Corner offices and lucrative salaries, impressive titles, and distinguished awards, it’s all enough to make you feel like any personal sacrifices you’ve made will be worth it, but at the end of the day, do the benefits outweigh the consequences, and which sacrifice you’re making will be one too many? Jeff Ponders asked himself these questions when he realized professional obligations were overshadowing his personal aspirations.
His life was unbalanced, and he was unfulfilled, dedicating many, many hours to the pursuit of a promotion he wasn’t even sure he wanted. In his new book, BEtter, Jeff shares his story in order to help you rewrite your own. He provides you with the tool and the framework to discover who you truly want to be, so you could take the next step toward living a life of self-acceptance and authenticity.
Realizing what you have to offer the world requires an introspective plan of action and a redefining of success. Learn what you can do every day to be better, live empowered, and, most importantly, have pride in who you really are.
Hey listeners, my name is Drew Appelbaum, and I’m excited to be here today with Jeff Ponders II, author of BEtter: 3 Steps to Shed Your Masks, Own Your Freedom, and Make “One Day” Today. Jeff, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.
Jeff Ponders II: Oh man, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.
Drew Appelbaum: Help us kick off the podcast. Can you give us a brief rundown of your professional background?
Jeff Ponders II: Yeah, glad to. You know, I jokingly tell folks my background is kind of like being a modern-day Batman. So I’ve spent the better part of my life, I feel like my life has been, the entirety of my professional career being an entrepreneur and helping folks turn vision into value, and while doing all of that, I’ve also been a professional musician and spent a lot of years working in big marketing agencies helping brands, ranging from large automotives to CPG and technology companies, to connect with their customers in smarter ways.
So literally, everything I’ve ever done has been around helping people turn these ideas into actual human interactions and then help people have a really good time while they engage in those experiences.
Drew Appelbaum: So why was now the time to share this story? Did you have an “aha moment,” was there a moment of inspiration?
Jeff Ponders II: You know, kind of looking back at my journey, I’ve had a pretty risky life. I feel very fortunate in a lot of ways, and the book came from probably my darkest days as an adult. At that time then, the inception of the idea for the book really was, call it my rock bottom. I was in a career that I thought I was going to love and just wasn’t really happy, and I was in a place where I was trying to put on a mask to be what I thought I needed to be, to be successful.
As I was trying to be the right version of the corporate Jeff, you know, it just wasn’t authentic, and I started to really crumble across all the areas of my life that mattered, and literally, after crying on the kitchen floor one day, I stumbled across this idea just in terms of really taking ownership of who I was and who I wanted to be, and as I started to put those principles to practice, it worked. Lo and behold, it worked.
As I started to share the principles with other people, lo and behold, it worked for them too, and I’ve always been a person who was grounded by helping people and always inspired by figuring out ways to scale the things that I do well and looking for ways to scale my ability to help other folks to get from underneath the weight of who they think they need to be in order to achieve the success that they were told they need to achieve, that’s where the idea of writing a book and sharing that message really came from.
Re-engaging Passion In the Workplace
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s actually dig right into that moment. You know, you start a book just describing these pretty positive things about your life, successful in schooling, successful career, living the American dream and you went on to say, but it was actually a nightmare for you. You wanted out. So bring us into your mindset during that period, that mindset of when you were on that floor crying, really, what was wrong?
Jeff Ponders II: Oh man, so in my case, you know, I mentioned being an entrepreneur, and I’ve always wanted to build things that didn’t exist before. Part of my path of entrepreneurship was also working in corporate America and learning skills, learning how to work with clients, learning how to grow and build a business.
What got me on that floor is that I got so wrapped up in trying to be corporate successful that it pulled me away from what it meant to be “Jeff-Successful”. It was, “Let me chase the promotion, let me chase the raise,” and I’m human, and just like everybody else, we appreciate those signs of success, those signs of progress, the affirmations, but what it took to get those things meant, you know, literally not being who I wanted to be in real life.
For example, I’m a professional musician, alongside all the other things. I had to stop talking about music when I was in my corporate jobs, and the reason I did that is because in a particular job, the perception was I spent more time playing music than I did at work. It was crazy because it was the exact opposite of what was happening, and so I stopped talking about this thing that really made me feel alive every day.
As I stopped talking about it, you know, you just kind of, I felt pieces of me dying. So what took me to that floor is, I spent so much time trying to be the right version of the corporate me that I just kind of shattered under the weight of it. I forgot how to love the things that love me back. Literally, just left me crying on the floor, man, it was a really, really dark day.
You know, I stood up, I remember like it was yesterday, I stood up from the floor, I went to my bathroom, put my hands on the sink, and I looked in the mirror, and it’s like, “Who are you?” and that question really starting me down the process of redefining who I was, reassessing what mattered most and learning how to bring my full self into every moment.
What ended up happening is, you know, at a very low level, I started talking about music again. As I did that, guess what, my clients want to talk about music too. They didn’t want to talk about marketing and KPIs and CTAs all the time. They wanted to be human beings, and they started coming to shows, and it wasn’t like I had a bad performance on stage or in the office.
But what did happen is that my performance is both on stage and in the office got better, and I became even further differentiated from my peers because, well, my peers would come in and we want to talk about words, pictures and pixels, and you know, in the advertising world. Well, my clients wanted to talk about, “Hey, where are you playing this weekend, we want to come hang out with you.”
“Well, I heard this new song and it sounds really cool,” or even more than that, they wanted to talk about their own passion, whether it was rock climbing, metalworking, or even just talking about their kids. Again, things that had absolutely nothing to do with work, and it was my willingness to be vulnerable enough to talk about the things that I was passionate about that kind of got the ball rolling for other folks to start re-engaging their passions in the workspace too.
Drew Appelbaum: So speaking of vulnerability, you’re telling us your story here and the book is, —yes, you talk about being better and three steps to improve yourself, and we’ll talk about that, but you tell your story along the way, which is being extremely vulnerable. How is that transition from those sorts of more private moments in life to actually putting this down on paper for everybody to read?
Jeff Ponders II: Man, it’s interesting to ask that. I come from a family that is very open, very transparent. My parents; we would have folks who would come and stay with us all the time. They are very open about their flaws. So I grew up in a space where it was normal to say what it was, say how you felt, and be okay with that. So to go from that to let me hide those things was weird. That was really weird.
The flipside is, I believe when I found that when we share our stories, that’s really how people connect. We read fiction books because we want to dive into a story and we connect with characters who never existed because of their story. We read nonfiction, we read autobiographies, we watch movies, we connect with real people because we appreciate and connect with their stories.
In my case, I found, you know, actually working in the space is where I saw people going through the same struggle I was going through. Sharing my story created avenues for folks to find freedom from, I hate to call it bondage but, you know, freedom from who they think they have to be, and so to me, it made sense to share my story in the book both, you know, call it the rise, the fall, and the phoenix resurrection.
Because I think many of us, I mean, I say all, but many of us had been through that experience of feeling like we got success and then realize when we get to the top of the mountain, and it’s like, “That’s all there is?” Unfulfilled. But by being able to share what it’s like to go through those dark spaces and they’re finding ways forward. I hope that level of transparency, number one, not feel alone, and two, start to create their own doorways to freedom and success.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, you say that you were wearing your mask, you’re deeply unhappy and you broke, but you eventually became stronger in those broken places. So, is it actually possible to get to that strength without breaking or does everyone need sort of that breaking point to build and rise and strengthen?
Jeff Ponders II: That’s a wonderful question. I don’t think everybody needs to break as bad as I did, and there’s certainly folks who were broken way worse than me. You know, for example, my breaking was a very personal breaking. It’s me inside my home, crying on the floor. I still had a home to be in. There were so many blessings that still existed.
I know other folks who, when they break, or when they have broken, you know, it can be losing families, losing jobs. There’s so many things that we could lose, and you don’t have to go through either one of those scenarios, mine or the more dramatic, more drastic version of loss, in order to rebuild and move forward.
In fact, I think many folks, you know, it may not be a brokenness at all. It just may be a level of dissatisfaction with where you are. For example, I work with some folks who are CEOs or executives that for all intents and purposes, things are really good but just because you have a title or a certain number of commas in your bank account doesn’t mean that you’re really doing okay, and I think in many cases, we can be doing fine but what we’re looking for is still more.
We’re not broken, we’re just still seeking and so you absolutely don’t have to be broken on the floor or broken out the door in order to rebuild and find value and learning how to redefine success. I think that, and before this work, I think even when we are doing really, really well when we’re happy, we’re always evolving.
I think one of the constants in life is change and if we can be at the helm, at the steering wheel of our lives, then what we’re looking for is, how can we steer ourselves towards the right type of change to allow ourselves to continue to grow and evolve in ways that keep us healthy and happy, keep us delivering value to the world and the impact that we found fulfillment in.
Breaking Isn’t Always A Bad Thing
Drew Appelbaum: Now, you do have three pillars and three ways in the book, you know, to say to shed your mask, and they are really to avoid or really to learn how to cope with breaking, if you will, and they are seeing who you actually are, envisioning who you could be and becoming better. Do you think you could just touch on each of those a little bit and break them down a bit?
Jeff Ponders II: I want to mention, have a plan or something too. The idea of breaking doesn’t mean a bad thing. I’m a gym rat, I literally go to the gym every single day, and to me, the practice of going to the gym, there is a habit of it. When I think about how I am training my body to be healthy like when I lift weights, my muscles are tearing. They’re breaking, but they’re rebuilding every, you know, as they rest.
So that’s a healthy form of breaking, it’s intentional, where I am providing meaningful stress in order to get to measurable progress. Where the three forms of BE come in, you know, the book is called, BEtter, when you see the title it’s the letter BE are highlight because to me it is really about being better. The only way we get to have better things, do better things, go better places is by becoming better people who are appropriate to handle the responsibility of doing, having and going those places.
So it was almost like an English session, the three forms of BE and the first one is, “Who am I?” and I think that’s probably the hardest part. It’s the idea, can we look in the mirror, the mirror meaning our past and our past up to our present look at our successes and our failures, look at all of our history, all of our lineage. Look at everything that’s ever happened to us and just say, “Okay” just accept it as fact.
It doesn’t define who we are, it doesn’t define where we can go. It’s in the past and there’s nothing we could do about it to change it and there is a lot of power and freedom that comes in that acceptance. For example, when you were a kid and somebody will say, “Hey, you’re short.” Man, if you’re short, why are you getting mad if somebody calls me short? It’s a fact. There’s nothing to really be offended about it.
Drew Appelbaum: I like your example.
Jeff Ponders II: You can’t change it, so why would we be upset and want to go fight or cry or throw something? This is my fact, and because I accept who I am, you can’t use that against me and that’s not just for other people, it is also for ourselves. When we talk down on ourselves and look down upon ourselves because of things that happened in the past. We can release that baggage.
So the first thing is “who am I?” and it is learning how to accept and love the person that is today. Part two is, “Who do I want to be?” and it is the future casting. The way I think about it is, if you look down the road five, 10, 15 years and 15 is a long time because there’s a ton of change after the 15 years that we had zero control over, but just looking at what is my aspirational state and not just what do I want to have like how much money you’d want to have or where do I want to live.
It’s what kind of thoughts do I want to have, what kind of words do I want to use? What kind of people do I want to hang out with? What type of impact do I want to have on the world? In defining that future state, it really creates a benchmark for life for ourselves. The third part for me is the most powerful of it, which is, “Who am I becoming?” and the idea behind the becoming is when I look at my pattern in my present state, when I look at how I talk today, how I’m thinking today, how I walk today and my behaviors, my behavior is pushing me closer to the person that I wanted to be or they’re pulling me in a different direction.
That different direction doesn’t necessarily have to be bad, but I need to be conscious of it, it really is defining my trajectory. The way I like to think about it is if my aspirational self is the mark, I want my becoming to be consistently aligning itself closer and closer with the aspirational person.
Drew Appelbaum: So when you actually went through these steps yourself, you know, really when you are able to take the mask off and where you able to answer them honestly or did it take a while? How would you, for people going through these steps, how can they really step back to see themselves?
Jeff Ponders II: It was hard, it was really, really hard. It took a couple of passes for me to get to the real honest stuff, and it is interesting because there is two levels. There is the honesty of, what does it really – “I am a nice person,” like yeah, you are, but are you really that nice? “Yeah. All right, I am nice most of the time.” Are you though? “Okay, I am nice when I want to be nice. Okay, I’m nice when I want something.”
That’s not necessarily, I am actually pretty genuinely a nice guy, but you know, really digging in and making sure that you’re at the truth of the matter, the root of it. Here is the truth, and then there’s also understanding the why. For example, Simon Sinek and his The Why Principle or asking yourself the five why’s and digging deeper and deeper and deeper to make sure that you know what it is, and you also know why it is, and that part of the process for me took a lot of time.
But if I hadn’t gone through that, I would have stopped at some places that would have been better than where I was but wouldn’t have gotten me to a place of building a more firm foundation. That was a huge deal.
Drew Appelbaum: What impact do you hope the book will have on the reader, and are there any, you know, immediate steps that you hope they’ll take in their lives either during or after finishing the book?
Jeff Ponders II: Yeah, I am glad you asked that question, man. I think that a couple of things, one, I wrote the book to really be a bit of a conversation between me and the reader. The tone of it is very conversational, the pacing is like talking to a human being, and as the book progresses, there are questions that are posed that are designed for the reader to really stop, pause, reflect and answer.
Some of the folks who have given me feedback already, they’re literally demanding a companion workbook. Honestly, it’s not a bad idea, I’ll end up doing it, it will happen. I got three kids, so you know, let us just add that to the list of soccer practice, piano practices, and dance recitals, but I hope that the reader takes the time to think about the questions that are posed, to think about where they are, who they are, where do they want to go and who they’re becoming, their patterns and their behaviors.
My aspiration is that the reader actually works through the process and is able to redefine or further define in some cases, who they’re becoming on a daily basis, that they can take greater ownership of what success means. I guess I spend a lot of time in the earlier parts of the book talking about how much we view success is inherited from our parents and the culture that we live in.
But when we can pause and say what really makes my soul happy, what gets me going on a daily basis, I think that we can not only identify and measure and a mark for success that is sustainable and sustains us but, more important, I think that the world demands that each person find their lane. I think about it like a symphony, and every voice matters. The voices had the greatest impact when the voices are being true.
So my hope is that the reader really is able to define their own measure of success and take the next step towards making that real.
Drew Appelbaum: You also have a companion website for the book. Can you tell listeners and readers, you know, first where they could find the site and then what could they find there?
Jeff Ponders II: Absolutely. So the website is better-book.com, so better-book.com and on the site, it gives a lot of information about the book itself. It talks a bit about where the concept came from and a lot of what we talked about in this podcast here but also, provides a little bit of access to start digging deeper into how they can take it to the next step.
For example, I am almost always willing to open up some time to talk to folks about where they are and how they can move forward, and we’ve got some really cool things that are also coming down the pipeline too. The workbook, as we mentioned, will be accessible through the website as well as there has been some growing demand for a community of folks, who are also on the path to become better.
That’s why I’m an only kid but I’ve got a whole lot of brothers and sisters out here. You know, anything that I can do to help further the opportunity for somebody to set themselves on the path that makes their life better, I want to do that. So it will be really offering a lot of different opportunities for that through the website.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, Jeff, we touched on the surface of the book here. There’s honestly so much more inside including that fourth step, but I’ll leave that for folks to find in the book. So I just want to say that telling your story and building this book as just a way for folks to get to know themselves and just to be better is no small feat. So congratulations on putting in the time and putting your thoughts down and publishing this book.
Jeff Ponders II: Thank you very much. Man, I appreciate it. I really thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. I could talk all day. I probably talk too much about helping folks take their next step towards the better version of themselves.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah, this has been a pleasure. I’m excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called BEtter and you could find it on Amazon. Jeff, besides checking out the book, besides your website, is there anywhere else where people can connect with you?
Jeff Ponders II: Absolutely, so I’m on every social channel. If you go to @Jeff Ponders, I did a good job of securing my digital real estate pretty early and also jeffponders.com in addition to the book. I am legitimately a professional musician and so my performance information there and also just, you know, I am connected to a lot of cool people. I am very, very fortunate to have a great community that challenges me to be better on a daily basis too.
So @jeffponders everywhere, jeffponders.com, we’ve got a lot of things that are just developing on a daily basis. I am always excited to bring people into the world that I get the pleasure walking in every day.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, Jeff, thank you so much for giving us some of your time today, and best of luck with your new book.
Jeff Ponders II: Thank you so much, man, I appreciate it.