What intentions guide your life?
This is one of the first topics I explore with guests before having them on my podcast, 33voices. I’ve found it offers a glimpse into who they are and what matters to them. And, most importantly, what lights them up.
Invisible Hand Founder Genevieve Roth’s response stayed with me: “How can we accelerate the exponential good and the exponential truth?” It’s an umbrella intention for the 600 guests I’ve been fortunate to interview. As artists and authors, entrepreneurs and neuroscientists, they travel unique paths fulfilling their purpose. Still, they’re united by the belief that we have an opportunity to make a difference.
When I started hosting 33voices, I believed guests’ wisdom lay in their answers. Now, nearly a decade later, I know it’s in the questions they inspire. These are two that shape my life and work.
How do we contribute to each other’s vitality?
Connection is woven into the mission of everyone I’ve interviewed. I’ve always believed in its importance. Yet, it wasn’t until my conversation with child psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Bruce Perry that I understood our capacity to impact each other.
The book he coauthored with Oprah Winfrey, What Happened To You?, explains how our experiences influence our brain development, and thus our worldview and behavior. It felt like essential reading to better understand ourselves, families, and teams. The invitation turned out to be much deeper.
Let’s say you received unwarranted critical feedback in a performance review. Replaying the conversation over and over again in your head can cause it to become a sensitized experience, meaning it can influence your future beliefs and behavior. Yet, if you share it with a colleague, friend, and mentor, who reassure you that it’s not true, your brain will process it contextually and move on. Positive interactions calm our stress response and immune systems, down to the functioning of our hearts and lungs.
Whereas our societal challenges require long-term, collective action, Dr. Perry illuminated the daily opportunities we have to elevate each other’s wellbeing.
“When you’re able to be an emotional anchor for somebody, those are really powerful moments,” he shared. “It matters that you do that work. When we make one person calmer, it’s like dropping a pebble in a pond. You never know which moment is going to have this incredible, catalytic impact.”
Whether we’re leading a meeting, listening to a team member, or encouraging a mentee, Dr. Perry taught me that these interactions matter. We may not be able to transform our companies or governments overnight, but we can make a difference for each other—and that uplifts us all.
How do we follow joy as a compass?
I’ve always been fascinated by joy. Though, it took years to embrace it as the show’s compass.
The catalyst came in my interview with Girls Who Code CEO Dr. Tarika Barrett. She was leading her team through the pandemic, while serving as a thought leader navigating the education crisis and creating more equitable workplaces. I was moved by her ability to embody joy facing adversity.
“I’ve felt so grounded by the opportunities I’ve been given to work on the issues I do with the people I do. That is a gift,” she shared. “I would certainly like to be worked out of a job and we close the gender gap [in technology] tomorrow but until then, there’s professional and family fulfillment. In all of it, I find joy.”
Dr. Barrett alleviated my fear of talking about joy amidst hardship. She helped me see that it’s optimism that imbues our strength. For her, and the majority of our guests, joy is sustenance. She gave me permission to anchor in it too.
Time spent with so many change makers instills my belief that the world is filled with people who are trying to make it better. They renew my sense of hope daily. Over the last few years, they’ve also demonstrated that living a life of integrity isn’t just measured by our societal contributions. Equally important, it motivates each of us to wake up and do the same.
A positive mindset doesn’t have to be left to chance, either. It’s a muscle we can strengthen. BrainTrust Founders Studio Founder Kendra Bracken-Ferguson reminds me to do so by asking: What’s the best thing that can happen? as an antidote to fearing the worst.
It’s an illumination of the lesson our guests continue to teach me: The quality of our questions can reflect the quality of our lives—and, most importantly, the contribution we make to each other.
Jenna Abdou is the creator and host of 33Voices.