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Embracing Change, Creating New Realities with Ashish Kothari and Shannon Wallis
Episode 606th February 2024 • The Happiness Squad • Ashish Kothari
00:00:00 00:38:04

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Change often seems intimidating, and the idea of transforming our lives can feel like an unattainable dream. But what if we told you that change is not just possible, but within your reach?

In this new inspiring episode of the HAPPINESS SQUAD Podcast, Ashish and Anil sit with Shannon Wallis, Founder of Cascade Leadership.

Shannon Wallis advises industry, independent sector, philanthropy, and C-suite executives on strategy, organization performance, culture change, and social responsibility. Having worked with over 20,000 leaders on six continents, she helps launch big ideas and create new realities for leadership, teams, and organizations. 

Her experience includes collaboration with five Fortune 500 companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Coca-Cola, as well as nonprofits. She's also a prolific contributor to over five books and the author of "We the Change: Launching Big Ideas and Creating New Realities," a book inspired by her 500-mile trek in Spain.

In this episode, you’ll discover the true power of embracing change, as Ashish and Shannon delves into how we can all shift our mindset to see change not as a hurdle, but as an opportunity to manifest and create the life we desire.

Shannon’s approachable and practical advice shows us that with the right attitude and tools, transforming our lives is entirely achievable. 

Things you will learn from the episode:

  • The role of presence in redefining happiness
  • How to manifest your goals and make anything possible
  • The power of visualization and gratitude
  • The Concept of "We the Change" and Collective Empowerment

Ready to embark on a journey of self-discovery and transformation? 

Listen to Shannon's empowering insights and start creating your new reality today.

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Transcripts

Anil Ramjiani:

Hey, friends. It's great to have you with Ashish and me, as we host guests who are industry leaders and experts, helping individuals and organizations champion their potential and flourishing at work.

Are you looking to shift from fear to embrace change and pursue your next big idea? Our upcoming guest is going to share her story and empower you that anything is possible.

Meet Shannon Wallis, CEO of Cascade Leadership. She advises industry, independent sector, philanthropy, and C-suite executives on strategy, organization performance, culture change, and social responsibility. She's worked with over 20,000 leaders on six continents to launch big ideas and create new realities for their leadership, their teams, and organizations.

She's worked with organizations in five Fortune 500 companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Coca Cola, as well as nonprofits. She shares her knowledge and knows how to skillfully work through barriers that can hinder results. She's contributed to over five books and is the author of her own, which was inspired during her 500-mile trek in Spain.

The book is called "We the Change: Launching Big Ideas and Creating New Realities." During this inspiring conversation, Ashish, Shannon, and I discussed several points: the beauty of synchronicity over coincidence, visualizing, speaking, and becoming the change you wish to see, as well as the power of uniting masculine and feminine energy to empower and unlock potential in both self and others.

As you consider the nine hard right for happiness practices, this episode truly delves into how you can both cultivate your purpose, awareness, and live with intention as you look to embrace change. We hope the tips and practices that we share can help you as they were truly eye-opening for me. So now join Ashish and I as we welcome Shannon to the Happiness Squad podcast.

Ashish, Shannon, it's an absolute pleasure to be with both of you. Shannon, thank you so much for taking time out of your Friday to be with us. We're excited to learn more about you. So, one of the first questions we love to ask our guests as we welcome you is your definition of happiness. And maybe you can also share with us how it has changed since your younger years?

Shannon Wallis:

First of all, it's such a pleasure to be with both of you. I'm really excited about this because this is something that's very present in my life. And it's interesting when I say it's present in my life, because I think happiness begins with presence. So, I really reflected on that. I loved your question about what it is now and how it has changed.

For me, I don't know that it's really changed, but I'll explain why. I think happiness is really about those moments when you are completely present in your own body and self, and you're with others in the community who are also completely present. And I think that's an incredibly rare space to be in, but it's in those moments when we're all present that I feel intense joy.

And the reason it stands out to me is that when I reflect on that question and think back to my childhood, I don't recall many moments of happiness. I didn't have it as a child. I had a really dysfunctional family, and I can think of literally maybe three moments as a child, and when I think about those moments, what was true in those moments is we were all completely present.

Nobody was distracted by alcohol, mental illness, or other dysfunction that existed, but in those three moments, everyone was completely present and it was joyful. So I think that stays true to this day.

Ashish Kothari:

, especially as it unfolds in:

It's about being present, allowing yourself to fall into the present moment, not necessarily by taking yourself away, but finding that in the day-to-day. It's about appreciating all that is going on and not missing the journey.

You forget to see the landscape, and when you get to the top, you're like, "Okay, that's great, now I got to come down," having missed everything on the way. So many live through that. I love that through your pain and those moments, the lesson that stayed with you was presence, being with each other rather than doing or acting it out. It's beautiful. Thank you.

Shannon Wallis:

Well, I want to thank you for the question because I hadn't really reflected on it before. It was very moving for me because that's true happiness, true joy. The way I moved myself out of my family situation was through complete overachievement.

For a very long time, I was on that treadmill of education. I went to Northwestern University. I couldn't afford to go to South Dakota State University. My family was in the lowest 10% of the socioeconomic ladder.

Northwestern made it completely possible for me. How did I get there? Academic excellence. I'm not an incredible athlete; I wasn't going for some sort of different scholarship. I got there through academic excellence, and that became, different from happiness, my definition of success was achievement, which can be very different from happiness. Yet it's nice when they go together, but for a long time, I wasn't really clear about what happiness was.

Anil Ramjiani:

That resonates with me because one thing that Ashish and we've talked about with our guests is that achievement is an outcome. And if you're constantly seeking happiness in that achievement, you miss the journey, the beautiful journey that you had at Northwestern, studying there. When we all get caught up in that outcome, we lose sight of the present moment, which you both are equally saying is important for happiness. A friend of mine shares a quote with me, "be where your feet are," in the present.

I would love to shift gears on the back of your message on academics versus athletics. I believe your husband is an Ironman, and one of the most amazing mantras is "anything is possible." I know you shared on a previous cast that that's something you share with your clients. Could you maybe share a moment in your journey with us, Shannon, that empowered you with your own self-belief in this space?

Shannon Wallis:

I have a funny story about how I chose Northwestern and how I got in there. Growing up, I had a friend, Jody, and she had a brother, Gary, who was eight years older than us. One day Jody said to me, "Shannon, you're smart, but you have to be really smart to go to Northwestern, like my brother Gary." I remember a spark lit inside of me, thinking, "I'm going to that school."

Realistically, I had known since the age of nine that college could be very difficult. I loved school and asked my parents about college. My dad said it costs a lot, and I thought, "Oh, I'm totally on my own." So, I held the belief that I was on my own and decided to go to that school, partly out of spite.

In high school, I didn't know how it was going to happen until another student, Myers, a year older than me, told me about financial aid, giving me hope. I applied to Northwestern and got in. Before calling my mom to tell her, I called Jody to let her know I did get into that school. It's possible.

I've had many moments in life where something that seemed completely out of reach happened. I have a strong belief in manifestation. There's a lot of energy that goes into seeing what you want, writing about it, and then speaking it. I firmly believe in that.

If I could make such a massive change in my life from growing up in the bottom 10 percent of the socioeconomic ladder to where I am today, I believe anybody can do it. We often need a support system, guidance, and someone cheering us on saying it is possible.

I share my story and say I grew up in the bottom 10 percent of the socioeconomic ladder. I've worked on six continents and have seen real poverty. When people in the United States who haven't traveled like I have heard that, they think I grew up in poverty. But I grew up quite privileged. I had an education, a home, and healthcare. Yes, I grew up quite privileged.

Ashish Kothari:

So Shannon, I love that story and what you're saying. There are a couple of things that really come up for me. I'm going to talk a little bit about the American dream. Like you, I came to the U.S. Middle class in India growing up in the 70s and 80s meant that if you wanted to have a job after you graduate, you needed to be the best of the best.

There are people with PhDs selling fruit on the street, barely scraping by, maybe eating one meal a day. But when I came to the US, I was 23, my first trip out of the country. I came with $5,000, which was a loan from an employer, IBM, and the phone number of one person who was going to house me for two weeks till I opened a bank account and could get into an apartment.

Fast forward, I got my MBA at Chicago. When I left McKinsey, I was truly right at 42 when I had my first bout with anxiety. Everything was green, we were doing really well financially and professionally. So, I'm with you around anything is possible. That stood for me.

There is a second part of that manifestation piece, which I'm also experiencing. With manifestation, you're sending out, this is what I deeply believe in, and if it's in the service of another, you're attracting that. There is a second part of that. Over the last year and a half, grounded in a bigger ‘why’ around truly alleviating suffering in the world and helping people recognize that no matter where you are, you've got the resources within you to master your inner world. It doesn't matter what you're swimming in out there. You've got the resources. Anything is possible.

I've experienced the other part, where the universe conspires in mysterious ways to literally get you things that you don't even know you need. Here's the story for that. We had a guest, Juni, on our podcast, and I wanted to tell the story of how Juni came into my life.

I had decided through Vipassana, I had gone on a retreat, and I had this inspiration to create a program called Rewire, all around the science of habit formation. I had written the course, it had come to me in a one-hour meditation, Shannon.

I had written it up and was just talking to a friend of mine, not about the course, we were just catching up. He said, "I want to connect you to this friend of mine, Junie." I called her three weeks before we were going to record in a studio the masterclass.

She said, "Do you know I teach tiny habits with BJ Fogg at Stanford?" She literally edited all of our scripts for what is in Rewire. How do you describe that? If you don't describe it with this notion of things just coming your way. And this is just one out of like a hundred stories, Shannon.

Shannon Wallis:

I have so many similar stories and I really do believe there's a power in not just thinking something, but truly sharing it with others. My book, published a couple of years ago, is called "We the Change."

One of the fundamental lessons in it is that "we" has a double meaning. Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." But as I've reflected on that, none of us does that alone. So that's where I came up with "we."

For years, I thought I was alone. I thought I had achieved everything on my own. I was blind to how many people had supported me. Nothing happens without the support of those around us. So that's the "we," the collective. How do you get it out into the collective? By sharing it.

When you shared that with your friend, that made the connection to Junie. I believe in something that goes beyond us. Our souls are conspiring on our behalf, wanting us to manifest in the world, in this physical form, what I think is just pure love, for all of us to be truly at our highest potential. The more we express that, the more we connect with that universal source, and then it connects us to the resources we most need. I love that story because I believe in synchronicity, not coincidence. That's the way it's supposed to happen.

Ashish Kothari:

That's the way it's meant to be. You mentioned "we the people," and the "we" is so important, Shannon. I want our listeners to do this exercise with one object, which is my glasses, but you can do it with anything in front of you. It's a deeper form of gratitude exercise.

Imagine something you're grateful for in your life. For me, it's glasses. Without them, Shannon would just appear as a blur because I can't see any part of her face. Now, imagine any object you're used to, like your phone or headphones, and notice how many people are involved in that simple thing we take for granted. Think about what life would be like if you couldn't see.

Consider all the people involved in making glasses. First, think about the person who invented glasses. If they hadn't invented them, you wouldn't be able to function in the world.

Then think about the material, the glass itself, and the company that made it. Consider the people who mined the silicate that made the glass, those involved in creating the mining equipment, and the workers in manufacturing, many earning minimum wage, who forged that into glass. Think about the same for the frame and everything else.

Now think about the hundreds of thousands of people involved in getting that product to the shelf. Think about the doctor who diagnosed the perfect lens for you. In something as simple as a pair of spectacles, there are millions of hands involved.

We live in a false illusion that everything we have done is by ourselves. It is not. We fundamentally are a "we." Ubuntu, you are, so I am. We are living in a state of interbeing. Once we ground ourselves in that, so much of our suffering, resistance, and fight against the world goes away. Shannon, "we" in your book spoke to me so beautifully.

Shannon Wallis:

Yeah, and I love what you're saying because it's interesting. In your practices or pillars of happiness, for me, the two that really resonate with me right now are self-awareness and gratitude.

Self-awareness brings me to presence, which I think is the foundation. I do leadership development work and organizational change work today, and I believe presence is the leading edge of leadership development.

Gratitude is the second one. I'm so grateful for the little things in my life. Sometimes it's easy to forget to be grateful. I come from a really humble background and I don't take for granted what I have, what my family has achieved. It really touches me because we don't make it in the world without others. We have an incredible responsibility to give back as a result.

Anil Ramjiani:

Just to take a step back before we shift to the next question and talk more about your journey to Camino de Santiago, there are three things. First, the power of visualization. For our listeners, you can generate optimism. When I did my rewire certification, one of the micro-practices was generating optimism.

It is powerful and possible. In fact, when I used to do my race events, I would visualize it, talk it, and walk it. The second piece is the power of gratitude and how you can leverage gratitude to power up your optimism. If you find yourself in a moment of weakness, just look around you for gratitude, visualization, and walking the talk; that power is within and it will come out.

Now, I want to shift and talk about your amazing journey down the ancient Camino de Santiago. You've already referenced your book, and maybe you can share with our listeners the big idea. What was the key message that you wanted to capture and relay to your audience within the book that you experienced as you trekked 500 miles across Spain on Camino de Santiago?

Shannon Wallis:

Okay, so there are 11 lessons in the book, each with significant meaning for me. Let me backup a little bit and say that from the context of the book.

I've already established I'm not an athlete and I mean that seriously. I don't have great hand-eye coordination. I move, I walk. Living in a house with an Ironman triathlete, what I do have is incredible endurance. That's what helped me make the shift in my life and walk the Camino.

When I walked 500 miles across northern Spain, I had never hiked before. I wasn't an athlete, and my idea of a hiking boot was more about fashion than function. I had no clue whatsoever. Walking from the Pyrenees on the French-Spanish border in Northeastern Spain all the way over to Northwest Spain, going through intense cold and mountains, I had never done anything like that before.

I use this as a metaphor for how individuals launch a big idea or create a new reality. For example, a CEO can hop in a jet and be in Santiago de Compostela in 30 minutes, whereas the employees are still lacing up their boots and will walk for 30 days. How do you keep them energized and focused, able to move beyond despair to get to their destination when the CEO is already there?

I didn't fully understand this metaphor until years had gone by and I had done deeper study in organizational and professional change. The book tells a very personal story, broken down into 11 chapters, each with a lesson connected to what I know now to be true from psychology, neuroscience, physics, and why we're able to make something new emerge.

But I want to address your question about what I really want to land with people. There are two things that stand out for me. One is the DVFR model or formula for change. The second is the concept of "we the change," emphasizing that none of us are going it alone.

Let me explain DVFR. It's a formula and a multiplication equation. The three elements that overcome resistance to change are dissatisfaction of your current state, vision of your future state, and first steps to close the gap between those two. If any one of those is missing, it's a zero. Because it's a multiplication formula, the product is zero, and you do not overcome resistance to change. It's that simple.

What's your vision? Where are you at? What's getting in the way of the vision? And what are a few steps you can take to get started? You don't need to figure out all the steps, just the first couple that give you momentum. One of the first steps is to engage your supporters. Find them, identify them, tell them what you want. They will have ideas that make your idea even better.

The reason I'm passionate about this is because of the double meaning in "We the Change," which is Women Empower the Change. The "WE" is capitalized for a reason.

My mother, who only had a high school education and worked in a minimum wage job, is an amazing artist. She had beautiful ideas about how she could put her art into the world in the form of cards but had no support and was just barely getting by.

So, I wanted people to know that you can have a coaching guide in your back pocket, literally on your phone. If you download the Kindle app for your phone, you can buy my Kindle book, which I keep intentionally at 99 cents so anybody can access the book and the workbook. You can go to my website, Cascade Leadership dot solutions, and download the workbook for free. My book wasn't about making money for me; it was about getting the message into the world about how we make change happen, because I am dissatisfied with the current state of things.

Ashish Kothari:

Yes, Shannon, it's powerful when you talk about women empowering the change. And if I may build on that, sometimes for a lot of men, this can be threatening. What Shannon is talking about is the feminine energy that lives in all of us. This is the point in our world where more women are forced or almost forced to be more masculine to get ahead, and most men feel that is what they need to keep doing.

The reality is, we have a deepening crisis in the world right now, in every theater – ecological, economic, political, humanitarian, racial – in every aspect of existence. Never before has this been true, even in World War II, there was a lot of human suffering. We were fighting with other countries, but not within countries, within ourselves, ecologically. We hadn't reached a place where hurricanes and fires were revolting against the existence of us humans.

Today we have that, and we are deepening the crisis. One of the fundamental issues is the hardwiring for fear. When we are afraid, because of the fundamental imbalance between masculine and feminine energy, most men take the approach of using force, controlling, pushing their way to make the change to get less uncomfortable, to address the threat.

What's needed so much more is not power and physical strength, but love and connection, that feminine energy that can inspire, bind, and support each other to be at their best self, to be their bravest, kindest self, to be fundamentally in relationship with others. Through that, we can create change. We cannot do it by force. And that's what I love about the "we," Shannon. I love the women in power.

Anil Ramjiani:

Ashish, thank you for sharing that insight on feminine energy. I think it's something that is overlooked. Shannon, one final question as we look to wrap up this part of our conversation. Our listeners may be fearful of change, uncomfortable being uncomfortable. When you talk about the big idea from your book and the 11 lessons you've imparted on your readers, could you kindly share with our listeners one or two of those lessons that are practical, that they could integrate into their day from today to start to see how they can embrace that change as they look and visualize ahead?

Shannon Wallis:

I'd like to share three lessons. First, walk in the world with a mindset that anything is possible. I am evidence of that. If you don't believe it's true today, observe other people and hold that it could be true. Second, start noticing what you truly want. Your soul is calling for it. It's usually not a material thing, but something much deeper. Focus on what you want, then ask yourself the most impactful coaching question: What is getting in the way of having it today? Notice what emerges, as it often goes beyond capability or capacity and can delve into character, like beliefs about worthiness or lack of support. What do you want, what's getting in the way, and approach it with the mindset that anything is possible, even if it's not true yet for you.

Ashish Kothari:

I love it. When you answer the question about what's getting in the way, you might initially think of external factors like a situation, a boss, a colleague, or a family member. But remember, when you point a finger at something, three are pointing back at you. Don't stop at the first answer. Dig deeper. We can be the change. Even though there might be external factors, the responsibility for change lies with us. Our ability to respond is always present. If we lean into that and follow the lessons in Shannon's book, anything is possible because you have the ability to make the change by being the change. Shannon, thank you. This is part one of a two-part episode with Shannon. We'll wrap up here, but come back because we have so much more in the second episode.

Anil Ramjiani:

So we are going to dive deeper into what Shannon has shared, some of those lessons from her book. Just hearing what you left on, I have an invisible barrier that I feel sometimes gets in my way, and I want to be able to identify how I can embrace that change. That's what we get to look forward to, as well as some anecdotes from Shannon's background and her experience at Microsoft as the global head of their talent development program. We'd love to hear more from your anecdotes, your insights, your practices, as well as why you find this partnership beneficial and fruitful. So thank you, Shannon. Again, your book is available on Kindle for 99 cents for those that want to access it. Keep that workbook handy. It's also available for free on your website. Truly grateful, Shannon. Thank you for your and Ashish's time today. Look forward to speaking to you in the new year. Best wishes.

Shannon Wallis:

Thank you and happy holidays. It's been such a pleasure to be in presence with both of you today. Thank you.

Ashish Kothari:

Thank you, my dear friend. Till the next time, happy holidays.