Jess Pettitt: Normal
Jess Pettitt is possibly my newest friend of this season. I have heard so much about her from mutual acquaintances and we had regularly been in the same rooms but never really had time to connect. That’s why I invited her to chat with me via zoom and thought you fine people might enjoy eavesdropping. Jess wrote the book Good Enough Now and is a living dictionary definition of the term “Good People” – So what did I choose to chat with Jess about… Obviously I picked the simplest option! In Episode 9 I talk to Jess Pettitt who shares her insight into the word “Normal”. Listen in on our conversation and enjoy being a fly on the wall to our discussion. Jess is online at www.goodenoughnow.com and has a killer video about folding a fitted sheet – I am not kidding – It’s amazing!
The full transcript
Phil Jones: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Words with Friends. Today, I am speaking with a friend about a word, like we always do here on Words with Friends. And who do I have this time? I have my friend, Jess Pettit. Jess, welcome.
Jess Pettitt: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Phil Jones: So, outside of giving Jess a wonderful bio about all the things that make her awesome, the biggest reason that I invited her onto the show today, is I wanted to talk about the word “normal”, and then I thought, who is the most normal person I know, and then I thought of Jess.
So Jess, why might I have picked you to talk about the word “normal”?
Jess Pettitt: Well, what’s actually funny is that I think most people would think you chose poorly, but I think you did a great job. I am a regular, nice person. I’m authentic in the sense that I’m the same person on stage as I am at the crack of dawn or in the middle of the night, and I think there’s a lot of people who are like me.
Phil Jones: Okay. Now, you say a lot of people are like you, etc., but we’re still here talking about the word “normal”. What does the word “normal” mean to Jess Pettit?
Jess Pettitt: To me, what “normal” means is accessible, or the idea of something being normalized is when it doesn’t seem extraordinary. It doesn’t seem like a Haley’s Comet, unexpected, surprise. It’s just something that becomes comfortable and secure, and helps other people feel comfortable and secure.
Phil Jones: Got you. Now sometimes, I see the word normal confused with right and wrong, and people might use it either in self-talk or talk towards others where they might say, that’s not normal, or is normal, and looking to be able to define it as an absolute on thing or another. What’s your take on that?
Jess Pettitt: Well, the dichotomy of right and wrong is pretty normal, right? That’s how we boil everything down, but what we really mean is typical or atypical. I think that the idea of something being atypical makes it more interesting, but it doesn’t necessarily make it abnormal.
Abnormal’s really just about recognizing or being self-reflective enough to be responsible for our own sense of entitlement, our own sense of expectations.
Phil Jones: Okay. Have you ever made decisions or choices in your life to either do something, to try and follow a path of normal, or perhaps even an opposing choice to do something that was purposefully non-normal?
Jess Pettitt: Oh, door number two, for sure. I have spent my entire life trying to be an outsider, an outlier, the thing that’s unexpected, the thing that’s way, way, way, way not that choice, and there’s a whole crowd of people of us over here.
Phil Jones: Okay, so that’s normal then?
Jess Pettitt: I think so.
Phil Jones: So trying to be not normal can end up being normal? I’m confused.
Jess Pettitt: So are we, but we wear the t-shirts that say it’s okay.
Phil Jones: Ah, okay. So normal or not normal, either way is okay.
Jess Pettitt: Being yourself is okay.
Phil Jones: Okay. Now, there’s so much challenge in the world right now, where people are being pigeon-holed, box labeled, put into certain different camps. Either you’re a believer or a non-believer, that you’re pro, that you’re anti, that you’re all of those kind of things. And that crops all of the time. How do people wrap their head around this need to label people? What’s your view on that?
Jess Pettitt: Well, I think the idea of labeling or putting people into boxes is often how it’s also talked about, which is also a completely normal practice. I think the idea of doing this really helps us be able to feel safe and secure, and prepared. So we make judgments and assumptions based on what we feel we perceive, based on what we think is normal, but then based on those judgments and assumptions, we allow somebody else to be in our normal world, so that they can fit in to where we’re at.
Then, my suggestion is usually recognize that you do that, and they may be slightly different than you think they are. But labeling helps us as a starting place.
Phil Jones: Okay, so when we think sometimes that labeling people might be a challenge or it might be a bad thing, then it can actually be a good thing?
Jess Pettitt: I think it can be a good starting place. I think if we’re using good/bad, which is again, a dichotomy right, but if we’re using good/bad about it, I think it’s good for you to be able to notice your own habits, and how your lived experience has created these expectations that you use for labeling.
The bad side, which I think is fairly normal and pretty common, is that we don’t allow someone else’s truth to actually show up. We force someone, or we treat someone the way we assume is correct for them, without ever checking in with them or checking in with your own mistakes, your own bias.
Phil Jones: Okay, so bias is a thing, even if it’s a self-bias?
Jess Pettitt: Oh, yeah. You can have conscious and unconscious bias, implicit and explicit bias about yourself, as well as other people.
Phil Jones: Okay. Is normal about trying to fit in?
Jess Pettitt: It could be. I mean, I think normal could be about trying to fit in to what you’re trying to fit into, or expecting other people to or not to fit in. When we think about positive or negative bias, I think that, that’s about, “Oh, yeah. They completely click. Oh yeah, they’re a fit,” and then negative bias is, “Oh, no. They would never do.”
I always think about hiring committees, like, “Who would you drink a beer with?”
What if someone doesn’t even drink beer? The positive bias is usually an instant assumption that they fit, and a negative bias is usually an instant assumption that they don’t. You might be right, but you’re making an assumption.
Phil Jones: We all reach that pivot point in our life, where we’re looking to make a change in direction, a movement towards or away from something. And often, we look towards what right or wrong, or what even normal would be in that set of circumstances, with a view to be able to sometimes move towards that thing, without even the knowledge of whether that feels right to you or not.
There’s a normal way that you should show up in the work place. There’s a normal way that if you want to be a speaker, this is the normal set of tracks to run on. If you decide that you want to work in the world of fitness, then here are some normal tracks to run on. This is what normal looks like in the form of a role model.
How does it kind of appear in your work, where people actually want a thing, but then don’t feel right in trying on the version of normal that sits in that world?
Jess Pettitt: Well, I think the key word is the trying on. If you’re trying to be a role model, you’re trying to start your own business, you’re trying to convince somebody to buy your widget, you’re trying to bake and you’d have never done it before. The idea of trying on something new is constantly seeking rejection. And if you take ownership and responsibility for constantly seeking rejection, then it becomes relatively normalized that you’re doing something brand new and it worked, you’re doing something brand new and it didn’t work, you’re doing something new and you got to some place where you didn’t know what to do. But that trying on piece is where, I think, the most innovative and creative thoughts happen, where all of us, even if we’re doing exactly the same thing day in and day out, at some point in time, somebody else has to do that same thing a different way in order for it to improve and get better.
Phil Jones: Okay, so it’s being brave enough to try. It’s putting yourself into those situations where you give it a go, and if it doesn’t feel right, then trying something different?
Jess Pettitt: Sure.
Phil Jones: Okay. Now, answer me this as well. Is, from a normality point of view, if I’m at a crossroads in my life, and I’m trying to put myself into a new direction, what do I look for? How do I decide what to do next in those tough times?
Jess Pettitt: Well, I think that what’s interesting about … It’s almost a trick question. I don’t think you meant it as a trick question, but what means a tough time for somebody, may appear to be much more of a struggle outside to someone else, or the flip. Like when we were talking about social media, people may see this completely perfect thing, and there’s really a struggle happening, and that disconnect is why an actual authentic conversation is needed, to find out what is actually happening.
I think it’s just as normal to misread, or to not be paying attention to cues as it is doing something brand new, which is not necessarily actually original, and that is actually trying to engage in a real conversation. That’s when you can find out what’s really struggling, what’s really behind either the veneer they’re putting on, or your lenses, because you don’t necessarily take the time or patience to see the truth.
Phil Jones: Okay. Tell me some more about veneers and lenses.
Jess Pettitt: I think it’s a two way process, that I limit what I’m able to see about other people, or other opportunities, or my surroundings based on what I’m interested in seeing. I think that we also, often as humans, whether we are at work, or in a different family setting, I think we switch certain codes in how we show up and how we interact with the other people based on what we think is appropriate. So we cast a veneer to make us fit in to what we think is appropriate for that space. And neither side of this is actually engaging in an authentic conversation.
Phil Jones: Okay. And what are the risks, then, to doing that, because we all look to judge. We make instantaneous view points about the others that we meet. No doubt, they do the same towards us. What are the real risks of perhaps, having this tinted lens or showing up with a veneer that isn’t authentic? What are the consequences of that, showing up in your life?
Jess Pettitt: I think that … From a personal place, when I burnt out doing diversity work that I had been doing for the last 10 or so years, about three years ago, I think I stumbled into these risks. What I realized was, I needed to do something outlandishly different in order to get some different results. And where, yes, I can take responsibility for the judgments and assumptions that I make, and that makes me feel safe, that makes me feel prepared, and I can leave space for other people’s truth, where I can do that.
The risks involved … And even if I take full responsibility for the judgements and assumptions I make so that I feel safe and prepared, if I don’t understand those habits, and I don’t understand how my lived experience taught me those habits, and then, what are the impacts of those habits on other people, I can’t … Or maybe I can, but it’s extremely more difficult, I think, to have an authentic, vulnerable, curious, generous based relationship with another person.
So I might feel like everything’s going along fine. It’s great. I’m good. There’s food in the fridge. My dog is smiling. Things are good. But the risk is my fulfillment as a human being in this life, and I think that there are a lot of perfectly fine people who are hollow, and don’t actually feel a sense of purpose or a sense connected to something greater than themselves. I think that the most abnormal thing you can do is recognize that the fuel that you have to use in order to connect with other people is actually fueled by your own connection to yourself. That’s the biggest risk, I think.
Phil Jones: Okay. So if that doesn’t show up with authenticity, then you almost burned too much fuel in doing so?
Jess Pettitt: Right. It takes so much work. When I first started as a speaker person, I thought I had to wear navy blue, lots of navy blue. I worried about my content. I worried about my sense of humor. I worried about what I found interesting in the world. I have a very quick mind, and in elementary school, that was seen as a weakness, and now it is seen as a strength. But I’m able to use or utilize the tools that I have, in a way that I feel is really helping me have a more authentic life. And I don’t mean that in a cheesy mural way, but I mean like, I’m really proud of who I am, almost every day when I go to sleep.
Every morning I wake up and I’m like, “Oh, how did this happen? Okay, let’s see what we do today,” and it’s a goal of mine to be able to be proud of what I’ve put out into the universe that day. Even on days off when I just Netflix, great, that’s what I needed that day.
Phil Jones: Okay. So if you look back on your life, particularly your speaking life where you mentioned that you felt like you needed to fit in, and you felt like it was uncomfortable from the start, what were the checkpoints that you kind of worked through, that if you look back on it right now, what you can see as either catalysts or tipping points or key defining moments between that point and now, that helped you work through it and come to this change?
Jess Pettitt: What’s fascinating is that it’s just my fear of being welcomed that is also what fuels my, “I don’t need to be welcomed by nobody.”
I’m doing those at the same time, so when I wanted to fit in, I felt like I had to do this, and everything in me is like, “No, what are you doing? Why would you even do this?”
And then I finally … I saw two women at a National Speaker’s Association meeting, who had either different colored hair, one of them also had feathers in her hair, and they may not even be working. I mean, they actually are working, but I didn’t know that. But the audacity of doing something so normal was like the breaking point that I needed to realize that I was doing something so unnatural to me, that if I just did what I did every single day, I’d just showed up in my normalized way, not only is that good, because I’m actually pretty good at being myself, but it’s also a fantastic point of distinction, my normalcy, from other people in the same, normal category.
Phil Jones: This is awesome. I’m learning so much about a word just from listening to you talk here as well. Normal isn’t perfect. Normal is real, and the only person who can define normal is you to yourself. It’s not something you look for outwardly.
Jess Pettitt: I mean, let’s think of the concept of normal. When you first said the word … When you first said, “Jessica, you’re going to get normal,” I was like, what?
The first thing I thought of, and I’m a very visual person and it’s always about food, but when I first heard normal, I was like, what are you even thinking? There’s so many more interesting words.
So then that’s me doing my normal thing of trying to go outside of what is being prescribed to me. So then in my normal way, I came all the way full around, and was like, “Oh, yeah. It’s totally normal.”
So then, the food trigger that the word normal has to me, is when you’re making biscuits, and it’s still dough, and it’s covered in flour and they haven’t baked yet. I don’t know why but that’s what came up with me, but that’s what came up with me.
Phil Jones: I’m down with this. I’m loving it.
Jess Pettitt: So what I love about this whole idea, is that if we’re using biscuits that are covered in flour and they haven’t even baked yet, there’s so much potential. It’s not that hard to get to the flour covered dough part. And a biscuit isn’t that fancy. But it’s a critical part of a lot of meals. I think that it’s … If I trust my instincts, that’s why unbaked biscuits showed up, is that there’s not a lot of glory and glitz connected to what we think of normal.
We use it as a really pejorative term, but what’s so powerful about it is that everyone has one, and for a lot of us, they’re deeply connected to each other’s definition of the word normal, so that we can set what a normal outlier is, and what an abnormal thing is, which is actually pretty normal, because we can identify it.
Phil Jones: So it’s really a system of benchmarking, or almost labeling for want of a better word earlier. I find it fascinating that you picked the word biscuit, because obviously, I’m British, and the word biscuit means a different thing to me than what it does to you.
Jess Pettitt: True.
Phil Jones: So what’s normal for a biscuit for me … Like you’re saying that many meals are made with biscuits, and I’m like, “That’s not normal.”
Jess Pettitt: Oh, but couldn’t it be.
Phil Jones: We could have cookie and a meal, right? Chocolate chip cookie on the side of a meal.
Jess Pettitt: That’s the best kind of meal ever!
Phil Jones: But that wasn’t what you were talking about, you were talking about the biscuit that goes with gravy, and there’s going to be a lot of people right now thinking, a biscuit, with gravy. I urge them to either go try it, go try that on for a while and see how they feel about biscuits and gravy, and look it up on the internet if you have no idea what it is that we’re talking about.
Jess Pettitt: It’s a really gross American thing that’s delicious. What I think is important thought is this is a great thing about lens in veneer, right. Is that, I am originally from the south part of the United States where southern biscuits is a religious experience.
Phil Jones: It’s a thing?
Jess Pettitt: It’s a thing, but it is not a thing everywhere else. But what is completely ubiquitous in one place, if we flip to cookies, which is more likely to be biscuits that you’re thinking about.
Phil Jones: Yep.
Jess Pettitt: If I call that a cookie, we’re still talking about something that’s ubiquitous, we’ve just expanded what we need. There’s a lot of places in the world that don’t have cookies or biscuits.
Phil Jones: Right. And equally confused by the concept of both.
Jess Pettitt: Right. But can we … What I think would be the most abnormal, normal thing to do would be to sit down and have this conversation. Instead, what happens is you’re wrong.
Phil Jones: So what happens is when something doesn’t fit your mold, your vision, your version. Then it can create a conflict amongst people.
Jess Pettitt: Right. Like why do I need to tell you to call it a cookie?
Phil Jones: Right. It doesn’t matter right. I think this is the point, so we’re talking about accepting it, and understanding.
Jess Pettitt: Or just recognition that other people do stuff in a different way, and your way of doing things is what you think is normal, their way of doing things is what they think is normal, and look, they’re both normal. So then we get back to typical and atypical. Right?
Phil Jones: Yes, so normal’s not a lens, I’m seeing normal as a mirror.
Jess Pettitt: Yes.
Phil Jones: If you’ve got something for you to be able to see throughout into the world, it’s something that should look back at you, and it’s your safe little bubble, at all to be able to pass judgment on anybody else, and this is quite liberating actually, because the world chases a version of normal with the desire to be different. To me makes absolutely no sense. And then social media exaggerates this to because everybody’s looking at everybody else’s what else, what if, and how about, and causing immediate judgments about what they think about those people in the world. And then trying to say, I want to be more like that, assuming that what they see or what they think is that other person’s normal, and they want to swap their versions.
Jess Pettitt: Right. When I was pontificating about biscuits being dough covered in flour before their baked, talking about meals, there’s got to be something in you and your other listeners that are like, what is she talking about? And you probably had to decide, am I going to ask her about this? Am I going to bring this up? And I didn’t know we were going to talk about biscuits, right? But that’s the piece, that inner dialogue, we’re responsible for that piece. And we can use very easy tools of actually engaging in a conversation, that would elevate our relationship in a way. But often we choose not to do it, we kind of hide behind this fear of rejection, or fear of misunderstanding, or trying to fit in, or not fitting in, and write this very complicated story about what could happen if we do something and then we don’t do it.
Phil Jones: Okay.
Jess Pettitt: That has been normalized, but it doesn’t help elevate our relationships.
Phil Jones: So normal is a comfort zone, or a safety blanket.
Jess Pettitt: You said something else I think is important, so if we do this mirror idea and we do this safety blanket idea. Like what it seems like, you’re mixing metaphors, is what’s going on. It’s a dance between both a perception and a validation. So a mirror is all about self-perception. That you’re also really dependent on other people perceiving how you are because that validates your own self-perception. So there was a video that I saw on Facebook this week, of a man who, at the end of the video, he’s crying in his car. At the beginning of the video, he’s sitting at a Wendy’s across from an older woman eating a Frosty, asking questions about like, who are you? Do you have any children? Are you married? Et cetera. And the woman’s like, no, I have no idea what you’re talking about. No. Why are you asking me these questions? No, I don’t have any children. And when he gets in his car, and breaks to him crying in the car, that was his mother. And he’s like, I feel like my mother died today. But his mother has Alzheimer’s. And it was the first time that his mother really had no recollection of who he was.
Phil Jones: Wow.
Jess Pettitt: So does he cease to exist as her son, if she no longer has the validation or the perception of being the parent? And in that moment, these are very ordinary experiences that children are dealing with, with their parents who have Alzheimer’s or loss of memory or traumatic brain injuries, things like this. This is a regular occurrence that happens to some people. But the balance between the blanket, the comfort of being validated, and the perception of what you actually see, is the tango between the two.
Phil Jones: Ah . . . . So I guess what we’re discovering here, is that normal is a belief and not an absolute.
Jess Pettitt: Sure.
Phil Jones: And that would allow it to mean that normal can change. Where if it’s an absolute . . . .
Jess Pettitt: You have your biscuits and I have my biscuits.
Phil Jones: Right. But I can take influence from your biscuits, and I can learn to love both and guess what happens, is through this acceptance and understanding of others, then that version of new normality, that can be recreated in organic or periods of time, can grow in one direction or it can grow in the other, it’s interesting. But it is acceptance in the first instance, that normal is a fluid place and not this final destination that is crystal clear with perfectly trimmed edges, and something that you are required to fit in, as a cookie cutter, I guess that’s keeping with the cookie metaphor in place, or the biscuit metaphor in place, is that normality is not about fitting in to a predetermined mold, it’s something different to that.
Jess Pettitt: Yeah. I know physical fitness is an important thing for you, so the example that I typically use is yoga.
Phil Jones: Yep.
Jess Pettitt: So I evidently am quite good at yoga, and every year when I go that one time, the instructor is always like, wow you’re surprisingly flexible, and as a larger person I think that it’s shocking, it’s good for my ego, and then I don’t go back. Imagine how good my yoga practice would be if I actually did it on a regular basis.
Phil Jones: Right.
Jess Pettitt: Doing yoga once a year is not actually a good yoga practice. I’ve been told that I’m actually good at it. There’s no reason for me not to do it more than once a year. Right, so I do it once a year and sometimes as a joke because sometimes I don’t even get it in once a year, but as much as I joke about it, what I think is important to understand is that you don’t have to be competent at it, to do it all the time. And often if you are good at it, you don’t even think about so you don’t do it all the time. So if you’re redefining the fluidity of what is normal, you can add things into this bucket all the time. And I’m sure whatever your favorite workout routines are, the very first time that you ever did that new thing, you might’ve loved it, you might’ve hated it. And the 7000th time of doing it, you may still love it, or hate it.
Phil Jones: Yeah.
Jess Pettitt: It’s the ongoing conscious practice, of doing something that makes it a practice.
Phil Jones: And I see something different there was well. What I find crazy interesting, because I just came from the gym this morning not so long ago, is if I go and work out in a hotel gym, and nobody else is in there and I feel like the strongest, the fastest, the most limber person on the planet in that environment. Part of me sees that as a win. And then I go to New York sports club this morning, and I’m surrounded by what looks like a professional setup of athletes that make me feel like an absolute loser, and the experience is altogether different. And it’s about creating a benchmark for normal, and the impact and understand what that can have in the world, because if I look at the five of other people in the hotel gym where I’m traveling, and I see myself as being above that, I’m like they’re normal, I’m better than normal. And then this morning in the gym, I’m like they’re normal, I’m a way off of normal, I’m abnormal, I feel uncomfortable. And I wonder how many times that, that thing shows up in the world for other people. This judgment, this boxing piece, this need to be able to use other people to benchmark our success. Because I guess that could be quite poisonous.
Jess Pettitt: It can be if it’s used for bad. Right. But you can use the force for good too. And I think this comes up in everything.
Phil Jones: Right.
Jess Pettitt: With gyms. Planet Fitness is this whole point of distinction, is that you’re not allowed to be a gym jerk. There’s no judgment in this gym. But when you’re in the gym you still know if you’re performing better or worse than the person next to you on the treadmill.
Phil Jones: Right. You’ve looked across and you checked out that, you know, what pace are they going, what incline are they at, how long they’ve been going. I found one number, if one number only, like yeah, but I’m up a man.
Jess Pettitt: Right. Exactly, so the point I think is important about benchmarking is that benchmarking isn’t just one drop. Right. And I think that this comparison thing that we always say like, oh, it’s so bad to compare yourself, well we don’t even know how to navigate space without comparison. So let’s just compare, but let’s pay attention to the role that perception and validation falls into how we feel that we measure up to our definition of normal, as well as the definition of normal that we think they have. Right, so I mean even if you’re in Starbucks and you have a really complicated Starbucks order, there is a point that makes you think, I know this. Right, when you go to In-N-Out, you order off the secret menu, you feel superior. Because you have the ability to do things that other people can’t. You can also feel like, I’m so sorry can I just get a half pump of hazel. Right. You can also be … You can internalize it in a way that makes you feel more high maintenance, or more abnormal. And the reality is, is that, that conversation is actually what maintains our individual sense of normal and the group collective sense of normal.
Phil Jones: Okay, so the normality in that, can I have an extra pump statement is the … What’s normal to you is that you don’t want to put anybody out, that you still like things your own way so that your expression on the whole thing is with apology, as opposed to with demand.
Jess Pettitt: Right. Which are now we’re getting into shrinkology right. So, you have to be … You are worthy of a half pump of hazel, go for it.
Phil Jones: Yeah. Ask like you mean it. So if we’re in a position right now where we’re looking to be able to pivot, we’re looking to be able to make a change, we know role models are out there, we’re feeling like we are abnormal, we want to be more normal, we’re feeling like we want to go out and be truer to ourselves in making the next step. The world can present us versions of perfection that can be paralyzed. You mentioned about the navy period in your life, and you looking towards other people in terms of role model. And then you made a decision, to be more like yourself. I don’t want to get all woo woo on this thing right now, because I think the term authenticity, and showing up as your true self, and loving yourself, et cetera, have become trendy things to be able to say.
Jess Pettitt: That’s what I meant by mural words. They sound like a mural.
Phil Jones: But I want to get to the truth in that point as well. Because, if I showed up everyday as the exact way that I would like to show up every single way, and I was always true to myself and my feelings and my purpose at that moment in time, I don’t think I would have the success that I have in life right now. I think sometimes I need to use a veneer or sometimes that I need to make a conscious decision to fight how I really feel in that moment, to be able to deliver a service or to be able to perform in … Well congruently towards somebody else’s goals more so than mine. The risk to being … to me to being truly authentic all the time, is I’ve become an asshole. So, how we fight that balance, because we can’t through my lens anyway, is that I don’t believe that I can show up as my true self in everything that I do, because some sets of circumstances require a different version of me at that moment.
Jess Pettitt: Well I think that goes back to definitions right. So, I think that … First off, when you said become an asshole, first off we’re all assholes. You have become aware in a moment that you are more of an asshole than maybe you wanted to be at that moment.
Phil Jones: Okay.
Jess Pettitt: The great equalizer is that if you ask anybody else, someone is going to think I’m an asshole. So just be responsible for that, right.
Phil Jones: Okay.
Jess Pettitt: It’s a chain or contagion of events. So now we’re switching metaphors from food to clothing. So, if I was all worried about not wearing enough navy blue. For the record I never bought any navy blue. I just felt like I was supposed to. My like, I don’t want to do that. Luckily happened fast enough with enough success, that I realized I didn’t have to wear navy blue. Now what is interesting is one of my favorite sweaters is navy blue. I really like it. But I’m not wearing that navy blue sweater because I was told I had to. Right.
Should I apologize that my dogs are very excited. A firetruck just went by. No I have dogs. You’re welcome. we’re at my house. You’re in your house. Okay great. So there’s a sense of authenticity in the moment that I think is required. And not everybody can handle your truth. So you get to pick and choose which pieces of your truth you’re going to make available to other people. And sometimes you’re right, and sometimes you’re wrong about what other people can handle. Which again is where that conversation comes in. So yesterday, one of my best friends here is getting ready to do a huge presentation on Tuesday. It’s like, a career changing conversation for her. So she’s nervous. So first thing she does, this happens to me when I used to go on big dates or something, I was like, ah! So the first thing you do is borrow someone else’s clothes, because your wardrobe is suddenly not good enough. So where I don’t feel like I dress professionally enough as a woman speaker, my friend who’s doing a very important presentation, came to my closet to pick more professional clothing. Do you see the contagion of events?
Phil Jones: Yeah, Yeah.
Jess Pettitt: So she picks a dress . . . I will admit it is a dress that I can’t get rid of because there’s nothing wrong with this dress, but there’s something about it, when you put it on that I don’t like. But I still own it, so I was like, oh, maybe this is why I still own it. It’s so that she’ll wear it. She gravitated to that dress, she put the dress on, it fit her just fine. She came out in the dress and she was like, “What do you think? Do you like it?” And I’m like, “Technically speaking it fits you”. And she’s like, “I know. Look, I’m . . . .” She was totally uncomfortable, it really wasn’t her.
But it certainly was a professional outfit and it fit her well. She goes home, and I’m thinking how ironic is it, that she came to my closet, and she picks the one dress that I feel really weird in, and then she came out like “ooooohhh”, I feel when I’m in that dress. She took it home, and then eventually she called me an hour and a half later and was like, “I’m going to wear my own clothes”. Great, good. She was like, “I need to feel confident, I’m just going to wear my own clothes, this is what I look like, it’s my research. I’m going to do this.” Thumbs up. But I think she needed the whole cycle of that, in order to feel confident enough in her own clothes. Because her clothes, if we go back to the word of the day, her clothes were too normal, and then what she needed to do was normalize her own presentation. Now all of a sudden her wardrobe is fun.
Phil Jones: I love that. So it’s about comparing for a second, it’s about going to try it on for a short period of time, maybe look towards some of the role models that exist in your life or some of the things that you want to have more of, or be more like, or do more things that are similar to. Go find the truth in that thing, get as close to the truth as possible, in this scenario actually living in the thing for a few minutes. And then making a decision and saying, you know is this my new normal, or shall I migrate back with the knowledge, and the experience to say actually I’ve just found some more confidence. It’s kind of a negative role model type piece.
Jess Pettitt: What am I doing here? What am I trying to normalize here? And what she was trying to normalize, was the abnormal thought she had about the presentation. So instead, she just normalized the thoughts she had about the presentation and then suddenly her wardrobe was fine.
Phil Jones: Right. And I guess that’s the other thing when a lot of change goes on in our lives. That what we try to do is we try to make additional changes alongside that, yet in this story here, it was having the confidence to be able to stand by the things that actually truly made her feel comfortable in the moment, that allowed her to go and do something that was demonstrably different, and something that was more fearful, because those things became a crutch to them, and I remember when I started in my speaking career, one of the things that made me feel more confident and comfortable, was a well fitting jacket.
I started speaking when I was ridiculously young, and I had like a, crazy baby face to go with it. And having a jacket with shoulder pads in it, made me feel like I had some additional superpowers. It was like a coat of armor or a cape. And it only took me to kind of, probably, three, four years ago for me to confidently present in different sets of circumstances. In a T-shirt or just a button down, or anything that way round. Because normal for me was a jacket. Without that I’m like, I’m not ready. I can’t do this without that. Because that’s part of the act. So I suppose experience allows you to be able to go through change, seeing what other people have, and accepting that what was right one day isn’t necessarily right the next. This is super interesting. I find it crazy the way that we try to normalize everything and want it to be neat and tidy, when really it’s a scrappy mess isn’t it?
Jess Pettitt: Well, if we take self-employment, if everything we do is about … And maybe not even self-employment . . . trying to sell something. If everything we do around branding, is around making a point of a distinction. Either from our function, or the problems that we solve, of how we are different. And then we package ourself in exactly the same way, aren’t we making it harder for other people to actually get their problems solved?
Phil Jones: Yep. We sure are. But you do some things that are demonstrably different right? You did this crazy video. Tell me about this crazy video you did and then what happened with it.
Jess Pettitt: Which one? There’s so many.
Phil Jones: Yeah you know the one.
Jess Pettitt: Well I don’t actually know which one you’re talking about.
Phil Jones: I wanted to see if you knew the one. But I mean the one where you teach us how to fold.
Jess Pettitt: Oh. The folding one. Okay, see I didn’t know. The video that you’re referencing, because there’s a number of them. I did a series a couple of years ago. Somebody asked me what problems do I solve outside of diversity. So you’re a diversity person great, but what other problems do you solve? And it really stumped me because I had put so much of my quote/unquote, “expertise” into this one basket, I couldn’t figure it out. So I started calling it Jedi Skills, and was looking for my Jedi Skills. And so the first one that I did, these two are not as popular so it’s the third one that you’re referencing. But the first one that I did was how to eat a pizza roll. Tony’s pizza rolls.
Phil Jones: Yes.
Jess Pettitt: They are breaded, pockets of lava salt and when you cook them, the first bite you were going to burn the roof of your mouth. So that was the first one. That’s my personal favorite. But not as popular. The second one was about chapstick. I don’t tend to lose things, so I use the same chapstick until it’s empty. Everybody else loses their chapstick so they didn’t know what the bottom of the chapstick looked like, as you can tell, not as riveting. Then finally I was like, okay, I need a third one because I like things in threes. And what I realized was is that I can fold a fitted sheet, and that is the video that went through the roof. You have sheets behind you, fitted sheets are not a unique thing.
But what is unique is evidently this struggle. So with a struggle as you know this kind of like, roll and tumble, shove it in the closet hope the door closes kind of system. Or I have also learned you just own one, so then it’s in the wash, or it’s on the bed. That’s a pretty handy one I thought. Or the third one is, you actually know how to fold the things. What’s interesting about your jackets with shoulder pads is it’s actually the same concept, when I teach people on airplanes all the time of how you should fold your jacket appropriately before you put it in the overhead bins so it doesn’t get dirty.
So you put your hands in the shoulder pads or in a fitted sheet in the corners and you fold it and flip it over on itself, so then it’s one piece, that is the basic thing. So I made this video about folding a fitted sheet, and I wouldn’t say that it went viral outside of my kind of fan club, but inside my fan club it went berserko. And so since then, I think it’s been three years now, every time I speak, at some point in time, I include a joke, that says that I have two skill sets. This, which is whatever I was hired to do on the stage. And folding a fitted sheet. And about half the audience gasps with glee, because they need to know this, and then when they subscribe to my newsletter or take my survey or whatever, it’s the first video that goes out. But most of my referral business doesn’t come from the person who saw me and got the video, because at the end it has a call to action, but it’s that they shared it with their friends that didn’t see me. So then people don’t even remember, how they got referred to me, they just know (1) they need to hire me, and (2) I can fold a fitted sheet. And it’s become a thing.
Phil Jones: It’s a real thing. And I love you for it.
Jess Pettitt: It’s become a normal thing, is what it’s become.
Phil Jones: Well even when I saw it the first time, I’m like, of course Jess did that, that’s pretty normal for Jess. It’s not a crazy bonkers thing, that’s normal.
Jess Pettitt: Yeah.
Phil Jones: Okay. Now you wrote a book called, Good Enough Now.
Jess Pettitt: Yes. That is true.
Phil Jones: And I love it. I love the premise, I love the book, I love the way it’s put together, I love how fun it is as a read. For the benefit of anybody listening in, give us a three minute snapshot of what Good Enough Now is all about.
Jess Pettitt: Sure. So I call it a subliminal diversity training disguised as a communication or self-reflection book.
Phil Jones: That sounds like it’s just bamboozled and confused me so give me more.
Jess Pettitt: I’m a diversity person, if I’m ordering at Taco Bell. So there’s a lot of examples in there that are about identities, and power and things like this. But, basically what it boils down to is how to avoid burnout, when you are really disinterested in engaging in anymore conflict or difficult conversations. And the subtitle I think says it all which is “Doing the best you can, with what you’ve got, some of the time”.
Phil Jones: Some of the time is beautiful.
Jess Pettitt: Do the best you can with what you’ve got, some of the time.
Phil Jones: I’ve got three questions for you before we call this a wrap. Now, one is: Hypothetically speaking if I’m feeling in my life that I’m not normal, what does Jess say to that person? You can be as elaborate as you like.
Jess Pettitt: Well I think it’s common to not feel normal. I think the worrisome piece is when the commonality doesn’t feel like it’s connected to a community. So when not feeling normal can feel more and more isolating, and more and more lonely, I think there’s a lot of mental health reports and a lot of evidence that really shows that, the sense of isolation, and the sense of loneliness can be completely insurmountable. So I would notice when you want to be alone, versus when you’re lonely, very different things. I can be in a room full of people and feel lonely.
Phil Jones: Yep.
Jess Pettitt: And I need to be alone even though I’m a huge extrovert sometimes. But feeling abnormal means that you haven’t found your folks. And in order to do that, sometimes you’re gonna have to ask for assistance. That assistance can come from your friend google, that friend … Assistance can come from other people. It may come from one person that you’ve noticed but you haven’t figured out how to, like, “Hey you’re a weirdo like me too!” They may not be interested in being a weirdo like you. But at least you have one other person that can hang your fellow hat with. That’s important and it’s important to notice when you’re slipping into loneliness versus slipping into aloneness. And then be abnormal. Fly your freak flag. They’re being sold in bulk.
Phil Jones: Love that. So I said I got two more questions then after this one is. What do you want to ask me on this subject? I like throwing myself under the bus in these interviews sometimes.
Jess Pettitt: Well I’ve watched a number of your interviews, and I first off love the audacity to just have a conversation about where it’s going. I think some of these podcasts that I’ve been on have been so structured that they’ve lost a lot of the good nuggets that can come out of it, so that’s exciting. But I’m surprised in your choice to choose the word for someone that you don’t always know. So what do you use to kind of, instigate what that word is. Is it just first impression, you spin the dictionary and randomly put your finger down?
Phil Jones: This is my show where I make the rules. So that means that the rules don’t always stay the same for every episode. It means that it’s my show and I make the rules. I have two simple rules, one is the person needs to be somebody that I already see as a friend, or would like to be more of a friend. That’s rule number one. And the second is I pick the word that I want to speak to that person about.
Jess Pettitt: Excellent.
Phil Jones: That’s my only criteria. It’s not like, hey what is their word they own that I want to be able to talk to them about, it’s like I want to dig beneath the surface of something that I’m intrigued about. So largely this is a conversation that I would’ve wanted to have regardless of whether there was a camera or a microphone in place anyway, it’s a fun way for me to be able to get to learn more about people that I already adore. So that’s my criteria.
Jess Pettitt: I think one … One I think that that’s really beautiful. I think what’s interesting is specifically those of us doing videos and podcasts in the speaking industry, et cetera, I think the word “bravery” would probably be used because, what I really appreciate is that you’re asking people to get out of the box of their brand, and have a legitimate conversation about a word.
Phil Jones: Right.
Jess Pettitt: And it sounds really funny, but it’s called “Words with Friends”.
Phil Jones: That’s all it is.
Jess Pettitt: It doesn’t have to be a word related to it or the assignment that comes along with that word. Just in that it is such a vulnerable, inviting space that all the conversations that I’ve been able to listen to and I’ll keep listening, that the ability to listen in to a conversation as it literally is unfolding, is what I think friendship is supposed to be.
Phil Jones: Yes. And I think in my next question whilst listening to your answers. Here is my preplanned notes on today’s call.
Jess Pettitt: Excellent.
Phil Jones: So that’s how this comes about. And now one other thing that I wanted to ask you is, in this entire series I ask everybody the same question. And the question I ask to people is in the first series because if they saw that, then they might think about pre preparing their answer. But I do want a word from you. I’d like to know a single word that if there was word that people used to describe you, and that you heard somebody using that word to describe you and it made you feel good, what would that word be?
Jess Pettitt: One word … You tricked me with the second part of the question. So the word that people use to describe me all the time makes me-
Phil Jones: A word that you would like people to use to describe you that would make you feel good.
Jess Pettitt: Oh that’s even better. I did not hear that the first time around. Something that probably, can I cuss on this?
Phil Jones: Course you can.
Jess Pettitt: Something that involves a derivative of the word fuck would be amazing. That would be the highest compliment ever. I think I typically get funny, and I’m aware that I’m a pretty funny person, but the comments that I get that stick with me the most that I would love to see more of, is when they have to invent a new word. They have to create a derivative because it’s almost like being speechless but they’re compelled to say something.
Phil Jones: Okay. So do you like people to make up words to describe you, that in some way drop an f-bomb?
Jess Pettitt: Yeah! That would be the unicorn glitter part is to include the f-bomb, yes.
Phil Jones: And the best part of your answer there is that I interviewed John Acuff as the person in this series the other week, and John’s word, his word of desire, “funny”. So a word that you said that you do not want is the word that somebody else strives for. So I find that a beautiful thing too.
Jess Pettitt: And that … To me that is words with friends right?
Phil Jones: Yeah. So just thanks for being onboard, thanks for giving some of your day to me and to everybody who’s listening. Thanks for allowing me to get to know you even better, and for us understanding or understanding less, about the word normal.
Jess Pettitt: Absolutely. Thank you very much. You knew exactly what to say.
Phil Jones: Jess I’m going to hit pause for a second here, I have somebody buzzing at my door, and then we can chat about life, the universe and everything now that we’ve got that part done. Give me one second.