#25: The Art of Staying True to Your Authentic Path
with Linh Nguyen
April 27, 2023 | 77 Minutes
On "Inside-Out Career Design" this week, hosts Nicola Vetter & Peter Axtell speak with Linh Nguyen
Join us in this powerful conversation as Linh teaches how to switch from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset and manifest your dreams through the laws of attraction. Discover the true meaning of happiness, not just intellectually but in an embodied sense, and learn to listen to what your body is telling you.
Linh guides you through understanding and recognizing what makes you genuinely happy, such as feeling seen, embraced, accepted, and being creative. He’ll provide practical examples and exercises to help you understand what safety, equanimity, and balance feel like to you.
As we dive deeper into this conversation with Linh, he’ll teach you how to move closer to your vision and become the person you see in that vision. Learn how to manifest not just for yourself, but also create outcomes that positively impact the lives of others. Experience the beauty of being in flow with like-minded individuals, working together towards a shared purpose.
Get ready to dig into a conversation full of ideas about a life filled with abundance, happiness, and fulfillment while staying true to yourself.
In our conversation, we talk about…
- what happiness for oneself feels like, in an embodied sense, not just intellectually,
- how your body will tell you when something’s not right,
- how wellness and self-care is a form of discipline because if you aren’t well, you won’t be happy and nothing will work,
- that when you’re getting closer to the realization of your vision, you feel balanced,
- lessons learned from having to leave Vietnam and relocate to America,
- why leaving a high-paying job to follow his passion and purpose was worth it,
- the difference between the word career and livelihood,
- how self-discipline and self-awareness combined with a curious and artistic mindset all work together for a successful happy life,
- the power of an abundance mindset and the consequences of a scarcity mindset,
- and how Linh combines spirituality and analytic thinking to create the life he wants by doing walking meditations which he teaches in our conversation.
About Linh Nguyen
Linh is a leader in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector who loves the life-long process of growing into our authentic selves as a means of making a difference in the world.
With 30+ years of experience in organizational leadership and management consulting including at the global consulting giant Accenture, Linh currently serves as Vice President for Equity, Culture and Talent at the Lumina Foundation. Prior to Lumina, Linh was Chief Operating Officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
He is also a painter and artist-in-residence at the Harwood Art Center in Albuquerque, NM, where he lives with his family. When not working at his “day job and weekend passions,” Linh serves on an array of nonprofit boards, several of which he helped found. He especially enjoys coaching emerging leaders in navigating change, both personally and professionally.
- Website 1: Lumina Foundation. Working to make a difference after high school – https://www.luminafoundation.org/
- Website 2: LC Nguyen Fine Art – https://linhcnguyen.com/
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/linh-nguyen-ab0185/
- Website 3: Harwood Art Center in Albuquerque – https://www.harwoodartcenter.org/
- Instagram: @linhhguyen3145 – https://www.instagram.com/linhnguyen3145/
Connect with WhatsNext.com
- Free Workshops: https://www.whatsnext.com/workshops
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@whatsnextcareer
- Podcast: Inside-Out Career Design
- LinkedIn Career Group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/2080874
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- Twitter: https://twitter.com/WhatsNextMedia
Connect with Nicola & Peter
Books, resources, and people mentioned in this episode
- Accenture – https://www.accenture.com/us-en
- K. Kellogg Foundation – https://www.wkkf.org/
- Lumina Foundation: Working to make a difference after high school – https://www.luminafoundation.org/
- Harwood Art Center in Albuquerque – https://www.harwoodartcenter.org/
- Newfield Network – https://newfieldnetwork.com/
- Dan Newby – https://schoolofemotions.world/
- Inside-Out Career Design podcast with Dan Newby – https://www.whatsnext.com/1
- Rich Roll podcast – https://www.youtube.com/@richroll
- Cory Booker – https://www.booker.senate.gov/
- Jamie Merisotis – https://www.luminafoundation.org/person/jamie-merisotis/
Drop us a note
Any topics you’d like us to cover or guests you’d like to hear? Let us know at [email protected]
About the Inside-Out Career Design Podcast
This podcast is obsessed with answering a single question: Is it possible to create an authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life you love while building a successful and rewarding career?
Join Nicola Vetter and Peter Axtell, co-founders of the WhatsNext.com Career Insights platform and creators of the groundbreaking MotivationFinder assessment, as they follow their obsession with answering this question by sharing their insights, discoveries, and life lessons and talking with career experts, leaders, spiritual guides, psychologists, data scientists, coaches -- anyone and everyone who might hold a strategy or answer to the age-old questions of “what’s next for me?” and “what should I do with my life?”
They seek to transform suffering into joy for millions of people stuck and confused in their lives and careers.
Get ready to be inspired, motivated, and above all, to connect deeply with who you are and what you are meant to do with the time you’ve been given.
Linh Nguyen 00:00
Wellness and self-care is a form of discipline as well, because what I've learned is any journey takes time and it's not easy. And if you're not healthy, you're not going to be happy, and if you're not happy or you're not going to be healthy and so that takes a lot of intentionality.
Peter Axtell 00:18
Welcome to Inside-Out Career Design. In this show, we're obsessed with answering a single question. Is it possible to create an authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life you love while building a successful and rewarding career? My name is Peter Axtell, and I'm here with Nicola Vetter. We're co-founders of the WhatsNext.com CareerInsights platform, and creators of the groundbreaking MotivationFinder assessment. Join us as we seek to transform suffering into joy for millions of people stuck and confused in their lives and careers. We'll share our insights, discoveries, and life lessons and talk with career experts, leaders, spiritual guides, psychologists, data scientists, coaches, anyone who might hold a strategy or answer to the age-old questions of: "What's next for me?" and "What should I do with my life?" Get ready to be inspired, motivated, and above all, to connect deeply with who you are, and what you're meant to do with the time you've been given.
Peter Axtell 01:21
Are you trying to figure out what to do with your life, to figure out what to do with the precious time you've been given on this earth, or to figure out what only you as a remarkable and unique individual can bring into this world? If you are, please join us for one of our live and completely free online workshops, where we cover different topics to help you figure out what to do with your life and career without wasting precious time, taking wild guesses, or risking it all. To save your spot in our next live and free workshop go to WhatsNext.com/workshops. We can't wait to see you there. Again, that's WhatsNext.com/workshops.
Nicola Vetter 02:xx
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Inside-Out Career Design Podcast. Our guest today is Linh Nguyen. Linh is a leader in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector, who loves the lifelong process of growing into our authentic selves as a means of making a difference in the world. He has over 30 years of experience in organizational leadership and management consulting, and currently serves as vice president for equity, culture, and talent at the Lumina Foundation, but he also has a surprising gift as a painter and artist in residence.
Peter Axtell 03:05
Another interesting aspect about Linh is that he learned from an early adversity as an immigrant from Vietnam, to apply self-discipline, self-awareness, and a curious and artistic mindset to follow his own path by testing and paying attention to his own experience. He then applied lessons learned, which led him to where he is today.
Nicola Vetter 03:30
It's a fascinating and absorbing journey into the mind of an amazing person. Linh continues to surprise us. That's why we were so excited to talk with him. And in our conversation, we talk about how a lot of fears are stuck in the body by what we've learned and are not a natural part of who we are, which is why we can let them go with compassion and empathy. How wellness and self-care is a form of discipline because if you aren't, well, you won't be happy, and nothing will work. Why visualizing your North Star is a powerful way to put that image in your mind. And how Linh combines spirituality and analytic thinking to create the life he wants by doing walking meditations, which he teaches in our conversation. And now it's time to listen and learn from Linh. Welcome, Linh. It's been 10 years since we first met at our mutual coach training with Newfield in Florissant, Colorado.
Linh Nguyen 04:57
Nicola Vetter 04:58
When we spoke the other day, you talked about a big what's next moment that involved golden handcuffs. So please tell us that story and how you got to that moment.
Linh Nguyen 05:14
Yeah, thank you. It's great to see you again. And I love what the two of you are doing. It's a very innovative and courageous endeavor.
Nicola Vetter 05:25
Peter Axtell 05:25
Linh Nguyen 05:26
Yeah, thanks for inviting me. So, when we met at that coaching retreat or training, I was in the midst of a major career and life transition. After years of trying unsuccessfully to have children, Kristina, my wife, and I had gone through the adoption process, and we're on the cusp of going to China to bring home our daughter. And with that, I decided to start a new path. I, at that point, was a managing partner at Accenture, a global consulting firm. And with Katherine, our daughter's arrival, I wanted to have more control over how I spend my time. But truthfully, the real control, or the real interest was really about having work, and how I spend my time to be more authentic to where my passion and personal interests were. And I knew that the longer I stayed at Accenture in some ways that the further I'd get from who I really am. I knew that I had the ability to flex to whatever the job required, and I knew that what was required ahead of me, at Accenture as a senior partner, so on so forth, required a certain way of being that I did not really care for. And in fact, I was kind of scared of becoming that person. And I knew I was capable of becoming that person. So I was at this choice point, for lack of better terms. And I was going through a lot of reflection on the one hand, and then on the other hand, discovering that as, as I started that reflection process, that there are a lot of things that I never took the time to process in my own life journey. I'm a refugee immigrant generation, came over with my family as refugees from Vietnam, with the end of the war in 1975. And there are lots of things surrounding that story. That translated to just a lot of heaviness in my life, I carried a lot of responsibility. And yeah, as a young person, nine years old, turning 10, I made a conscious decision at that age to become kind of the caregiver, if you will, to my family, my way of processing vulnerability that I felt in the family was to take responsibility. And I think we see this a lot, it is in its own way, kind of a classic American immigrant story, a youngster coming over and taking responsibility, and then doing great things with it. But in hindsight, I think at that point, I realized that I carried in my body, this heaviness, and no matter what I did, there was always kind of this melancholy, sadness, that I couldn't shake. And it was at Newfield that all of that began to get understood, and then the process of letting go of all of that weight. And then in order to move on, I now understand it as making space for what's really authentically my journey. And in order to make space, I had to let go of other things that really didn't belong to me. But I took on at a very young age.
Peter Axtell 09:24
You also mentioned that when you were at Accenture, you are in a certain position at Accenture, at that moment. Tell our audience about the position you were in at Accenture, what you walked away from, please.
Linh Nguyen 09:39
Yeah, yeah. So I joined the firm, had the good fortune of being recruited into a very, very new practice back in those days called Change Management. And now, the term change management has become pretty universal. But back in those days change management was a very new concept, we used to say change management in air quotes. And so I came in at the ground level, and was trained in that practice and fast forward, became managing partner for that service line in the public sector practice. So that involved overseeing the change management practice for our government, higher education, and then towards the end of my career our nonprofit sectors. It involves ultimately running some of the largest transformation projects in the US. And on the government side and involves being a rainmaker, as is often the case, in a large consulting firm your ability to earn your keep, correlates entirely to your ability to win work. And so it's all of those things, and I'm a fairly disciplined person. And so that role suited me really well, on the one hand in terms of technical skills and certain aspects of my personality. But it's not the entirety of who I am. So, then that was the challenge. I would say, the challenge throughout my life has always been, how do I attend to all the things that define me? And we live in a society here in the US, but I think largely anywhere where you had to pick from a career standpoint, what you want to be best at and then how do you kind of accommodate all the other things that define you as well. And I always struggled with that. So Linh, if I had to describe you, I would say that you're analytical and spiritual. You're also an accomplished artist, in fact, so accomplished, that you're an artist in residence at the Harwood Art Center in Albuquerque, in addition to your job at the Lumina Foundation. So how have you combined all of these parts into the life you're living today? Yeah, thank you. Combining it into my life was the intention that I started to develop, while working through that Newfield coaching experience and that was the big question, that was the problem that I was solving for in my life, how to make time and space and navigating that. The shorter way of answering that question is being intentional about choosing my day job, one that is fulfilling, one that really aligns with my values, and my passion, and it happens to be in the social sector. Given my life story, giving back to society, it really is everything for me and I've had the good fortune of finally navigating into a sector that does exactly that. But choosing a job and choosing an employer who allows me to do the work at a very high level, but yet, work in a way that allows time enough time and balance in my life to paint on the weekend. So, all of my painting I do on the weekends. And it allows me time and space to also be engaged in music because I also love music, and I'm a musician as well as Peter, not at the level that you play. But it's very, very important in my life. And so, it's been making a conscious decision to keep navigating to jobs that allow me time and space, and then having to make some tradeoffs, because what I gain comes with some tradeoffs. And then lastly, I would say, learning to stay center in what's important to me and, , this might sound simple and trite to say, but learning not to compare myself to others, because one of the great benefits and one of the great challenges at the same time of navigating a path that might be very, very unique to oneself is, , not comparing yourself to others, and not being compared to others in terms of success, happiness and so on and it takes a level of singularity and belief in one's journey. That's on the best of days is a wonderful feeling. But in the worst of days, it can be very, very hard, because you're always wondering what if I had taken the other path? What if I had stayed? You're always processing all these what ifs.
Nicola Vetter 15:26
Absolutely. So there are so many words that already popped up here since we started this interview, vulnerability, melancholy, making space, then passion and values, belief, we'll dive into all of this, but first I would like to know, passion and values, you say it's important for you to align those. But the first step is to find those. So how did you find them? How did you articulate them?
Linh Nguyen 16:05
Yeah. I would say in the early stages of that, I wanted to define it starting from the inside-out, if you will, because there are ways in which you can define that path outside-in, meaning outside-in would be, what jobs are available? What else can I do? What's available in the world? And how do I kind of get a job first and foremost, and then you work backwards and saying, how can that job align to me? And how do I align myself to that job? So that's kind of an outside-in approach. And I knew how to do that very well. And in fact, sometimes when I coach people who asked for that kind of career and job transition help, I start help them start outside-in, but I started inside-out, which, for me, started with who am I at the core? And one of the things that helped me with that is a spiritual practice that kind of started when I was about 10 years old. I did not grow up in a religious family, faith and religion were always in the background, but we were not religious. And the process of leaving Vietnam under a lot of trauma resulted in the classic 10 year old talking to God or talking to the universe, and making various deals. One of those god if you exist, or there's some meaning to the world then let's have a conversation and a little bit of deal shaping with the Almighty saying, if you will allow my family to survive this this experience, if you will allow us to do this, and that I will do my part, to earn my keep, if you will. So, my inside-out process, to this day continues to be that, for lack of better descriptions, a dialogue, this ongoing dialogue with the universe where I continually ask, what should I be doing? What's my purpose? What's my calling? And to make that longer story short, the answer was always, do what you were blessed with, do what you were born with. And so for me, this constant checking back, what was I born with, in terms of innate abilities, and just my innate personality, nowadays we have language such as strengths, and StrengthsFinder, passion finder, and so on and so forth. And, yeah, so for me, it started with taking inventory. Who am I relative to all the things that I seem to be naturally good at, and all the things that I naturally gravitate to? And then where do I go from there?
Nicola Vetter 19:12
Beautiful. We'll dive more into that, right? Yeah, okay. In a moment.
Peter Axtell 19:19
You don't do well in a world of scarcity.
Linh Nguyen 19:22
Peter Axtell 19:23
And so I can't wait to hear about your views on a scarcity mindset, as opposed to an abundance mindset. So you've talked about how you couldn't thrive when you were in an environment of scarcity. So can you tell us a story of what happened when you put yourself in an abundance environment?
Linh Nguyen 19:48
Yeah. When I'm in abundance, or in an abundance in my environment, and mindset the closest terms that I have to describe that is I am allowed or allow myself to be in kind of a manifesting mode, in the laws of attraction kind of world where, what I envision and what I dream for, and the clearer that is and the more present and connected, I am always continuously to do that, the more it manifests. And so, abundance for me is kind of operating in that mindset, not in kind of this esoteric wishing and it'll happen. It is hard work, but it's grounded by moving towards what I envision and, and every day articulating and doing work and just manifesting that. So, for me, that's abundance, and that's where my strengths are, and that's where I am happiest, and that's where I would argue I'm most effective, , and the opposite of that of course, is having to work in scarcity environment, and I describe that experience, as very draining, it's like draining my batteries, and that kind of environment does not recharge me is not quite kryptonite where I can't fly at all in that metaphor, but it is sort of like draining my batteries in a way that ultimately, it's not sustainable. I can stay with it for as long as I could. But ultimately, it just doesn't recharge my batteries, and therefore I can't, in the end, can't do it. So sometimes I say that's a fault of mine, some people are very, very good at staying in a groove and staying, very centered in situations that they know, aren't perfect for them. I don't do very well in that environment, I can stay in it for a period of time. But ultimately, I just know it doesn't work for me.
Peter Axtell 22:27
Let's drill down on this a little bit. How would you coach someone to change to an abundance mindset? Because they're those weeds that are constantly growing up in the mind, what we call the egoic voice, it's the voice of doubt, resistance. How would you coach someone to slowly switch over to an abundance mindset?
Nicola Vetter 22:54
Probably someone who has never heard of that, or who has no tools, who has no abilities.
Linh Nguyen 23:04
Yeah, well, I usually invite folks to start with what feels very basic, but I think is very, very essential, which is start with, what does happiness for oneself feel like, right? And again, in an embodied sense, not just intellectually, what makes you happy? So first, people start wherever they are when they say, this makes me happy. And again, this is the kind of stuff that we learned at Newfield, what does that feel like in your body? Because checking in with yourself, the body does not lie. You can say all sorts of things intellectually about what makes you happy, like money and fame and so on. But your body will tell you actually, that's not it, right. Sometimes the body was saying, ultimately, what makes me happy, are feeling seen, feeling embraced, feeling accepted, being creative? So I start there what does that feel like? And then kind of work from there out, give me examples of being creative. Give me an example of feeling seen. Give me an example of feeling like you belong. Safety is very important for a lot of people. What does safety feel like? Yeah, and I would say, and then I generally share what it was like for me, I would say that at the peak of my career at Accenture, for those from the outside looking in, it looks like I have all these ingredients safety, belonging, obviously, security and so on. But that's not what my body was telling me. My body was saying Linh, you're about to go on the next leg of the journey that requires you in order to be successful in this role, you have to convert yourself even further to being the kind of senior partner that this firm requires you to be. And I felt that kind of anxiousness in my body, like I will be moving further and further away of what actual happiness, what actual safety and belonging feels like in my body.
Peter Axtell 25:34
I feel a certain part, it's an eternal energy that is stuck. It's trying to get out. And you're absolutely right. I'm so glad you reminded me that your body will not lie to you, your mind will tell you all kinds of stuff, but not your body. And that pressure inside of you, for me, is a signal, something doesn't quite feel right. What does it feel like to you when you are in a state of equanimity? Or you think things are going pretty well? I'm in balance, what does it feel like to you?
Linh Nguyen 26:07
It feels like you're just flowing along, right? Even when you're really busy, even when you're feeling stress. And again, I make this distinction that stress, it doesn't mean that you are unhappy, fatigue doesn't mean that you're unhappy. It is about the totality. And so, you're feeling like you're in flow, what you're doing kind of creates this movement, and you're in it. And this movement is what you want, and you're moving towards closer to one's vision, and you're moving closer to who you are in that vision, and it feels balanced, it feels really generative, like what you're doing is, is manifesting not just oneself, but you're manifesting outcomes, that touch on the lives of other people, and where it's really beautiful, is when you're in partnership with others who are equally motivated like that. So collectively, you're in flow, and that flow generates this beautiful outcome. And so I think that, to be working with folks in a mission with shared values, with shared interests, and a commitment, right, to work at it through this asset based way of thinking is just a very, very beautiful thing, and it's taken me a long time to define what I call the intersection of all of them.
Nicola Vetter 27:48
Yeah, we're big on flow. So, it's one of the things that we teach right at the beginning of our program. And the important thing there really is to feel. To feel is something that many analytical people don't allow themselves, right? But we had the gift of having an amazing mutual teacher, Dan Newby, who was, by the way, the first guest of our podcast.
Linh Nguyen 28:23
Nicola Vetter 28:24
And it's important to not only feel, but to have language, to being able to articulate what you feel, because language is generative, which is an idea that we've been trained in just like you. So what does language generate in your view?
Linh Nguyen 28:47
What does language generate in what?
Nicola Vetter 28:50
In your view.
Linh Nguyen 28:51
In my view? Language is, for me, I use the term framing, and language is part of framing. But framing is a little bit broader than just words, it's words that that are coupled with meaning and beliefs. And how those things feel and are embodied in oneself. So I call that the frame, framing is very, very important. And when the frame is not right, I've discovered that you can go on, you can go at least for me, let me just speak for myself. I can go for a period of time thinking that I'm balanced. And then I realized, ah, actually, I am off frame. I'm no longer in my frame because I've somehow got myself convinced that what I'm doing is within my frame, when in fact, I compromise, and I'm doing something that might feel very proximate. It's sort of like the metaphor, let's say this, this conversation is within the camera frame and when we're in that frame, and we're having this wonderful conversation then we're in flow, right. But in my life, I've done things in the past, where I'm slightly out of frame. And it catches up to me, because, again, I find myself going, oh, gosh, I've spent another several years doing this, but it just doesn't feel like the sweet spot, it isn't in frame. So how do I, what's wrong with the way I'm framing this? And I sharpened my frame to saying, Okay, I was calling it this, but now I'm calling it, this, and this has more meaning. So, to give a concrete example a lot of what I did, throughout my career leading up to Accenture was through a career frame. And that's what many of us are taught and socialized to go through life through a career frame. And when Kristina and I became parents, and with that started to make the scary step, just to leave Accenture, we kind of stumbled on this term that really has been our frame for quite some time, which is livelihood. So we shifted from a career frame and how to think about career how to talk about career and career growth, to livelihood, which is more of an entrepreneurial way of thinking, it's about what works for us, what kind of life do we want to have? And what do we need to do and what is needed to sustain that life? And then we cobbled together a constellation of things. That is part of our likelihood model?
Peter Axtell 32:12
Okay, you anticipated one of the questions we're gonna get to later, but we'll just jump in right here. The distinction between career and livelihood when we talked about that the other day that just stuck with me. And I think you just described the difference between livelihood there's something more open about livelihood than career. But what about people who don't have the guts that it takes to be an entrepreneur, because it is not easy? What about people who like the security of a paycheck? And that just works for them? Is it helpful for them to look at that as livelihood? Is that one semantic word shift helping to change their satisfaction at work do you think?
Linh Nguyen 33:03
I love that question, Peter. And I invited and offered that way of thinking to a number of people that I've worked with both formally as a coach and informally as a friend and advisor, or mentor, etc. And I would say, even when you're in a career-oriented job, you still can possess a livelihood mentality, which says that, ultimately, I'm here, because this job that I've been in for a long time, and will continue to be in till I retire, supports a bigger picture supports a bigger purpose. And that purpose in that bigger picture is my own, right. So that you feel like it's serving a bigger objective, that's personal I've encountered a lot of people who give entirely their life to their company, they give their entire life to their careers. And then when that life with that career, or that job ends, they just kind of experienced this huge gulf of sadness and despair, because there's nothing else and they're shocked to learn that actually, as much as I thought I was giving myself to this company, that company doesn't really ultimately care about me, I'm just a number. And so even if you're in a career, and you're not navigating, and you're not innovating as much as maybe I have been doing, you still can occupy this mindset that ultimately, the bigger picture is your livelihood, and this career at this job is just a piece of it. And so, for me, entrepreneurialism, isn't just in the traditional sense of being a business owner, entrepreneurialism is a mindset and a skill set and a behavior and you can apply that to whatever you're in. And, quite frankly, I think the 21st century economy and the future of work is so rapidly changing that I think entrepreneurialism or entrepreneurship as a mindset, and a skill set, and a way of thinking is a critical core competency for the future, regardless of whatever path one chooses, right?
Peter Axtell 35:38
You know, a lot of what we're talking about here are problems with our minds and habits. And for example, earlier you advised people not to compare yourself and not to be envious. So those are often habitual patterns that are really hard to break. How have you done it? And what tips would you give our audience to break those habits?
Linh Nguyen 36:06
That's a good question. How I’ve done it, I am definitely human, Peter. And so when I visit with friends who stuck with it longer than I did, in various different endeavors, and because they stuck with it, have benefited financially, or status, or power. I do experience envy. I do compare, and I do wonder, gosh, had I stayed what would have happened. So I used to beat myself up over that. And then finally I said, I'm human, just like everyone else. And so that's what I feel, I allow myself to feel that. So that I'm not kind of somehow shortchanging my friends for being so successful, just because I envy them. But then I make space, literally to walk away from that, and return to where I live and how I live in order to restore my sense of, yeah, but you've chosen this, and your center of gravity, and where you feel happy, and where you feel balanced is not where your friend experiences that and so more power to him. But you're not him, you're you. And you've chosen to be over here, and the ability to do that is very important. And it is at the heart of it, one of the reasons that we, when we began to shift from career to livelihood, we also left Washington, DC, because it's really, really hard to be swimming in the water that socialize everybody the same way. If you're going your own path, you have to have the courage and the willingness to step out of certain environments, that don't foster that and go find an environment that suits yourself better. And you have to surround yourself with friends and, and others that can support that vision. That's partly how I've done it and it allows me to navigate and stay connected with people, and really appreciate all the various journeys, that everyone is on, without feeling like I'm torn because I haven't made the right decision.
Peter Axtell 38:46
I guess we're not all saints yet, Linh. We're all human and imperfect. And we're back to this super important point about environment, and how important your environment is.
Nicola Vetter 39:02
There's resonance, resonance in your environment as well, right? There's an energy often that's what I get. So I want to dig into the idea of belief and optimism a little more and how it's different from magical thinking, you talked about that, the woo-woo part, slightly. So I also remember you saying that belief is key to manifesting anything. Can you expound on that and give some examples from your own life that convinced you that belief is real and that it works?
Linh Nguyen 39:47
Whether you apply belief through this spiritual lens of, what is my purpose? And maybe there's that purpose that has a longer arc and you are moving towards that purpose. Or your spiritual belief says that I'm not alone. And by being true to my purpose, I will be supported. And we will be guided by God or by the universe. So whether one comes at it through that lens, or one comes at it through kind of an entrepreneurial lens, where you believe you have a vision of what you could do, you have a vision of a service, or a product, or a value that you can create in the world, and you believe that you have the ability to get there, even though all evidence seems to be that you haven't learned how to do it, you don't actually have the prior experience, right? And it's all new to you, you believe because, why would I have this vision? And why would this vision feel so present in my body, if I'm not going to be able to get there? And so believing in oneself and then believing in the journey, because along the way it's very, very scary especially starting new businesses where you're putting a lot of money in, and you have to believe that you're gonna get the return at some point in the future. So, that's another entrepreneurial lens that requires belief. And then last, but not least, I think having guided many organizations, and having been on my own entrepreneurial journey, you have to have a belief to bring people together, to work on a shared mission, particularly if that mission is really challenging or innovative, or that mission hasn't been done before. Or that vision is a different way of doing something, you have to have that belief. And so, for me, it feels the same way in my body whether I am applying belief in a spiritual sense, or I'm applying belief in an entrepreneurial sense, or I'm applying belief in a project management or change management standpoint, it's the same thing.
Peter Axtell 42:22
So, Linh, I have a friend who is in the grip of fear. And he's in fear that he is going to run out of money, and is going to end up on the street, even though he's a millionaire. He's not a multimillionaire, but he is a millionaire. He says he can feel it in his body. And it's so strong that he can't seem to break it. Is this an emotion? Or is it a belief? And how would you coach him to break out of this?
Linh Nguyen 42:52
Hmm. Well, first, I would share how I've experienced that, and then maybe from there offer some suggestions, and I resonate with what you described, because, number one, I think scarcity is something that I inherited from my family. And I have loved ones who, for various reasons, are just sitting with a lot of scarcity, because it's multi-generational and so on and so forth. I jokingly say that what I learned from my mother is, the glass is always half full of things that could kill you.
Nicola Vetter 43:40
Oh, my goodness.
Linh Nguyen 43:42
Yeah. And she would say, whenever things get really tough, she would say things like, don't worry, get some rest. It's not as bad as you think because it'll be worse someday. So, it's nothing, save yourself because life is not easy. That's because she's got plenty of evidence to show for that.
Nicola Vetter 44:12
And you'll never get out of life alive, right?
Linh Nguyen 44:17
Yeah, and all of those things are, so one, I would suggest to your friend, that part of the work here is understanding where that comes from and out of that sense of self-awareness and from self-awareness, a level of empathy and compassion for your family and all the people who taught you this and compassion for yourself, right? Because I find a lot of that fear is embodied and learned. And appreciating where you learned it from and having some compassion for yourself and those who supported you but maybe taught you things that no longer serve you well, is a place to examine. And I certainly did a lot of that work to let go of that and saying, Yeah, I feel that, but that feeling is not really natural to me, I learned that from my loved ones, and I love them for that, but it's not my fear, it’s their fear. And that was a lot of work, a lot of therapy to realize that's where it comes from. And then saying, okay, if that's not really my fear, that's a learned fear, what kind of fear is really authentic to me? And again, I have different fears. And so it's to say that it's not like, I am fearless, I just have different fears. And knowing with a level of distinction, whose fears you're holding, is important. And then lastly, I think that it's a combination of critical thinking, hard work, and belief so that you're not dealing with fear through magical thinking. You have to say, okay, I've done all my homework. This is, what I'm doing has a level of risk. But I've looked at all the various risk mitigations, strategies, and I've taken all those steps. And I have done my homework, I have done the warrior work, the athletes work, whatever metaphor you put into it, and the last piece of this work is just conviction, and courage and belief to stay with it.
Nicola Vetter 46:43
So there we are at belief, again. You said that vision is tied into belief, and acting as if your vision has already come to pass is really important. So how do you do that exactly, especially if you're trying to figure out what's next?
Linh Nguyen 47:09
Yeah. I remember this lovely conversation I had with one of my best friends at Accenture when I was getting ready to leave. Or as I was leaving, and walking away from all that I had gained, and basically walking away from the golden handcuffs. And my friend Dod said, this was years ago, now that this notion of the multiverse and time space continuum is very occurrent, but back in those days, he was saying, Linh, have you ever heard of this theory that everything that will happen has already happened? And he said, this metaphor, imagine this plane, my hand is everything that will likely happen in your lifetime is this hand and time space continuum, it's already happened. But you're here and your human experiences, you're here, and that's all you know. But everything that might be possible in your lifetime, and then others is already defined in this plane. And maybe Linh, why you feel a sense of conviction in leaving and embarking on this thing, even though you are also sitting with all this fear, is because somehow there's a part of you that's tapped into this plane, and you know where you’re moving towards is meant to be, and in this time space continuum has already happened, and the closer you are, the more tapped into that you are, the more you have this inner belief that you're moving towards the right direction, even though there's all this fear and uncertainty, and he said, maybe that's what you're experiencing, and I found that very comforting, you know what I mean? And so, that's kind of woo-woo language way of talking about it, the critical, analytical way of talking about it is, you've done your homework, you've done a business plan, you've done the research, you've asked the experts, and after doing your research, after talking with all the experts, you realize that no one has done the exact thing that you're about to do, either. And guess what, you still have to muster up the courage, right? To do the thing that is unique amidst all of the research and amidst all of the experts that you've gained, and then you build a business plan and you're disciplined about it, and you're moving towards your vision, and you're willing to take the risk, and willing to sit with the uncertainty and the fear.
Peter Axtell 50:14
I think you so eloquently put the difference between magical thinking, I have this vision, and I think it's all going to work out. You're talking about I have a vision. But you're also talking about doing the work of asking the experts, of doing the research, of doing the work of what is out there, and what's my competition, or whatever it is that you're trying to do, rather than just what you're dreaming about in your mind that you think is somehow going to work out. So you're talking about almost a combination, I think, of dreams, and real, tangible research about what is in your environment, what's right now happening in the world, coupled with those two things?
Linh Nguyen 51:12
Vision is that North Star more abstract thing, and the more work you have, the more work you put into it, the more connected you are to that vision, you have to have that vision embodied, so that that vision has resonance with you. And there's work to do that, to gain that kind of resonance and belief in that vision. But then you have to have goals, and you have to have plans, and then you have to have discipline to do that. And that's what strategic plan is all about. The strategic planning process in a linear fashion is spoken and used in those terms, and you put things in writing, vision working backwards into goals, and then plans and strategies to get there. And then there's all the disciplines to plan the work, work the plan, and then to deal with all the emotions and complexity that come with that. Yeah, and spiritually, what I've learned is spiritually, it's the same process.
Peter Axtell 52:22
So you, I think you said that you used to create vision boards. Do you believe that vision boards are a good thing for someone to do?
Linh Nguyen 52:31
I love that exercise. And because I'm an artist, kind of creating a collage or a vision board is lots of fun, and my family, my wife and daughters, still kind of do it to some extent. I no longer do it per se as a collage or a physical board. But I have vision boards that are visual, they are visualized. So in other words, it's in my head.
Peter Axtell 53:02
And has that helped with your belief? I've noticed that when we've done vision boards, we haven't done one in a long time. But it does seem to be that you see all kinds of wacky stuff showing up that you just can't say that is just cannot be an accident.
Linh Nguyen 53:19
Yeah, exactly. Because I describe myself and my technique for learning and my style of learning is very visual. I used to say this, even as a child, I said, if I can imagine it, I can do it. Then people are saying, what are you talking about? I said, if I can imagine it and, in my imagination, it feels real, and the more real it is in my imagination, the more I believe I can do it. And so now I have a vision board that has all this stuff in my mind. And so, for example, when I'm on the airplane, getting from one place to another, and I've done all my homework, I shut the computer off, and like just close my eyes, and I kind of check in with my vision board. And what's cool about that, these days, and one of the reasons that I no longer construct a physical vision board is, I've learned to allow space for things to unfold. And sometimes physical vision boards leave out possibilities that you don't really know about. Some people can be very, very targeted. I set a vision at the beginning of this past year or five years ago, 10 years ago, I've been relentless about that. And that's wonderful. And it works great for many people. One of the things that I've learned is this other stuff, that unfolds without you realizing it, and sometimes you miss the cues, you miss a lot of things if you're too rigid about your vision. And so, because I've learned that when I check in with my vision board in my mind's eye, when I close my eyes and I check in with that vision, there are always slightly new elements and things have unfolded and different people have come in and out of that vision board in surprising and unexpected ways. So yeah, the way I say it is I leave room for things to unfold, I leave room for a little bit of magic, and I leave room for a little bit of mystery and it's still consistent with a vision. So, yeah.
Peter Axtell 55:25
That's a great tweak. Okay, I'm stealing that one.
Nicola Vetter 55:30
It's very beautiful. I created my first vision boards, and by the way, you don't have to be an artist to do this, I created my first vision board when I was in my 20s. And then it became very much a process when I did my first coach training in Germany. And I looked at one the other day or the other month, it’s a while ago, again, and a lot has come into fruition. It's amazing. So there is some kind of, I don't know, other forces that are in place and falling into place, if you allow yourself to dive into that. But right now, I would like to also dive into a little more, you just dropped the North Star again. So how do you think the North Star or purpose intersects with a person's values?
Linh Nguyen 56:36
Because I'm visual, I'll describe it visually. Imagine that the North Star is a visual line of sight, right or a concept. And imagine that you're far from that North Star, because you're just one person standing on the earth, looking at the huge night sky, and trying to figure out, okay, where am I? And which direction do I go in if the North Star is so far away? I think one's personal values is the compass, and the compass could be something that you could apply in a very logical sense, so what are the things that really define me? What are my values and my passions, and use that as a compass to saying, Oh, when I encountered this opportunity, or when I'm walking in this direction, what is my compass telling me about that? And is that moving in the right direction? Another way that one's values can work is, we use the term, that vision, or that issue, or that thing really resonates with me. And so that's what I tried to tap into, again, it’s an embodied way of thinking about values, first you have to articulate and be clear about one's values. And then using your body, if it resonates with you, you will feel it. And if it doesn't resonate with you, you will also feel it. And if it's quiet, sometimes the hard part I've learned is it's easy when things are spot on, and you just feel it. It's also easy when things are completely out of line with your values. The hard part, I find are things that are proximate. And it takes a while to have discernment to saying, yeah, that thing is proximate. But that's really not it, and I think that takes a bit more experience and discernment. And so finally, the final thing that I would say is that unless you're doing this all by yourself, you also have to calibrate your values with other people's values, and the other people's values don't have to be one in the same, but they have to be in resonance with you. I think, Peter, this notion of music is that to play a chord to play several notes that are just appropriately spaced, create harmony, and sometimes when you’re creating tension, it's intentional tension to lead to resolution by playing these chords in different ways, but sometimes playing two notes side by side, they feel very proximate. So you think that that's a good thing, but two notes side by side is actually dissonance. Whereas two notes spaced appropriately creates harmony. And I've been in careers and in work relationships, and sometimes even personal relationships where you're on with different people, but the way we're spaced musically, is harmony, and I've been with people who are very proximate, right, and we're feeling like we're in the same thing. And then side by side, but it just feels horrible and sounds horrible. And that's when I realized, actually, I'm experiencing dissonance even though things were very, very closely aligned. Does that make sense? I say that to musicians, right?
Peter Axtell 1:00:17
I think you just explained to me why I have never been able to get into dissonant music that is dissonant just for the sake of well we have to do something new. And so we're going to do distance stuff. And there's famous composers who have done that. I just, it bothers me, I just can't get into it. I know, it creates tension and a little abrasiveness and texture and contrast and all that. But that's a really good explanation personally why I just can't get into it.
Linh Nguyen 1:00:49
And sometimes when I'm working on a team and there's that tension, because we're very similar, but we're not exactly alike and that dissonance is tension and yeah, there's nothing wrong with intentional tension, if eventually you resolve it. But if it's unresolved, you're just sitting with dissonance all the time. It's just really ugly music and jarring.
Peter Axtell 1:01:09
You have some beautiful views on the role of spirituality in creating the life you want. So firstly, what do you mean by spirituality? And second, how have you used it in creating the life you want?
Linh Nguyen 1:01:23
I use the word spirituality and I stay in that frame, the same way that I shifted from career as a frame and the language to livelihood. And here's the thing, having grown up in a fairly non-religious family, first of all, I just didn't have a rigid belief system that I was raised in, and then I was exposed to Christianity, and then I was baptized in the Episcopal Church. And the short version of that story is that I have yet, and I put the word yet in there, to have found a place of practice in a religion or in a religious place, a practice where I feel like, the environment aligns with the way I think, which is very generative, which is very kind of open-hearted. I find that religions as soon as they have a creed, that ask you to say what you believe in, which means ask you to say what you don't believe in, start to narrow the lens, it gets closer to deficit thinking, and I just fundamentally don't believe that, if ultimately, your North Star around your spiritual belief is a God, and a spiritual being that transcends human experience, that the way to get there is through creeds that tell you what you should believe in, what you shouldn't believe, and who should be demonized. It just hasn't worked for me yet. Maybe, someday, I'll find it. So therefore, I've kind of had to go my own way. And by going my own way in the spiritual realm, I'm able to learn from a variety of different traditions and practices, and then I test it in my own terms. I shared with you that I love to walk, and do walking meditations and in a lot of ways, my meditations are walking prayers, where I have a dialogue with the universe, and sometimes I have a dialogue with my ancestors. One, my grandmother raised me, and she is kind of my guardian angel in a lot of ways, and I have conversations with her, with her spirit. And so that's little examples of what I mean by my spiritual way of engaging, and I check in all the time, and so, like I said, I have my own way of praying, and then I pay attention, because what I've learned is prayers aren't answered in words, they're answered in things that unfold and if I'm not paying attention, how do I know if I miss the answer or not? And the answers aren't, like I said, I asked it in human terms. What I've learned is answers unfold in spiritual ways and not in human language.
Nicola Vetter 1:04:29
I'd like to drill down on that a little more. So when you say walking meditation, reflection, then you send questions into the universe and the answers somehow come to you, right? So it's a spiritual and analytical process that you are doing in a way can you teach that to our audience right now? Just a small part.
Linh Nguyen 1:04:58
I think about it as being in relationship with an experience that takes time, that responds and interacts in different ways. So for example, when I set out on a walk, I would set an intention or sometimes a question, and I sit with that question, I ask that question in my walk. And I don't expect anything other than just being open to the experience of that walk. And, again, keeping an open space, and just being mindful, so it's super easy to do in a lot of ways, and super hard to do, because we're trained to have this kind of back-and-forth thing. And that's not how it works. In my experience, I set a question, and sometimes I ask that question multiple times in my walk, but what I tried to do is be mindful and present, sometimes the answer is a wishing of the wind, sometimes the answer is, Linh, I hear you, you ask that question a lot, for now, the answer is, you should enjoy this walk, you should let that kink in your back, relax and let go of that little stress on your shoulder. That's the answer for now. Up to and including, I've just given this example where this is kind of a little woo-woo. But that happened in the midst of a process that took quite some time. So what preceded my arrival, my choice and arrival at the Kellogg Foundation, where I served as COO. I'd been doing this walking meditation for quite a bit, again, processing, what should I do next, right? What's my purpose? What's my calling? And I remember on one walk the closest I've ever gotten to an answer that feels like words, but even though it wasn't words, was kind of this sentiment that came to me as I was doing that walk. And that sentiment is, you ask that question a lot. It’s as if God said, Linh, you ask that question a lot. And that's all. That's the only thing I got in that walk. You ask that question a lot. And so I reflected on that and reflected on that. And then, in one of the walks with the same question, the aha moment was, the answers have always been given, what else do you want? Which is to say, I was born with these abilities, I've had the good fortune to build on those abilities, I still have those abilities. So the answer have always been given to all the times that I keep asking the question, but I wasn't listening, because that's not what I wanted to hear. Right? And essentially, what I learned from that first part was, do what I gave you, was the answer, right? And then one time, again, what do I do next? I actually had this word, this name came up in my head as I was doing the walk. This was a client at the Kellogg Foundation, and is not necessarily a very, very close client. It's just one client in a large organization. But his name popped in my head for some reason. And it was odd. And it's like, that's really odd, why on earth would that person and that name pop into your head of all things, right? So anyways, I finished my walk and went home, got on the laptop, looked him up. And I noticed that he's no longer at the Kellogg Foundation, he had left to take on a new opportunity. So I called another client, who was head of HR, and I said, I'm curious, so and so left, what's going to happen to that role? And she said, Ah, we're recruiting for that role. But in fact, we're upgrading that role, because that role is now important to the Kellogg Foundation in a very, very different way, now it’s actually a VP role. I said, I think I'm supposed to explore this. Long story short, and this is a true story, I applied for that role, which was a VP role to help transform how the Kellogg Foundation does evaluation and learning and impact. And that role led to the next role when there was a promotion, internal promotion and the COO of the Kellogg Foundation was appointed as CEO of the Kellogg Foundation. And she had been a client as well. And we went through a search process and I was selected as her successor, as COO. So that's how I came to the Kellogg Foundation and how I was blessed with this opportunity to do that. So anyways, in between what I'm describing were lots of career conversations, phone calls with folks in the field, the classic networking, shopping my resume, all of the critical homework of telling my story in a good-looking resume, talking with all the experts. So, for me, it's doing all the above, but that's a long way of answering and giving you an example of what that was like, at a spiritual level.
Nicola Vetter 1:10:55
It's a beautiful way of answering that question and a very practical way that I believe our audience will resonate with and will understand. And there are three words that really pop out for me, that is openness, so really be open to that process and invite in whatever comes to you. Then there is trust, which is closely connected with belief, you have to trust in that the right idea, and then action will come out of that. And the third one is hope. Because if you don't have hope, then what is there?
Linh Nguyen 1:11:44
Yeah. So thank you for recapping that. And the last thing, I would add, and it's not the word that I would have thought of. But one of my good friends said that to me, one of the things that he said he really liked and respected, one of my high school friends, at one of our reunions said to me, you've always been very disciplined. And, and so I would add that to this. And I don't mean discipline in the Puritan sense of the word where discipline equals work, because in our society we tend to equate discipline to work, right? I come from a work culture as well. So it's not just Puritan culture and Puritan beliefs, it's really Asian, and so on and so forth. But I don't mean discipline in the sense of hard work, sometimes, I mean, discipline in the sense of intentionality, so in other words, resting, doing one's homework, in a variety of ways, and dealing with the emotional discipline, as well as the technical discipline, and taking good care of oneself, wellness and self-care is a form of discipline as well, because what I've learned is, any journey takes time. And it's not easy. And if you're not healthy, you're not going to be happy, and if you're not happy, or you're not going to be healthy. And so that takes a lot of intentionality. So in the midst of wandering and struggling, you have to have, at least for me, a level of discipline about how you do them.
Peter Axtell 1:13:34
I was listening to the Rich Roll podcast yesterday and Cory Booker was on, and he said the most beautiful thing, he said that hope is the conviction, that despair doesn't get the last word. So, Linh, is there anything that we didn't touch on, that you really want our audience to know, before we go?
Linh Nguyen 1:13:59
I remember when I was doing my onboarding at the Lumina Foundation, which was the culmination of yet my process, which I've shared here. And so I remember saying to my boss, who is this wonderful person, Jamie Merisotis. I said, Jamie, I'm so grateful to be here. I really feel like I've found a home and basically said, what's your expectation for me? And Jamie said, Linh, you do you. And I almost cried because that was his validation. It's like the spiritual answer right through Jamie's voice and his conviction. And the way he said that, you do you, was what guided me to Lumina in the first place, and to have someone say his expectation as if he's channeling something bigger is, you do you, and that's what I would share with your audience and with anyone. What I've learned in all of this is when it's all said and done, where I think we fulfill our potential we fulfill kind of spiritual purpose and I think we do amazing things, to make a difference in the world, when each of us just does what each of us was meant to be.
Peter Axtell 1:15:26
What a beautiful place to end.
Nicola Vetter 1:15:30
I want to add, thank you for being.
Linh Nguyen 1:15:35
Nicola Vetter 1:15:36
Wonderful. Thank you so much for this conversation.
Linh Nguyen 1:15:41
Oh no, thank you for what you're doing. I look forward to learning more and again, when your email came to me, that's one of those unfolding things that I think okay, pay attention.
Peter Axtell 1:15:58
We're glad you paid attention, Linh.
Linh Nguyen 1:16:00
Yeah. Okay. Thank you.
Nicola Vetter 1:16:01
Until next time.
Linh Nguyen 1:16:03
Okay, until next time.
Peter Axtell 1:16:05
We hope you enjoyed this interview. A great reminder for me was when you go for a walk, set an intention, and ask a question, without expecting an answer necessarily. You might be amazed. Just being open to the experience of walking. I love that.
Nicola Vetter 1:16:25
Yes. And I just loved when Linh asked his new boss at the Lumina Foundation, what's your expectation? And his boss said, Linh, you do you. That's true leadership.
Peter Axtell 1:16:43
Wonderful. To learn more about Linh, head to WhatsNext.com/25, where we share the transcript links and more. Again, that's WhatsNext.com/25.
Nicola Vetter 1:17:01
And if you like what you've heard, share it with someone you care about. And subscribe, rate, and review our Inside-Out Career Design podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast or watch it on our YouTube channel whatsnextcom, one word, no dot, and subscribe, so you'll never miss an episode. Thanks so much for joining us here today. We'll see you next week for another episode. Same time, same place.