Risk and Rewards – Ernest Prabhakar
[00:00:00] Hey guys, today I had a little bit of an issue when we first started recording, and so we’re gonna bounce right in here with dr. Ernie Prar. He will introduce himself and I hope you enjoyed the interview,
[00:00:16] Intro to Ernest
Ernie: I’m Dr. Ernie Probhakar. I have a PhD in physics and like many physicists, my generation, I went into management consulting to study the business world, and I went to it with the eyes of a physicist to try to understand how business works. And it was really fun at 40 hours a week and a waste of my life at 80 hours week..
And so looking for something more meaningful. I actually ended up joining Apple in 1997 during the second coming of Steve Jobs, and I thought it’d be fun to kind of just hang out and watch what happened for a few years. I didn’t really think that I would stay, I didn’t think the company would survive.
It did as you may have heard. And so I got to be there during the entire Steve Jobs second era from 97 through 2014.
And I still looked at [00:01:00] it with the eyes of a physicist. How does this place work? Why does this place work? And I was really struck by the extraordinary personal growth and productivity that was generated.
But also saddened by the deep emotional toll it took on a lot of people.
So I left with my, and to do a startup in 2014 trying to really answer a question like, is it possible to get those levels of performance in a more humane way?
And this has led to an extraordinary series of misadventures.
My first, my first startup was a, a glorious learning experience. I don’t like to use the word failure, but that’s certainly an the way it felt at the time. And since then I’ve been working at various startups and working with various startups and nonprofits and actually got a certificate into this discipline called spiritual entrepreneurship, which is one of the things I think that got us connected is that.
I’m passionate about this idea of entrepreneurship, of helping people bring new things into the world to serve their community, whether that’s the [00:02:00] corner store or a multinational startup.
But I’m also equally intrigued by this question of what kind of human beings do we become and do we need to become in order to deliver that value to the world.
And this is, you know, a raw tension for me, you know, almost every day of how do I balance being the person that I want to be with, making the impact I want to make in the world.
Working for Apple
Miriam: Yeah. Wow. Ernie, this is so timely because I have been asking some of those same questions more or less my whole life, but. Like more intensely the last month and, you know, six weeks or whatever. This is gonna be a very thought-provoking conversation.
So before we jump into that latter half, you’re the first person I’ve talked to who has actually worked for Apple, and I’m like, I, love all things Apple.
I took a class earlier in the fall that required me to buy a pc and it’s my first pc ever, [00:03:00] and I hate it so much.
I hate it so much. So I’m constantly Googling on my Mac. How do you do X on a pc? Because I just don’t know.
So anyway what did you observe in this nexus between whatever made Apple successful and also being a physicist?
I’m, I’m not well versed in physics, but I’m fascinated by physics.
[00:03:28] Asking Why
Ernie: So the way I describe a physicist, it’s the two year old who never grew up, and you just keep asking why, why ? Yeah. And so the best framing I have for what I learned at Apple,
the thing that struck me that was underappreciated, that Steve Jobs, you know, had an amazing taste, an amazing drive, an amazing passion, but he had this unusual gift for what I like to call human system design.
And he said, how do I make something that is obsessed over [00:04:00] quality and greatness, but also scales to a massive corporation.
So I think people have talked about this idea of the top 100, where you get the top a hundred people in the company, which is not just the top senior people. It could, it’s like half really senior people, but half people who are just subject matter experts on what the company needs to obsess over for the next year.
And it gets them in a room for a week. And they all get on the same page about what’s real, what’s important and what’s necessary.
And then they have those relationships and that shared grounding in reality that they use to drive all the microscopic decisions and decentralized activity that takes place throughout a massive multinational corporation.
And. Since leaving Apple I’ve discovered what many people do when they leave Apple is that the rest of the world is not intentionally designed and people don’t obsess over, like at Apple, it’s just [00:05:00] sort of a given. We worship at the altar of design, as I like to say.
There’s a wonderful quote I heard, which is that there is no user error, there is just bad design.
Will and Desire
Hmm. If you take that seriously, it profoundly changes the way you look at the world when you realize like, okay, the world is this way, but as Steve jobs like to say, it was designed by somebody no smarter than you, and you can change it if you have the will and the desire.
But the second thing is you realize that and this is perhaps the hardest lesson, is that if people aren’t behaving the way I want, then it’s my responsibility to design a better environment, a better context for them to make decisions.
Cause if they don’t see what I see, then I’m not embedding those values and that vision in my storefront, in my marketing material, in my onboarding process.
That’s a heavy lift. [00:06:00] It is much easier to whine and complain about why people don’t buy my product about why, you know, this politician doesn’t solve this problem.
But to say no, it is my responsibility as a designer to deeply understand the world I am living in, and find the path of leverage where I can make the difference I seek to make. And that is probably the biggest thing I got from my time at Apple was A, this is possible. B, this is insanely difficult cuz you have to unlearn so many things.
You have to bear so much emotional weight. You have to confront so much institutional shame. But then the third point is that this is totally worth. This is the most human thing that you can do is to look at the world with fresh eyes and [00:07:00] not harden your heart, but engage with it in a deeply personal, vulnerable way that will make the world better than it was when you found it.
And that to me was sort of the spiritual journey that I experienced at Apple that I’m still sort of trying to unfold and unpack in my various endeavors since then. Yeah. Wow. I feel like my brain is exploding because there’s so many places, , you could go with that. There’s just so many questions I have about this whole notion.
very counterintuitive to like business at large and everybody talks about corporate culture, but you’re talking about a ton of unlearning and I think I want to ask you know, in, in terms of a bottom line and efficiency and all this other stuff, There is this notion that you go slow to go fast and that at at a a more superior level, go slow to go fast.
Because if you’re trying to go [00:08:00] fast, you’re gonna just bundle it up. And yeah, you’ll initially get there, but you won’t have the infrastructure and the ideas that allow you to go really further. And so I guess my question would be, What did this look like? How were they teaching you to unlearn some of this stuff?
[00:08:20] Journey in Innovation
Ernie: I mean, Apple, far and away has been incredible with their design. And not to just harp on that company, but they really changed the standard of doing business, of making products. And I remember at some point someone saying, you know, that Steve Jobs said something about the interior of the computer that nobody was gonna see.
Had to look elegant and had to look a certain way. You know, so, Let me see if I can parse out a question there. . That was a lot of words. Yeah. Let me, let me say one I think useful context so people understand what I’m talking about, because [00:09:00] there is a world where it’s bad to care about your customers, and that is when you are doing invention, trying to create new things that haven’t existed, like the Wright brothers trying to build an.
They weren’t worried about sales and marketing, they were just trying to get the stupid thing off the ground to fly. Sure. Right. And there’s this journey in innovation, which used to be something that happened in generations and now it happens in months. Mm-hmm. , which is that you have to sort of cut off the world and sink yourself into invention and produce something, and you have to be very sort of producer centric and you just need to do whatever you can just to get the airplane off the.
But what happened was is that, you know, like a decade later, you know, Curtis Wright and the airlines and everything all happened, but now it’s like you’ve got maybe a, a couple of months, you know, maybe a year or two if you’re working on something really hard to figure that out. But soon afterwards, you have to start shifting from this [00:10:00] producer centric mindset to a consumer-centric mindset.
And that’s the hard transition. It’s like if you’re just trying to get the factories running and stuff out the door, you know, you can’t afford to think about things. You have to focus. And it’s important to have that focus time and just follow the routine and work the process and grind through. But as soon as your, your idea, your product hits the customer, the world changes.
And then you have to untrain yourself from all those habits of mind and say, I had to have an irrational belief in myself and in my product. To get this far, I have to surrender that irrational belief that carefully constructed box I was living in and start unfolding myself and saying, okay, what if I’m wrong?
What if You’re Wrong?
What or what if part of my vision is wrong? What are my atomic assumptions? I have to break apart into subatomic particles to realize that they were half [00:11:00] right and half wrong, which are the parts of my identity that third me so well to just brute force my way to this point that are now destroying not just the people around me, but the impact I want to create.
And so it’s that cyclical process. Like, yes, there is a place for focusing on the bottle line and efficiency and tuning, but those places are becoming rarer and shorter lived. And so the, the meta skill is precisely learning how to recognize the context you are now in and let go of the things that made sense in other contexts that are my favorite word is mal.
They don’t adapt well to your current situation, even if they were incredibly valuable and precious and just grieving that loss of identity. Is I consider the master skill of the 21st century. Wow. That is impressive to string these thoughts together. I also [00:12:00] love that word maladaptive, and I use it all the time.
[00:12:03] Executing Visions
Ernie: I was thinking as you were speaking, you’re talking about two totally different personalities, and usually one person has one or the other, but it is extremely rare for someone to have. Or to be able to like navigate through those different spaces. I was talking about this with someone earlier today, talking about vision and the kind of person who has vision versus the kind of person who executes and who is strategic in their you know, just putting things together.
There’s the one guy who designs the Lego thing and there’s the other guy who builds it often. They aren’t the same person. Well, what’s funny, Is that that was the way the world used to be. Mm-hmm. , right? You had a job for generations. Yeah. Like there are communities in India where like they have a city which is just does washing
Like that’s all those people do. Their ancestors like, and the thing that’s, that’s fascinating about that. [00:13:00] In many ways, those people are happi. Because their future is predetermined and they just find joy in their relationships and doing the same thing over and over again. Yeah. The problem with those worlds is that they are not adaptive.
Right. And the danger, and there’s this, there’s this tension between sort of a low energy state of contentment and a high energy state of responsiveness and the world we are entering in. Those islands of consistency are, are disappearing for sure. Right. And we should treasure them where we find them and honor them.
But we shouldn’t be nostalgic or diluted. I mean the arc of human history. You know the arc of modernity, you know, and I as an Asian American, Indian American, I live in this borderline between the traditional culture my parents grew up in and the modern culture that, you know, the [00:14:00] hyper modern culture of Silicon Valley that I live in now.
And I realize that the price of modernity is to become less happy and more neurotic because there are more things you can. Yeah, right. If you have, if everything’s up to the gods, if there is no technology, if there is no way to make things better, you just follow the rituals and either you live or you die and you’re just, you’re happy when things are going well.
You grieve when things are going bad, and then you move on when you live or you die. It’s just what it is, but it’s like, Hey, why did that person die? That we have changed? Could I be, you know, planting crops and improving my yield so we don’t starve? And there’s all these things to worry about in the modern world because we have all these options and we celebrate the options.
Even as, you know, we make a lot of work for people like you to therapy because we’re so stressed by it. I actually have a framework that I’ve been using to help think about [00:15:00] this, which I think kind of ties into this, thinking about it as a. There’s places for different things. So the joke is everyone tells you to follow your heart.
Following Your Aorta
I think you’re off by a an inch. You should follow your aorta instead. Which is another, the big blood vessel that comes out of the heart. And aorta is an acronym that stands for ambition, openness, risk, thankfulness awareness. So you start with the ambition, the desire of the thing you wanna bring in the world.
And I, I think people who, in your audience here, some of them are entrepreneurs who have an outward focus on, I wanna build this business, I wanna hit these revenue goals, I wanna impact this market. I wanna prove that I can build this thing right? And then there’s people who have internal ambitions. I want be happy, I want to have a healthy family life.
I want to be able to improve my relationships or connect more deeply with certain significant people. and all ambitions are useful because they su, they’re a signal that you are not just a lump of [00:16:00] rock existing in peace with eternity. You have something within you that is different than what is out in the world, and that is what it means to exist, to have this tension between being and becoming.
And so you start with that ambition and, but the next point I think is so critical is open. Is that you don’t wanna just act on your ambition. You want to be open to what has been done before, what are the best practices, what are the realities of the market? And so that you take the time to pull in all these different things, both understanding internally what’s driving you, and then externally what is out there in the world.
And then the third level, the R A O R is. The, the second danger, the first danger is going off, you know, half cocked without thinking things through. The second danger is getting stuck in analysis paralysis. And this is something that we don’t teach well. One of my, my heroes, Seth Godin, talks about we shouldn’t teach math.
We should teach poker. Yeah. [00:17:00] Because if you teach poker, you, you, you’ll learn, learn math. They’ll learn risk. They’ll learn finances. They’ll learn empathy. Yeah. They’ll learn all these things because learning like the old, the old world in like the 20th century, it was bridged. Everything was on the table.
[00:17:14] Learning Risk
Ernie: You could count the cards and make a calculated risk based on the probabilities, which were easy to define. Right. We live in what’s called a VUCA world volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Yeah. And in that world, The skill of learning how to estimate, manage, and take risks in particular, like this is the big one for entrepreneurs and even in relationships.
What is the smallest risk you can take that will increase your understanding of reality? And this is the thing that, you know, destroys so many entrepreneurs. They like mortgaged their house. They bet everything and they kill themselves when their thing dies. Where it’s like, you know, Hey, could you do a market survey?
Could you get a job at your nearest competitor? , [00:18:00] could you do small things that would dramatically increase your understanding and reduce your uncertainty? But it has to be real, right? You have to be actually risking something, spending ego points as like to say burning ego to buy learning. Mm-hmm.
is the risk. So ambition, openness, risk, and then this is the thing, which is where you have to stop and sort of retreat to your ancestors, which is to be. After exercising your ego and your will to try and make a change, to take a risk to bet something,
stop, breathe. It’s like, okay, that was awesome. That was awful. I learned some things. I unlearned some things. I gained some things. I lost some things, but I choose to just. And be thankful. A friend of mine said something profound. He says, you know, the [00:19:00] reason the truth doesn’t set me free is I don’t let myself dwell with it long enough to get uncomfortable.
Dealing with Discomfort
Mm. Once I start getting uncomfortable, I reject the truth and move on. Either I try to fix it or I try to forget it. Yeah. And to have the spiritual capacity to dwell with the discomfort. To face the uncomfortable truths and be thankful for the opportunity to learn them is the place where learning happens.
That’s how you break these cycles, and I, I’ve come to realize that like the, the, the depth of the problem you can solve, the, the breadth of the problem you can solve is really to the depth of discomfort you’re willing to dwell. That perhaps is the biggest thing that you would see modeled at Apple where they would say, okay, we’re gonna take years to figure out the right way to solve this problem.
And I have some friends who spent two years locked in what they call the purple dorm to build the [00:20:00] iPhone. Wow. Right. They had two teams competing. One to build something based on the iPod, one to build something based on Mac o s 10. And they basically said, okay, we have to make a decision in two years.
Knowing Your Discomfort
We don’t know the right way thing to do. So if you’re willing to sign up, you know, and devote two years of your life. You know, you could be a part of finding out and perhaps building the real solution. And they had to live with the uncertainty of not knowing if this would ship, if they were doing the right thing but believing it in their hearts and then doing whatever it took to bring that thought into reality.
And that dwelling with the discomfort sitting with it and. knowing yours. You know, I, I, I often find it difficult to get people to imagine even doing that outside of Apple. And I think part of it is they find it just hard to believe that there’s anything worth that level of sacrifice. Sure. And the, the healthy way to look at it.
And it’s not always possible and you [00:21:00] make shortcuts when you have to. It’s to say, look, this is the thing that is so important to me. That I would rather fail trying than be content. Never knowing. Yeah. Yeah. You know, let me, let me ask a question. Lemme just give you the last point just as to Oh yes. The aor.
Ernie: Yeah, right. Sorry. Yeah, yeah. Ambition, openness, risk, thankfulness. And then the last aid, which I kind of already teased, is awareness. Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. is you get, this is where you come to, and this is the thing that you’re most thankful for, is I suddenly understand. My strengths, my weaknesses, my insecurities, my dreams, much better than I did when I started this cycle.
And I understand reality. I understand other people. I understand what is ultimately of value and importance to me, and then now I can have a much more refined ambition and start this cycle all over again. You know, and maybe it’s like a refinement of the same thing. It’s like, okay, I’ve succeeded in my business now I wanna succeed in my marriage.
And [00:22:00] you pivot and that’s fine. Like, the point is, is that there’s no shame when you realize the point of the universe is to learn and grow and failure is just one step. That helps us. Unfold as my friends at Al l a, I like to say . This idea of unfolding is very curious. So somewhere in between r and t, you made a comment about the ego and being willing to risk some of the ego.
I’d kind of like to push into that space because this notion of building something. Requires ego, it requires you saying you have something to bring to the world, whether that’s a product or a service or you know, whatever. I have something to bring and I even have a responsibility to bring it. And there also are all of these spaces of you have to get ego out of the way and, you know, surrender your [00:23:00] ego.
Surrender Your Ego
So I kind of would like to hear where you go with that. Yeah, so this is where I’m still working on this, this framework. I actually have this role playing game. I’m designing with my teenage son called Quintessence, which is about these four or five phases. And, you know, one phase is all about you know, self-development and we call it you’re building ego points.
Because you wanna try and prove yourself, put yourself to the limit. You know, listen to the fire within you, right? And then the next phase is karma points. Every, all the ego points you built up have generated karma in the world. And now you have to work off all those ego points. Which have turned into karma points and you’re trying to decrease your Karma Point score.
And this, this framework is a lot about you push out into the world and then you pull back, like you have an idea that you’re pushing the world and you pull back and listen to the ideas and you push, you know, and you know, try and change the world and that the world pushes back. And and, and it’s funny cuz.
Before, it’s like, [00:24:00] oh man, I have all these karma points. I wish I hadn’t had so much ego. What did I do myself? Why did, but then when you discover in the third turn of the wheel is that all those karma points become race points that you can share with others. And you say, wow, thank God I made all those stupid mistakes.
[00:24:19] Making Mistakes
Ernie: And like I’ve had all this epic failures in my startup life because these become the treasures that I get to share with other people. So it’s that sort of reciprocal thing. I, I have this picture in my head. I haven’t worked out yet of like a four stroke engine and you can do the two-stroke engine, like a motorcycle, but it’s very noisy and, and efficient.
But if you have the grace to do the four stroke engine, you know, reciprocal motion, push, pull, push into the universe, pull back, push on an idea, pull back and learn. That reciprocal motion is where you actually build these engines of sustainable in. Oh, that is such a thought provoking image. I, while you were talking, I was [00:25:00] thinking about, okay, where’s the intersection with physics?
And it’s like, oh, right there. Right there was the intersection. And and yeah, physics is very much one of these things where you withdraw from the physical world, the material world, the financial world, to just try to contemplate the pure essence of how things are connected and relate to one. And it was a great educational experience, but it was also deeply artificial.
There’s the old saying that graduate school is the snooze button on the alarm clock of life. Hmm. You know, because apart from the occasional atomic bomb, there isn’t a lot of real world consequences to the things you’re studying. And a lot of my journey since leaving higher education, I did 11 years at places like m i t and Caltech is really trying to grapple.
The emotional reality of who I am as a being and the economic realities of ordinary people’s lives. And I’m still very much, you know, an elitist ivory tower [00:26:00] place, but I’d like to think I’ve learned a little bit about what it means to actually live in the world and care about other human beings. And, you know, it is hard because like you have to forget that in order to be able to think deep.
And grapple with what is the reality inside you? You need those places of withdrawal and seclusion. But if that’s all there is, it ends up becoming very hollow. You have to reemerge into the world and face the brokenness within and the brokenness without, to really get to the next level of actually understanding what is real and what matters.
And it’s just those rhythms of. And the and one of the things that I’m learning is that like I need to have patience with those who are in the phase right before and right after me, because I get frustrated that they’re not where I am. But I’m trying to, I was thinking this last week, I was talking about this with my son on Saturday.
You know, I realized that, you know, [00:27:00] They may be in a parallel phase, and rather than me trying to drag them back to my phase, I need to push them forward away from me to make their own mistakes. And this is hard when you’ve got a 14 year old son, you can only imagine the kind of mistakes he’s likely to make.
Being a Parent
But realizing that like, hey, if the goal is not to be a rock, to just be safe and comfortable, then we have to take risks and you know, It’s probably better at this stage. It was different than when he was younger. And maybe it’ll be different when he is older, but at this stage it’s probably better for him to make his own mistakes rather than repeating mine.
Sure. Yeah. You know, and not just my past mistakes, but saying like, well I think you should do this. He could be wrong. That’s the mistake I would rather make. Cause it feels safe. Sure. But you know, isn’t it better, you know, within some boundaries. But probably larger bound, less than he would like, but more than I would like , where he has the freedom to make his own mistakes and discover the [00:28:00] consequences and learn from them.
And. It’s hard because either we don’t want them to make mistakes or we wanna rescue them when they do. Yeah, for sure. And a lot of it, frankly, is actually self-compassion cuz it’s actually not about him. It’s about the shame I feel, the pain I feel am I as a parent processing my own shame and grief and pain so that I have space to let my son experience his own.
[00:28:27] Taking Moments
Ernie: And this is where I think the, the. The phrase I’ve been using, which I think is a, applies to business or family or whatever, is the idea of a moment is this realizing, Hey, you know, I was gonna sell something to a customer and I thought they would love it. And the customer says, eh, maybe we’ll get back to you.
Like, that’s embarrassing. It’s frustrating. It’s disappointing. It’s can be scary, but it’s like, hey, let me just take a moment and if I could take a moment and. Release the stress and [00:29:00] say, okay, let’s forget all the consequences. Can I be curious? And if I’m really lucky, I can be curious with them in real time and say, Hey, thank you for your honesty.
What I’m hearing is that what I pitched to you doesn’t really address what’s bothering you the most right now. I apologize for wasting your time. We just take a moment and help me understand what exactly is the problem that bothers you the most. That if you could solve, if it would solve that problem, you know, it would transform your life.
And if it’s not something that our company makes, maybe we can help you find someone who does. But I just wanna understand what is it that really matters to you? And being able to get out of my own hand all the emotions I’m feeling, and be curious and live in that state of wonder. And invite them in rather than trying to, as my usual instinct to try to, you know, browbeat them into agreeing with me , that is when these generative possibilities of unfolding open up.
Sure. Yeah. I really [00:30:00] like that illustration of that. I was thinking about just across, I mean, I don’t know if you mind telling us in general or specific how old you are. I would like to understand how these various. Ideologies developed throughout the different decades because the way you’re talking about things, I think would be very difficult for someone like your 14 year old to wrap his brain around.
Like, his brain isn’t even finished cooking yet. You know what I mean? , like, he’s, he is just not quite there yet. And I do think that we get frustrated when people are not in the same place that we are. Anyway. Yeah. Take that question again where you’d like it. Yeah, sure. So I think that I mean, I’d like to say you can put it onto decades these days.
It’s probably gonna be more like every four years because the world is growing. My son is growing up way faster than you know, I ever was. Sure. Yeah. Right. But I think the my journey was, I mean, for me it’s mostly a spiritual journey. [00:31:00] I chronicle my journey based on the understanding of my faith and the religion I grew up in and the religions I chose and.
the places my residents seem irrelevant and then, you know developing a spirituality. But I guess there’s this there’s these different levels people have of spirituality and one is the world is just the way it is. You know, we, and this is like, let’s call us the first 10 years or so, right?
The Way it Is
Is that you know, my parents believe what they believe. Technology is kind of the way it is. You know, everything works the way it. And like, that’s cool. You, you may like it, you may hate it, but it’s just the way it is. And then the next decade, the teens, you will, it’s a wait. I have agency. Maybe let’s, let’s, let’s look more, more generous.
The first state is a world of wonder, right? Everything is new. Everything is say you, it just, the fact that it is, is amazing. But then the next level is the state of agency. It’s like, Hey, I don’t have to just accept the world the way it is. I can have agency in it. I can change things. I can be my own [00:32:00] people.
I can choose my own friends. I can choose my own music. I can choose the way I dance. I can choose to do things. And that aligns with this idea of ambition and desire that I want things this idea of want. But then the next level, if you go on like the, the adult development scales is you identify with your wants, but then you identify with your values and you say, well, actually actually no, sorry.
The next thing Joshua wants is actually relat. I identify with, you know, the, my romantic partner with my peer group, with this company I joined. And these relationships are actually what defined me. And it’s really important that I be with my friends and so forth. And then the third level, if I remember is values.
It’s like, okay, I like these people. They’re my friends, but I realize they actually want more different things out of life than I do. I have different values than they do, and these values, And so I started thinking about my values, whether it’s truth or equality, or ambition or success[00:33:00] or love. And then the next stage after that is self authorship.
Is that I’m not defined by these values. I am defining, I, I, it’s not that I, I am not defined by the value. I have a value and I’m choosing consciously to have these values. These are things I can hold and say, well, you know, I do value justice but I also value achievement and there’s a tension there, and I can kind of define what I mean by those things to fit with the life I want to.
And then I think there’s a level beyond self-authorship, which is probably self forgetfulness, which maybe, you know, almost is returning the full cycle back to a state of nirvana. And then you reincarnate in and either literally or metaphorically and the cycle starts all over. But I think that the thing, look, you know, and I don’t wanna blow people’s minds too much and I wanna thank it to was like, boys realized like, We are all in this journey and [00:34:00] the journey’s happening faster, right?
Ernie: You know, I go through the levels of spiritual development in a year that like, it takes my, took my, you know, my father decades to, to do, right? Sure. Cause the world changes and there is this competitive aspect as if the people that you’re depending on or the people you’re selling to are changing faster than you.
You know, you’re stuck. You, you, you become irrelevant. And so but I think the biggest phrase that I would wanna leave your, you know, we don’t have to wrap up just now, but I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned and I wanna leave, is this idea of self-compassion. You are exactly where you are supposed to be at this point in time.
Every success, every failure, every dream, every vend. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The universe willed for you to be here at this point in time. Receive it as a gift drink the bitter cup and say, okay, this wasn’t what I wanted. I’ve [00:35:00] lost a lot of things that I thought I had, but most of them I didn’t really own anyway.
And I’ve gained something much more precious, which is I can see reality in myself more clearly and I may not like. But it’s, I choose to believe it’s better to see reality as it is, than live in comfortable delusion and be thankful. And if you can find that point of thankfulness, then you can find that place of self-compassion is like, I don’t have to beat myself up for failing to be something other than what, what I am right now, but to dare to believe that this is a gift, and this is the starting point to become something more, right, is to.
Start with Thankfulness
Start from that place of thankfulness and then say, okay, I can be thankful, but you know, I feel like there’s still something left within me that I want to bring out into the world. What’s the old saying from the artist is to die empty. . I don’t wanna die thinking I didn’t write that novel. I didn’t sing that [00:36:00] song.
I didn’t tell that person I love them. I didn’t try to at least, you know, sell or ship a product. Right? And so then say, okay, I don’t wanna do it the way I did before cuz that was incredibly traumatic. , what’s a smaller you know, what is the openness I can. To like think about my ambition more precisely and more wisely.
And then what’s a small risk I can take to force myself? Even as just telling my friends, Hey, at the end of this month I’m gonna give you a blog post about this thing I wanna do. Like tell somebody that, and you know, take a small risk that’s achievable with a deadline, with people who care about you, who keep you accountable.
And then, Or you know, if you’re, you know, going crazy, trying to keep a young family going or a business running, say, I’m just gonna take three hours on a Saturday morning to just sit with my journal and ask myself how I’m feeling. Cuz I never do that because I’m so busy being there for other people. But I’m just gonna carve out three hours just to be there for [00:37:00] myself and maybe I’ll just slam that bunk shut and not look at it for another month.
But at least I’ll have done that one wrist to look and see what’s hiding. All the striving and the achievement. And you know, that’s the exciting thing is that we do live in a world of extraordinary abundance. We’re not worried about being eaten by a sabertooth tiger and starving to death when winter comes most of us
[00:37:25] Being Peaceful and Compassionate
Ernie: You know, and a lot of the anxiety we create is because we don’t know what’s important, what’s important for us to survive, what’s important for us to thrive. And if we can accept that, yes, there are things that have to happen. Life is challenging. People we love are at risk of catastrophic failures in many cases.
But the best gift I can give the world is actually to be grounded and at peace so I can see them and their reality [00:38:00] clearly, rather than distorted by buying, need to be able to fix things quickly. We can create. That’s how I think we create this spiritual entrepreneurship, the sense of unfolding our own psychological development in a way that actually helps us build better product, build better companies, build better families, build better communities, and it is hard.
It is really, really hard. You know, I’ve been trying this in various forums since nine 11, and I feel like I’ve described more things I don’t know how to do than things I do know how to do. Sure. But I am encouraged that a, I am a more peaceful and compassionate human being than I was when I started, and certain things that were opaque to me are now translucent.
And certain things that were murky are now clear. Even if some things that were clear are now murky . Sure, sure. [00:39:00] And, but, but, but, and I guess maybe that’s the second thing is hope. This idea that hope is not guaranteed, but it’s realistic that I have a grounded hope that the world can be better than it has been, and that I can be better than I have been because I have seen.
and perhaps even more importantly, understood what can be done. You know, I saw an extraordinary miracle where Apple was six months away from bankruptcy becoming the most valuable company in the world. Yeah. Crazy. Crazy. And it’s like, you know, I, but you know, on a more personal level, I was having some real conflict with a family member a few years ago.
And I just ran out to Trader Joe’s just cause I couldn’t deal with it. And I was sitting there and this was like April of 2020 and it. It was Sunday afternoon, the parking lot was half empty, which never happens at Trader Joe’s . No. And then people were wearing mask lined up every six feet. And it’s like, [00:40:00] I, it was like God was saying to me, Ernie, you have no idea what’s possible, how much the world can change in a matter of weeks and months.
It is arrogant for you to feel despair, , you’re just not smart. Hmm. And, and maybe that’s the a, a good line to close on as a microscopic sale, I was going through, I, you know, building all these startups. I went through like seven startups after I left Apple. And just feeling failure after failure.
Like none of them were commercial successes. None of them got traction in the marketplace. And I went back to my hometown and I discovered that a bridge I had built as an eagle scout in high school had gotten torn away by the floods. Oh. After like 30 years. Yeah. And the guy from the Hark District who I worked with, he’s retired, he handed me a photo of the bridge and just left it at that.
Building a Bridge
And I looked at it and said, that just broke my heart. And it’s like, and I’m only here for a week, what can I do? But I went and talked to somebody at the park district and. [00:41:00] We just hashed the plans. Like, well, you know, and there, there’s no more Boy Scouts in our town. But he says, you know, there’s a young rotary club I think they call it Impact.
And he says maybe they’d be interested. So I called them and they said, yeah, let’s try it. And before we knew it, they had done a Kickstarter, raised a money, bunch of money, and they built a bridge. And I went back there and I told these kids, it’s like, you know, I was in a place where I felt like everything I had tried to do had fallen into.
And somehow this thing like, and ask the kids like, how many of you, like I asked the leaders, did you even think this would work? And they go, no. None of them really thought it would work. They’re just going along with it. And miraculously, a bridge was built. In fact, they built two bridges cuz they inspired enough people to, the partnerships donate enough money to build a second bridge.
Open Yourself Up
People can walk. And it’s like, the thing I learned is that you are more powerful than you think. You. Yes. And you are not as smart as you think you are. [00:42:00] Yes. and living with those two truths is like, I’m not, and that’s like I have infinite power and in living space. Right. It, it’s, it is realizing that I can do anything.
If I’m willing to open myself to the universe to learn the hard lessons, it has to teach me. There is no limit to what we can accomplish. Sure. Ernie, what would you say to the young version of you? I’ve thought about this a lot and you know, like, what could I say that wouldn’t, that would change the trajectory?
Because all the mistakes I feel like I made were the necessary ones. I think the one thing I would say is you’re not gonna believe me, but someday you will discover that you are deeply, deeply loved. . Hmm. And that everything will have been worth. Yeah, that seems like something probably every young person in this country and the world probably [00:43:00] needs to hear.
[00:43:00] Mercy Ships
Ernie: Yeah, and possibly a few of us older folks too, from time to time. , . Oh my gosh. Ernie, thank you so much for just a very engaging and fun conversation. I appreciate you and your time and the work that you’re doing in the world. We mentioned at the beginning or before I started recording that I like to do a donation as a thanks for your time and you chose Mercy Ships, so we’ll send that donation to Mercy Ships in your name.
And again, just thank you. This was very fun. And actually, if I may ask you a favor, I’d like to do it in the name of my father, Dr. John Probakhar, who is a surgeon. Totally. I think he’s an a mercy ship. He’s done similar Crips like that. But I, it would mean a lot to me to just do that in the honor of my father.
And, you know, my father’s a little disappointed that I’m a PhD and not an actual doctor like my brother . Like, this is my one little way to kinda give back slash give back to him. So . Yeah. Yeah. Oh, that’s great. Of course we’ll do it.
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