Please enjoy this transcript of another episode of the “Books I’ve Loved” series, in which I invite amazing past guests, close friends, and new faces to share their favorite books—the books that have influenced them, changed them, and transformed them for the better.
This episode, we hear from Los Angeles-based comedian, actor, writer, and producer Whitney Cummings (@whitneycummings). Whitney has appeared in multiple television shows and films, and has performed in stand-up specials for both HBO and Comedy Central, one of which was nominated for an American Comedy Award. You can subscribe to her podcast, Good For You, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts. Whitney is also the author of I’m Fine…And Other Lies, and her most recent comedy special, Can I Touch It?, is now available for streaming on Netflix. For more Whitney, check out our conversation from 2015.
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This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.
Whitney Cummings: Hi, Tim Ferriss listeners. It’s Whitney Cummings. Thank you so much for letting me do this, Tim. I’m only picking two books because I just wanted to keep it, kind of, short and sweet. The first one that I wanted to suggest is a book by Gavin de Becker. It’s called The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us. It’s a lot about stalkers and violence and stuff like that.
But there’s a lot of invaluable advice around hiring people and drawing boundaries with people, vetting people, for people that want to be highly productive, for people that want to have their weekends off, for people who want to have a drama-free workplace, for people who don’t want to spend their time and emotional energy on difficult people. This is a pretty transformative book in terms of learning how to trust your gut and not dismiss red flags or write them off.
I spent a lot of time working with people that were exhausting, egomaniacs, difficult people, people who would be a time suck in terms of managing their emotions or people that interpreted constructive criticism as rejection and then I felt like I had to take care of their feelings and this and that. I mean, for someone that has those feelings, I also recommend [Melody] Beattie’s book, Codependent No More, and The Adult Child of Alcoholics Big Book, ACA Big Book.
But if you’ve done that work and you know you’re not being codependent and it turns out someone’s just being really difficult, this book is pretty wonderful for not dismissing your own gut instincts. Because a lot of times when someone’s difficult, you want to go, “Well, I’m probably just being sensitive,” or, “I probably was too harsh,” or, “I probably should have handled it this way,” or, “I shouldn’t have sent an email that was that direct.” When you start blaming yourself.
There’s something I want to read to you so I can start getting more specific. On 123, page 123, of The Gift of Fear, he writes, “If you tell someone 10 times that you don’t want to talk to him, you are talking to him nine more times than you wanted to. If you call him back after he leaves 20 messages, you simply teach him the cost of getting a call back is 20 messages.”
I love that because I don’t think I understood that setting a boundary isn’t always setting a boundary. It’s setting a boundary for yourself. If someone doesn’t respect your boundary, you don’t just keep setting the boundary. You just have to completely disengage with the person if they don’t have the emotional intelligence acumen or the ability to read a situation in a way that’s appropriate. It took me a long time to stop engaging in inappropriate behavior at the workplace.
For me, if it was like, I just have to spend an hour every day with this person to get them to act the way I want them to, that’s an hour more a day that I need to be spending with this person. So this book really helped me understand that sometimes the only way to win is to not play. Sometimes the best strategy is a masterful retreat when it comes to crazy people that are just not able to take a hint.
I highly recommend digging into that chapter. There’s a great story about this person who was at a workplace who was becoming a problem, and I highly recommend that.
I also earmarked page 158 for some reason. Oh, yes I did. It’s about references. When you’re working with people getting references, you know, I’ve made a lot of hiring mistakes because I tend to hire people because we get along really well. We have really good chemistry, or this person’s so funny, or we’re both from DC. We’ve all had those things where we want to hire someone that we actually should have just been friends with instead of someone we should actually be working with eight hours a day in high-stake situations. I’ve made this mistake before. I used to never ask around about people. I used to never get references. I used to never call. You’d see references on a resume. You’d be like, “Oh, well, obviously if their number is there, that counts. Easy enough.”
I like to now spend way more time hiring. It helps me save time later in drama, frankly. On 158. “The failure to take the obvious step of calling references is an epidemic in America, and I have little patience for managers who complain about employees that didn’t care enough to assess before hiring.
“A common excuse for this failure is that references will say only good things since the candidate has prepared them for the call. In fact, there is a tremendous amount of information to be gained from references in terms of confirming facts on an application. ‘Did you know him when he worked for such-and-such firm?’ ‘When did he work for such-and-such firm?’ ‘Do you know roughly what salary he was making?’ ‘Do you know what school he went to?’ ‘You said you went to school with him.’
“I suggest the questions asked of those listed as references be guided by information on the application. The most important thing references can give you are other references. We call these people ‘developed sources.’ These are people who know the applicant, but whom he did not list as references. Accordingly, they are not prepared for your inquiry and will be more likely to provide valuable information.
“You get the names of developed sources by asking the references the applicant listed for the names of the people who know him.”
I’m reading that now, and for some reason, it sounds really hard to understand, but it basically means ask the references for other references. It’s people that weren’t necessarily prepared for your call.
“Do research before you hire people. The same way you would vet someone you date, someone you marry, someone you have in your home, vet people that you work with. It’ll save you a lot of time and emotional energy in the long run and you will be more prolific, productive, and happy.”
On page 282 there’s a great section on public speaking. A lot of people these days, if you’re starting a business, you want to be a performer, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to be able to speak in public. I think even now, if you only want to be a behind-the-scenes business person, investor, whatever, you also have to speak at panels. You have to do TED talks, you have to do a YouTube channel.
Public speaking now isn’t really optional—social media, YouTube. So there’s kind of a great section on that, and it’s a section that’s about rules. “What you fear is rarely what you think you fear. It’s what you link to fear.” There’s a whole section about fear and public speaking. “Surveys have shown that ranking very close to the fear of death is the fear of public speaking. Why would someone feel profound fear deep in his or her stomach about public speaking, which is so far from death? Because it isn’t so far from death when we link it. Those who fear public speaking actually fear the loss of identity that attaches to performing badly and that is firmly rooted in our survival needs. For all social animals, from ants to antelopes, identity is the pass card to inclusion, and inclusion is the key to survival. If a baby loses its identity as the child of its parents, a possible outcome is abandonment. For a human infant, that means death.
“As adults, without our identity as a member of the tribe or village community or culture, a likely outcome is banishment and death. So fear of getting up and addressing 500 people at the annual convention of professionals in your field is not just the fear of embarrassment, it’s linked to the fear of being perceived as incompetent, which is linked to the fear of loss of employment, loss of home, loss of family, your ability to contribute to society, your value—in short, your identity and your life.
“Linking an unwarranted fear [to its] ultimate terrible destination usually helps alleviate that fear. Though you may find that public speaking can link to death, you’ll see that that would be a long and unlikely trip.”
Just a really great chapter on fear and public speaking and how we link things in our brains, and that stuff just fascinates me and I think is really important for anyone that wants to be successful, quite frankly. Highly recommend The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.
The second book I’m going to recommend is a title that I just hardly can say out loud. It’s so embarrassing, but it is such an incredible book. It is called Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples. I can’t even say it without laughing. I remember when I first bought this book, I had to do it in person. It was before Amazon. I went to Barnes and Noble back when that was a store.
I went up to the guy, and I was like, “Can I get this book? It’s called Getting the Love…” I had to whisper it in the bookstore, I was so embarrassed to say it. Then he said it over the loudspeaker, “Getting the Love You Want. Aisle two.” It was very embarrassing, but the book is so unbelievable. It’s by Harville Hendrix and Helen [LaKelly] Hunt.
I mean, Harville Hendrix is really famous for developing Imago Therapy. Before I read a chapter to you, I talk about this a lot, but I think that the relationship you’re in is a business decision. I know most of Tim Ferriss’ listeners are chiming in for great business advice, productivity advice. The person you choose to be your partner is a business decision. The amount of money that you’re saving depends on that person.
The amount of time you’re putting in your business depends on that choice. The amount of emotional energy that you have depends on that choice. The amount of support you get. I feel very strongly that in order to be brave and take risks in your professional life, you have to have a very stable, safe, supportive personal life. I’m a big fan of anyone that wants to achieve wildly astronomical goals. You have to make sure that your home is in order, as well, and that your heart is in order. I think it’s important that anybody that wants to be successful in any part of their lives understands neurology and neurochemistry. You guys have heard me blather on about this.
On page 45 of Getting the Love You Want: “What causes the rush of good feelings that we all call romantic love? Scientists who study natural hormones and chemicals tell us that lovers are literally high on drugs, substances that flood their bodies with a sense of wellbeing.
“During the attraction phase of a relationship, the brain releases more dopamine and norepinephrine, two of the body’s neurotransmitters. These chemicals help contribute to a rosy outlook on life, a rapid pulse, increased energy, and a sense of heightened perception. Oxytocin is enhanced as well as a potent hormone that plays a role in many aspects of our lives, including childbirth, nursing, orgasm, and bonding of mother and child and social connections between individuals.
“Some refer to it as the love-sex hormone. During the phase when lovers want to be together every moment of the day, the brain also ramps up its production of endorphins, natural narcotics that enhance the sense of security and comfort.” You guys might know this on some level, but I think it’s really important that people understand that being in love, being attracted to somebody, being in a new, intense, passionate relationship—you’re literally high on drugs.”
It can be a huge distraction to your work life. If it ends up lasting, that’s great. But for the most part, I’ve worked—a lot of people ask me, “How do you do work so hard? How do you have so much time?”—I really try to limit the amount of, in my past, rampant love affairs because most of it is just neurochemicals. Not everyone is “the one,” and that’s okay.
But I think really intense, passionate relationships can be a giant distraction, ultimately, from the goals that you want to achieve. I always think it’s important that people really understand because you can meet someone and then lose four months of your life to someone that you’re like, “I don’t even like that person. I was just high on neurochemicals. That was a big waste of time.”
I think that we learn something from every relationship we’re in, but I see a lot of people’s careers suffering because they get distracted by relationships that ultimately don’t yield that much and lessons that they quite frankly don’t need to learn.
Page 73 there’s a great chapter on the stages of a power struggle in a relationship. “When you and your partner are immersed in a power struggle, you have little sense of when it all started or how it will end. But from an outside perspective, the power struggle has a predictable course, one that parallels the well-documented stages of grief in a bereaved person.”
I’m not going to read that whole chapter to you, but that’s a really interesting one. Then, on page 115, there’s a big chapter on empathizing and being able to see your partner’s inner world, to understand. Because sometimes we say something and it’s not received the way we intend it to be received, and we get so confused. How can they not understand what we’re saying?
Because they’re seeing it through the lens of their own experience, trauma, parenting, and neurology. There’s a great exercise on how to empathize with your partner. When you’re in a disagreement, you repeat what the other person says. It’s a pretty great exercise because how often are we in relationships and we say something and the other person completely contorts it and twists it and you’re like, “That’s not what I said,” and then you start fighting about fighting.
You’re not even fighting about the thing anymore. You’re like, what were we even fighting about? What you do to minimize the amount of time that you’re in one of these altercations or power struggles, if I say, “I’m uncomfortable that you showed up late,” the other person has to say, “I hear that you’re uncomfortable that I showed up late, but this, this, and this.” Then I have to go, “Well I hear that this, this, and this, but….” You have to mirror what the other person says, so that you’re actually having a productive conversation that just doesn’t turn into your childhood circumstances and trauma responses clashing and being ultimately a complete waste of time. Because I know Tim Ferriss listeners are very possessive about their precious time.
This book is a lot about how we are attracted to people that have the negative qualities of our primary caretakers. I find that to be incredibly important information just to know that that is how we lean. In general, our brains want to finish unfinished business. In our work life, in our professional life, in our friendships, we tend to be attracted to people who have the negative qualities of our primary caretakers.
When you’re going out on dates, when you’re selecting a mate, when you’re selecting friends, when you’re hiring employees, it’s important that you understand that that is going to be what we’re attracted to, and often when we’re attracted to the people that have the negative qualities of our primary caretakers, it turns into this thing that we’ve been marketed as being called chemistry—“I have great chemistry with that person”—but it really could just be your inner child going, “Mom, is that you? Da-da?” Then we end up just having our inner child run the show.
For the most part, the people I ended up working with are not the people that I have amazing chemistry with necessarily. It’s the people that hear me when I say something, have direct, clear communication. The people that you work with do not have to be the people you hang out with all the time and text with all day. You don’t have to be besties with the people you work with.
I think between these two books, it’s a really good way to make emotion-free, clear, logical hiring—and partnering—decisions so that you’re acting from your brain and not your heart and so your inner child is not running the show. Again, I recommended [Melody] Beattie, Codependent No More; Getting the Love You Want from Harville Hendrix; and The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us by Gavin de Becker.
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