Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Dr. Vivek Murthy (@vivek_murthy, vivekmurthy.com), who served as the 19th surgeon general of the United States between 2014 and 2017. As the Vice Admiral of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, he commanded a uniformed service of 6,600 public health officers globally. During his tenure, Dr. Murthy launched the Turn the Tide campaign, catalyzing a movement among health professionals to address the nation’s opioid crisis. He also issued the first Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, calling for expanded access to prevention and treatment and for addiction to be recognized as a chronic illness, not a character flaw.
In 2017, Dr. Murthy focused his attention on chronic stress and loneliness as prevalent problems that have profound implications for health, productivity, and happiness. He has co-founded a number of organizations: VISIONS, an HIV/AIDS education program in India; Swasthya, a community health partnership in rural India training women as health providers and educators; software company TrialNetworks; and the grassroots physicians organization Doctors for America.
Since leaving government service, Dr. Murthy has continued to focus on loneliness and social connection. His book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World will be published this spring by Harper Collins.
Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
DUE TO SOME HEADACHES IN THE PAST, PLEASE NOTE LEGAL CONDITIONS:
Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.
WHAT YOU’RE WELCOME TO DO: You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Tim Ferriss Show” and link back to the tim.blog/podcast URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.
WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED: No one is authorized to copy any portion of the podcast content or use Tim Ferriss’ name, image or likeness for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books, book summaries or synopses, or on a commercial website or social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that offers or promotes your or another’s products or services. For the sake of clarity, media outlets are permitted to use photos of Tim Ferriss from the media room on tim.blog or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.
This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.
Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls. This is Tim Ferriss and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, where it is my job to deconstruct world-class performers of all different types, whether from business, science, chess, it doesn’t really matter. What we’re looking for are habits, routines, thought patterns, frameworks, et cetera, that you can hopefully ponder and test and apply in your own lives. And my guest today, and I’m going to massacre this name, but I will do my best, is Dr. Vivek Murthy. That’s M-U-R-T-H-Y. On Twitter @Vivek_Murthy, that’s Vivek underscore Murthy. On Facebook, Instagram @DrVivekMurthy, and VivekMurthy.com. Dr. Murthy served as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, between 2014–2017. As the Vice-Admiral of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, he commanded a uniform service of 6,600 public health officers globally. During his tenure, Dr. Murthy launched the Turn The Tide Campaign, catalyzing a movement among health professionals to address the nation’s opioid crisis.
He also issued the first Surgeon General’s report on alcohol, drugs, and health, calling for expanded access for prevention and treatment and for recognizing addiction as a chronic illness, not a character flaw. In 2017, Dr. Murthy focused his attention on chronic stress and loneliness as prevalent problems that have profound implications for health, productivity, and happiness. He has co-founded a number of organizations, Visions an HIV, AIDS education program in India, Swasthya, a community health partnership in rural India, training women as health providers and educators. Software company Trial Networks, and the grassroots physicians organization, Doctors for America. Since leaving government service, Dr. Murthy has continued to focus on loneliness and social connection. His brand new book is titled Together, subtitle, The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. Dr. Murthy received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard and his MD and MBA degrees from Yale. He completed his internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and later joined Harvard Medical School’s faculty in internal medicine. His research focused on vaccine development and later on the participation of women and minorities in clinical trials. Dr. Murthy, welcome to the show.
Vivek Murthy: Thanks so much, Tim. It’s great to be on with you.
Tim Ferriss: I have really enjoyed getting to know you over the last handful of years, and I thought we should start with how to pronounce your name properly. And I know we had a warm-up pre-recording, but perhaps you could describe how you have trained people to say your name in the past.
Vivek Murthy: I’m happy to. Well, there were many years where I just gave up and didn’t correct people. But when I was in business school I started teaching people to say my name the following way. It’s spelled V-I-V-E-K. And the V-I is pronounced like the V-I in Victor. And the V-E-K is pronounced vake, so rhymes with lake. So that’s what I used to tell people, but instead of calling me Vivek, they just called me Victor Lake for the next two years. So, so much for that.
Tim Ferriss: Well, we have a lot that we can explore and a lot we will explore, and I thought we could start with loneliness. And that is certainly a perennial topic. This is something that I have struggled with personally over decades, certainly struggled with as a kid. This is something that also many people are acutely struggling with, because of SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 at the moment. And to place things in context, we’re recording this on March 24th, 2020. Both of us are at home. And we’ll have time to talk about certainly COVID-19 and so on, and we’ll dive into that. But I’d like to focus on loneliness first and let’s start at the beginning. Is this a topic of interest to you because it is something personal that you have experience with, or is it from observing the impact of loneliness on health on a wider scale?
Vivek Murthy: Well, Tim, my interest in this initially stemmed from my own personal experience, and I’ll tell you a little bit about that. But I’ll just say that I think when a lot of people are lonely, they don’t realize how common it is. And they can think that it’s just them, and somehow their loneliness is evidence that they’re just not likable, or evidence of a character flaw or maladjustment. But the reality is that there are a lot of people I came to see in later years who struggle with loneliness and we’re all around each other, just in silence and often feeling a bit ashamed of how we feel. But for me, the feelings of loneliness began in elementary school. And I was a pretty shy kid growing up and I wanted to hang out with other kids. It wasn’t that I wanted to be alone and by myself, but I just had a hard time kind of getting conversations started and breaking into other cliques and into the in-group.
And that persisted for a long time. And I still remember going to elementary school and feeling this pit in my stomach when my parents would drop me off. And I wasn’t scared about tests or teachers, I was just worried about going to the cafeteria and not knowing who to sit with. And I was worried about being on the playground as the last person picked for a team, despite the fact that I was actually quite athletic and had good athletic skill. I was worried about feeling lonely, and I would wait every day until three o’clock when the bell rang in elementary school, and then it was this feeling of relief. I could finally go back home where I knew I was loved and where relationships were just so easy.
My parents and my sister were just the best and continue to be just extraordinary, loving family members to me. But that was my first experience of loneliness. And it’s funny how these experiences stick with you for years and years and years. Even later in life when I was able to build beautiful friendships and feel quite secure in my relationships, I still felt sensitive to those experiences of being lonely, or sensitive of being in circumstances where I might be by myself. So it’s taken a while to process and work through some of those feelings.
Tim Ferriss: And what does that look like for you as an adult? Is that something that you’re able to compartmentalize or put on the side? For instance, for a period of time, were you reminded of this — I’m just making this up, this isn’t something you’ve said. But for instance, looking closely at the opioid crisis and a lot of, let’s call it comorbidity with depression or other types of conditions that might be associated with perceived loneliness, how did this come to play out in your adult life?
Vivek Murthy: Yeah. So it played out in two ways in my adult life. The first was in a really direct way. So as I got older I was able to build friendships in high school, I enjoyed those friendships, I felt like I started to blossom socially in terms of becoming the person on the outside who I felt like I was on the inside. But there were still patches in my life where I felt lonely, it was a state that was easy to fall back into. And it was a state that was self-reinforcing in a way. When I felt lonely I would actually get down on myself, I would draw even further from other people, which would deepen the loneliness. But there was a second thing that was happening when I was an adult, which was that I was going through my medical training and starting to encounter patients in the clinic and in the hospital.
And I trained in internal medicine, and I assumed that the people I would be seeing and caring for would have issues like diabetes, or heart disease, or infections like pneumonia, or complications of their cancer treatment. And I’d certainly saw many patients with those conditions. But what I did not expect to see were so many patients who were alone. And this is how it had first showed up. I began seeing patients who would be admitted to the hospital and wouldn’t have anybody with them, and I would often ask, in the routine course of taking an initial history and physical, I would ask about their social circles. Do they live alone at home? Do they have somebody that they can rely on in terms of friends or families in the area? And I was finding often that people were saying, “No, there’s nobody there.”
So that was one thing. But then when urgent situations would come up, when we would get a test result, for example, that was really concerning, that showed maybe somebody had a new diagnosis of cancer, and I would want to talk it through with them. I would often ask them, “Is there somebody you want us to call, so that we can share this information together, so you have some support, so we can make some tough decisions together?” And very often people would say, “I wish there was, but there’s nobody.” There were even times, Tim, at the end of life, where on many occasions it was just me and my colleagues, my fellow doctors and nurses, who were the only witnesses to people’s passing away. And those really struck me deeply, because in those most important moments in life — birth, death, and the critical moments in between when you either have success at work or have major breakups, et cetera — you hope that there will be people there for you though, you will be surrounded by the people you love.
But for so many of these people, there was nobody at the end. And then that was a very heavy feeling that lingered with me for a long time. And so I came to see in my adult life that not only was loneliness something that continued to affect me in waves, including during the time I was Surgeon General, but it was also something that I was encountering quite commonly among the patients I cared for. Keep in mind, Tim, I had no training in how to deal with loneliness. There was no class on loneliness in medical school. It was not really part of our curricula to think about how to ask people deeply about their social connections. So I felt out of my league in a sense, that I was encountering problems that I frankly had no idea how to solve, but they seemed important. Because they kept coming up and they seemed to fill people with sadness.
Tim Ferriss: I would love to ask you about several facets of what you just shared. The first is being the only person, or along with your colleagues, the only people with someone who is going to die or who is in palliative care, I suppose those are synonymous, or has just been given a very grave diagnosis, I’ve found you over the last handful of years to be very calm, very soothing. And I’d be curious to know what you did in those circumstances to help these people psychologically? What types of things would you say? What would you do? Are there any particular examples that spring to mind that were difficult?
I’d love to just, if you’re open to it, talk about really any specific example that jumps to mind. Because that strikes me as a potentially difficult circumstance to navigate and I don’t know how long these people were in the hospital, but it’s possible that they’d been alone or felt alone for a long time. And really the strongest tether they had at the time of the diagnosis or before passing would be with you, or one of your colleagues. So I’d just be very interested to hear you speak to that.
Vivek Murthy: Yeah. Those moments, Tim, are so, so deeply etched in my memory, because they impacted me a great deal as well. But in those moments as a doctor, you’re trained to use your head and your heart. But I found in those moments in particular that I had to get completely out of my head and just try to fully inhabit my heart, and be there not as a doctor, but as a human being. And I do think that all of us, regardless of what stage of life we’re at, we’ve got three basic needs: we all want to know that we matter, we want to be seen for who we are, and we want to know that we’re loved. And in those moments, what I tried my best to do is to help people feel that they were seen, just simply by sitting there and focusing on them and listening to them, by putting my pager aside, by not standing at the doorway, but actually pulling up a chair and sitting with them, by holding their hand.
Often the physical contact is such an important part of our human connection. And I tried to just listen to whatever it was that they wanted to talk about. And there were times where I struggled, I felt like maybe I should say something insightful or thoughtful or empathic. But when I look back on those conversations, I think the most important part was just showing up and being there and being fully present. So that’s what I try to do. And I had this ritual that I would do also when they passed, which is when a patient passes away, you’re always called as a doctor to pronounce them. And so you have to document that the heart has stopped, that there’s no corneal reflex, and there are a series of steps that you have to take like that.
And so I would do that, but I would also then take a minute to just stand by their bedside in silence with them, and to just imagine sort of like the energy of the universe, just washing over them with love and with kindness. And that was my special moment with them. And even though they passed, I would hope that it was meaningful for their spirit. It was certainly meaningful for me. But those are some of the things that I would try to do at the end of life. I don’t know if they mattered or made a huge difference in people’s lives, but I hope that it may have eased the pain of their passing just a little bit.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you for sharing that. How do you think about your own mortality or relate to mortality? And I don’t mean to take this in a metaphysical or esoteric direction, but as someone who has witnessed a fair amount of death and no doubt thought about the finite time that you have on this planet, at least for now, how do you relate to mortality or think about it?
Vivek Murthy: Yeah. That’s a really good question. I think about my mortality often, not in a morbid way, but in a way that I hope will remind me to appreciate the present moment. When I was in residency training, I remember one week being on the oncology service, where half of the patients I was taking care of were young people in their 20s who had end-stage gastric cancer. And I was in my 20s at the time. And it was really a stark experience for me, because I could have been lying in that bed instead of them. These were accidents of fate. And so there’s something about training in medicine in those years, and then caring for patients afterward that made me continually recommit to trying to be as present as I could. Recognizing that tomorrow’s not a guarantee, we don’t know how long we have with the people we love, but we can make choices today to dramatically improve the quality of our life and the depth of our happiness.
And so when I think about my mortality, I try to think about being fully present now. After my residency training, I made a significant change, for example, in how I spent my leisure time. So I made it a point to try to come home to see my family in Miami every two to three months. Prior to that, I used to go about twice a year. And there’s no right number of visits to make to one’s family. But for me, I realized that I wanted to be there as often as I could, for the people who had given everything, so that I could live the life that I have. And to me that was well worth it. And I look back on my life — and we all look back in our life and we wonder if we made the right decisions, and I’m the same. I’m not always sure I made the right decisions on things. But in that one area, I feel like, yes, that was the right thing to do, to come see them more often.
As a dad, it’s a little different now, also. I think about my own mortality and it’s bittersweet, because I think about the things I may miss if I’m not here in terms of my children’s major milestones in life, there are moments of great joy and happiness. I want them to find true love in life. I want to be there when that happens. I think about those moments, and with a tinge of sadness; I would be sad to not be there. But that makes me all the more want to live my life in a way where the time I’m spending right now is time well-spent. I’m focused on relationships and focused on giving and receiving love.
Tim Ferriss: There’s a fantastic essay, if people listening have not read it, by Tim Urban, called The Tail End, that I certainly recommend everybody read. That had the same impact on me in the sense that I ended up dramatically increasing the amount of time per year that I spent with parents in particular and also my brother. If you don’t mind, I’d love to zoom out just to provide some context and maybe define what the Surgeon General does. And I would love to hear you describe the role of the Surgeon General, and then how and why you ended up the Surgeon General.
Vivek Murthy: Well, this is a good thing to talk about, because I think very few people actually know what the Surgeon General does, even though many people know the position exists. And that frankly includes people in government who don’t necessarily know what the Surgeon General does, even though they may have a working relationship with the office of the Surgeon General. So I’ll tell you. When I actually became Surgeon General, it was a fascinating process, which I’m happy to talk about. But at very few, if any points, in all of the conversations I had with people in the administration, did somebody sit down and say, “Okay, this is what your job will entail.” So one of the first things I did when I became Surgeon General is I went to the general counsel at the Department of Health and Human Services, and I said, “Look, I have a sense of what I want to do as Surgeon General, of what the job entails. But what I really want to know is what does the law actually say about what my job is? Because everyone seems to have a different idea here.”
And so what the law says, is it says that the job of the Surgeon General is to be the commanding officer overseeing the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. So this is one of the uniformed services in the United States government alongside the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the other uniformed services. And the officers in the Commissioned Corps are doctors and nurses and public health engineers and physical therapists and other health practitioners. But overseeing that service and serving as the Vice-Admiral of that service is the statutory responsibility. But there’s another responsibility that has evolved over time, which is that the Surgeon General is supposed to provide the public with the best possible information on health, so people can make good decisions for themselves and their families. And that’s taken on many forms. Some Surgeons General have published reports. And Surgeon General reports have become these iconic publications that spark major changes in policy and in practice all around the world.
Others have taken to being out in the public often, to issue PSAs and to talk to people directly about steps they can take to be healthier. But all of this comes down to the fact that the job itself is actually quite flexible, and that was one of the things that I certainly appreciated about it, is that unlike most other political appointees, your allegiance is not to the president, your allegiance and your highest responsibility is to the public and to science. And I like that. So if there’s a disagreement between what the president says and what science says, you’re supposed to side with science. Even if that puts you at risk of being fired. So I liked that. I liked being able to create your own agenda and being sort of attuned to what the people want and being out there in communities across the country, that really spoke to me. It was exciting to me, and one of the reasons I ultimately felt the job was a good fit.
Tim Ferriss: When would a listener, if ever, encounter one of these 6,000 plus public health officers who were under your command, so to speak, as Vice-Admiral? I’m just wondering in what context we can imagine these people working. And I ask in part because I’m hearing, currently, of course, this is late March, of the National Guard potentially building field hospitals and so on. So would they end up at a field hospital? Or are they working exclusively in government and don’t have contact with civilians? Could you describe what types of work that uniformed service of 6,000 plus do?
Vivek Murthy: Yeah. So they do a variety of jobs throughout the federal government. So some are stationed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC. Some are at the Food and Drug Administration. Some are at NIH, the National Institutes of Health. So they are throughout the Department of Health and Human Services, but they also work in other agencies in government. They provide a lot of the health care in the Bureau of Prisons, to people who are incarcerated. They also work in the National Park Service to help guide the Department of the Interior on matters related to health. So these are the people, just to keep in mind, who help build and preserve and execute the infrastructure for public health throughout the country. Where you may have encountered them, are actually during times of crisis.
So we deploy our officers to disaster areas when there’s a major hurricane, or a tornado that comes through, or a major flood. After 9/11 we sent many officers to New York to help provide basic medical care and to help stand up the medical and public health infrastructure. When the Ebola crisis hit in the Obama administration, we sent hundreds of officers to Liberia, to help open what was called the Monrovia Medical Unit and provide direct care to people there. And the reason we did that was because prior to setting up the Monrovia Medical Unit, countries around the world were not sending their volunteers into Liberia, even though the Ebola outbreak was ramping up at a really scary pace.
But they weren’t doing that because they were worried their volunteers would get sick and no one would be there to take care of them. But when we set up that unit, when these Commissioned Corps officers started caring for people, then countries opened the flood gates knowing that if their member volunteers got sick, someone would be there to care for them. So these are some of the many circumstances in which you see Commissioned Corps officers. But they are often invisible. We talk about them as one of the best-kept secrets in the US government. Personally, I don’t think they should be a secret, I think they should actually be much more out there and visible, and that’s something as leadership we’ve got to do a better job on. But they are a critical part of our health infrastructure in the country.
Tim Ferriss: If we take a closer look at the Ebola crisis for a second, what was the term you used? The Monrovian — I’m blanking. Taskforce Monrovian —
Vivek Murthy: The Monrovia Medical Unit.
Tim Ferriss: There we go. Medical Unit. What was it like making that happen? Was that difficult to create this tip of the spear/vanguard to go to Liberia? Was that challenging to navigate sort of inside the machine of the United States government? Or was that relatively straightforward or somewhere in between? What was that experience like for you?
Vivek Murthy: Well, it was a very complicated experience. And it was an experience and an endeavor that was begun shortly before I entered office and that continued long after I got there. But it was not easy for us to pull together, because it required a fair amount of legal work to make sure that we had the authority to go abroad and to set up a medical unit like that. That was one piece of it. The second is we had to think deeply about how to make sure that these officers who had not been deployed to West Africa before had the training and the support they needed to be effective, and to achieve and accomplish the mission. But we also had to deal with real human factors, factors that affect any soldier or uniformed officer who goes overseas during the theater of war, and whether that war is with visible soldiers or invisible agents like the Ebola virus, which is that there’s trauma that comes with it as well.
And it took us a while to get a full handle around the extent of the trauma that was involved that officers experienced when they went abroad, knowing that their life was on the line and tried to care for people who had Ebola. So these were complicated missions. They’re also complicated because in government, while government has powerful mechanisms for implementing change, they’re complicated mechanisms. They’re big ships that turn slowly and having to move quickly without breaking something, having to collaborate with multiple arms of the uniformed services, especially the Army in West Africa and with the legislative branch and the executive branch, this took a lot of conversations, a lot of collaboration, a lot of putting out fires. So it was messy behind the scenes, as sausage-making often is. But it was worth doing because it was a key part of turning the tide on the Ebola crisis.
Tim Ferriss: If you don’t mind, I’d love to chat a little bit about the pink elephant in the room, which is just for sake of simplicity, I’ll call COVID-19. I understand there’s a virus and then there’s the disease and so on and so forth. But how are you currently thinking about COVID-19? What are people missing or misunderstanding? Or really what would you like to share in terms of your thinking related to COVID-19?
Vivek Murthy: There’s so much that COVID-19 is teaching us, not just about science and health, but about our infrastructure and about society more broadly. One of the key things to recognize about COVID-19 is as we’re having this conversation, we’ve learned a lot about the virus, but there’s still a lot we don’t know. Several weeks ago during the early days of this outbreak, there was an assumption that young people don’t have much to worry about, and that this is an illness that primarily affects the elderly and those with other complicated medical conditions. But the data that we’re starting to get now shows that perhaps that distinction was too stark, and that in fact, younger people are more affected and get more seriously ill than we had previously thought. So this is a humbling virus. It’s teaching us new things about it. And we’ve got to keep that in mind and make sure that we approach it with caution and that we err on the side of being too cautious and too aggressive in addressing it.
I think the second thing that’s important to realize about COVID-19, is that this virus is not the flu. This is a very different virus. It’s much more contagious. It’s much more deadly. And we don’t have any tools in terms of medications or vaccines to address it at the current moment. And hopefully that will change over time. But right now we don’t have those tools. And we also don’t have natural immunity in the population, because this hasn’t been circulating for years. I think the other part to remember here is that every now and then there is a moment in the world’s history where we are faced with a challenge that’s far bigger than any one of us, or that any one country can solve on its own. And COVID-19 has presented us with one of those challenges. And the question is, how are we going to respond? You know, as a world, how are we going to collaborate to not only develop therapeutics, but also to help each other overcome shortages of masks and other protective equipment? How are we going to share data so that we can learn together about how to prevent a catastrophe as the virus spreads across the world? It’s a real test of the relationships that we have between countries. But it’s also, and I think perhaps more poignantly, a test of the relationships we have in our communities.
You know, we’re coming to realize that with a virus like this that spreads really easily where there is no treatment yet, one of our most effective mechanisms of preventing spread is to physically distance people. As painful as that is, as lonely as that can be, it is one of the more effective strategies. And so as we speak, we’re currently implementing that here in the United States. And it is not an easy thing to do. But one of the things that it’s already started to illuminate and remind many of us of is that we really do need each other. But as much as we live in a world and in a country, I should say, that’s built on an ethic of individual responsibility and that’s built on a narrative of the single entrepreneur who builds the company or the single scientist who solves a major disease and finds a cure, the reality is that we are far more interdependent and interconnected than perhaps those narratives might suggest. And I think that this experience of COVID-19 is a powerful reminder of that.
And finally, Tim, I think COVID-19 is pushing us to confront some messy, difficult, but important questions and questions around what we believe people need to support them and what role government has in providing those supports. So in a scenario like this, for example, when somebody may get sick and they’ve got to stay home for a couple of weeks because they have COVID-19 infection, what if they don’t have paid sick leave? Then how do they take care of their child and make sure that he or she has food on the table? If they’re an Uber or Lyft driver and they’re depending on that income in order to help put their child through college or take care of an elderly relative, what do they do when nobody’s out on the road taking rides because they’re worried about safety? The truth is we don’t have as robust a net to catch people and support people when they fall as we perhaps may have thought we had in the United States.
And so this I think is a deeper moment for us to grapple with that and to ask, well, if we truly are interdependent, how can we best support each other as individuals and as a government, what do we need to do to ensure that people have the best shot at living a healthy and fulfilled life?
Tim Ferriss: It certainly is bringing up a lot of inconvenient and important questions, some of which you mentioned. And on one hand it’s been very uplifting as a silver lining to see how much certain communities have rallied or coalesced, grown stronger as a result of this where the importance of community and seeing each other’s faces and so on has increased. And I was struck earlier today, I had a team call with my employees and there was a very fast rotation where each person spoke about one thing they were proud of and one thing that they were happy about before getting into the business matters. And what came up most often was seeing communities come together. That was the happy about point that came up the most. And I do want to talk about that. I’m going to ask you about remembering your anchors and I have a whole host of other questions that I’d like to ask, but I’d also like to dig into COVID-19 just a little bit more if you’re open to it.
Vivek Murthy: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: And again, as a snapshot in time, as we speak, New York City’s Javits Center is being turned into a disaster hospital for COVID-19 patients or maybe overflow from other conditions. I don’t know. I imagine it would probably be dedicated for COVID-19. There’s a lot of movement right now. There are some people who would argue that the United States has really been caught on its heels in a lot of respects and has not taken aggressive enough actions from the playbooks of South Korea, et cetera, China, other places. If you were the benevolent dictator of the United States and your team came to you and asked what should be done at this point in time, is there anything that comes to mind that you would tell your team?
Vivek Murthy: Well, yes, I would tell them about the three important principles that you have to make sure you adhere to in disaster response. That number one, you have to lead with science in your decision-making and lead with scientists in your communication. Then number two, you’ve got to be transparent with the public even when it’s painful. Not only because that’s how you build and maintain trust, which is one of the most important assets you have in fighting a crisis like this, but also because that transparency creates the accountability that you need as government.
And the third thing I would tell them is that our job, and even more than that, our sacred responsibility in a crisis like this when people are putting their lives on the line, is to make sure that we pull out all the stops, they get resources to people on the front lines. And those are the doctors and nurses and healthcare workers in hospitals. Those are the public health workers and communities across the country who are trying to trace contacts and coming in contact with people who are ill. Those are the individuals who are impacted economically as we pull back on social interaction and as businesses shut down.
Those are the three principles that have to guide us. And in particular, when I think about the circumstances in our hospitals, it’s so deeply painful to me because we are encountering a pandemic that we haven’t seen the likes of in over a century. And we are not prepared for it. We have certainly done some preparation for major disasters, but this is not a typical disaster. This is far greater in scale and scope. And so we, right now as we speak, have doctors and nurses who are reusing masks in hospitals, who are going to see patients, in some cases doing surgeries without masks, which is bad for the doctor and patient, but because there is no other option. We have hospitals that are running out of gowns and gloves. We have doctors who are trying to figure out how to take one ventilator and somehow rig it so that it can care for two patients at the same time because they’re running out of ventilators.
These are the realities that we’re facing in our hospitals today in 2020 in the richest country in the world. And this is sobering. And it’s painful to recognize this, but that’s the situation that we’re in. What that means to me is that we have to do everything within our power, avail ourselves of every authority and mobilize every resource that we have access to, to ensure that we close the gap between what those healthcare settings have and what they need. Because here’s the truth: it’s not just a moral responsibility we have to protect those on the front lines, but on a very practical level, as doctors and nurses start to get sick in larger and larger numbers because they don’t have the protection they need when they’re caring for sick patients, that also pulls people out of the workforce exactly when we need them in our hospitals and it further deepens the crisis.
So this is how I would frame the challenge to my team. These responses are never easy. You know, I was in the administration, in the federal government during the Ebola response and during the Zika response and those were not easy either. We hadn’t quite dealt with those kinds of crises before. And so there are always stumbles, like in these instances. But the question is not do you stumble? I think the more important question is how do you get up? How do you get up quickly? And how do you learn from your mistakes and ensure that you are serving even better as a result of what you’ve learned?
Tim Ferriss: Thank you. And feel free not to answer, or we can punt. But I’d be very curious, adhering to those three principles of crisis response, since you’re the benevolent dictator, you can on some level insist and enforce those three principles. At this point in time, what types of interventions or actions, whether statewide or nationwide, would you be considering implementing, knowing what you know?
Vivek Murthy: Well, so a couple of — I mean there’s a lot. I’ll just mention a couple of things that come to mind.
Tim Ferriss: We have all the time in the world. Fortunately this isn’t morning TV, so we have the luxury of space! Take all the time you want.
Vivek Murthy: It takes more than 30 seconds to make profound statements about the world? Okay, that’s great. So a couple of things I would do. Number one, I would make sure that as a federal government, that we were providing clear directives to states and localities about when to pull the trigger on various measures that they may take to protect their population, including closing schools, shutting down businesses, issuing shelter in place or stay at home orders. One of the great challenges that states and local governments struggle with is how to make these decisions based on what criteria, and what you see right now is a very uneven response across the country. And so people are confused. They’re asking, “Well, why is California issuing a stay at home order but other states aren’t, even though they may have a similar number of cases?” It’s because there’s confusion, in part. And so that’s one thing I would do is to make sure that as a federal government, we were putting our nickel down so to speak, and providing clear criteria to states and local governments about when to implement some of these restrictions.
The second thing that I would do is I would take the responsibility as a federal government to make sure that we were filling the gaps in terms of materials and space that hospitals needed. And that doesn’t mean that we have to provide everything directly ourselves, but it does mean that we need to be responsible for solving the problem. So if for example, New York state and California state and Washington state are short on masks, it would be inefficient for them to spend all of this time looking for gloves, calling vendors, and effectively competing against each other for a limited supply. This is a place where it makes sense actually for the federal government to step in and to use its power to procure what’s needed. And so that’s the second place where I would exercise authority.
The third place where I would do it, I think the third area that I would focus on, would be to ramp up domestic production of the materials that we need, particularly around personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. This includes masks and gowns and gloves. Now we have authorities that the federal government can use to compel private industry to produce these products if they’re in the national interest. In this case, they are. Now, I think we should only use those kinds of authorities as the last resort because they are disruptive, but part of what real leadership is about is about bringing people together to do voluntarily what we need as a country to have done. And in this case, I think if we had a clear and compelling call to private industry with clear directives on what is needed and then the specs for what needed to be produced, I think we would start to see more and more businesses voluntarily switch over their production and start to produce masks and gloves and gowns.
This isn’t actually theoretical. Like even as we speak, I’ve spent the last five or six days in touch with multiple companies that have sought me out and are seeking other public health experts out saying, you know, “I have a shirt factory” or “I have another type of apparel factory. I want to help. Give me the specs. I will start producing today.” This is the spirit of America that we’re seeing with people standing up in every corner of this country, raising their hand and saying, “How can I help?” And part of what we need to do as government is to give them the opportunities to help, to make it easier for them to step up and to make a difference. So these are just a few of the things I think that are essential to do right now.
But I think one of the last things, and the really, really important role of government in these kinds of crises is to be in a sense both the data keeper as well as the storyteller. And let me explain what I mean by that. In moments like this, there are key questions that people want to know the answer to. They want to know how many people have the illness, how many people have survived, how many people have been tested, how many of those tests are positive, are there shortages of tests anywhere, and how quickly can we meet those shortages? These are data questions and in the absence of having a clear place where people can go, it makes a response much harder. And we don’t have full clarity on some of these critical data questions right now, but that absolutely needs to be something that the federal government steps in to help solve in partnership with states.
But the storyteller’s side of the coin is also very important. Storytelling is essential. It’s not just entertainment, it’s how we process events. It’s how we anchor ourselves in an experience. It’s how we find meaning and make sense of really confusing times. And the role of a leader in a crisis, whether it’s an individual leader or an organization, like in this case the federal government that’s taking the lead, is to be able to tell a clear, honest, transparent, but compelling story about the journey we’ve been on and where we’re going. You need to be able to tell people what we’ve seen and experienced, what their real costs of it are, but you also have to provide a hopeful path forward and help people see how we can emerge from this, what the path to doing that actually is, and how we can actually get there together. None of these things I’ve described are easy, but they are necessary. They’re essential during crises and these are some of the areas that I would focus on if I had the privilege of serving.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you. It’s been fascinating to observe, at least on the state level, Cuomo’s daily briefings, which I think seem to be certainly a step in the right direction. But that would be needed, if I’m hearing you correctly, more so on a national level. God, I hope we can get our act together. I’m optimistic and pessimistic depending on the hour in which you happen to catch me, but do you think it is possible in a country like the United States, and we won’t spend too much more time on the nitty-gritty of this, but to implement some of the aspects of the playbooks from countries like, say, South Korea or China that seem to have played roles in somewhat — I shouldn’t say necessarily completely containing, but lowering the R naught of the SARS-CoV-2 in these places?
For instance, there’s the contact tracing and so on, which seems like it would run into privacy issues in the United States if we’re using private cell phone data and geolocation and so on. You have, say in South Korea, actual penalties, in other words enforcement of shelter at home, which I believe escalated over time to the point where they got to something in the thousands, between five and $8,000 per infraction. And I mentioned that just because a friend of mine told me that looking at satellite data of San Francisco after the shelter-in-place command, the foot traffic was roughly 60 percent of normal. That doesn’t strike me — it’s a very leaky condom that you’re using to practice safe sex, metaphorically speaking. Right? So that doesn’t really give me a super high degree of confidence in a compliant population without enforcement. Do you think we are simply too culturally different and too politically divided to implement some of these stricter measures? Or would you, if you could, implement some of these things in the United States?
Vivek Murthy: Yeah, this is such a good question. Some of the extraordinary public health measures that have been taken in South Korea and China to really stem the tide of COVID-19 would be hard to take here for sure. But I think what we have in the United States in part as a result of our cherished preservation of freedom and individual liberties is as a government, we have a greater burden of responsibility to ensure that we are explaining things and making our case to the public of what needs to be done. And so that is an important — but not always an efficient — way to achieve behavior change. You mentioned that foot traffic in San Francisco is 60 percent of what it was after the shelter-in-place order was issued, and that’s not good. That means that we’re going to still see continued spread if there indeed is a lot of virus in the city, which we have reason to believe there is.
And so I think the burden of responsibility on the government and on leaders — to really communicate in a clear and compelling way what has to be done — I think is much greater in society here. With that said, I do think that there are moments when the national interest is threatened where we have to ask ourselves what trade-offs are necessary in terms of individual liberties to protect the national interest? And we make these decisions all the time. For example, we don’t say that individual liberty means that you can drive whatever speed you want on the highway. We’ve also said that individual freedom doesn’t mean that you can drive without a seatbelt. We’ve made mandatory seatbelt laws a thing in states all across the country. So as much as we may pride ourselves on being a country that preserves individual liberty, we have made thoughtful, calculated decisions in many occasions on what trade-offs are worth it for our own benefit and also for the public benefit.
And I think when it comes to epidemic responses, what we’re going to have to do in the aftermath of COVID-19 is I think have a much deeper discussion about what kind of trade-offs we need to make to make sure that something like this does not wreak the kind of havoc on our country that it very well may and seems poised to do. And if that means that we may need to consider contact tracing and our location tracing as part of what needs to be discussed, then we should have that discussion. I’m not saying that everyone should give their data over to the government, but these are the conversations and debates that we need to have. We also have to ask ourselves what kind of power we want to give to different levels of government. Like what should a local government be able to impose in terms of restrictions on your movements? What about a state government? What about a federal government?
So these are tough and complicated questions, but I think part of the challenge we have with difficult issues in the modern-day setting in the United States is that when things are difficult, because of the polarized environment in which we live, we tend to move on and just focus on other issues. So we don’t deal with climate change because it has become a politically polarized issue. We don’t deal with many aspects of healthcare because they’ve become politically polarized. And I think that if we really want to overcome that kind of polarization, we actually have to do the opposite of what we hear recommended a lot. I live in Washington DC and I hear many pundits say, “Well, we’ve really got to do is get people with different views in the same room, have them really talk to each other and understand what their points of view are and then maybe they can find a point of agreement or convince each other.”
That really never works. The way people overcome these barriers, the way they sort of bridge the polarization that they’re experiencing right now, is actually by building relationships first. That has nothing to do with the actual issue at hand, whether it’s climate change or gun violence or reproductive rights, but when we build a relationship with each other, we’re better able to talk to each other and listen to each other. That’s why many of us who may have an aunt or an uncle or a grandmother or grandfather who has views that we find to be disagreeable and despicable, we can still have them over for Thanksgiving dinner. We still want to have them over. We can still respond if they’re in an accident because we deeply care about them because there’s a foundation, which is the relationship on which we’re building our conversations.
The problem right now in America is increasingly we don’t have those bonds between each other. We don’t have those relationships to build conversation and discussion on. So what ends up happening is we’re having discussions about polarized topics with strangers who are easy to caricature. And those discussions don’t often go very well. And that’s reflected frankly with what’s happening in Congress, where members of Congress increasingly don’t have relationships with each other. And it’s not a surprise that it’s harder for them to come together and broker real solutions for the larger public.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this polarization and what at least temporarily can suspend or make irrelevant that polarization. 9/11 would be perhaps one example. These acute losses of life, these very graphic events that seem to unite people at least temporarily to take certain steps. Pearl Harbor, probably another fantastic example, right? So Japanese attempt to destroy a Pacific fleet, underestimating the sort of dynamic qualities and variables that could change when the United States united and suddenly changed all of its production and so on to then later turn around and sort of exact vengeance a thousandfold.
And I am on some level darkly optimistic that — I mean, this sounds terrible, but, you know, sort of anticipating that there could be something that graphic and awful, particularly given the nature of every cell phone having a video camera and still camera embedded that would perhaps suspend the polarity, the political polarity, long enough to take really decisive action. Do you think there’s anything that comes to mind as it relates to COVID-19 that could act as such a catalyzing event? I mean, what would it take, if anything comes to mind, to temporarily give us a political ceasefire so we could take really decisive, unified action?
Vivek Murthy: Well, I do think, Tim, that COVID-19 could be a catalyst for greater unity and for stepping back from the polarization. And part of what gives me hope is that I’m already starting to see that happen here and there in communities across the country as people reach out to each other and help each other, as people check in on neighbors who are struggling now without anyone to help them because they’re alone. And I’ve seen even on a local level, even though this doesn’t get a lot of press, I’ve seen local officials kind of step up and put traditional partisan issues aside to work together because they recognize that there’s something much, much greater at stake and much more urgent, which is the lives of the people that they’re there to serve.
So I do think it can happen. What I worry about is this: does it always have to take a crisis, particularly one that involves a loss of life and great suffering, for us to realize that we truly need each other and that we need to come together and put our collective well-being over our individual interests? I hope it won’t always take that, but I do think that given the magnitude of what COVID-19 has already done and what it stands to do to the United States and to the world, that this could be a wake-up call. This could be an opportunity for people to come together.
The real question though, Tim, is will they stay together? And if you look back at 9/11 and at many of the tragedies we’ve experienced as a country, we do come together. And what we see in those moments is I think the actual authentic, intrinsic human spirit, which is a spirit of togetherness, a spirit of interdependence, a spirit of compassion and generosity and joy. But that gets quickly eroded as we settle back into our day-to-day lives. And there are many reasons why we settle back. And there are forces, I think, in the messaging we see in media and from work and then the larger culture, which keep pulling us back, I think away from a focus on relationships.
You know, Tim, what I find interesting is if you and I went to a street corner in any major city in the United States and we pulled a hundred people aside and we asked them all what their top priority in life was, I can almost guarantee you that all of them would have a person as their top priority. Maybe their spouse, maybe their child, maybe their mother or father. But if we look at how we live our lives, if you look at where we put our time, energy, and focus, if you look at what society tells us constitutes success, it’s actually very different. Like, the message that society sends us, and in particular that young people get through various forms of media, is that success is driven by your ability to acquire wealth, power, or reputation/fame.
And if that is what worth is connected to, then we’ll build our lives around that. That’s where we’ll spend our time. That’s what we’ll be thinking about when we go to sleep at night. That’s what we’ll invest our energy in. But in reality, I think what gives us the deepest joy and fulfillment in our life is actually our relationships. And when I think back on the people that I had the privilege of caring for in the hospital at the end of their life, I think a lot about what they talked about in those final days. And what they talked about were not the promotions that they received or how big their bonuses were. They didn’t talk about how many followers they had on Instagram or how many friends they had in the world. What they talked about, really, where the quality of their relationships. They talked about the people they loved, about the relationships they wished they had spent more time with. They talked about the joy that the people in their life brought them. And I think that is a very powerful signal to us of what really matters. That’s not something that just I’m seeing, that’s something that people in all walks of life who spend time with people in their final days, this is what they focus on. They focus on people.
And so I think that if we want to ultimately address the deeper issues we’re facing as a society, whether it’s the polarization that we’re dealing with, whether it’s the challenges we’ve faced on the health front with chronic illness, particularly with mental illness and with addiction, I think we have to ask ourselves what role does social connection and loneliness play in the outcomes that we’re worried about?
And what I have found over the last few years in thinking about this issue and talking to people who have studied this for a lifetime, in hearing and listening to the stories of people all across the world who have struggled with loneliness — but who have also built lives of rich social connection — is that it is our relationships that are the foundation on which we build everything else: good health, fulfillment, and a good life.
Tim Ferriss: How would you suggest, because we’ve been discussing, we’ve zoomed from the macro into the micro, which is where I would like to stay for a bit. Rather than looking at, say, the federal level, let’s talk about a company. If you’re talking to a CEO or a C-suite or a leader of a large group of people within a company, what are things that they can do to help improve the sense of connectedness or worth as a counterweight to loneliness — which I think that is a challenge for a lot of people and will increasingly be a challenge for a lot of people certainly over the next few weeks.
And therein lies an opportunity to sharpen the saw as it relates to developing countervailing or counterbalancing forces opposing isolation or loneliness. So what types of tools or advice would you suggest with business leaders, people who run companies, whether it’s five people or 500 or 5,000?
Vivek Murthy: I’m really glad you asked, Tim, because I think that the workplace is an incredibly powerful place for us to cultivate human connection. And I think when we don’t have workplaces where people feel like they have strong relationships, that has a measurable impact on productivity, on retention, and on overall satisfaction at work. There are some fascinating researchers who’ve been working in this area, including Sigal Barsade at Wharton, who’ve found that loneliness in the workplace is just as common as it is in the general population. Somewhere around 20–25 percent of people in the workplace seem to struggle with loneliness and the consequences are substantial. So whether you care about the bottom line or you care about the happiness of your employees, loneliness and social connection matter. And I think there are a couple of things that we can do in companies that would really help.
I think one is to create opportunities for people to really see and understand each other for who they are beyond the roles that they play in the workplace. All of us have a fundamental desire to want to be seen for who we are, not just as Tim, who’s great at pricing strategy or Vivek, who’s good at — I don’t know what I’m good at, I’m not sure — but we want to be known for more than a skill set. We want to be known as human beings who’ve got a story.
I’ll tell you one example of something we did when I was the Surgeon General, is we created this exercise called the inside scoop exercise, and we did this after a year of working really hard to try to create a family environment in the office, we realized that people still were not as connected as they could be despite all of the weekend picnics and the happy hours and all of that —
Tim Ferriss: Quick question before we get to the practice of the inside scoop. How did you ascertain that you had that problem? Does that make sense? How did you diagnose that or observe that before we get to the inside scoop? I want to get there, but I want to also know how you diagnosed it because I would imagine there are plenty of business leaders who think everything is just hunky-dory going along swimmingly. Whereas in fact, it is perhaps not. So if you could speak to that.
Vivek Murthy: Yeah. So what we didn’t do is we didn’t have a very specific survey tool that we used to assess in a quantitative way whether people felt connected or not. Those kinds of tools actually exist, but we didn’t use them. But what we were going on was actually a much more simple observation.
From my perspective, I was observing the office and feeling that people were not stepping out of their lanes enough to help each other. Now that’s a voluntary thing. It’s not their job description to help someone else with their job. But it wasn’t happening to the extent that I thought it should be happening. And I started to wonder why. And to me, when I think about the workplace, a lot of my thinking comes back to the model of the family.
So, in a family, people help each other. Why do they help each other? Because they feel a sense of commitment and connection to each other because they know each other deeply. So even if somebody messes up there’s a deeper well of knowledge about who that person is that makes you more likely to forgive them and to give them the benefit of the doubt.
In a workplace, I think you can ideally create a similar environment. So the fact though that people were not stepping out of their lane enough to help each other, it made me think that their connection to each other was not as strong as what we wanted it to be. And so this inside scoop exercise that we instituted was actually very simple. It was five minutes in our weekly all-staff meeting where we picked one individual and we asked them to show us pictures for those five minutes. Pictures of anything they wanted except it couldn’t be connected to the work that they were doing right now to their current job.
Some people showed examples of careers they had before, others showed pictures of their families. People picked what they wanted. What was really powerful about this, despite how simple it was, is it gave people a chance to share who they were without any pressure in the sense that we weren’t telling them to fill some criteria to generate some response, to have a list of questions that they could pose to the group. There was none of that. It was this very simple, show us something that you’d want us to know about your life.
I’ll tell you that one gentleman in particular who was my aide-de-camp and was in the Marine Corps prior to joining the public health service, we all thought that he might show pictures of his time in the Marine Corps. His strong allegiance to the Marine Corps. He talked about his experiences there a lot and he was also very stoic. He still had the same crew cut and haircut that he had in the Marine Corps he had maintained over all those years. He was what people in the office called a guy’s guy.
And when the day came, though, for his exercise, he didn’t show pictures of his time in the service. What he showed were pictures of his mother and pictures of his father and he said that he could see the musical talent of his father living on in his children as they tinkered with the piano. He said with his mother, that when he was in those moments of grave danger in the Marine Corps when he was deployed on missions where he wasn’t even sure if he would come back alive, that in those moments when he felt the fear rising in his stomach, that it was his mother that he would think of because she was his picture of strength. She had raised him and his brother largely on her own. She had fed them and clothed them and got them an education and helped them build a successful life, and that to him was real strength.
And when he shared that story, Tim, it was so deeply moving, that five minutes of sharing built relationships that we had not built over the past year. And within a few weeks we started to see people stepping out of their lanes and helping each other. We started to see people who had previously been quiet in meetings start to raise their hand and participate because they felt that they were seen and that they were appreciated for who they were. That was a very powerful moment for us.
So workplaces that can create opportunities like this, semi-structured opportunities for people to share more about who they are, that is very powerful. There’s one other thing Tim, that I want to mention also which is, that there’s great power in people helping each other in the workplace. And one of the stories that I came across when doing research on loneliness was — there are stories and the research of a gentleman at the University of Michigan, Wayne Baker at the business school there, who has done a lot of work on relational energy, on understanding what our interactions with other people do to the energy we feel and how that energy translates into productivity in the workplace.
And one of the things that he has found is that high-quality connections, which can be lasting friendships or momentary interactions, both can be extraordinarily powerful in raising our energy level. And one of the things that really boosts that relational energy is the experience of helping someone else, but also the experience of receiving help from someone else.
So what he did is he, along with Adam Grant and a few others, put together a structured tool through a company now that they’ve built called Givitas, which allows organizations to have an organized setting where people can be a part of a community where they submit a need that they have and other people can submit answers or offers of help to meet that need. And you can do this online, you can actually do it in person in regular gatherings in groups and companies. But the point is that the experience of being able to identify people’s needs and then have people step up to meet those needs in a structured way can be extraordinarily powerful and can significantly boost relational energy.
But the final thing, Tim, which is hard to put into a specific protocol, has to do with culture in the workplace. And creating a culture of kindness and compassion is extraordinarily important if you want to build human connection in the workplace and have people build strong connections with each other. And that is not something you can just put on your mission statement or your value statement, stamp it on the wall and just hope it happens. That’s a place where leadership by example really matters.
Despite all the cynicism that we have in the world, people still do look to their leaders for examples. And when the leaders in organizations treat each other with kindness, when they look to people throughout the organization, give them time and actually listen to their concerns honestly and empathically, that makes a difference. People take note of that.
And so I think these are some areas that can be extraordinarily powerful in the workplace in terms of how we build connection, creating opportunities for people to see each other for who they are, creating opportunities for people to give and receive help, and helping to build that culture of kindness and compassion through example and through practice. These I think are the key ingredients to building a connected workplace.
Tim Ferriss: I love the inside scoop exercise. And I have a question about the specifics in one respect, because I want to try this and I will try this with my employees. I am lucky at least in one sense that I have a very small team. How many staff members did you have in these all-hands meetings?
Vivek Murthy: So these meetings were meetings of our immediate office. So they were about 20 people.
Tim Ferriss: And how did you pick the people who would go, or how were they chosen?
Vivek Murthy: The goal was to go through everyone in the office, but we started with the people who, as we saw it, were the least seen in the office either because they were the quietest or because they maybe worked from home often and people didn’t see them very often. So that’s how we started.
Tim Ferriss: That makes a whole lot of sense. And the company you mentioned, I believe co-founded by Adam Grant, if I heard you correctly, is that Givitas, like gravitas, or?
Vivek Murthy: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Could you spell that? I could take a stab at it but —
Vivek Murthy: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, if you wouldn’t mind. And we’ll put this in the show notes as well so people can find it, but just so that people know the spelling.
Vivek Murthy: Yeah. So it’s G-I-V-I-T-A-S.
Tim Ferriss: Great. All right. We will put that in the show notes for everybody @tim.blog/podcast/ along with everything else. If people wanted to pull their employees or ask questions of their workforce, are there any questions that you would suggest? I know that, that’s not how you approached this. You were basing it more on the observation that you described, but are there any questions or tools that you would suggest for people who want to check the pulse of their team?
Vivek Murthy: So a couple of things I would suggest. If you are looking for an actual survey, the Gallup organization actually does polls around social connection in the workplace and you can look to their questions as a survey tool that you could use. The other survey tool that you could use is the UCLA Loneliness Scale, which there are different versions of it. There’s a 20-question version of it; there’s also a three-question version — both validated tools — but that may give you a sense of how much loneliness there is in your organization.
If you were looking for one or two simple questions, one of the interesting ones that has actually been found to be quite useful as an indicator in the Gallup polls has been the question, “Do you have a best friend at work?” And it turns out that people who do not have a best friend at work, people who answer that question “No,” have significantly lower engagement in the workplace and that engagement is tied to productivity at the end of the day and also impacts how people feel about the company and their colleagues.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a great question, I’m writing it down. And I promised earlier, lest I get chastised by my listeners, that I would ask you about anchors and “Remember your anchors.” Could you please speak to what “Remember your anchors” means, and also describe your anchors and why they’re your anchors?
Vivek Murthy: That’s so interesting you’re asking me that. Can I ask you where that question came from, Tim?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. The question came from homework. I was reading a Forbes piece and that is where the mention of anchors came up, but you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. So perhaps I have been reading an interview of Victor Lake and misattributing. But I’ll read what I have in front of me and we can use that as a jumping-off point. So feel free —
Vivek Murthy: Actually, I know what you’re talking about. And that was actually Vivek Murthy, not Victor Lake. So we’re on solid ground here. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Perfect.
Vivek Murthy: Tim, “Remember your anchors” is a piece of advice that I developed to remind myself actually often when I was in residency. And when I was in residency training, it was a really intense experience for me. I was both dealing with life and death every day. I was seeing people who were gravely ill, who were my age and who very well could have been me. I was also though trying to figure out a lot of stuff in my own life. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was going through yet another identity crisis or trying to figure out do I want to be a doctor 100 percent of the time? Do I want to be something else? So I was trying to figure out a lot of stuff and I was dealing with a tumultuous intellectual and emotional experience.
And in that very unsettling, ungrounded time in my life, I found that what I really needed was some force that would ground me in my life and I began to think of those as my anchors, the forces that would keep me tethered, that would make sure that I didn’t float off in these moments of hopelessness and worry and anxiety. And those anchors ultimately were people in my life, they were my mother and my father and my sister, they were a few close friends like my friend Akil, who was my roommate in college. These became my anchors.
And what I tried to force myself to remember in the years that followed well after I finished residency is that I need to be keeping track of whether or not I’m remembering those anchors and reaching out to them and staying connected to them. Because at times in my life where I have felt anxious and worried, the times where I’ve felt just lost, frankly, of which there have been many, including very recently. Those moments are often when I’ve lost touch with the people in my life, the people who are really the ones who know me almost better than I know myself. The people who can remind me of who I am even in those moments when I forget.
And I want to say that last part again because that to me is the true definition of a friend, and this came from somebody that I spent some time with in college on an overseas trip to India to do HIV work. And in one of these late-night philosophical discussions, I just happened to ask him, I was like, “Hey, man, what do you think real friendship is about?” And he just paused for a moment and he said, “A real friend is somebody who reminds you of who you are even when you forget.” And that has stuck with me.
And those people are our anchors. They’re the mirrors that we need during moments in our life where our vision is foggy and we can’t really see our way out of the fog and we don’t know who we are, we don’t know where we want to go, we’re just lost. And so anchors to me, those are people, those are relationships. That’s what we’ve got to hold onto regardless of what stage of life we’re at.
Tim Ferriss: It is easy for me at least to forget who I am. It’s easy to lose the plot, and I suppose there are probably shared characteristics that typify the episodes in which that’s most likely to happen. You mentioned a recent experience of feeling lost. What was that? What happened or what caused that feeling to come up for you?
Vivek Murthy: Well, it was when I ended my stint in government. When I was no longer a Surgeon General and I was back to being a civilian and I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. That was a time of real difficulty for me. I was lost. I was lonely, I was probably depressed. I was unsure if I had any value to contribute to the world. And if I did, I was unsure how to actually deliver that value. It was a really hard time. And part of it was that — and I even told myself this during my time in office, I was like, “I’m here as a custodian of an office and I’m the custodian of the office of the Surgeon General. But the Surgeon General is not my identity. That’s not who I fundamentally and intrinsically am as a human being; it’s an office that I’m occupying.”
But despite all of those warnings and admonitions, if you will, there was still a shift in identity that had happened to me when I was in office where I think perhaps by necessity, we — I don’t want to say we, I should say I, took on the trappings of that role and came to identify very strongly with it and I wanted to be a good shepherd for the office. I wanted to set the office up to be stronger for the person who inherited it after me. I wanted to do those things, but it became part of who I was. And when I was no longer a Surgeon General, which happened, I mean if we’re being open here, it happened in a fairly traumatic way. Which I’m happy to delve into if you’d like, but when it happened it was difficult to process all of that.
And there was a part of me which felt like because I no longer occupy that office, that somehow people wouldn’t want to engage with me or maybe they wouldn’t think that I had any value to add to the world or maybe the same very things that I had said back then if I said them again would somehow be less valuable because they were not coming from somebody who held that position. They were all of these thoughts, often irrational thoughts, that were going through my head and it was really, really hard, Tim. It was one of the loneliest times I’ve had since my childhood.
Tim Ferriss: I want to ask you how you found your way through that or out of that, the things that most contributed. And certainly, I mean, there might be a component of regression to the mean, but I would love to ask you about pieces of the puzzle that you found particularly helpful for getting through that period. But just so my listeners’ minds don’t run wild with all sorts of imaginative scenarios, could you speak briefly to why the transition was so traumatic? You don’t have to share of course, any detail you’re uncomfortable sharing, but I do think a little more context would be helpful. And frankly, I’m also curious myself because you and I haven’t spoken about this.
Vivek Murthy: No, we haven’t, Tim. So I’ll tell you. So the office of the Surgeon General is an unusual appointment in government in that even though it’s an appointment made by the president, the term does not end when the president leaves office. So the vast majority of political appointments will end on January 20th when the new president takes office and you submit your resignation letter and then you move on and you give the new president the opportunity to appoint their people. That’s how it works.
But there are a few positions where that doesn’t happen. They’re called term appointments. So you’re given a four-year term and that may run into the next administration, but you serve that term, but you still serve at the pleasure of the president.
So if the new president comes in and they say, “I’ve got my own person that I want to appoint and I would like you to step down.” Then you make room for the new person. And Surgeon General is not the only position that’s like this, The FBI directors and others, there are several in the federal government that have term appointments.
In my case what had happened is that my term technically ran until December of 2018. There was a new administration that started in January of 2017. And for various reasons, I knew that it was a possibility I might be asked to leave. And if it came to that, I wanted to make room for the president’s pick. But the way it happened was a bit surprising to me because it was one of those things, there was really no discussion about it. Often there is. And it was in the early days probably three, four months into the administration where things were still a bit chaotic. People were finding their footing and figuring out the building.
So one day I had a meeting at, I believe it was three o’clock on a Friday in April, and I was supposed to be meeting with one of the assistant secretaries. And I walked into the room and the assistant secretary was sitting on the side, not in his chair. And I was surprised, but there was somebody else sitting in his chair and he said to me, he said, “Well, as of three o’clock we are going to terminate you unless you resign right now.” And I was puzzled because the same person who was in that chair, I had had meetings with him before and he had said, “Hey, we’re really excited to work with you on your opioid initiative because the opioid epidemic is a big problem. It’s a bipartisan issue, and we know you’ve been doing a lot on the issue, you’ve been leading a lot in the country and we think this is going to be an area of collaboration.”
So I was thinking to myself, well yes, it would be great to work together on that because it’s still a huge issue for the country. So I was gearing up to keep working on the opioid crisis. So I literally did not expect that message, nor did I expect it from this person. And so I looked at the clock at that moment and it was 3:07, and I said, “Wow, if I was being terminated as of three o’clock, then that means that I’m already terminated. So I guess there’s no point to having a discussion.” But he seemed insistent on trying to get me to resign.
And so it was this awkward back and forth where I said, “Well, I respect the president’s decision. If the president would like to let me move on to bring his own person in,” I said, “It feels like it would be inauthentic for me to resign and try to claim that I wanted to spend more time with my family.” Or something like that. But it didn’t feel authentic, it didn’t feel like it was real. And I said, “With respect, if you wanted to pursue a termination and if you want to appoint your own person, then just do that. It’s within your rights. There’s no one’s going to question that. It’s fine.” And that’s how I left.
And so it was abrupt. I never had a chance to say goodbye to my team, and I didn’t have a chance to process what all of this meant. It all happened very suddenly. And I remember going home and I had a few minutes to pack my belongings into a box and I got into a cab and started going home. And you know what my first worry was that popped into my head on the way home was: what are we going to do for health insurance for our baby boy?
Tim Ferriss: Sounds like a difficult ride.
Vivek Murthy: It was. Yeah, it was. And I was aware in that moment, Tim, that what I was worried about then in terms of health insurance for our boy and for the family was a worry that a lot of people have around the country every day who are teetering on the edge of not having the healthcare they need. But in that moment I was just a dad who was worried about his child.
And there were a lot of practical things to figure out in the days that followed. And one thing I didn’t really do in those early days as I busied myself with trying to figure out a lot of the logistics is, I didn’t really I think fully give myself this space to process everything that was happening to re-anchor myself, not just in my identity, but in the people in my life who had for so many years helped me to remember what my real identity was. That my real identity wasn’t being a doctor, it wasn’t being a Surgeon General. It wasn’t any of the titles that may have held at other points in my life. My real identity was the human being I was as a friend and as a brother and as a son to the people that I love. That it was the values that I cherished in my better moments. The values of compassion and kindness, the values that are intrinsic to all of us, I think in our best moments. Like that was really who I was. That was my identity, but I didn’t give myself enough, I think, space and time, and frankly I think I blamed myself also for what had happened in some way, even though on a rational level I knew that it wasn’t my fault per se.
I had blamed myself, somehow maybe if I had done things differently, I maybe still would’ve had the opportunity to serve and to finish so many of the campaigns that we had been building around the opioid epidemic around loneliness, around emotional well-being. And I was doing all of this, Tim, in the absence of community. It wasn’t because my friends had shunned me. It was more the other way around. During my time in office I had convinced myself that it was so important to pour myself into the job because I never knew how long I might have and I wanted to do as much as I could and make as much of a contribution as I could, that I convinced myself that I should just leave it all on the floor and sacrificed everything for that, which meant not keeping up with friends, not talking as often with my family.
And also, I’m somewhat ashamed to say, meant that a lot of times when I was with people I loved, I was distracted. I was trying to keep up with messages and get deliverables out the door. And I looked back on all of that and I started to realize what a toll that decision, that approach to my work had taken. I started to realize how lonely I had become and how little community I actually had. And so I had to live with that for a while. I had to figure that out and it was not easy. It was painful at times, I felt the shame of having done this. I knew I could just call up those friends and reconnect again. These are friends for life, but I felt embarrassed that I had disappeared for a few years. And it took some time for me to summon the courage to reach out and to actually pull myself out of my shell and my sort of downward spiral to just say, “Hey, let’s just pick up the phone and call a friend. Let’s make it a point to go visit somebody who’s been really a dear friend to me for years, but I haven’t seen.”
And doing that bit by bit, Tim, that helped. It’s another pact I made actually during that journey with two friends in particular, when we met at a fellowship retreat. We were walking around this lake together and these are two guys I love to death and they’re big brothers and we never see each other there very often because we live in different cities. And we were just saying, “How awesome would it be if we could just get together more often?” And I was like, “It’s never going to happen unless we do something different.” So we made a pact then, we said, “You know what we’re going to do? Once a month, we’re going to video conference with each other. We’re going to make that commitment right here, right now to each other.” And when we video conference, yeah, we’ll have fun. We’ll shoot the breeze here and there, but we want to make it a point to talk about the hard stuff with each other. The stuff that doesn’t normally come up between friends. We want to talk about our health. We want to talk about our relationships. We want to talk about our finances. The kind of stuff that everyone worries about, but that not many people often feel comfortable talking to friends about. Like, we want to be real with each other. And I felt this hunger for that kind of realness. I was like, I’m tired of trying to think about who I should be. I’m tired of thinking about like what my identity is, what my brand is, what brand I should build.
Like I had all these people afterward telling me, “Okay, you’ve got to get on social media and really build your presence. You’ve got to establish a brand so that you can get consulting gigs and get on boards and do all this kind of stuff.”
And I just felt so unhappy with that kind of approach. It just didn’t feel authentic. It didn’t feel real. It didn’t feel like who I was. And what I craved was that realness. And so when I saw these guys, I was like, “Let’s just make a commitment to not just spending the time but to being real with each other.” And we’ve done that now for about a year and a half and I’ll tell you, it’s been one of the most powerful forces in my life and helping me re-anchor, remember who I am, what my real identity is, and commit to working on the things that truly feel like they’re in alignment with my values. The stuff that I would be proud to tell my children about when they grow up. That’s the power of what honest, authentic relationships can do and I’m just so grateful for it.
Tim Ferriss: I really appreciate you being so vulnerable and transparent with all that you just shared. I think it’s really easy speaking as someone, I shouldn’t generalize speaking personally, as someone who’s struggled with depression during which the response to feeling lonely and isolated is often to isolate further, which deepens the feeling of loneliness. As you said very early on in this conversation, it is a prominent feature or common experience, the very least of the majority of humans who walk the face of this planet.
It’s not a reflection of being uniquely flawed to have these emotions and to experience these episodes. And I just applaud you for sharing because it’s so incredibly powerful when someone like yourself who, even though you don’t necessarily identify as such, who has achieved very high levels of success in multiple areas, former Surgeon General, are willing to share that in fact you also have gone through these experiences. I think in a way ennobles and normalizes that experience for other people. So I really appreciate you sharing all of that.
And it actually leads to a question for me and maybe a comment and then a question. So doing homework as I always do for this conversation, and before I get to my comment and my question, I’ll give a pre-comment comment, which is you should, if you don’t already, I feel like you could impact millions of people very effectively and authentically with a podcast.
So to be continued as far as conversation, you may already have a podcast and I’m just putting my foot in my mouth, but quite a number of people have been on this podcast, Jocko Willink, Cal Fussman, Peter Attia, and others who have started podcasts and I so far have a hundred percent success rate at predicting which guests can do well in this format. So to be continued. We can chat more about that if you ever wanted to.
Vivek Murthy: Thanks Tim, I’d love to.
Tim Ferriss: Of course, 38and the comment is related to a Washington Post piece, this is from 2017. And I’ll quote here, please feel free to fact-check of course, but this is attributed to you.
“I was at a well-known university about nine months ago when I was in office and I asked an audience of 400 faculty and students the following question: ‘How many of you look at emotions as a source of weakness versus a source of power?’ And nearly every hand went up. This is the paradigm we have to flip in this country.”
Could you comment on that please? Or share anything that comes up as I mentioned that and also speak to how you, if you have been able to view your own emotions as a source of power.
Vivek Murthy: Yeah, Tim. That was a surprising moment for me. And when I saw all of those hands in that room of 400 people going up saying they associated emotions with weakness. And I think one thing I have noticed in my own life is that I have been in that camp often as well. If I think about growing up and the messages that I absorb from the stories that were around me, whether those were on TV or told by people who are in movies, it was that especially if you’re a guy, that strength is associated with suppressing emotion and it’s associated with Stoicism and with not needing other people, not being dependent. That’s what strength is. And what I realized is that that didn’t work for me. Like I didn’t enjoy being the guy who’s out there and didn’t need anyone else for anything, because I actually did need people for stuff.
But I just felt embarrassed to say that because I was told that somehow that wasn’t manly or wasn’t strong. Similarly like in terms of emotions, like I have always been an expressive person. I’ve always thrived on emotions. I’ve engaged in intellectual pursuits, but I know I’m primarily driven by emotion and I feel like that has been my source of power and not a source of weakness. And so when thinking about this and in talking to others about it, I’ve just realized that our emotions are not a source of weakness. They are in fact, if used well, our greatest source of strength. Like when you look at an elite athlete for example, you look at someone like Serena Williams or LeBron James, people I don’t know personally, but I’m using them as examples.
My guess would be that they recognize that the difference between good and great is not just how much time you spend in the weight room or on the treadmill. It’s about your ability to translate your negative emotions into positive emotions, into a source of power.
And that’s what we do in our better moments. Like you look at parents for example, who go through extraordinary lengths, even putting themselves in harm’s way for their children, it’s because that’s driven by the emotion of love, an emotion that’s far more powerful than anything else I think that we have out there. Our emotions are our greatest source of strength, and so I think part of what we have to do as a country, especially for our boys, but especially for boys and girls, is we have to redefine strength as vulnerability, as human connection, as belonging, as emotion.
If we recognize that strength can be drawn from those moments of emotion, of vulnerability, then we can draw upon, I think, one of the greatest resources that we actually have. It struck me many times when reflecting on my own life and thinking about others that it seems like there are two primary forces that drive us in our life and they drive the decisions that we make and those forces are love and fear. And fear shows up in a bunch of different ways. It shows up as insecurity or jealousy or rage or anxiety. And love also shows up in different ways, as compassion, as kindness, as generosity, as warmth.
And when we lead with love, then we can transform other people’s lives. We can transform the organizations that we are leading. When we lead with fear, then that’s corrosive and infects the environments in which we work and the people around us. And when we think about the decisions that we make as I have in recent years started to do, I ask myself that question, “Am I making this decision because of love or fear? Am I making this decision because I’m scared of something or because I’m being inspired by compassion or by generosity or by kindness?”
And I find almost always, if not always, when I make decisions that are driven by fear, they rarely make me feel good. They often lead to poor outcomes. When I make decisions that are driven by love, even if they’re risky, even if the outcomes are unexpected, I almost always feel better now, almost always grow in some way as a result of those.
I mention this in particular, Tim, because I think it is so important for us as a society to be able to talk not just about emotions but about love, because love is the greatest source of strength that we have. I, as a doctor, have written many prescriptions for powerful medicines and antibiotics, but there is no medicine that’s more powerful than love and you don’t need a medical degree or to be a nurse to be able to deliver the power of love to other people’s lives. What you need is the very human and universal ability to respect and be in touch with your emotions, to summon what’s already inside you. And that’s the power of love.
Tim Ferriss: Well said, sir, and I cannot think of a better possible time for your new book and that I say that with the utmost sincerity. I mentioned it earlier at the very top of the show, but Together, that’s the title, subtitle, The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.
I feel like this is, along with the message that you just shared, possibly very good medicine for our times, certainly with what we’re facing, which is in some ways just bringing to the surface and magnifying that which is already there, I feel — the loneliness, certainly a pervasive loneliness. And I would love to hear anything you’d like to say about the book. It’s a hell of an undertaking to write a book.
Vivek Murthy: You would know, Tim.
Tim Ferriss: I do. I specialize in writing phone books, for God’s sake. So to write a shorter, a less-than-fun book is even harder since one could argue that I should better edit my own writing. I’d love to hear anything you’d like to share about the book and why you would pursue such an undertaking given what’s involved.
Vivek Murthy: Tim, this was not the book I thought I would write. I had a couple of ideas for other books that I was convinced would be the places I should focus on. But a funny thing happened to me in 2017 in the summer, I wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review on loneliness in the workplace. And I wrote it at the request of the editorial staff who thought that their audience would be interested in loneliness. I said, “Are you sure?” And they said, “No, we’re not sure, but we think it would be of interest.”
And I wrote that article thinking, okay, I’ll do this and I’ll move on to the next thing. But I was really struck by the response to that article from two groups, from members of the media from around the world who said, “Hey, we think this is a problem in our country,” to the messages from individuals who said, “I’ve been struggling with loneliness for a long time, but I never knew that there were so many other people out there. I never knew what the consequences of loneliness were to our health.”
And even despite that response, the universe kind of had to whack me over the head a few times and make me realize that this is actually where I should be putting more of my efforts. Because even during my time in office, it had just kept surfacing again and again, this issue of loneliness, the stories that I’d listen to in living rooms and in town halls all across the country. There were stories about addiction, there were stories about trauma and abuse, stories about chronic illness, and about violence in communities. But in the back of those stories, almost hidden from view, were these threads of loneliness that would often come up. And what people would say it was not, “Hi, I’m Tim; I’m struggling with loneliness.” What they would say where things like this. They would say, “I feel like I have to deal with all of these issues in my life on my own. I feel like nobody out there really cares about me. I feel like I’m invisible.”
These are the kinds of things that people would say again and again. And what I’d come to realize over time is that loneliness is more than a bad feeling, but it has real consequences for our health. And if you look at the research that’s out there, you find that loneliness is associated with a shorter lifespan. You find that it’s associated with an increased risk of heart disease and dementia and depression and anxiety. The mortality impact, if you will, of loneliness is similar to the mortality impact of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s greater than the mortality impact of obesity or sedentary living. These three issues, smoking, obesity, sedentary living, these are issues I spent a lot of time on as Surgeon General and so did my predecessors. I spent far less time on loneliness even though the health consequences are quite significant.
And I just started to think about this issue more, even after I came out of office. I started to realize that this is an issue that doesn’t just affect our health. It affects how we show up in life, whether that’s how we show up in the workplace or how our kids show up in school or how we show up in the public square and dialogue with other people.
And so it turned out that our social connection is in fact the foundation on which we build everything else. And I came to see that. I wanted to work on strengthening social connection in the world, because if we could do that, I really feel that we have a better shot at improving people’s health, that enabling them to live the kind of fulfilling lives that all of us ultimately really want. But I think to do that, to build a world that is powered by human connection, we’ve got to make some difficult and very intentional choices about the kind of culture we want to live in and about the kind of workplaces and schools that we want for ourselves and for our children.
And if I had a credo, Tim, for this book, it would be this, it would be: put people first. That simple philosophy, put people first, is I think at the heart of what we need to build a people-centered life and a people-centered world. And that’s the kind of world where we put our time and energy into our relationships. It’s where we design our workplaces and our homes and our lives around relationships that matter. It’s where the dominant culture, whether that comes through on the media or in the stories that we tell, recognizes the power of relationships and inspires us to be real with ourselves and with each other. It’s where our culture recognizes that it’s when we’re authentic and when we’re vulnerable, that we build the true connection that powers everything else that we do. That’s my hope for the world. That’s my hope for my children and the kind of world that they will inherit.
One of the things that pains me most as a dad is thinking about the moments where my children may encounter hardship or pain, and knowing that I may not always be there to support them or to hold their hand or to hug them. I know that that will happen. Every parent deals with that pain of knowing they can’t always be there for their child. And that’s why I think it’s so important that we build a kind of world that will lift our children up when they fall down, where people will reach out to them when they’re feeling alone to provide them with the support that all of us need at various moments in our life.
So what I’m talking about is not a subtle change in policy. It’s not a new law that we pass that suddenly changes the nature of human connection. This is a fundamental shift in how we think about our lives and how we think about our institutions and how we think about society. But it’s a kind of shift that puts people back at the center and I think can ultimately power us to a much, much higher level, a fulfillment achievement than what we’ve achieved so far.
And that’s what I want to do, Tim. I want to work on things that will build a better life and a better world for all of us and for our children. And if I can contribute in some small way to that, then hopefully I can in the final days of my life, like the patients I cared for at the end of theirs, I can talk about the relationships that I had, I can talk about the kind of world that I hopefully made some small contribution to help create, and that would feel very good.
Tim Ferriss: Well, Vivec, I must also say thank you for not only the conversations that we’ve had including this one, but also for your emotional support and compassion last week, in my case. You’re deeply compassionate, kind, and also calm and a calming person. And I appreciate you. Last week when I had a fever, shortness of breath, and dry cough for 24 to 36 hours, then shortly thereafter, sort of coinciding with my dog having what appeared to be exactly the same symptoms, that you were so available and understanding. As of course we ended up rescheduling given that I was feverish and not in a proper state of mind to conduct a good interview.
So I want to also just publicly say thank you for that, which is a sort of a microcosm for the macrocosm in the sense that it’s reflective of what you are hoping for and aiming for and helping to foster with certainly your message and also the book, which is Together. I just appreciate you being you, so thank you for both the personal help and also what you’re trying to do in the wider world.
Vivek Murthy: Oh, well thank you, brother. I appreciate that. That’s incredibly kind of you to say.
Tim Ferriss: I know people will want to wave hello and ask questions. Thank you for the interview. They can find you, I suppose the home base is vivekmurthy.com I’ll spell that. V-I-V-E-K-M-U-R-T-H-Y.com. They can find you on Twitter at, I’m so self-conscious about saying your name now. On Twitter @vivek_murthy and then Facebook, Instagram @DrVivekMurthy. I think the key is just for me to say it quickly and not get too tangled up in my own vocal cords.
Vivek Murthy: I’m just glad you didn’t call me Victor Lake, Tim.
Tim Ferriss: I’m reserving that for special occasions! And the book, as mentioned, is Together subtitled The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. I certainly recommend among other formats, get it in all formats, but make sure you get it in ebook so that you can highlight. I’m sure there will be ample opportunity. Is there anything else that you would like to share with my audience or say before we close this first conversation on the podcast?
Vivek Murthy: Well, I just want to say thank you to you, Tim. I think what you have done through your podcasts and through the work you’ve done through your books is you’ve created spaces for people to show up, to be authentic, to have deeper conversations. And that’s incredibly valuable in a world that’s moving faster and faster and faster, where who we are can get lost so easily. So I appreciate so deeply what you’re doing. And maybe I’ll leave you with one of my favorite proverbs, an old African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” And I’m reminded of that as we talk because I think that what we need to do in our lives but also in the world is we need to go far. We’re facing some pretty big challenges as a society and they won’t be easy to overcome.
But moments like this, whether we’re facing a pandemic or a longer-term crises like climate change, moments like this I think are opportunities for us to find each other, to reconnect with each other, to refocus on relationships and to put people first. And my hope is that we will use these challenges to do that and then when we emerge out of them, that if we are intentional about spending time with the people we love, if we’re intentional about making the quality of that time high-quality time by reducing distraction and really just focusing and listening to people, if we’re really intentional, Tim, about serving and recognizing that it is through our service to others, that we ultimately pull ourselves out of loneliness and build strong connections, then I actually think we can emerge from these crises stronger than we were even before.
And that’s why I remain hopeful about the future of humanity because I think we were designed to be there for each other. We were designed for connection and if we refocus on the relationships in our life, I think we will go farther and have a much more fulfilling experience than we could even imagine. So thank you for this time together, Tim. I’ve really, really enjoyed it.
Tim Ferriss: Me, too. Thank you so much. And for people listening, I will have links galore, lots of resources, anything that was mentioned in this conversation you’ll be able to find in the show notes at tim.blog/podcast. And you can find Vivek, vivekmurthy.com, of course. Remember your anchors, and until next time, thanks for tuning in.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.