Episode 88: How to Ditch the Saviour Complex and Feel More Alive with Rob Bell
Many of us hope to leave our mark on the world but try to do this by putting all our energy into work. While this may sound noble and admirable, this is not a sustainable way to live. And going through life with a saviour complex, like many of us do, can be exhausting! If you have been living this way, know that there is a different way to start feeling happier and more fulfilled.
Rob Bell, Speaker, New York Time bestselling Author, host of The Robcast and one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2011, joins us in this episode to discuss the perils and the desire to keep hustling even when we’re miserable. We learn that taking time for rest and reflection only helps us get stronger. You can’t heal and help rebuild a broken system if you don’t look out for yourself first.
Tune in to this episode to find out how to be happier and live a more fulfilling life.
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
- Learn how to let go of the saviour energy and live with more lightness.
- Understand the importance of being more present and caring for yourself.
- Discover ways to feel happier and more alive.
[04:40] What Rob Has Been Up to During the Pandemic
[07:25] The Apocalypse
[9:50] Working Within the System
[11:13] Second Naivete
[12:45] The Two Columns of Systems
- One column is for what can be talked about. The other is for what can’t be talked about.
- The list is often implicit.
- Whatever is not being talked about is the one running the show.
[14:48] Death by Letting Go
[20:21] Saviour vs. Helping Energy
[24:31] ‘How to handle and hold the heaviness with a lightness that doesn’t kill you is like an art form.’
[26:19] Dealing With Anger
[33:20] ‘Transrational fully includes the rational, the intellect, but also leaves room for the deep mysteries of life.’
[38:15] Integrating Self-Care with Patient Care
[40:07] ‘Movements into greater expansion and integration generally have some sort of death and pain in them because the old system didn’t work anymore.’
[42:39] Impulse vs. Form
[47:17] Feeling Happier and Being Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself
[47:30] ‘Who’s gonna bring more to the world? A you who’s miserable and unhappy or a you that’s actually loving what you do and full of joy?’
[56:06] South Star
[1:00:56] ‘You have to make peace with the extent of your energies, influence and effect.’
[1:00:35] Tips to Feeling Happier and Letting Go of the Saviour Energy
- Make peace with your limits.
[1:04:48] ‘The exterior chaos intention is simply a larger macro reflection of interior chaos and pain.’
- Start with a deep personal conviction. Set up your life with integrity and be present in what you’re doing.
- Constantly go back to the core impulse of what you do. You’ll realize how to live more sustainably and start feeling happier.
[1:01:14] ‘If we’re going to live in a sustainable way, you have to move from the tyranny of this present moment to how do we build new systems?’
Rob Bell is an international speaker, New York Times bestselling author, and one of Time Magazine’s most influential people in the world in 2011. He also hosts his podcast, The RobCast, which was awarded one of the best podcasts of 2015 by iTunes. Rob has a different view of the world, and he challenges us to reflect on the world on a deeper level.
If you want to learn more about Rob’s work, you can visit his website.
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Nik Kendrew: So, if there were no barriers at all, and you found yourself stood in front of your ideal guest, and you could ask them and they would come on, who would that be?
Dr Rachel Morris: I would love to have a chap called Rob Bell on my podcast is my absolute— Gary, he does an amazing podcast called The RobCast, he’s a really deep spiritual person. So I’d love to have him on. Hi Rob! Please come on my podcast. I’m sure he’s a very busy man. Oh, yeah. Rob, if you’re listening–
That was me and Nik Kendrew in October 2020. And guess what? It’s happened. It’s not every day you get to chat with one of your heroes. In this episode, I get to talk to Rob Bell, international speaker, New York Times Bestselling Author, and one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Influential People In The World in 2011. He’s the host of one of my favourite podcasts, The RobCast.
Rob looks at the world through a different lens and challenges us on a deeper level. We talk about Rob’s take on what’s going on in the world right now, particularly for healthcare professionals navigating the world in a COVID pandemic, in a system which was already broken. Rob shares some universal truths with us about how to steward your energy in your life in ways which will make you feel truly alive. We talk about how to make peace with your limits during the interior work so that you can truly thrive.
So listen to this episode, if you want to know what you should do if you feel really heavy at a soul level. Listen, if you’re wondering how do you know if you should stay in a toxic environment and change things from within, or leave and make things better in different ways.
Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, the podcast for doctors and other busy professionals if you want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Dr Rachel Morris. I’m a GP, now working as a coach, speaker and specialist in teaching resilience.
Even before the coronavirus crisis, we were facing unprecedented levels of burnout. We have been described as frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water. We hardly noticed the extra long days becoming the norm, and we’ve got used to feeling stressed and exhausted.
Let’s face it, frogs generally only have two options: stay in a pan and be boiled alive or jump out of the pan and leave. But you are not a frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in. It is possible to cross your work in life so that you can thrive even in difficult circumstances. And if you’re happier at work, you will simply do a better job.
In this podcast, I’ll be inviting you inside the minds of friends, colleagues, and experts; all who have an interesting take on this. So that together we can take back control and love what we do again.
This is our last episode before I take my own medicine and have a much-needed break over the summer. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be re-releasing some of our older episodes, which I think you should really listen to. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast, I’d be incredibly grateful if you could rate it and share it with your friends to help get the word out. Finally, I wanted to let you know that we’re currently taking bookings for Autumn 2021 and Spring 2022 for our Shapes Toolkit Training Programs, which helps doctors, those working in health and social care, and other professionals in high-stress organizations beat burnout, take control over their workload, and work happier. So do get in touch if we can help at all. On with the episode.
It’s absolutely fantastic to have me on the podcast today, Rob Bell. Now, Rob is a creator and author, best selling author, and podcast host. He’s the Time Magazine’s Top 100 Influential People of 2011. He’s toured with Oprah. He really is podcast royalty, he hosts The RobCast which has now, I think, over 300 episodes. Is that right Rob?
Rob Bell: Yeah. Whoa. Yeah. Wow.
Rachel: A lot of speaking on your own into a mic in your back house there.
Rob: Actually, it’s been in a room with people. It’s a live event with people and that exchange and connection, that is to me, that’s really where all the life is. All alone with a microphone; that’s fine, it’s great. But people in a room, bodies together in a room, that’s to me the heartbeat of the whole thing.
Rachel: Yeah, totally agreed, bodies together in a room. But that’s been hard, hasn’t it, the last year and a half?
Rachel: What have you done during COVID then?
Rob: I probably spent the first month or so like, ‘Wait, what?’ Because everything for 2020 got, was cancelled for some. Although obviously, for people in your world, every, all the knobs got turned up. But whether it was a move to greater frequency and volume and intensity, or it was everything got shut off, it was like shock, disorientation either way, and then, the limitations. I have learned over the years: always have some new creativity lurking in them. The moment a person has the assumption of, ‘Well, that form, that medium, that shape, you can’t do X and Y. Yeah, but if you can’t do X and Y, there’s probably some Z hiding there that might have all sorts of new things.’ So then I started doing things on Zoom, which isn’t the same, but I discovered all sorts of new things and connections that can be made.
Rachel: Yeah. It’s meant that people could come and attend your workshops all over the world, right? Whereas perhaps they couldn’t before?
Rob: Yeah, normally they come to Los Angeles. It takes a– It’s a hike. People do it but it’s a hike. But all of a sudden, there, we’re like you and I are talking right now effortlessly.
Rachel: I’m really honoured to have you on the podcast because I really would like to share some of your thoughts and ideas about how the world works, essentially, with my listeners, and I knew I could never really do them justice myself. I’ve been really influenced and shaped by many of your books, and your films, and shows over many of the years. I think what you’re talking about has never been so important to people, particularly sort of people in my world as it is now. I knew I couldn’t do it justice. That’s why I was really grateful when you agreed to come on the podcast.
Obviously, COVID has changed everything. I think in the medical world, the healthcare professionals, I guess are the busy professionals are really high-stress jobs. Like you said earlier, the dial has just been turned up really, really high. Lots of people are suffering a lot of stress and burnout even before the COVID pandemic. Now it’s really, really bad. We’ve got people with PTSD, lots of mental health problems, people are working flat out; they’re still working flat out because of all that demand that was almost caused during COVID when people couldn’t really go and see their doctor, the routine things, that’s all coming back. The public’s mind just seems to be endless. The system seems to be really, really broken. I know earlier in the pandemic, one of your podcasts you were talking about the apocalypse; and what the apocalypse meant, and what it really meant, and what it reveals. First of all, could you tell us what you mean when you say “apocalypse”?
Rob: All right.
Rachel: Because everybody would probably won’t know that.
Rob: Because for a lot of people, the word that often gets used is like, ‘Oh, this feels apocalyptic,’ meaning, like in our neighbourhood, all the stores were boarded up for a while because of the looting. Or there are times here in Los Angeles when the streets were just empty because everybody was in their homes. The word that we use feels apocalyptic and by that people mean “the end”. It feels like this is what a movie happens right when the whole thing blows up. But apocalypse actually is an old Greek word that means like a revealing or a disclosure. So apocalypse, historically, it didn’t mean an ending; it meant a revealing of what is. So, when you talk about a healthcare system that’s broken, there’s a revealing of how badly it’s broken. That’s incredibly painful like ripping off a scab of a wound. Yet, for there to be any transformative change, you have to have the full revelation of just how bad it’s broken. Without pain, we generally just preserve the previous system because it’s good enough.
You think about relationships, marriages, addictions; there’s not enough pain often. The thing just continues to go along at this profoundly lukewarm, mediocre, slightly lifeless state. So this experience we’ve all been through, my wife Kristen and I talk about an apocalyptic truth. It’s so painful and excruciating to experience or to witness up close. Yet, if you look at the large, long time patterns of history, that’s how change comes about, is enough people see the full revelation of the mess and go, ‘We have to do better. We can do better than this. We’re in enough pain.’
So even think about professionals who have no rhythm of life, who have no– They’re always on, or they always have their phone on them, or every day of the week, they check their email. Well, there’s no trade, craft, art form that doesn’t have some sort of sign wave built into it. You’re on; you’re off; you work; you rest; you engage; you disengage. So it’s interesting in healthcare, you have people who are experts in the body completely violating what the entire natural order has been shouting to us the whole time, which is: inhale, exhale, winter, spring, summer, fall. It’s not aligned with reality. Of course, the wheels will come off.
Rachel: You’re right. You can look at it and go, ‘Yeah, of course. Of course, that’s gonna happen. That was pretty obvious.’
Rob: Yeah. Anybody from the outside who you showed them, well, it’s interesting when you’re within a system is it becomes a lens through which you view everything. So it’s very easy, especially, and what’s interesting is dedication, devotion, and accomplishment to something can actually have a trap built into it, which is it becomes the sum total of your world. It’s the lens through which you see everything. Sometimes, what’s needed is, there’s a term for it, second naivete, which is an ability to see something as if you’ve never seen it, also known as beginner’s mind and then also known as childlike, which is different than childish. Childlike is simply able to see it with a certain purity as it is, without all of your cynicism and scepticism.
But if somebody were to look at some of these systems: health care, law, political structures, from the outside, they would be like, ‘Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. That politician is in that debate but they receive how much money from those four corporations?’ Well, shouldn’t that be on the screen somewhere that you can see? So when they say, ‘This is my perspective,’ it would just really be good to know how much money they’ve received from these different groups. Because it’s not really their perspective. It says it’s a representative democracy, but not really. So I mean, and you can see there’s, at some times, in the pain, the way to the transformation is you have to embrace some lightness and humour. It’s like a sort of dark humour that goes, ‘Oh, god. This is so bad.’ Sometimes that lightness is what’s needed for the imagination to enter of, ‘Well, how should it be done?’ I mean, you can’t do any worse. That’s often where the seeds of innovation get planted, is somebody hits a breaking point where they’re like, ‘This is completely insane.’ No one else is saying how insane; everybody’s saying it but not in the open. They speak the thing.
We should talk about the two columns, by the way. What often happens is systems: family systems, relational systems, markets, professions, all the staff of a local hospital; they have developed two columns. The things we can talk about and the things we don’t talk about. Any system where there’s, and generally that list is not explicit; it’s implicit. You pick it up. You take that new job, and you’re like, ‘How come people in marketing never talked with people in sales?’ Or you marry it into your family and like, ‘What’s the deal with Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Jim like they don’t— What happened?’ Some family member has to pull you aside and say, ‘Okay, three years ago, there was a Christmas party, and people got drunk,’ like that kind of thing. Someone gives you the territory. Then you learn this is how the two columns develop. This is what we talk about. This is what we’ve all agreed not to talk about.
The huge truth here is anytime there’s a column of things we don’t talk about, such as, ‘I hate being a doctor,’ such as, ‘I got into this to help people and I, now I’m the one who needs the help. I don’t want to keep doing this anymore. It’s not even worth the pay.’ Whatever is that we have agreed not to talk about is actually running the show. It’s the presence and absence. It may not be spoken, but if dad’s an alcoholic, and nobody is allowed to say dad’s an alcoholic; dad being an alcoholic is running the whole thing. It’s like rubber on the ship.
Rachel: God. So that’s really interesting because I think people are really happy to talk about some things. So they’ll talk about load right now. They’ll say, ‘I’m overwhelmed. The work is too much,’ or ‘It’s not fair,’ or ‘I’ve not got the right contract’. We haven’t got enough stuff.’ So they’ll talk about that and they’ll talk about how stressed they feel. That other column, that’s the really fascinating thing about, ‘I thought my job was to help people. I thought I would love this job.’ You can’t really say that, can you?
Rob: Yeah, so as soon as any space-scene system, as soon as people start naming the second column, now things start to happen. So for example, ‘I’m overwhelmed.’ Okay, so let’s talk about this. Are you okay having limits? You can’t help everybody. If you want to do this 10 years from now, and have more energy, and more ideas, and more passion for this work, then right now you’re going to have to make peace with your limits, which means you won’t be able to do it all, and there are moments when you’ll have to simply go home, and sit in your backyard, and stare at a bird. That will confront your ego; that will confront your sense of power and powerlessness; that will— There’s a deeply personal component of embracing and accepting your limits. ‘This is how much I can do. The reason why I only can do this much is because five years from now, and 10 years from now, and 15 years now, I still want to be in the game.’
‘Right now, I can work the nine extra hours. I can work the 3, 4 extra hours. But that’s all being extracted from some moment, six years from now, when I’m on the roof of a building, yelling, “Somebody, help!”’ I mean, ‘Well, I’ll just get in my car and I drive to Ipswich because that’s it: I’m out.’
Rachel: You’ve obviously been to Ipswich.
Rob: But oftentimes, when I have engaged with people who are like, ‘That’s it. I’m out,’ you just go back in their narrative. There were these moments, where there were clear moments when something had to be let go of. There had to be some sort of death. By death, I mean the good kind of death, like, ‘I have been pretending I can handle this the whole time, I can’t. I have been just pushing through because I’ve always been the strong one. I don’t know what to do with my powerlessness and weakness. I don’t know what to do with the fact that I’m always the one who brings order to things. And right now I feel chaotic, like–’ And there was an invitation to step back and sort that out. There was an invitation to rest. There was an invitation to– Yeah, yeah.
Or, oftentimes, especially in work world, the person was got into this for a particular reason; they quite liked it; they were good at it. So what the system did is promoted them. So now, they’re the manager of the people who do the thing that is why they got into it. But the problem is, they got a nicer office, and they got better benefits and more pay. They’re like, ‘I actually just like being– I just like being one of the people. I like being one of the people who I’m now in charge of.’ But that would require letting go of whatever it is: the prestige. ‘Why are you going backwards? Nobody climbs down the ladder.’ Well, maybe, they do if they’re following their heart, and they actually want to be a human who loves getting up every morning.
So that’s what I mean by a death. As I define that as simply “letting go.” You’ll have to let go of the ego and the relatives who are like, ‘Why? What do you mean you took a demotion?’ ‘Yeah, I took a demotion because actually, it feels like a promotion somewhere inside of me. Returning why I got into this: I’ll gladly live in less square footage, I’ll gladly drive an older car to wake up every morning, and actually feel like I’m doing some good in the world.’
So, oftentimes, there’s some, especially the more educated and the more, what’s the word–self-described, sophisticated, the more these things are elusive, oftentimes, for people. Because the musculature got so shaped around up into the right: accomplishment, success, and other understandings of success can be harder to understand, like, ‘I went home in time for dinner and I wasn’t drained. I was actually present to the one I love.’ Maybe that’s the game we actually want to be playing. Yeah.
Rachel: It just takes so much to admit that, though, because we are so habituated about what success is, and this is what I’ve got to do. Actually, I get to here, and then I get to here, and then get here. I think people do admit that they’re not happy and that something’s wrong, but by the time they’re up there, they’re so trapped in where they are. And there’s that financial trapping of, ‘Well, I’ve got this mortgage, and I’ve got these kids at this level.’ But there’s also that trapping in, ‘But if I don’t do it, who on earth is going to do it?’ And I’m just going to—
Rob: Yeah, I noticed– Right? I’m sorry, I didn’t interrupt. But notice the profound ego structure in that. ‘If I don’t do it, no one will.’ Okay, first of all, notice the view of the scarcity of the universe in that. So it’s a profound scarcity and lack: ‘If I don’t, no one will.’ Wait, what? It has zero imagination for all of the other people who may, do you know what I mean? It also has a deep energetic sense of saviour, as opposed to helping: ‘I’m here just to do what I can do and help out in a sustainable way.’ Now, that’s, saviour energy right there, which has a particular heaviness to it of the soul. Anytime you believe you’re the saviour— I make a distinction between saving energy and helping energy.
Helping energy is ‘We’re all cells in the body. What role do I get to play? Of course, I’ll help out. Of course, I’ll do my part’. Saving energy has a heaviness at a soul level. Like, ‘Oh, God. I gotta put this thing on my shoulders again.’ What weirdly, it does energetically is it actually shuts off the participation of others in the exact moment when others stepping in to help carry load which is the thing you want most. ‘Oh, look at them.’ Their saving energy is so clear to other people. Just let them do it. They’re the hero. Let them play their little drama out.
Rachel: Oh, you see, this is why I’m here to talk to you. Because it’s naming that stuff.
Rachel: That’s there. I think that heaviness at a soul level. I think that has really hit the nail on the head in terms of what people are feeling.
Rob: Oh, right. Right.
Rachel: But I don’t think they’re admitting it and it’s coming out as anger, and it’s coming out instead of logical arguments.
Rob: Right, right, right, right. Now, think about it —and the reason why the imprint of this is so huge— think about the person who’s interviewed: there’s a plane crash, there’s a car, there’s some dramatic, horrific life-and-death in the balance situation, and somebody ran towards where the bomb went off. Then, and we– there’s footage of them, like the Boston bombing a number of years ago, there’s a guy in a cowboy hat running towards where the bomb went off to rescue people. What’s interesting, when they interview that person, about their heroic deed, they never ever speak of it as heroic. They never speak of it with a heaviness. They just say that was doing what anyone would have done.
‘Well, that person had to be subdued on a plane because they were violent.’ ‘Yeah, a bunch of us just jumped up and did it.’ They always speak of it with a certain lightness. So especially in health care, what we know is it is possible to be in the most fraught life-and-death situations and still hold it with a certain lightness. Not a lightness that’s not aware of the heaviness; a lightness that has moved through the heaviness to the other side. There’s a lightness on the other side of the heaviness, which is, ‘Yeah, this is heavy. I’m here to do what I can. I have limits. I’ll give it everything I got. The outcome is not ultimately in my hands, because that’s a horrible way to live. Because that implies a closed universe in which I’m the one running the thing.’
When I started out as a pastor in my early 20s and one of the jobs was funerals and going to the hospital when somebody was in their last moments. I was in my early 20s. I remember being called to going to the funeral home and the family needed to plan the funeral. I remember sitting down with an extended family and realizing they were all at war, and that the patriarch, before he died, rewrote his will so that at his funeral, the most amount of people would be angry with the other most amount of people. He wanted his funeral to be the most contentious affair possible. So let’s see. You’re laughing. I’m like what, 25? I walked in a funeral home, I sit down. ‘Hi, everybody. I’m Rob. Let’s plan the funeral. Tell me a bit about Bill or Bob or whatever.’ I’m suddenly like, ‘What is– I sense that this is– I’ve stepped into something.’
So at a young age, how do you carry heaviness with lightness? Because if you’re going to navigate the death of this man who was a horrible man, nobody has anything good to say about him. My job is to stand up in front of a roomful of people and somehow harness this, you see want I’m saying? How to handle and hold the heaviness with a lightness that doesn’t kill you is like an art form. That doesn’t deny the life and death– Doesn’t deny the having to talk to the family about the diagnosis. It doesn’t– It just holds that in a certain way that you might actually want to do this for a while. Otherwise, it’s too heavy.
Rachel: Yeah, totally. I was reading Everything Is Spiritual book as– When you’re working as a pastor on Sundays, ‘I interact with so many people, hear so many stories, exposed to so many people’s pain. I’d feel at the end of the day like it was attached to me.’
Rachel: ‘It handed me something and I was carrying it around.’
Rob: Oh, yeah. I had to learn how to energetically zip up. I had to come up with my own sort of, and I discovered this whole traditions of people who talk about these kinds of things. How do you engage meaningfully with somebody in a highly tense situation and not let all of their anxieties, fears, and not just take all those home with you? There are very intelligent, wonderful people out there who have done lots of thinking about this sort of thing and have all sorts of– There’re all sorts of phrases. Zip up helps me is like, just zip up. Be present to the person. But you don’t have to take all their stuff home with you. You’re just–
Rob: Help how you can and then, yeah. This can be done. Yeah.
Rachel: So I totally agree. I talked to lots of people about and it has come across the drama triangle with the victim, and the persecutor, and the rescuer, which can be quite helpful for people for trying to get out of the rescuer, I guess, that sort of saviour complex. I think what I’m seeing in the UK—and I don’t know if this is happening in the US—is that, yes, there’s all this really difficult work, there’s a lot, patient demand is huge, everyone is exhausted. Everyone is working as hard as they can.
The other thing that people are coping with is huge amounts of anger directed towards them, which I think has been incredibly difficult. At the beginning of COVID, every Thursday evening, everybody in the UK would come on their doorstep, we’re all locked down. So what led up: we would clap, and we would bang pots and pans to thank the NHS, thank the key workers and great. There were lots of things that could have been done instead, which probably would have helped more but it’s nice to feel appreciated.
But since then, and particularly in the last few weeks, the media seems to have turned against quite a few doctors, accusing people of essentially having had the surgery shut when they have always been open, practice staff have been abused, there has been these really vicious media campaigns about it. I think for the first time, people have felt that actually, they’ve gone from being these people who were helping people, to people who now have the collective angst of almost the whole nation against them. It’s really hard to deal with that. It’s one thing saying, ‘I don’t have to take on the pain of your illness and stuff like that.’ But what about when it’s like, we’re being attacked, we’re here to help. But actually, we’re being attacked and misunderstood, and all that sort of stuff.
Rob: Right, right. It’s like, well, obviously that, before you say anything, that hurts. So that hurt. Any criticism, you can intellectualize it but you’re a human being so first you feel it. You just feel that at some level. I could imagine the pain that people are in, that, we had an election in the US five years ago. Imagine how deep the levels are resentment are that you would think that, ‘That guy is my guy. That I’m going with that guy,’ So there was the surprise, and shock, and wait people vote. Who’s now our president? But just below the surface was you can read this in a completely different way is what does this tell us? Oh, the levels of resentment, the levels of feeling left out, the rage against perceived to be the elites is that strong. So, yeah. First, you just have to feel that hurt. Some people misunderstand you and you’re human. It’s like, you have to have a soft heart and thick skin. They’re growing together: a thicker and thicker skin, but, oftentimes, with a thick skin comes a calloused heart. So the trick, the art of it is to keep the heart tender so it can feel, and love, and respond. But like you think about in your country, how it’s literally people in such pain, they’re just looking around, just spinning around. Who do we blame? Who do we look at? But once again, these are the seeds of change. The masses go, ‘The system’s broken.’
So in that pain, in that misunderstanding, in that criticism, in feeling like everything’s directed, who knows what seeds are lurking in that? ‘Yeah, we agree with you; it’s broken. Glad you see it now. You’re throwing things at us. So, maybe, you could just put the stones down for a moment. We’re with you.’ So what’s interesting is the premise there is this side against this side, when in fact, everybody’s actually on the same side. Even you creating the space, that’s all part of it. There are those first people who start saying the thing. So you mentioned a little while ago, about it becomes so habituated. Anytime something becomes habituated, the person who speaks the truth that hasn’t been spoken, there’s a direct proportional power to that. So there’s the thing that isn’t being said, the system has gotten so strong weirdly enough, the people who then do begin to articulate a new vision that has a corresponding power to it because it’s so glaringly new and different. It’s fascinating.
Rachel: It is fascinating. My impression is that this whole anger from the public, like you said, they’re in pain, so they’re looking for somebody to blame–
Rob: Somebody to direct us to, yeah.
Rachel: Traditionally, your family doctor, they’re being the person that you trust that helps you out. But suddenly, I can’t get exactly what I want from my family doctor, therefore, I will direct my anger there. Then the doctors respond with the whole very logical, ‘But that’s not fair. We’ve been open all the time. This, that, and the other.’ Actually, they’re responding with a real heart cry, but they’re trying to argue out in a logical system–
Rachel: –Which then isn’t working.
Rob: Okay, so a word that I would give all of your doctor friends, is the word transrational. Transrational is a stage of development in which you have moved beyond. There’s pre-rational, which it doesn’t– It resists science. It doesn’t know the fact. It doesn’t even– It just sounds absurd. It sounds like the person– Then there’s the move from pre-rational to rational, that’s when your parents start telling you, ‘Well, actually, there’s condensation, there’s evaporation, water goes up into that– It’s not because the fairies are crying. It’s because water is coming from the clouds.’ Because of that, there’s a move from pre-rational to rational. The Western world is, in many places, simply stuck in a hyper-rationalism that doesn’t know what to do with realities that cannot be measured with the basic rules of empiricism.
Give me a chart, give me data. But the Western world, its intellectual tradition was so strong, which is wonderful, that’s why we have hospitals, and airports, and iPhones. But it didn’t do so well. We’re equipping people for the dimensions of life that can’t be accessed through the narrow parameters of scientific materialism. So transrational fully includes the rational, the intellect, but also leaves room for the deep mysteries of life. It’s the Google engineer who’s looking for a poem for their mother’s funeral. Well, they’re moving from one realm to another, but they have been heavily compensated for their ability to tweak and refine the algorithm. But when they go to their mother funeral looking for a poem, that’s a very different way of knowing and being.
What happened is the world that we are in so valued the one way of knowing. I’ve interacted with CEOs who, 10s of millions of dollars they are in charge of, but then their first kid is born, and they’re completely disoriented because they’re suddenly experiencing something so beyond what they can see on a spreadsheet. That it just—it’s funny if it weren’t so—It’s such a symbol of the age. That this one way of knowing became so highly prioritized. So a doctor interacting with somebody can easily go, ‘But here’s the data.’ What’s– But transrational acknowledges, ‘Oh, this person is feeling excluded. So until I speak to that, no amount of data or facts.’ What problem do these have people have with the facts? Well, think about your own moments of resentment, pain, when you’re in an argument with your partner and you feel like they’re not hearing you; you’re not in peak rationality, but you actually do.
So I would say to every one of your colleagues who’s like ‘These people, it’s like they’re irrational.’ You find yourself in them. You locate the question behind the question. You locate the complaint behind the complaint. You’re listening to them looking for the thing behind the thing. Because until I speak to that, even just, ‘We don’t ever want you to feel like you’re being neglected.’ Notice how I even has a tone, and a frequency, and then like a—to it. Now, the person is still, maybe, but nevertheless, you’re speaking at multiple layers. This is actually what you’re talking about, is the call to greater integration.
So Daniel Siegel is a doctor who tells the story about, he’s following, he’s doing his internship, and he’s following his teacher around, and they’re standing at the foot of a patient’s bed. The patient, clearly, there’s something physically wrong. Obviously, that’s why they’re in the hospital. But there’s a whole series of emotional layers, and his mentor turns to him and says, ‘We only deal with the body.’ He tells the story about as a young doctor starting out: it’s like this pain that took him into a greater integration of there’s a whole self here. That’s what’s happening in health as people, the siloed, narrow, ‘I only do this.’ The world has gotten too integrated. It has gotten way too integrated.
Consciousness has risen too high to where the person who says, ‘I just make sure the company makes money.’ No, your employees have to feel like they’re human beings. You can no longer just say, ‘But the company made money.’ It’s not good enough, the company also has to be good. That requires a greater integration of what it means to be human. So in some ways, there’s a huge invitation going on here. That a whole way that was a brand new, evolutionary way. Look at the science. Look, we can do blood tests. Look at this, you know what I mean? Look at what we can analyze. We don’t have to just say, ‘Well, the mother goddess, or the nymphs, or fairies must be upset with you.’ We can say, ‘Actually, you have a contusion, abrasion…’ You can do doctor speak. That was a massive leap forward. But now, there’s an– That’s been invited to be integrated. Wow, if we could get people way earlier to understand care for their body, then we wouldn’t have them mad because they couldn’t get in at the last minute to not die. You know what I mean? Yeah, it’s an invitation to think about the whole person in a longer scope of time in a more sustainable way. It starts with a doctor living in a new way.
Rachel: Yeah, I think that’s really interesting. Because I think, in medicine, we are now realizing that holistic care is really important. That health is more important than, good health will prevent disease, etc, etc. and we apply that in terms of, yes, we know there’re sort of–
Rob: Yeah, right.
Rachel: Spiritual dimension of health is really important as well. I think we are getting used to now applying that to our patients. What I think we don’t do is apply it, like you said to ourselves, when we’re thinking about stress, then we’re not using a transrational way of looking at it. We’re just using a very rational way. Okay, well, to beat burnout, you got to reduce your workload, do enough exercise, have a bit of therapy, do this. Boom. That’s done. Then that doesn’t work and we go, ‘Right. We’re out of sessions, what do we do now?’
Rob: Yeah. So when a person gets stuck in a hyper-rationalism, what often happens is two things seem to be opposing each other. The mind doesn’t do well with dualities. So the mind goes, ‘Wait, I either take care of my patients or I take care of myself.’ The move to greater integration is taking care of myself is one of the first gifts I give my patient. Things that were side by side and appeared to be in conflict get integrated into “both are necessary” and “loose from either or to both and.” So, you’ll see people like, sometimes, some of what you’re describing, they’re like, ‘Pain is, I have held these things side by side in conflict with each other and I, the very pain and heat and intensity of the moment; something’s breaking here.’ What breaking is a structure that saw things that way.
Movements into greater expansion and integration generally have some sort of death and pain in them because the old system didn’t work anymore. There’s some new invitations. So what’s fascinating for many people’s it’s counterintuitive is you rested and centered. Who knows what efficiencies are in that that you aren’t even aware of because the malaise is so thick? That’s when I say the solution in the imagination and the efficiencies; there’s so many lurking simply in your own rest and care of yourself that will look to people like you’ve abandoned the mission. ‘Yeah, yeah. I’m not coming in Saturday so that on Monday, I’ll actually be here.’ Gor many people, there are these counterintuitive moves that are actually where the breakthroughs come.
Rachel: Yeah, totally. Because creativity, it only occurs when you’re in a rested state really, doesn’t it?
Rob: Yeah. Somebody gives himself the space to step away. That’s how they can see what they’re doing with new eyes. Like, why did we do that meeting on Thursdays? Why? Can’t that just be an email? I guess it could be. I mean. this took me years because I was like, ‘Well, I care. I want people to know I care.’ But I realized I had to not care. I had to walk away. When I walked away and came back, I brought some—well, even at not just a day, an afternoon turning the phone off, I discovered such propulsive new energies and perspectives that were systemic. Like, ‘Wait, there’s a whole way I could do that differently.’ But I couldn’t see it when I was mired in it.
Rachel: That’s hard, though, isn’t it? Because we come back to that saviour complex.
Rob: That’s true.
Rachel: If you have that saviour complex, and your job is not just a job, it’s a vocation. It’s your identity. It’s who you are. We rescue people. We’re the saviour. What happened?
Rob: Right, right, right.
Rachel: When you’re experiencing stress and burnout, something like you’ve got to rest. You’ve got to change what you do. But then when you change what you do, that also changes who you are.
Rob: Who am I? Right?
Rachel: How’d you deal with that?
Rob: I would make a distinction between impulse and form. So I would say to the person, something, I would always invite the person back through their own narrative. What got you into this? Science people go, ‘Oh, my parents wanted me to be this.’ ‘Oh, okay. Well, now, at least we’re being honest. No wonder 33 years later, you’re a little bit fried.’ ‘You’re reading from someone else’s script. So do you want to go be a sculptor? Because–’ ‘Thanks for playing. We appreciate the contribution, but I don’t know how–’ Anyway. So, sometimes, you end up with things like, ‘Whoa, this probably needs a little bit more reflection.’ But, oftentimes, there’s some impulse that: some people are healers, some people are prophets, they speak the truth, everybody needs some people.
I have a relative who, bringing order out of chaos, he gets existentially excited. Just give him a mess, and he will organize a garage, he will organize an office. Some people, that’s what, so some of these are these deep impulses of who we probably always bet—some people, they can see possibilities in business education, people who are teachers. One of my kids is a teacher, he was a teacher when he was eight, him explaining something to somebody, God, he’s diving on so. Then there is the form that that impulse chooses to take. So the healer decides to become a nurse and goes to nursing school. But the form can be swapped out.
What happens for many people’s the impulse and the form get fused. So I’m a healer, therefore, I’m a doctor. Actually, healers come in all shapes and forms. Some healers are actually personal trainers. Because they’re like, ‘There’s no way we’re going to talk about your workout without talking about your nutrition. There’s no way we’re gonna talk about your nutrition without talking about your sleep. There’s no way in the workout you’re not going to tell me about your love life, or your kids.’ So, that person is actually, that personal trainer who we at them and like their yoga pants, sort of the cliche, they’re actually doing wonderful things for the doctor down the street. Like, ‘I’m going to head this off at the pass, I’m going to–’
So some ways you go back, there’s that impulse, that leaning that, what I call the thing that is like, this is the thing that when I do it, I’m most alive. Then, oftentimes, what happens is the if the forms that like even to the doctor who’s like, ‘I’m miserable,’ I would simply say, ‘Why did you get into this? Well, okay. Well, what other ways– But what do you want?’ ‘Well, I actually just love my garden thing.’ ‘Well, we could use more organic regenerative farming.’ That helps. ‘You actually would have been a wonderful person to open up a co-op because you would you understand that– You would bring also–’ You see.
So that’s what I’ve just discovered in working with a number of people over the years, is if you can calm the person down, if we can just calm down from the attachment and clinging to the form. It’s the clinging and grasping to the form that often is where the real stress is. ‘I’m a doctor, I was trained in this. This is what I do.’ Well, just the way you’re talking is, you’re bored, just the way you’re talking, something about it. So maybe you’ll end up still being one but let’s, at least, clean up the clinging and grasping because it’s not helping.
Rachel: Yeah, that makes a load of sense. I think there are some other objections that people have bolted to that thing: find the impulse and I’m, yeah, absolutely. Use that in whatever area that brings you joy, brings other people joy. Some people say, ‘Yeah, but what about everyone who’s left behind? Someone’s got to do it.’
Rob: Yeah, yeah. That immediately, that question has lurking within it. Who would ever want to do this? So it’s the objection. Wait. What are you saying about yourself without objection?
Rachel: You gave me a fascinating and a brilliant answer to this, okay, on the How to Be Here talk in London. I remember asking you this question from the floor. I was thinking of doing career change, should I stay in this job that’s making me miserable? Should I try to do something else? But what about everyone else who’s left behind? I think you said something along the lines of, ‘Well, who’s gonna bring more to the world? A you who’s miserable and unhappy, or a you that’s actually loving what you do and full of joy, etc.?’ That was incredibly helpful to me.
Rob: Yeah, that like, imagine. Even, there’s an exercise here. Imagine the person who says I object to what you’re saying. Because what about all people who are going to be left behind? Well, if the system isn’t working right now, there are people feeling the effects of the system not working. I’ve interacted with so many people who, ‘How did you get into this?’ and, ‘My mom had cancer. I watched how the system, how she worked through the system and thought there’s got to be a better way.’ The number of people I’ve interacted with who are doing some new work, and it’s because they experienced the failure of some system somewhere.
It’s not just one or two people, it’s a shocking number of people who are, ‘I went through three miscarriages, and I realised there’s no space for men and women to—’ Yesterday, the woman who went through a divorce and was like, ‘There has to be a better kind of space to help people heal from divorce, and then keep going.’ A woman yesterday, who was like Holocaust literature for kids, is very stilted and fits in a particular. There are new ways for people to remember things so they don’t happen again, that speak to kids better ways of telling these sorts of stories. It all happens because somebody was in a thing that didn’t work well.
They felt it. The number, seriously, Rachel, the number of people who are like, ‘My mom went through X, my dad went through X, my brother had find it and I saw a need.’ It’s astonishing. So the people who left behind, the trust that there’s a goodness deep in human beings; human beings want to serve. I would take the doctor who objects to that question, who I said all the way back to their own desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Do you think you’re the only one who has that? Actually, in times of stress and pain and failure of systems, whole new things arise because of that.
Rachel: How do you know when the system is so bad that you need to get out of it? When it’s so toxic, it’s really damaging, or when you need to stay in and just do maybe something, tweak your job a bit or do something different and stay in and work from the inside?
Rob: Oh, what a great question. Well, obviously, I would never answer that person’s question without asking them questions about why they’re asking that question. You know I mean? I would always want them to follow their own thing. But one exercise that I will often– A question I will ask people is, I’ll say to them, like, ‘Do you have a partner? Do your family depend on you live with? Okay. How long, when you have dinner with them in the evening, does it take you to flush out the toxins from the day? Does it take– Or if they’re sitting with somebody else, or you’re the person who lives with this person, how long each day does it take them to shower off their frustrations from the day?’ Or I’ll say, ‘What percentage of your energy is spent just wading through the muck of the system so you can actually do the thing you’re here to do?’ I’ll say something like, ‘Let’s give 3% to email, there’s an administrivia. There’s a basic– The commute, the committee meeting, okay. Also, give– What’s that number? 11%? Let’s just take that off the top.’ But because what’s interesting what’s hit the person and the person says 72%. So you actually know the answer, or the person will say, ‘I actually don’t know, maybe 15, isn’t it?’ Okay.
It’s so interesting is just asking them, and I’ll just say to them on behalf of the crowd here, our hope is that the greater percentage of your energies is spent. So in your question, you kept referring to how broken it is. It seemed like 90% of your question was how broken it is, are you spending 90% of your energy on the broken is? Okay, well, that’s just bad stewardship, and you know that. I don’t need to tell you that. Imagine a world where 80% of energy was actually doing the thing, 85. That’s probably how you serve the system, as you abandon the thing and it collapses, and you’re out building a new thing that actually helps. Maybe, staying in the thing is actually, you betray it because you love it. That’s actually, I’ve seen that, oftentimes, in a number of people. When you betray it because you care. You’re going to let it die because some things need to die, and you’re going to go build a new thing.
Rachel: You can’t help it from within. You need to go help it from outside.
Rob: Well, what’s fascinating is how many people will— How long have you been trying to help it? But what about helping it from the inside? How long have you been trying this? 27 years. Let that go. It’s so interesting how often– I’m not telling you one thing, I’m just simply holding up a mirror so that you can see, you’ve been saying this for 27 years. What is the next 27? Maybe, that’s fine, great. But don’t tell me that you have a question. You don’t have a question. You don’t have a question. You have a deep knowing that frightens you because it’s calling you to something greater, some level of adventure and courage and innovation. That’s actually the only thing that’s going on here, is there’s something big and generous that’s being asked of you, and you know it in your mind, find the loop.
Rachel: It’s just scary. It’s really scary when you realize that.
Rob: Totally, totally, totally, I can only imagine right now, somebody is a part of the NHS in England, who has an idea about how to do this better: intake, evaluation, blood tests, exercise, whatever it is. They’ve got some idea that they’re like, ‘I actually know what is needed, what it would require, what does it require.’ It would take some hustle, and yet that person would be more alive. People would think their colleagues like, ‘What are you doing do it? You have a safe, secure job?’ ‘Yeah, but I want to be alive. I’d rather just try this. I can always go to Tesco and make sandwiches. But yeah, I know you people. But I’d rather at least try this.’ Yeah. Yeah.
Rachel: So if you feel that you’re perhaps only whinging for 10% of the time at dinner, about your job, right? It should. That did make me laugh, that thing because there was a New Year’s Eve where I said to my husband and my sister, ‘Okay, so guys, what are your New Year’s resolutions?’ They said, ‘Well, we haven’t got any but Rachel yours is to get a new job.’
Rob: Oh, love it! Oh my goodness, that’s– Wow.
Rachel: And I went, ‘Could I do that?’ It’s the first time I’d even thought it was a possibility.
Rob: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was like a groundbreaking moment for you.
Rachel: It’s amazing and just started me off in the whole other thing. It’s been really interesting. I think quite a lot of time, though, people do half and half, they think, ‘Well, I could go and try doing that. I’ve got my foot in this camp.’ I guess that’s one good thing is that you can try stuff out while you’re actually still in your post, and try and find out the thing that does bring you joy. I was just wondering if there are any other strategies that you’ve come across to help people really thrive and flourish where they are even in a difficult system? I remember one of the podcasts recently, you did about the concept of South star. I love that I thought, right. I really want people to know about this South star thing because I just wonder if that will help them cope with a little bit of a toxic broken system. Can you tell us about that?
Rob: Yeah, South star. When I told my wife, Kristen, I was like, ‘I’m gonna do this whole thing called South star.’ And I gave her the, I was like, ‘It’s the simplest, most ridiculous, awesome, life-changing idea’. I gave her the 10-second version. She was like, ‘Yeah, that is pretty awesome.’ I was like, ‘Okay.’ So you have a North star: the person who inspires you, the thing that you see that you go, ‘Oh. That’s how to do it.’ Then you have this whole world of things you see that are like, ‘Oh, that’s so lame. Oh, that’s so frustrating. That’s just maddening.’
If you can begin to read it as a South star, it’s giving you guidance, too. It’s just like a mirror image. So what happens is people have all these things they’re seeing, that are frustrating, that are driving them like mental that are like, ‘God, this is everything that’s wrong.’ Okay, good. Just stop. Okay, stop, stop. Why is it wrong? Why does it drive you mad? Why does it not honour people? Why is it not efficient? Why does it make life difficult for everybody else who’s trying to run a good NHS? People, it’s like, you stop and you let it be a South star. Let it guide you.
So what you’re actually doing is you’re building a converter to take the frustration. Frustration, anger, and exasperation are energy. That’s energy. If you’re venting, if you’re ranting, if you’re whinging about the state of things; that takes energy to do that. So South star is actually learning how to convert these energies into activating energies of how it should be done; how you want to do it, the path you do want to walk. So often, it requires almost like a familiarity with the subtle energies of the body because you’re like, ‘Why does this person get under my skin? This colleague has a supernatural ability to get under my skin. They say things, and two days later, I’m still angry about that little thing they said. It was like a dig or a slight, they hide knives in their words.’
Okay, what’s the South star there? Okay, take the thing that they do that just, ugh. Then just be the opposite. Treat them like your teacher. What a wonderful person? They’ve come to teach me how not to be. So, right now, with a broken healthcare system, let all the ways that’s broken— Okay. So if you were, how would you do it? Okay, that thing’s broken. Great. Why? Because there’s a build-up, because people don’t feel like they can get in for the most bit. Okay, so how would you do it? How would you do it? How would you, would you have a different intake process? Would you have a waiting room? Are the chairs arranged the right way?Should there be a thing they have to like— South star, the south star that thing. Why is it so bad? Okay, well, then, what’s the opposite of that?
So then instead of like, there’s these few North stars that sort of teach us, show us, guide us. You’re actually moving something called a non-dual, you’re moving to the point where everything around you becomes a teacher and guide in some way. Some of it’s just teaching you backwards. Then all of creation, all the interactions start to show you. So you move from an impoverished to a generative view of the world around you. All of this is showing you something.
Rachel: I love it.
Rob: You think about politicians who you just want to throw the remote at the telly. Okay, why? Why? Why do they just get under it? Because, why? Okay, so then we need the opposite. So that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for people who do the opposite. Great. Now we’re a little more clear than we were. Well, I can go do that. Okay, go do that.
Rachel: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Rather than just get really frustrated and everything that you totally out of your control actually, what does that show me that I can do that is my control? That’s really good. So no, we haven’t got very, very long left, Rob. But if you were to sort of give someone some real pointers for how to move from the saviour complex to a helper, to survive in a tricky environment, and maintain your creativity and give themselves permission, if you’ve got any sort of three tips that you would give them or three real quick pointers?
Rob: You have to make peace with the extent of your energies, influence, and effect. There, we have to make peace with our limits. If we’re going to live in a sustainable way, you have to move from the tyranny of this present moment to how do we build new systems, and how do we live in ways that are actually good for us and each other and the earth for a while? So it’s like a move within time. Time becomes very bendy because you’re realizing, ‘Oh, this isn’t just about anybody can do anything for seven years.’
Coffee and adrenaline can get you pretty far down the road, and then you hit the wall extremely hard. So there’s a long play. So you go back to this core impulse: what got me into this? Okay, I want to do this for a long time. I want to get better at it. I want to have it become more satisfying and more enjoyable as the years go on. So it’s almost like we start with a deep conviction, that there’s another way to think about this. There’s something within me that drew me into this: something good. Now, I want to do, I really want to, I actually want to help, I actually want to serve, I actually want to be a part. I actually want to use whatever skills I have to actually help people. Let’s say we’d like to heal so how would I do— You have to go way back and take it all apart. Okay, so that would begin with how I live. So that every time I’m actually doing my work, I’m fully present, actually giving people my best. I often will ask people. The people that you love the most, people who live with family, do they get your best energies? Or do they get table scraps, after you’ve given your best energies to those beyond them? Because that will always, always, always, always haunt your work.
If you’re giving your best to people that you’ll see once a year, which is a very noble thing, but the people closest to you get little bits and pieces. When parents talk about quality time, I just go like, ‘Get that phrase, quality time with the kids, get that phrase out of my face. There’s just time. There’s just time, quality time, there’s time.’ You’re taking the bins off to the street with your kid. You’re doing homework. You’re walking the dog. You’re going on holiday. You’re showing them how to work a thing because it’s broken, and they want to know how to pick. It’s just time.
So I would start with the deeply personal: you set your life up so that it has integrity and then when you go do your work, watch—and I use this word intentionally—watch how magically you become more efficient. You have more satisfying interactions. You’re more alert to all the little moves that might actually build something new. But it starts deep in the interior and it works its way out as opposed to if I just had a different job then, no, you’d still have all the same problems. You just have less patience, angry or something.
It’s very counterintuitive in a world that sort of worships at surfaces and exteriors. Start deep in the interior, that’s how the whole thing shifts. The exterior chaos intention is simply a larger macro reflection of interior chaos and pain. So the healthcare system is broken because of deeply personal, intimate realities each person is carrying around. That’s how you get a big system like that. So if you’re the doctor, you’re the healthcare professional, and you’re going to help it heal, then all that is simply your reflection. So you have to go to the interior, start there. The beauty in your profession, there’ll always be people, there’ll always be need. There’s a whole world of things, the number of people who are like, ‘Well, what if the public doesn’t want to buy our product?’ What’s interesting about you all, you could walk away and get yourself all sorted, and you’ll never ever have any of the stressors that lots and lots and lots of people have, which is, ‘Yeah, but what if no one cares about this technology? What if our product is out of date? What if there’s our competitor? What’s the competitor like?’ People will always need people to guide them into health.
Rachel: We do forget that, sometimes, in the overwhelm. We do forget, actually, what a privilege it is. The grass isn’t greener on the other side, right? Rob. That’s just, it’s just been incredibly helpful. I’ve written so many pages and pages of notes, and names, and things, and stuff I’ve never come across before. I’ll be looking at all of that on my web. You’ve written so many books, all of which I found incredibly helpful. But if people wanted to find out more about these sorts of things, which book, in particular, would you direct them to?
Rob: Probably, Everything Is Spiritual is my latest book there. We just put up a film last year on YouTube called An Introduction to Joy, which is about the pain and agony and temporal nature of life, and what joy actually is. There’s also a film called Everything Is Spiritual, just different from the book. That’s all on YouTube. That might be a place to start. Tthen I do what I do at The RobCast is a podcast that I do regular episodes. So those are all places. my site is robbell.com, everything’s there.
Rachel: Brilliant. So I’d really encourage people to go there, peruse it. Gosh, there’s so much material there. It is just fantastic. So thank you so much for spending the time to talk to me this afternoon or this morning where you are.
Rob: I’m cheering you on. You’re doing great work.
Rachel: Thank you so much for always. It meant a lot to me that you agreed to come on so thank you, really, really appreciate it.
Rob: Good. Good. Love it.
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