Surrender From The Heart with Dr. Kelly Flanagan
New episode with my good friend and amazing author, Dr. Kelly Flanagan. Kelly is a father, husband, powerful coach and many other things in addition to being a talented author. His words have impacted me in beautiful ways and I’m honored to share some space with him!
This episode is packed with insights around our relationship with control, surrender and holding space for people. Kelly shares his thoughts around transitions, the power of stories, interpreting our dreams, hiding from vulnerability and finding purpose.
Kelly is a clinically trained psychologist who’s been coaching entrepreneurs and couples for the last several years. He understands the challenge of holding space for people we love, and he guides us through it with grace and vulnerability. He is a master of his craft.
I appreciate Kelly for the courage and creativity he demonstrates in the world. He continues to inspire me with his gifts.
Hope you enjoy the content!
- The Unhiding Of Elijah Campbell (book)
- True Companions (book)
- Loveable (book)
- Gilead (book)
[00:00:00] Ali: Welcome back folks. Today I have Mr. Kelly Flanagan, a friend, a fellow Front Row Dad, an author who I've read all of his books and I've become sort of attached to them in a way. And I am just grateful amongst other things to be able to create some space with you have this convo. We've had some beautiful conversations at smaller FRD retreats and more intimate gatherings, and you've always been a warm presence.
The second that we got on Zoom today, and I saw your background, I was like, oh dude, you just like set me into a state of peace with how you've designed that. And the way that you show up. So thank you for being here. I'm excited to see what unfolds. And how would you like to introduce yourself today? Who is Kelly Flanagan?
[00:00:49] Kelly: Well, I'm a, a clinical psychologist by training, and owned my own brick and mortar therapy practice until last year, uh, which point I transitioned out of traditional therapy into online coaching of entrepreneurs and their family members. And I also made a big transition last year from publishing only non-fiction books to, I published my first novel. So last year was a, a transitional moment for me in getting greater clarity about who I am at this point in my life and, and sort of taking some big steps towards pursuing it.
I am not peaceful all the time. In fact, I will tell you last night, at the end of a very long day after running the door for my daughter's basketball game, I thought I was going to the YMCA to pick up my son. I sit there for a while, I'm like, I'm here, by text, you know? He's like, oh, I'm not at the Y I'm at Gage's house, which is in a different town.
And so, and it's raining and it's dark, and I'm hungry and I'm thirsty and I'm tired. So I pick him up and I'm just sort of quiet. He's like, dad, are you upset? And I said, I am just trying not to be a jerk is what I'm trying to do. So you don't deserve for me to be a jerk. Sometimes maybe that's what peace looks like, is just holding space for yourself to not be a jerk.
[00:02:02] Ali: Mm-hmm. Yeah, man, that's real. It's amazing that as you gave that nice, beautiful intro, you actually hit on several things that I had on my short list of topics that we'll get to in a bit. I wanna start with something you mentioned though ... Transition.
Did you know last year would be transition? Did you plan for it? Mm-hmm. Or did you surrender to, oh, this wants to happen?
[00:02:30] Kelly: That's a great question. The word surrender is a good word to describe the vibe of last year for me. I would describe last year, not as like I sat down and intentionally set goals and a vision for the year. Mm-hmm. But my sort of spiritual or emotional practice going into the year was to be open-hearted to my life, to whatever it was presenting to me. When it felt like a door was closing rather than resisting that and getting tense and fighting it, being open-hearted to that.
And so there just came a moment, sort of gradually, this sort of evolved up to this moment, over the last couple of years where there was this transition in, in what I'm writing, there was a transition in the way that I, I provide help to people and, and it just involved a sort of moment to moment open-heartedness to watch where life was sort of taking me and participate in that rather than feeling like I have to make it happen.
Mm. And it was amazing to, to watch that as I participate in it in a much more, ironically, somewhat more passive way, just through awareness and presence to it, that bigger changes happen than if I had tried to, you know, manufacture them myself in a lot of ways.
[00:03:34] Ali: Totally, man. So what that reminds me of is that in the world of Conscious Leadership, there's these different constructs of - _By Me. Through Me. As Me. To Me._ - I actually didn't even say them in the best order, but they're four distinct ways of thinking about things and I heard a lot of, _Through Me_ there.
Yes, to give context for people. It's easy for us to get into what we call the victim mindset. The _To Me_, like, oh, why is this happening to me? And you're very reactionary. Whereas then we can evolve into the, _By Me_, where we start to really set intentions, the vision for things like how we want to create stuff and, and there's more control there, right? Instead of just reacting. But then you mentioned a lot of_ Through Me_ where it's like, ah, I was just kind of paying attention to things, being with them. And then funny enough, bigger, perhaps more meaningful things start to happen. Is that true?
[00:04:28] Kelly: Yes. And it's not my natural setting or not my default setting for the last 20 years, I should say. There was a powerful moment last year for me. I was on a coaching call with my coach. I had chosen to take the call sort of along a river that runs through our town. And, uh, I was sitting on a bench staring at the river as we were talking. And, and I noticed I wasn't paying attention to him. And I said, hey can you slow down. There's this eagle, like a bald eagle, and it's across the river and it's, it's flying back and forth like in like a 50 yard sort of range.
And it's just, I don't know what it's doing, like, it's not like hunting, I don't think. And he had the wisdom to say, well, let's just slow down and watch it for a while. I think there's probably something in this for you, if it was catching your attention. So I sit there and I watch it, and what this eagle does is it keeps flying back and forth and then all of a sudden it quits flapping its wings, and it just spreads them and it starts to, to corkscrew up in the air higher and higher without ever flapping its wings until I can't even barely see it.
And I tell my coach this and he says, you know, I think the message in that for you is that you think you need to flap so hard all up and down the river of your life to get where you wanna go. But really what the eagle knows is it's just sort of listening, waiting for the updraft. And once it catches, the updraft, it goes way higher just spreading its wings and, and resting in that updraft. And so that sort of became a pivotal image and experience for me over the course of the last year of just trying to be present to and to watch for the updrafts in my life and ride them, you know, as high as I can for now.
[00:06:03] Ali: That's so good. Oh my gosh, it's so powerful that in context of this conversation, and then as a reflection, like you said, of of now starting to pay attention to that more, it reminds me of patterns, Kelly.
So like one of the things that I've really been aware of are patterns. Both patterns in the past, and we can go as far as to say like our lineage, our DNA, the humans that we come from in some way. Then also our subconscious patterns. So stuff that is just like wired into our system that we can relate to conditioning, et cetera. But then there's these moments like that where I'm like, dude, that was totally a thing, a sign, a message from God, the universe, however you want to interpret it.
I think that's where people get caught up. Well, what is it this, what is that? No, it's just a message, right? Rights. It's up to you to decide. And, oh my gosh, man, this act of surrendering, it can be liberating, right? On that topic though, have you found any challenges there with the act of service?
[00:07:11] Kelly: Well, yeah. Well, and I think you, I think you like already put your finger on one of the challenges, which is, you know, you have a moment like that and you instantly, like you wanna start analyzing it. Yep. Well, you know, did you make something out of nothing there? Or is that really God? Or is is there a God or is it just the universe?
You know? Mm-hmm. And what you realize is that as soon as you start doing that, you are now not in waiting for updraft mode. You're back in flapping mode trying to, to do something to it, analyze it, turn it into something. Probably understand it so you can repeat it. Yeah. Scale it, is probably what you're trying to do.
And um, I actually at a moment at our fall Front Row Dads retreat, we were doing, uh, sound bathing first thing in the morning. And I'm laying there And I notice myself that I am judging the sounds. Ah, I don't like that one. I do like this one. Yeah. So immediately I'm like, okay, you're not participating in the experience. You're judging it, thinking about it. So let those judgements go. And so I'm laying there and then I notice a very subtle form of resistance to participating, which is me. I asked the question, how does that sound made? Like did he rub the gong on that one or is it a different, like the device he's using now?
Yep. And I'm like, oh, that's also me removing myself from participating in it. Right. And so, yes, I think my doing, problem solving, achieving mind is always trying to kick back in, to use some of those sort of successes from the last year, which felt more like participation than motivation, so to speak.
Like how do I, now, how do I now, now scale those and turn those into the next success? And so the mind is always kicking back in wanting to do something with that. And, by the end of last year, to be candid, I I did let that, you know, sort of take hold a little bit and, and a lot of the beginning of this year has been recalibrating back toward listening and participating rather than forcing.
Um. Mm-hmm. So I think we could sort of go through these rhythms, right? Or the old habits reassert themselves, the old patterns reassert themselves. And we just try to move through that a little bit more quickly back into that different space that we've discovered.
[00:09:18] Ali: Mmm, a hundred percent. Yep. I can empathize with so much of that. And a friend, a mentor of mine, said it really well the other day where just giving a simple dichotomy between mind and heart, even though there's so much more to experience than that. That's right. And he literally picked up his laptop. He's like, when my mind takes over, I feel like it's this.
It's got certain constraints. It's really good at calculating things. It's really good at logically, which is what we do, we logically go through all the motions. Whereas the heart, he's like, that is sort of the more inner guidance system that kind of give me like, oh, where's the energy? And that's been helpful for my practice as well, is like, yes, learning to turn this down and then turn it up as in my mind, yes.
Using it for things that it's great at calculating, but, oh gosh. And we could spend this the whole time talking about surrender. So I'm gonna shift for a second because otherwise I'm gonna get lost there.
[00:10:17] Kelly: Yeah, of course.
[00:10:18] Ali: In a healthy way. I think this relates to surrendering, but it also relates to what you shared early on when you introduced yourself, is that you made this beautiful book, _The Unhiding of Elijah Campbell_, and it was fiction. Mm-hmm. And first I just wanna reflect back to you. In reading this book, which I read a few months ago, it was one of those stories where the way that you used your words and the storyline, I felt like I was really in it.
[00:10:48] Kelly: Mm-hmm. Thank you.
[00:10:50] Ali: Like I was Eli and like I was like, oh, I was able to feel some of these emotions. I even think one of our other brothers gave you some feedback where he was bawling at the end. I think Ned said this. Yes. Yeah. But actually a lot of them probably said this.
[00:11:03] Kelly: Several of them have said that is just amazing.
[00:11:05] Ali: Yeah, dude. And I felt the same way when I, when we got to the end of this story and he had the convo with her dad, I'm not gonna ruin this in case people wanna read it cause it's a beautiful story. Yeah. I just lost it. I was like, oh my gosh.
Yeah, and so, a couple things in sharing that is that, one, I've read a lot of books and, mm-hmm, a book that can really help me feel something is a gift in itself. So thank you for that. Mm-hmm. Sure. Because a lot of the books that I've read, which is part of the genres that I've been interested in, are very intellectual.
There's not as much feeling, whereas even some of the spiritual books I've read can actually help me like feel a sense of, oh, something needs to change, or, ooh, like but, to actually cry from a place of love, grief, sadness, that's a special thing. So thank you again for that. Yes. The other thing that I wanted to highlight, there's so many things someone could take from that book.
The three things that I wrote down, and I'm curious, I'm gonna give you opportunity to take, take any of these anywhere, is that_ "the power of secrets in stories."_ Mm-hmm._ "The power of our roots."_ And _"the power of our dreams"_, and I'm totally filtering this, so those three things have value and interpretation in my life. But do any of those strike you as there was some, some underlying meaning or no?
[00:12:31] Kelly: Oh, wow. Yeah, I mean, I, I think one of the challenges of talking about this book in public is that there are so many meaningful themes to it. Mm-hmm. Um, if asked, I could have 10 different conversations in, in 10 different podcasts. So I actually love what you've done there, pulling out the themes that were most important to you. Mm-hmm. _Power of our secrets_, the _power of our roots_, um, _the power of our dreams_. I think those are three significant themes. The_ power of our roots_, for instance, the very first sentence of the book is that the past is behind us, but it is also always within us.
Yes. Right. That, that we carry our roots forward. We carry our whole story forward inside of us, and, I think for many of us it's so tempting to believe that we can cope with our past by putting it behind us. Mm-hmm. And, because time feels like that, right? Like time feels like, oh, that's gone. It's easy to convince ourselves of that, but what we lose out on that is the awareness that our past is always pushing its way into the present. Mm-hmm. Always influencing and informing the present. So if we're not aware of it, We don't get to work with it. You know, if we can't welcome our past, we can't work with it.
And I think dreams are essentially the same. So Freud got a lot of things wrong, but he was the first person to ever talk about dreams in a meaningful way. Yeah. And what he basically said was, that we have sort of like a lid, we put on certain parts of ourselves and our experience. The things that we don't believe are really acceptable to think about or want or whatever.
And what happens is when we go to sleep, that lid is something that we do sort of semi-consciously, we sort of keep those things out of our experience. When we go to sleep, that part of us isn't working that part of our brain. And so those things enter into our consciousness through our dreams.
And we can actually see based upon brain imaging that this is true. That the sort of organizing, thinking and planning centers of our brain go quiet during dreams and the feeling and the visual centers of our brain light up.
And so our dreams in a way, if we give ourselves permission to pay attention to them, have a powerful capacity to move more of ourselves and our experience and our path into awareness if we're willing to keep it there. But a lot of times, as you know, if you have a dream and then by noon you've forgotten it. Yeah. It's cuz the lid has been clamped back on that. So if we can actively, as Elijah does in the story, start to draw upon that dream as a source of our own transformation and awakening and awareness, absolutely they can be a tool for integrating our past into our present and learning to work with it.
[00:14:59] Ali: Yeah. Wow. Oh man, I have to recenter because you're taking me back to when I was reading the book and go like actually balancing and playing and being, I'm using people watch a video this swaying of like, oh, well I'm in the story, but now there's these dreams I have. Hmm. So it was just beautiful in that way for me, how you connected those things, because I do wonder now, especially as you shared some of that, how much wisdom is potentially in our dreams, And it's a lot of life.
If you think about it. I'm speaking for my own experience. I dream almost every single night. I'm an avid dreamer, and so as I calculate this, I'm like, holy cow, there could be so much wisdom in there that if I'm not really paying attention to it and bringing it forward to using your words, yes, then what am I potentially missing? Right.
[00:15:51] Kelly: And just for what it's worth for people who are thinking about their dreams and the value of them. We just have to understand the mechanics of the way that the brain is working when we're asleep. And what dreams are doing is they're basically using images and emotions to represent important, meaningful experiences in our lives.
So the part of us that likes to put things in the proper sequence and the right order, it's not working. And that part of the brain's quiet during dreams so they can feel this like, sort, sort of bizarre. But if we understand that this is images and emotions used to communicate important things that we tend to not want to think about during the day or tend to just not have time to think about during the day, then all of a sudden we can start to harvest some meaning from them and they can be real catalyst for for growth.
[00:16:31] Ali: Mm. Okay. You've given me some good stuff to work with now. Oh yeah. Okay. The other thing I wanna sort of explore is that, and I didn't mention this in the three, but it's such a part of the book. Which is why I think you title it the way is where we hide, right? Mm-hmm. And this is a conversation I have been in tune with.
Hmm. I'm pausing because I don't wanna ask something that perhaps you've answered. And so now I'm even being with my ego in real time, being like, what's the best question for the hiding in us?
[00:17:07] Kelly: What's the best question?
[00:17:09] Ali: And maybe that'll just fuel where we take this. Yeah. Where we co-create this. Because from my perspective, we all have a relationship with hiding. I'm fairly convinced there's no one in the world that doesn't hide somehow. Mm-hmm. And one of the most powerful questions I've been asked is, _"Where do you hide in your life?"_ And truly owning that. Not being like, ah, well I do this, but this, like, for in an entrepreneurial sense, I can easily hide behind my business.
I'm good at it. That's right. It's easy, you know, and I've found it really challenging over the years to stop doing that and be with the things that perhaps I don't wanna hide with. So, with that context, and it doesn't necessarily have to be part of, of the book or related to that, but where have you found it most challenging to unhide?
[00:17:59] Kelly: Mmm, man. First of all, I just wanna say thank you for sort of you modeled awareness for us there in the moment where you, you caught yourself in that ego question of what's the best question, you know? Yeah. Which was this incredibly aware moment and then you just went with the question that was most compelling to you, which I love.
So, um, you know the first thing that came to mind, I was on a call with my coach just in the last month or so. And he asked me a question and he said, _"Kelly, what was the moment in your life where you finally tucked away your childhood for good?"_ And I was like, oh. And the first reaction that came to mind was, it was when I was 21 when my parents called me up at college and said, hey, that college money that you inherited from your uncle, it's run out. You're gonna have to work your way through your senior year. And I felt very much on my own for the first time.
And so it brings me to maybe one answer to your question, which is I think we have to be aware that the ways that we hide are almost always ways to restore a sense of control to our lives. Because at that point, right, you're 21, you don't know anything. You think you do, but you don't, and you sort of know you don't too at some level, and all of a sudden you're on your own.
You've gotta like figure out how to pay the bills and finish your senior year at college and get applied for graduate schools. And, so you put that kid away, who feels very vulnerable and uncertain and out of control, and you start to develop a version of you that is in control, right? And you hide the real more vulnerable parts of you away.
And so I think for me, from the age of 21, work has been a way of hiding, hiding away the vulnerable parts of me. With the publishing of _Lovable_ in 2017 and since then, I'm trying to come outta hiding with living a life of vulnerability. But the temptation is always there. I feel so much more in control of my life when I'm working, you know, when I'm in charge and doing something and achieving something.
So, I discovered that it's less about trying to figure out how to have a better work-life balance. And more about if I can surrender to the fact that I'm not really in control of as much as I think I am and I'm burning myself out, trying to pretend I am, then all of a sudden I can actually restore some work-life balance. I choose to live in the vulnerability of not being in control of everything. Now I don't have to work quite as much. That's the first response that comes to mind.
And for Elijah, his way of being in control and hiding is giving Rebecca everything he thinks she wants, right? The life she wants, the material things she wants, all of those sorts of things. And he gets himself into a terrible predicament trying to do all of that. But that's giving him some control over that relationship. He's created a rule in his head. If I give her everything I think she wants, she'll stick around. Now I'm not vulnerable anymore. And he learns how to open up to true vulnerability over the course of the book.
[00:20:35] Ali: Oh, beautiful. Yeah, and I'm just gonna say now, I'll probably say it multiple times, that book is phenomenal. I would encourage anyone to read it just because the storyline is compelling and for me, there's a lot of gifts that just surfaced a lot of things. It also, not only could I empathize with, but I could feel, and again, I'll go back to, to just, I think it's why I'm so inspired by your writing.
The same way if we see a movie that just like rocks us. My son is seven, and we could watch Marvel Avengers End Game every single day, I kid you not, because when that core battle comes on, I just watch him now. I don't even watch the start of battle, I watch him. And I just see him light up and like his fullest expression of this little like, excited, nervous, scared, just emotional being that is ready for this adventure just comes out.
[00:21:31] Kelly: I would love to put a bow on a lot of those movies. Number one, the moment where all the Avengers show up in Endgame is to me, the pinnacle of storytelling. The patience to tell a story over the course of whatever, 15 movies. Yes. And then end up at the pinnacle moment, man, I get chills just even thinking about the brilliance of it.
But I think what you're getting at is, so, 21, when I started to take control through achieving, I quit reading novels and I started to read only non-fiction books, cuz non-fiction books were the things that they give you control, they help you make a direction in life and this sort of thing.
It wasn't until a few years ago when I became aware of this and, and they're very head-based, usually non-fiction books, um, that I started to open up to reading novels again, one of my great passions. And what I started to discover is that a story has a capacity to change us and transform us. Even more than non-fiction because it gets around all the head analysis and gets running with the heart, right?
That's when I really started to reawaken to the possibility of writing fiction is, I fell in love with it again and felt like I was being transformed by the good stories I was reading. I thought, can I write a good story that gets around all the head analysis and gets right to the heart of transformation so that you feel transformed by the time you end it, right? You don't have to take it now and apply it, but you actually feel transformed by the story itself. So that's the bow I'd put on what we've been talking about with head and heart and, and the power of story in this particular book.
[00:22:55] Ali: That lands, man. And the last thing I'll say about that book is this will again, lends to your craftsmanship the way that you evoked emotion. At first when I finished it, I was angry cuz I was like, wait a second, wait a second. No, no, no, no, no, no. And I even had my judgment on how I thought it should end. Mm-hmm. But then I believe it is the afterward of the blog, I was like, oh, cool, he literally gave us permission to say, design your own ending. Right.
[00:23:22] Kelly: That, that's right. That's right.
[00:23:23] Ali: Which is really, really liberating because in being with that story, being in that story, I had a very sort of even fixed way. I was like, this is how I want it to end.
[00:23:33] Kelly: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. You know, I, I felt like giving it a fixed ending would undo the entire message of the book if I gave it a fixed ending. Because the whole thing was about Elijah learning how to live open-endedly. Yes. Right. And not be in control of everything. So one of the effects of that is that it's, it's turning out to be one of the best book club books ever, because you get eight people together who are like, what'd you think of the ending? And why did you want it to end a certain way versus another? And it's just a great conversation. So I totally relate to that.
[00:23:59] Ali: Awesome, awesome man. Okay. Something else that you mentioned, and I'm, I'm curious, I also feel like there's something in here for people as it relates to the gifts that you bring to the world. Is you've mentioned coaching. You have not just great deep experience here, but you've made a profound impact through our Front Row Dad community in working with men and their partners, their wives. Mm-hmm. And so I'm curious about that. I've already given you basically the pre-sign up, like whenever the next couple's retreat is, I'm in.
Right. But it's one thing to have coaching and to work with someone on yourself, but then there's a whole other element in doing it with a partner, and I think just to explore this a little bit, how did you get into that and starting to support couples/partners and more importantly, like what are the biggest challenges? If you had to generalize without exposing anyone, like what comes up?
[00:24:57] Kelly: Oh, sure. Yeah, yeah. No, it's, it's a great question. Going back to my sophomore year of college at the University of Illinois, professor asked me like, what do you wanna write a paper about? What are you most passionate about? And I said, well, I don't know. Conflict in marriage, having no clue that it was because like for already 20 years, I'd felt like a marriage therapist to my own parents, you know, like that's, that's the dirty little secret. We've been therapist since we were five. So the idea was I was very interested in understanding conflict of marriage.
Started to do research on it. Ended up going to graduate school, wrote a master's thesis on how couples could use humor to soften the necessary criticism they give in relationships, and then did a deep dive on some of the core emotional needs that couples bring to marriage for my dissertation. Went out into the world, started practicing. Got disillusioned relatively quickly with what was going on in my practice because as an empirical psychologist, you're trained to teach couples better communication skills, and that's what every couple is coming and asking for, right? Is we need better communication.
I got disillusioned because I started to realize that I was giving couples communication skills and it was helping them a little bit. But for the most part, they were actually already pretty good communicators with good skills. Like they'd go out in the world and they'd be doctors and attorneys and entrepreneurs, they'd run entire households and they're fine communicated when they got together, though, it would start to break down.
So I started to ask myself what was going on there. And we can go deeply into what's going on there, but basically what I do now is I actually see the way that traditional couples work works as trying to teach a couple better communication skills as reinforcing an unproductive idea that the problem is going on between them.
Right. Oh, the problem, well, which in which for most dissatisfied spouses is actually the problem is over there and now. Right, right, right. Um, but, but at the very least between them. And so the way that I approach couples work now is I say to my couples like, basically, you are each going to be doing your own individual growth and transformation in the context of the couple's work, and you're going to be bearing witness to your partner's transformation.
And so if that's work you wanna do in the presence of your partner, and if bearing witness is work you wanna do for them, then we can do couple's work together. If not, I recommend you go do your own individual work and then come back with couples work later. It's why I love doing couples work now in that coaching space more. Entrepreneurs are a sort of a unique, uh, brand of, of person who's will say, whatever I gotta do to make this better, I will do, I have to grow, I'll grow.
And so to watch entrepreneurs and their husbands or wives grow in the presence of each other, bearing witness and really therefore gaining a lot of wisdom about what their partner needs to be supported, it is just super exciting. It's fun work to do.
[00:27:43] Ali: Indeed. So if I'm sort of parsing this, is there truth in that it's actually two journeys in parallel as opposed to like, we're on the same journey and we're tightly coupled and it has to be one unit?
[00:27:58] Kelly: Yeah. So, one of the things that I will regularly work on with, and this is true for whether I'm working with someone individually or jointly, is you are never actually reacting to the other person. You're reacting to an emotion that's being stirred up in you. Mm-hmm. Right? So now we're back to taking ownership and holding space for ourselves. So, oh yeah, they said X, Y, or Z, but you're not reacting to X, Y, or Z. You're reacting to the pit in your stomach that X, Y, or Z triggered. And guess what?
That pit in your stomach, that's not just related to this moment, and it's not just related to the 10 years of your marriage, it's related to the 30 years that happened before your marriage. And where did you first feel that pit in your stomach. And what's really beautiful and powerful to watch is that as a person is able to connect the pit in my stomach today, when you say that to my entire story, The effect on the other person is empathy.
Yes. Understanding. Oh, I see that now. In that moment, instead of feeling accused of the pit in your stomach, I can come alongside you in it and with it and sort of be there with you in it. And this is just an entirely different dynamic and really exciting things happen.
But if we think that you are the cause of the pit, I didn't have pits in my stomach before you, and you're the cause of them. And so you need to change, you just stay stuck forever. And entrepreneurs are, again, a unique breed that are willing to make that change, to take ownership for that pit and do something about it.
[00:29:19] Ali: So good. It goes a little bit back to patterns and just identifying like, oh, this is not a first. I may have just blocked out. This actually happened a long time ago. The other reason that I asked you about sort of the parallel journey is it's something I read a while ago that really shifted my perspective of my marriage with Gabrielle. It was articulated actually in a very direct way that might not land well with people, where it's like they're in a partnership.
It's not about needing each other, it's about experiencing life together. And then giving yourself permission to allow your partner to be their fullest expression and to see them for that and not react all the time and try to control, well, you're not being what I thought you would be, et cetera, which I think is part of your message.
And this was very liberating and it allowed me to see that, oh, we're both, both have our stuff, like you said. And we have our journeys, and if we can do it together without needing each other, which is still a hard thing to digest, then life can become really beautiful. Because it's this need, it's this attachment that goes in all different directions and evokes all emotions. And back to your point, having that awareness to be like, oh, this is really about me. You know? Yes. Thank you for helping me see it, is way different than being like, why did you do that? Right.
[00:30:38] Kelly: That's right. Yeah, I imagine the pressure on a person when you say you need to to do this, be this show up in this way for my journey to be satisfying going forward. But ironically, most of us are unconsciously doing that on our wedding day. We're like, okay, this first part here, this felt really great. I just feel like you have made my journey great for the last couple years. So keep doing that forever.
Right? And so at some point, if it's going to thrive, there has to be that shift to, I'm taking responsibility for the satisfaction of my own journey and you are doing the same. And ironically, when that happens, we just elevate each other's journeys so dramatically. But it's not from, you have to do it for me, it's, I'm going to do it for me. And therefore it just sort of overflows onto you.
[00:31:19] Ali: That's it. Well said. Okay. Awesome. And I've heard amazing things about your couples retreats. I know there's one coming up, so if, if we're able, we'll link to that.
One other thing, that again, piqued my curiosity. So I did a little due diligence, even though I've gotten to know you as a friend, but I enjoyed exploring your website and you shared a little bit about your story, that key question that hit you awhile ago. There's got to be more to life than this, right? Mm-hmm.
And then I'm just gonna paraphrase and let you revise this, but I think this is a beautiful thing to share. You, you stated, _"Rather along the path of my awakening, I discovered that no matter what you do in the world, no matter where you live, no matter who you know, no matter how much you have, if you don't embrace your worthiness, find your belonging and clarify your purpose in that order, you will be left looking for more."_
Dude, I got goosebumps when I read that and I just got them again, as I'm sharing this with you. Yeah. That's wisdom for me. That is a, it's a piece of you. And then there's parts of me in there where I'm like, oh my goodness. Like, are we connected? Like, just this beautiful awareness of what I'm allowing, going back to when we talked about surrendering.
And the question that that sparked is when did you feel that you found your belonging? Was it a moment, was it like, oh, was it like lightning or was it more of just this like gradual awakening to use your word?
[00:32:48] Kelly: Yeah. I think, you know, one of the principles in _Lovable_ is that this arc of worthiness, then belonging, and then purpose is something we arc through over and over again. Mm-hmm. Honestly, my friends in this little town of Dixon where I now live again. And I would even consider the town itself to be a place of belonging for me. My heart sort of feels at home here in this town as part of why we returned. So there was probably some belonging early on.
I think certainly when I met my wife, at age 22, I experienced belonging like I'd never experienced before. And then, I think of 2018 showing up at the first Front Row Dad's retreat to talk, not knowing anything about this group of guys. And I literally walked away going, oh, that's the people I've been looking for.
Yes, yes. I know. I like, I don't, they all showed up in one place thanks to Jon Vroman, but like, there they are. And so Front Row Dads has become another place of belonging. And then, really the process of finding belonging is the process of trusting who I am apart from all of my striving and doing and needing to prove myself.
It's worthy of showing to people. And so we show it to people and we sort of watch for who gets energy around who we are. Yes. Right? And, and then those are the people that we belong to. So it's this iterative process of getting clear about who I am. And who I am apart from all of my striving, practicing the vulnerability to show that to people and getting to enjoy who enjoys that.
And, you know, we're doing that for other people as well. That's what I did at that first Front Row Dads retreat is go, oh man, boom, boom, boom, boom. You all energize me. I dig who you are. You know? And, um, so I think belonging evolves in that way. I think one of the core ideas in that whole trajectory is that what we tend to do is we tend to think we're gonna get our worthiness from our purpose.
Yep. And when we do that, our purpose ends up being a very shame driven, imbalanced, sort of oftentimes, overworking sort of experience. But if we can begin to allow our sense of purpose to flow from our worthiness, it starts to look entirely different. I just had this happen this year where I sort of had it in my head. I was gonna start my own podcast like you're doing. And I caught myself at the last moment going, I think that's flowing more from what people are telling you your purpose needs to be and less from your sense of worthiness and who you want to be this year.
And so it sort of made the pivot at the beginning of the year to instead my, my energy is definitely gathering around writing right now, rather than broadcasting. So instead what I did was I shifted to an online platform called Substack, where I'm writing my next non-fiction book in public. It's called _The Inner Gathering: A Guided Encounter With Your Original Self and It's Three Protectors_. I'm writing it online with reader feedback. It's a total blast, and ironically, you know what happened?
Substack has got a little button you can toggle on, and if you do, it creates a podcast on Apple for you. I now have a podcast. Yeah. Even though I didn't think I was going in that direction at all. So again, sort of responding to our sense of worthiness to what brings us energy, and then participating in, in flowing in that direction and, and our sense of purpose and passion start to evolve with that.
[00:35:50] Ali: Hmm. Man. Yeah, I saw your Substack. I plan to get deeper into that. In that world where you're sharing and you have this smaller circle, and that's so that, oh, that story is so cool how it just kind of presented like, oh, by the way, there's this podcast in case it's...
[00:36:06] Kelly: So simple. I couldn't believe it.
[00:36:10] Ali: That is awesome. You know, because you're able to hold space and coach others and the wisdom that you bring around this arc that you mentioned. Is it easy for you to talk about purpose with people and this is the real question, do you think it's uniform or that it's actually different depending on context and who you're talking to?
[00:36:32] Kelly: You mean what purpose is?
[00:36:34] Ali: Yeah, because I've had my own relationship with it, and I'm actually, reevaluating that as we speak. I'm reading this interesting book called _Three Big Questions_ and getting really intentional about what that means because I've had a malleable relationship with the word purpose, right.
I've held it on this huge pedestal, and then I put it down and I've said, oh, well there could be purpose in anything. And as we've discussed earlier, it's taken me into Interesting, yes, places to navigate. And I'm just curious because again, you've held space for so many people. When that comes up, are you like, cool, let's talk about this. I kind of have this framework, or is it more like, what does it mean to you?
[00:37:11] Kelly: It's such a great question. I'll tell you how, even since the writing of _Lovable_, my sort of understanding of purpose has evolved. What I discover is that to whatever extent we tether a purpose to an action or to an activity or to something we're trying to achieve, then our shame very quickly seeps into that and says, I have to have a certain kind of impact for it to be enough, or I need to be doing the right thing, you know? As soon as we tether it to something that we're doing.
But if we can actually start to see that our purpose is more about our passion for how we show up in the world, the shame has a hard time getting its tendrils into that. So, for a long time, I would've defined it as I just, I love showing up, as much as I can, speaking in the tender voice of a father, so that people know their worthiness. Right. And I can do that in countless different, I can do that at the supermarket tonight. Yeah. Right. So all of a sudden the supermarket becomes a purposeful activity.
These days, I'm just so energized by the art of storytelling that I'd say one of my passions is being a storyteller. I've told stories here today, right? In a conversation, I can tell stories in a non-fiction book, in a fiction book, tell stories to my kids. They actually sort of get a kick outta some of my stories.
It's more of this question of how do you feel drawn to show up into the world in a way that brings you the most joy? And if you do that, then you can experience a sense of purpose in almost anything that you do.
[00:38:35] Ali: Yeah. I love that. Yep. I love that. It also lands with the version of the answer I've been coming to lately is like, if we can show up as our true, authentic selves, the fullest expression of ourselves, then it just answers it for us. Right?
[00:38:51] Kelly: That's it. Yeah. We don't have to, like you said earlier, get into your head and start analyzing what purpose is. We are simply living our way into it. Exactly in that way. I love that. Thank you for sharing that.
[00:39:01] Ali: Thank you. All right. Well, we covered the big stuff. The last thing I want to do before we dive into a few fun questions is I just want to give you space. What are you exploring right now? Where are you creating space? Anything that we haven't touched on?
[00:39:15] Kelly: The first thing that comes to mind, and it's so interesting that you asked me that question on a podcast called The Power of Space because, our family mission statement for this year is to dedicate ourselves to holding space for each other regardless of what the other person is bringing to us. That's our family mission statement. And it's actually also going to be essentially the theme and the focus of Companion Camp 2023 is going to be diving deeper into the art of holding space for our people.
So I am really taken up right now with this art and this practice of holding space for our people, which is always also holding space for ourselves again. To hold space for you, I have to hold space for that pit in my stomach that comes up when I'm trying to hold space for you, right?
And so that's what I was trying to do last night to come back to that original story about my son last night, picking him up. You know, I am trying to hold space for all the emotions going on. I mean, I'm watching all of the terrible little things I wanna say to him, you know, to just sort of like discharge my frustration and my discomfort.
I'm trying to hold space for all of that. So to hold space for him in the moment, I had to hold space for myself. Eventually I was able to discern that the only thing I wanted to say was, hey, next time the text would probably be best if it read,_ instead of going to the gym, I want to go to Gage's house. Is that okay?_ And he was like, yeah, I could do that. I was like, all right, good. Um, but it required an enormous amount of holding space for everything else I wanted to say, and all the reactions I wanted to have. So right now, that's what I feel very passionate about is helping people cultivate the capacity to hold space for each other and for themselves.
[00:40:54] Ali: Hmm. What an answer. And so, Companion Camp. Beyond excited for what you're gonna create there. I wanna share a really quick story that just happened as a means of empathy and to honor where you're creating space. An hour ago I was, I like to move my body so every hour I just leave my home office, go downstairs, walk around, and today Sepia is home, my five-year-old daughter. She's watching cartoons. She loves cartoons, and you know, I've had a whole dialogue there with like, oh, should I let her watch all these cartoons? Like, nope, I'm just gonna shine into this. If she loves it, it brings her joy, she can do it. But I got a little antsy as I'm kind of doing some steps around the house and I wanted to play with her.
So I like jumped on the couch and started tickling her. And she's like, no. And I'm like, what? Don't you wanna play? She's like, no, dad, I wanna watch Sesame Street. Mm. And I just looked at her and I tried to tickle her again, and she looked at me again. It was just like, no. So I was like, ok, you know, I had to give it at least a second attempt. I was like, okay. And I was a little hurt. But I didn't make a big deal about it, right? And so I got up and continued to do some walks just to move my body, and then like five minutes later, this music started happening on Sesame Street. So she gets up and she starts dancing and she starts chasing me.
And I looked at her, I go, no, no, I wanted to play earlier. You said no. And I looked at her and I didn't make a huge deal about it, I just said, you said no, and I kept walking. So I'm playing this game with her now, right? Mm-hmm. It's like, oh, I wanted to play, you said no, now you wanna play this. Right.
So anyways, here's where it gets really beautiful. 10 minutes later, I'm like, where did Sepia go? And I have to prepare for this cuz I'm getting excited to record with you. And I look at her upstairs and she's like, waiting for me to check on where she is. And then when we make eye contact, she evokes this, this angry like, right. And I'm like, oh, what's going on? And then she starts like, stepping back and like giving me even more of an angry grimacing look. And I'm like, okay. So I walk upstairs. And you know, she's not very tall at five years old. So I sit Indian style to get to her level and I look at her, I go, what's going on? And she just starts crying.
This is the the beautiful relationship we have where we really exercise our emotions and we try to use words when we can. But her body told me what she didn't even have to say. She's like, I'm sad. I'm like, why? And I said it cuz I kind of knew. She's like, cuz you don't wanna play with me. And I'm like, well, how did you think that made me feel when I asked?
Right? And so we just sat in the emotion together for probably a minute and I just watched her and I said, well, I got five minutes before I record with my friend. Do you wanna play now? And she's like, yes. And so we jumped up and wrestled for a bit and then here we are. What I got from that is like, it's just being able to be with them, in their state where they're gonna get upset. They're gonna get emotional. They're gonna get sad, and not being the serious adult that like, oh no, I don't have time for that, or, oh no, you know, that's okay. Next time we'll play because it's so easy, back to your story, yeah, to let anger fuel our actions. Right?
I could have been really angry about this situation even though it was, is a smaller situation. Whereas I love back to your intention of like, ah, can I just hold space for this? Even if it's five minutes, can I just be with this? So you feel acknowledged, you know?
[00:44:17] Kelly: That's right. That's right. What a powerful thing for you just to sit there with her in the sadness and to, to be able to say, I felt it too. I have two reactions to that. One, I'm thoroughly impressed by your capacity to slip in and out of work and play. I don't have that switch. I'm just really super impressed.
Number two, my kids are now 19, 15 and 13 and you know, you just end up with a number of regrets. I think one of them for me would be, I was so concerned with my kids not having to manage my emotions. I think, cuz I had had to do a lot of that as a kid with my own parents. That I didn't let them know I had any, mm-hmm.
That I didn't let them know that they were affecting me. And I think family is the place where young people learn how to do companionship and in companionship everybody's got feelings. Yes. And emotions and are being affected by each other. So I think that's really beautiful for the two of you to be talking about how you're impacting each other. That to me, strikes me as sort of the foundation of some really solid companionship. So Beautiful, man. Thank you for sharing that.
[00:45:14] Ali: Of course. And thank you for that gift. Yeah, it is, it's a big thing. And it's not to say that, um, switching in and out of play and work doesn't have its challenges cuz it does. Sure. I'll literally like go from playing with her cuz she's home three days a week to getting on a Zoom where there's serious discussions with clients. I'm like, oh shoot, I have to shift back. I gotta come back. Yeah. Because I've caught myself kind of being like, is this that big of a deal? And people are like, yeah, it is to me. Okay. Yeah. Okay. So yeah, you're right. So shifting that, it's, it's interesting.
Okay. You up for a few fun questions to wrap up?
[00:45:48] Kelly: Sure. Yeah, yeah, of course.
[00:45:50] Ali: Sweet man. The first is, what's your favorite fiction book of all time?
[00:46:00] Kelly: Oh, that is a great question. I haven't thought about it in a while, but the last time I was asked this, I said Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. Hmm. It's a gorgeous book about a rural pastor, in a small Iowa town, and it's really the story of like, generational things passed down from fathers to sons. And it's about a senior man who happens to have a very young son, but he knows he is terminally ill. And so he's wrestling with what he's passing on to the next generation, and it's just written beautifully. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
[00:46:31] Ali: Gilead. I will check that out, dude. Thank you. Yeah. Awesome. Okay, next one. What animal are you most scared of?
[00:46:40] Kelly: Ooh, that's a great question. The honest answer that comes to mind is my own dog, because we just got our carpets cleaned and he, like, he will start to soil them. So we've figured it out. Okay. We have this basement area where I'm sitting now and we realize,, he's housebroken everywhere else. He thinks this is the wild down here. He thinks this is outdoors, so whenever he wants to like play and be, you know, fierce like an animal, he wants to come down here and play. He, he thinks he can pee down here. So currently my nine year old little Miniature Schnoodle is the animal that I'm most afraid of cuz these carpets were not cheap to get cleaned. Okay.
[00:47:18] Ali: Oh, that is so good. That answer has not been given. Oh man. Oh, that brings me this beautiful nostalgia. My dog that passed last year, which is really heavy for me, but just this, this amazing grief that I, I was able to feel. She used to do these crazy circles and to when you said, I feel like this is the wild, she did the same thing, like there're just times where she'd like run and the carpet, you, I'd just watch it like, oh, rip, rip, rip. Yep, yep. But this was like her just expressing that true, wild dog needing to be free, man.
[00:47:56] Kelly: You totally got it. That's what he does down here. We call it crazy, baby. We'll go crazy baby, crazy baby. He just runs around like, yeah, exactly. Yeah. I'm sorry for your loss. That's real and deep, man.
[00:48:06] Ali: Thank you man. Yeah. Thank you. Okay, last one, brother. What is one of your favorite childhood memories?
[00:48:14] Kelly: Ooh, favorite childhood memories. It's amazing when you say that. All of the ones that flash through, I'm just gonna say the first one that flashed through. Mm-hmm. Um, my parents both were, um, returned to school, college students. And so they were both back in school when I was in like second, third grade.
Well, my dad to go to his undergraduate program, we had to move away from this town at Dixon where I had to move away from all my friends and my grandparents. And so my parents that year, and it was two years, but the first year picked us up from school on the Friday of Christmas break and told us that we were gonna like go to a local park.
This was in Missouri, so it's warm there. And then we drove past the park. And we were like, hey, you missed the park. And they're like, well, what do you think about, just keep, keep going and we'll spend Christmas with grandma and grandpa back in Dixon. Oh, oh yeah. No. Here's the moment though.
Somewhere along it's like an eight hour ride. Somewhere along the way I fall asleep and uh, I wake up. We're pulling into Dixon at like one in the morning. There's no other cars on the road, and these huge snowflakes are falling and like hitting the windshield as we're pulling into town. That moment of like, you know, there are still peaceful, safe places in the world to return to. Like, ah, it was so good. So that moment came to mind. The snowflakes hittin' the windshield.
[00:49:35] Ali: I love that. Would you call that a core memory that is just like implanted, that's arguably something you'll never forget.
[00:49:44] Kelly: I think so. I can't quite remember how it worked in that movie, Inside Out. Yes. You talked about Core. Yeah, right. Core memories. Yes. But in the peace, in the belonging, in the home, in the place where my heart feels at home, core memory, that one defines Dixon as that for me. And I have no doubt it's part of why we moved back here to raise our kids. I just have an incredible fondness for this place.
[00:50:07] Ali: So great man. So great. What a perfect place to end. I appreciate you, brother. Appreciate you creating space for this, all the space you're creating in the world. Anything left unsaid?
[00:50:18] Kelly: I don't think so. I feel more at peace walking away from this conversation, so like, what a blessing and a gift for me. Thank you for holding this space for me. I'm grateful.
[00:50:26] Ali: Oh, thank you for that. All right, well I know I'll see you soon and I appreciate you being here with us, man.
Ali is a creator who's passionate about coaching people through desired self transformation. That's a fancy way of saying he wants to help people do their inner work. He's a father, husband, podcaster, blogger, technologist and many other things that inspire him to stay curious and learn. He's also a huge advocate for nature, hiking, adventure, testing physical limits and experiencing the natural world.