascinating, like definitely a modern day craftsman. And when you actually look at his craft, and his rhythms of living, his way of approaching his craft, his fierce belief about how it should be and shouldn't be in those kinds of things. So when I compare myself I don't mean as a writer specifically, but just categorically, if that's a craftsman that I have now interacted with, where am I in relation to that? And then where's my passion meter in relation to do I actually want to become a craftsman? Or are there places that I am okay with just being okay. You know, or the 10,000 hours like, yeah, I'm pretty good. But I'm not a craftsman. Let's make the distinction. The thing that intrigues me about craftsmanship is that it has such a soulful steadiness to it. That I wonder if there be some of the questions that I get entangled with sometimes, like, does this matter? And maybe I should just quit my I be able to move beyond those. If I was actually fiercely committed as a craftsman with some of those questions, nag me less, I wonder.

John Ryan 24:56
It's a really great question. And how do you decide guide which areas to have that level of commitment to go for it and dive in and become that not just an expert but become a true craftsman. Do you have that answer or is that something?

John Ryan 25:14
I don't know? Yeah, that's just my question. You know, I know Do you know Yvonne shannara? Who founder of Patagonia? No.

Aaron McHugh 25:23
Okay. Yeah. So Yvon Chouinard, founded Patagonia, and then another company called black diamonds, what we know it as the climbing equipment and all this stuff. So Yvonne shannara talks about in his book, let my people go surfing about and he's probably in his 70s now. So Patagonia is privately held, highly profitable company, very soulful in their intentions about who they are as a company and how they operate in the world, environmentally, how to care for people, etc. And one of the things I love about he talks about is that he says he's a really good beat player at most things, meaning he's not an A player. So the Michael Jordan of basketball, he's saying like, I'm not I'm not that anything I do. I'm not that as a surfer. I'm not that as a climber, I'm not that as a I'm a B, player, B player, ice climber, I'm a B player. And so he kind of goes through this list and says, but I'm okay with being a B player. Because the level of effort required in order for me to become the a player, the Michael Jordan, in one discipline, I'm not willing to put in the gap, you know, to hear am today because here's what it would take to be the Michael Jordan. So I think as just examples, call those like more metaphors. If Michael Jordan is a craftsman in basketball, if Tiger Woods is a craftsman in golf, etc, then on The gap between a B player who can be really, really good and putting 10,000 hours and a craftsman that's a pretty big gap. So I think the question I've been asking is, where am I comfortable being a really solid, steady B player? And then Are there areas where I would prefer to go ahead and commit to craftsmanship, which may not mean I'm a standout Michael Jordan, but it may mean that with that fierce tenacity, I commit to it over the long haul. And that's some of the I don't know. I'm I'm playing with that.

John Ryan 27:35
It sounds like if you tie the idea that you thought you mentioned earlier about not keeping score, that the the intention then to be the Craftsman Michael Jordan, is not to keep score, but to be the best you can be and find flow to find that being focused and being present and being in the path because that's the exciting part. You mentioned in your book. That Really is it's a shame not to be engaged. You know, you mentioned the Gallup polls, which has shown for the last 20 years that disengagement in the employee United States workforce is about two thirds and has been for quite a long time. And yet most of our lives is done at work, right? More More than half of our live awaking lives are occurring and work and yet we're not showing up. And so you mentioned repeatedly I love this idea of don't settle, don't settle, don't settle. And if you didn't hear it that third time I'm Say it again, I think he said before, right? Don't settle on. Why is it that people if this issue has been around for so long, where are we failing as leaders that's leaving, leaving people not stepping up nothing, they have to be the a player, but to be their best and be the best be player because there's that huge gap. And it may not be worth it for everyone to be a player but to ship these show up and be part of the game.

Aaron McHugh 28:55
world I would start with that john is back to that question of engagement. And for our friends listening today I'm going to speak directly to you guys is your engagement is your responsibility. You own it. There are factors outside of your control that impact your engagement, your inspiration. So if you work for an inspiring company or an inspiring boss, you create, you do inspiring work, that's great. However, if you work for a not inspiring company and not inspiring boss, then you're still responsible for finding ways to be inspired yourself. So fundamentally, the engagement, I think it's a there's a poll that John's referring to is by Gallup, and annually, it comes out and it's a global poll, and it's about the kind of it's a pulse check of the global workforce. And what we know is that engagement and focus equal creativity and flow we talked about earlier, which equals impact. Because the things that we create in the world, the value we create in the world is made by humans.

Aaron McHugh 30:05
Now we use tools like computers and manufacturing plants, etc. But they're humans that drive these inventions. So what they're trying to do is take a pulse check on how much of yourself are you bringing to work every day? And this poll has been checking for, I don't know, 25 years. And what they forget, is to ask a different set of questions is, where do you find hope. Now, if hope is in management, mantras, you know, corporate objectives, your paycheck, those are all great things. But when the road gets steep, Rocky, challenging muddy. When there's a pandemic, there's things that happen in life, that make that where it's super frail. fragile. And then as a result, we as humans go into this choice of we can go to apathy, we can go to numbness, we just numb out. We can go to thank god, it's Friday, we can go to white knuckling our way. We can go to disengagement, we can go to bitterness. And what I advocate for is, it's not okay, because those are human conditions, and that we as humans, that's not what we're here to do. What we're here to do is to live wholeheartedly from a place of hope, and love and grace and peace and mercy and patience. Well, that's on us. We have to find that gear in us. And that has to be rooted in something that's greater than just the experience of what works about and then work in exchange becomes a place we invest all of our talents. Now it should be mutually beneficial. Our employers, our companies, they should be Contributing to us, and we should be contributing to them. And it doesn't always work like that. So then we can then cross our arms and check out and say, I'm not going to play their game. And then we both lose. So the company loses the productivity of our workforce loses, and we lose as humans, it impacts us relationally and impacts our health negatively. Or we can say, I'm going to go differently. And I'm going to find a way to learn to lead myself in such a way that I'm going to find a reason to get out of bed today, and tomorrow and the next day. That's not dependent on my circumstances. It's not dependent on my paycheck. It's not dependent on the accolades I do or do not receive and then then we become unstoppable. Because then wherever we work, we're investing our whole selves. And that is just the question. compound effect of that is unstoppable. So it isn't about building a global machine of the workforce. It's about us enhancing the experience of our lives, and what we create with the energy of our lives in this arena called work.

John Ryan 33:18
So in that sense, all of that responsibility, which is I think part of the message behind fire, your boss is taking responsibility as an individual. So, thank you for challenging the presupposition in my question, which was, you know, how do we as leaders fail, and we're failing, if we're assuming it's our responsibility, we can support we can have that exchange of value, but in the end, it's about empowering the individual to step up. I think, going big picture on a lot of the concepts that you've already shared so far. You mentioned the word awareness, responsibility, consciousness, we talked about flow. It seems very, very Zen very Eastern being mindful And even spiritual, would you? Would you agree with that? Is that is spirituality important in your message as well?

Aaron McHugh 34:07
Yeah, for sure. So for me, I have a deep, deep, deep spiritual life. I love God. And it's, it's the foundation of of my life. And so I have deep roots in every anything and everything I do. What I choose to do in the message that I offer, and the work that I do in the world, is just make sure that that is really clear that that's who I am. But also not make it a I don't know what I would call it like a a requirement, you know that we have to have alignment and agreement in some way in order for the rest of it to be true. And so where I start is, hey, let's agree on these things that are true. And then yes, by the way, I have a deep spiritual life and I'm happy to share anything that you might want to know about that. But it's not a prerequisite in order for us to get to the dozens of other things that I find that we can really quickly I think often and easily agree on.

John Ryan 35:17
That's fair. Yeah. You know, circling back to a couple you know, more personal questions, not necessarily on spirituality although spirituality may come into it and connection to something larger than itself. You set big goals. I know that only you are a creator, thought leader but triathlon you know, riding the 500 mile on by mountain biking on the Colorado trail going up and your your goal is to all 58 14,000 footers in Colorado and you're making great progress and doing that. What is it that drives you to do that and do other people need to find know their goals like that as well? Can I help I create meaning and purpose of their life.

Aaron McHugh 36:02
That's a good question. I guess I'm hanging on to things in your questions there is back to the the spiritual piece and I think it flows also into this meaning and purpose and goals. Because of the way I view the world, is that God's life is in in through all things. And therefore God's life is active, like life like lifeforce, like, active in and through all things and therefore in and through me and you. And so as a result I look at there's a guy love his works Rob Bell, he talks about how everything is spiritual is the phrase he'll use. And so everything is soaked. In a basic level spirituality or God's life is how I say it. And so for me, then I look at my life when it comes to like goals. Your objectives or things is like this kind of big giant experiment. And sometimes it scares the crap out of me to be real honest, like, the last couple days I've had moments where I was like, man I What if I'm wrong? But not about God but like about like my life is an experiment. You know, my life is a is a white canvas in a waiting to be painted and co authored, and most days I don't live there, but I still have moments where it's like what if so, where I look at big dreams goals is I just think there's such a tragedy in what I observe in so many people's lives, just real objectively scanning culturally, that it's reduced to a culture of consumption. It's a reduced to a culture of drama and And that, and then there's just this kind of apathy, disillusionment and being checked out.

Aaron McHugh 38:10
And this morning, I was cutting a strawberry. And looking at it and thinking like fast forward if, if suppose sci fi movies are true, and there may be a day where strawberries are not like, easily accessible. And like I just admit, like the pandemic stuff and wildfires in Colorado and political unrest and social unrest and racial unrest, like it just has me thinking sometimes, like, man, some of that sci fi movie stuff may not be so outlandish. And I hope it's not hope it is hope it's a story and fiction. However, when I look at the life that we actually have on the planet that we have, in for me rooted in the life of God that I have, like a strawberry is kind of fascinating at home. Like, wow, look at this, it really grows. Like there really are like whales with unicorn horns on them, you know, nor walls like Are you serious? There's really zebras and giraffes. And there's these mountains that are outside my back door. And then there's Netflix. There's all you can eat Costco. And I'm like, I think I'm going to opt for mystery and wonder, and curiosity and exploration. And, and I'm going to go there to go find things to inspire me to live well back here. Because I don't find I find the people inspiring very often. But I don't find culturally what's advertised as this question of where do you find life? I don't find a lot of life on on TV. I watch TV and movies. I like love movies, but I just don't find This like what sent to us as if you follow the scripts, it will equal more life. I just find it pretty disheartening. And then I watched the byproducts of a lot of people's lives. And compare that and say, You know, I think there's some cool stuff that's waiting out there on a triathlon course, that maybe I could discover about myself along the way, and maybe in climbing mountains, and maybe in writing a book, but they're all really challenging. And they're all like, riddled full of moments of doubt. But I find that caught up in a bigger story like that it helps me gain a better perspective on the whole of my life, than just living in a little small life of comfort and predictability.

John Ryan 40:50
That in itself, unfortunately, is contrary to the popular way of living and the earth. It's a common way of living right now. You mentioned in the book being a little bit of a rascal growing up, you know, and that seems like it's still echoed in a different way, right productive way. You mentioned the idea of heretic actually mentioned earlier, you know, Oprah Steve Jobs that Gandhi etc and doing things differently to get the results that are actually desired. Do you have a favorite heretic by the way?

Aaron McHugh 41:25
That's a great question. Yeah, definitely Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs is one. What I found fascinating about Steve Jobs was not so much as human. His relational skills I didn't find so fascinating. Sure. But what I did find fascinating was his provocative fierceness to questions like simple simplicity in question. To me, I just found like, wow. So one of them was, you know, 1000 songs in your pocket. That was the basis for the early. I don't know, it's an iPod. It was. Yeah. And so he just said, Let's start with something like that, like, here's what I want. I want 1000 songs in my pocket. And people were like, What? What are you talking about? Like, how could? Well that's a room full of equipment, how could we possibly do that? And he's like, I don't care. That's what I want. That's what we're gonna do. And I love those. You know, that I put in the book that one of the things that he put was in his world, computers, that low cost wins. That's the industry he was in. But what he envisioned as a heretic was design wins. Design sexy something that belongs like in a museum. Well, that is like he's smoking something and actually probably was but but They it's so I love those kind of people that are willing to say, you know, Elan Musk is one that I find interesting these days.

Aaron McHugh 43:10
My son lives in Los Angeles. And he was talking about how Elon wants to solve the traffic problem is, I'm going to build a tunnel. Yes, not we're gonna build a bigger highway. Or we're going to double stack it, you know, it's the four or five and the five and 605 their nightmare highways, like no, we're gonna, so I'm listening to a book right now called the futures faster than you think. And it's about flying cars, and all kinds of other things that are underway. So those questions I find similar to these kinds of questions were asking about life, and about work and about impact, which are, where is life, sustainable life? And where do you actually find it? And whose responsibility is it? And what must it be rooted in? So back to your question about meaning and purpose. All of this for me wrapped into these questions about an end? What's my life really about? And what am I here to do? And is it Ashes to ashes and dust to dust? Or is there something more going on here? And if so, then how can I tap into the more And so again, for me that's deeply rooted in a life with God so that I can then in turn, hopefully, my intention is to give it away, to then provide back with generosity and grace. Here are the things I found. Try them on yourself. It's not a prescription, but it is an invitation to take a journey to explore your own interior life, to prioritize your inner work on equal with your outer work. So that you can maximize both and actually have more peace, joy, freedom, intimacy, connection, meaning and purpose in your life.

John Ryan 45:10
Love it, better questions get you better direction and focus even if you don't have the answer. It's the it's the search that's part of that, which is, you know, also part of a conversation like we're having now you got to have you have yourself have with with God, can you? Can you think back over over your life kind of last question, quote unquote, maybe we'll say is there a question or a conversation that you would say that has impacted you the most or made a significant contribution on the ultimate destination or direction of your life?

Aaron McHugh 45:47
Yeah, that's a good one. A couple come to mind. Let me let me ponder for a second which one would be most serving.

Aaron McHugh 46:01
I think one stands out just right now in the moment is out of conversation with a buddy of mine, while I was early in the beginnings of this fire your boss story, living it out. And one of the things that he had said is I didn't realize at the time, but he he asked me, he said, you know, you've been really successful up into this point, but by enduring hardship, of whether at in your personal life or in your career life, and if you've been this successful, being this miserable. Think of how great you do and be

Aaron McHugh 46:47
if you could choose to be in an environment place that you could actually thrive. And it was really like perplexing of like, hold on one. And what he was exposing was less about the place I worked or what was happening. And it was, again back to these deeper questions of how much of my life work, my outlook called a mindset, my lenses, the goggles I put on every day, through which I view the world. How much of those were in a prevention mindset. Trying to prevent bad things from happening, or managing people and things and circumstances in my life to try and kind of line up enough is reminds me of like the in Vegas when you pull those slot machines, you're trying to get all cherries to line up. Yeah. Versus the idea of, there's a mindset called promotion or, or causation, where you're actually instead of managing and prevention you're actually causing and promoting good things. And what I could tell from That question was kind of like the string that unraveled other things for me was how much of my life I had spent in energy towards prevention and trying to prevent bad things from happening, versus causing good things to happen. And one is, feels much riskier, especially at the time it did have, like, if I put all of my energy, focus, attention, you know, time resources, prayers, whatever you want to call it, towards causing something good to happen. Well, that is risk, because you don't know if it will. Versus I'd realize how much time I had spent towards the prevention of the next bad thing. And it felt like an equation that I'd learned through patterns in life, to just make sure I hate. I don't want to feel that pain again, that I felt last time so maybe I could prevent the next one. It just ended up being a loop. And I find that a that's actually shared by a lot of people, that it's much easier and sensible even to spend energy time, you know, towards prevention versus causation. And that was a big huge shift for me and still something I'm experimenting with, and finding new ways. But definitely for us. What's really amazing about the world that we do live in is there's a blinking cursor, as Rob Bell says, of our life, that's just sitting there waiting for us. And, and the invitation is, what are we going to do with it? What are we going to write? And in the book I wrote about, there's a Walt Whitman quotes about the powerful play goes on. And what will your verse p? What verse Will you contribute? And so to me, that's a more in Inviting question is what will my verse be? What will I choose to cause?

John Ryan 50:08
Excellent, a ton of content and information to think about. Thank you so much, Aaron for being here on the show sharing your insights and your wisdom. What is the best way for people to connect with you find out more about the work that you do and to stay in touch.

Unknown Speaker 50:25
Yeah, or work life play podcasts, either of those. So if you type in work life play, you'll find me. Type in Aaron McHugh, MCHUGH, you'll find me. Yeah. And there's everything from a couple hundred podcasts to free download guides and everything from road trip guides to how to keep going and learning to pace yourself in life. Yeah. And my book is on Amazon, wherever you find books in audible form as well.

John Ryan 50:53
I'll put links to all of those in the show notes again, thanks so much for being here. Thanks, man. It's great. And thank you all for listening and Until next time, develop yourself empower others and lead by example.

John Ryan 51:04
Thanks for listening to key conversations for leaders with your host john Ryan. If you enjoyed the show, please let us know. Give us a rating or write a review. For more tools to engage, inspire and empower yourself and others. Visit If you haven't already, you can connect with me on twitter @keyconvo or on LinkedIn under JohnRyanLeadership.

John Ryan

Host of Key Conversations for Leaders Podcast, Executive Coach, Consultant, and Trainer

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