Do you feel like your work and your personal life are pulling you in opposite directions? The more you’re there for one, the less you’re there for the other. After his family was torn apart twice, former journalist Mark Briggs launched a full-scale investigation into the work-life balance. What he discovered was a surprising framework of small, simple changes that could send powerful ripple effects throughout your life both at work and at home.
In his new book, The Butterfly Impact, Mark interviewed over 100 people at the prime of their careers, including industry leaders at Starbucks, Facebook, Google and Amazon, amongst others and what he found were relatable stories of resilience, grit and triumph. If you’re ready to develop your own balance, excelling in your career while thriving in your personal life, then The Butterfly Impact is for you.
Hey Listeners, my name is Drew Appelbaum and I’m excited to be here today with Mark Briggs, author of The Butterfly Impact: Resilience, Resets and Ripples. Mark, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.
Mark Briggs: Thanks for having me, I’m looking forward to this.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off. Can you give us a quick rundown of your professional background?
Mark Briggs: Sure. I started my career actually as a sports writer for newspapers. I was a journalism major in college, I went to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, and thought I wanted to be a sports writer. Spent about five minutes doing that and realized that I needed a lot more variety in my career. Long story short, I made my way through graduate school at the University of North Carolina.
Discovered digital media along the way, found myself managing websites and digital operations for news companies. I then ended up as a consultant where I worked with media companies and TV stations on all things modernization, whether it’s digital media or change management or just sort of workflows and culture kinds of issues as well.
A lot of team-building needed to really adapt to technology and audience changes that have certainly disrupted the news industry over the past 10 or 15 years.
Drew Appelbaum: Why was now the time to share the stories in the book? Did you have an “aha moment”? Was there something really inspiring out there for you? Or did enough people just tell you, “Hey, your story is fantastic. What you’re teaching is fantastic and you need to write this down”?
Mark Briggs: Really, it was the pandemic, pretty simply. The pandemic caused this idea to really take hold for me. It was something I’ve been considering in 2019 trying to put together some of the learnings and lessons that I was helping teams and individuals within my consulting work, along with some of the stories that I have had in my past that have influenced the way I approach life.
Then, the pandemic hit and my clients of course were needing anything to help them manage their teams remotely, help them manage their teams. These are all TV news stations at the time, through a very difficult and challenging news cycle where you have people worried about their own personal health in terms of going on covering a story but they need to cover the story because it was of critical public importance.
I started writing essays for managers and leaders and executives that they can share with their team. At one point, it hit me that this was the book that I was trying to write the year before and just didn’t really have that point of entry, that thing that lit a fire, but the pandemic did that for me.
I just started talking to one person and then another person and in the end, I ended up talking to more than a hundred people and just interviewing them about their experiences and how they manage through their own challenges. Whether they were pandemic-related or just life-related or work-related and that’s how the book came about.
Drew Appelbaum: I think a lot of authors have the idea of the book in their head and sometimes even have an outline of the book. This is what I’m going to write, you know? Sometimes by just going through the writing process and by digging deeper into some of these subjects, you come to some major breakthroughs and learnings. It sounds like you pivoted your writing along the way. Did you have any of these major breakthroughs or learnings as well, along the way?
Mark Briggs: I think the biggest pivot definitely happened to be all the interviewing that I did. I really felt like, in the beginning, I was going to set out to write a book that was based on the other books that I had read, the podcasts I had listened to, the research that I had been exposed to, the TED Talks I’ve seen, and then some of my own personal experiences involved.
Early on, I formed an advisory board of four people who didn’t really know me all that well and they started reviewing drafts and giving me feedback. Right away, I saw them gravitate towards the personal stories, either my own or those from the people I was interviewing. So while I just set out literally to interview one person for the first chapter to give it the hook, as anyone in journalism school would have learned.
That led to a second interview and a third interview and like I said, just snowballed into more than a hundred interviews. My advisory board just kept encouraging me to not only pursue those real relatable stories but also to incorporate my own challenges and the things I had overcome as basically a proof of concept that what I was putting out there had already worked for at least one person and that was me.
Finding Balance and Momentum
Drew Appelbaum: The book worked for you but in your mind– I think a lot of people do write books for themselves— who were you writing this book for? Who is that imaginary reader in your mind?
Mark Briggs: She’s in the book, actually. Her name is Kimmy, and she’s a digital manager at a TV station in San Francisco and I credit a conversation that I had with her and about 2018 for really sparking the original idea for the book. She is a very talented, thoughtful, smart, ambitious, professional who was doing everything she could to kick as much butt in her job as she possibly could but things were kind of conspiring against her from the way that staff was organized to some particular personality issues and her husband commented to her that this job was “Grinding her up.”
When I visited her a year later after we made some changes and some other things had shifted for her professionally, she was now thriving both at work and at home. She said that her husband had noted that since I was coming back to visit again that things had become so much easier for her at home. She was less stressed, she had a young daughter at home, she was absolutely enjoying every part of her life again and I realized that it was because things had gotten so much better for her at work and that there are little things that you can do to attack your work in a much more healthy way with a lot more priority towards wellbeing, that will then have this ripple effect in your personal life.
Once you have that kind of wonderful experience with the people you connect with outside of work, you bring that momentum back into work and then that becomes contagious with the people you work with and it just becomes this awesome ripple effect that can obviously impact both of your worlds.
Drew Appelbaum: You’ve kind of been hinting at it, I don’t know if you could just dig in a little bit more into the actual structure and format of the book itself because you interviewed a lot of people but it’s not a straight-up interview format.
Mark Briggs: No, that’s true. The structure of the book really is about picking a different topic for each chapter— there’s 22 chapters. What I wanted to do is make sure that the book addressed a broad set of topics and areas for people to explore. Thinking that some folks might want to just pick three or four of the chapters and some folks might want to read the book from start to finish.
I wanted to make it really accessible from many different angles. Each chapter is centered on the story of one person at least that I interviewed, some have more than one person, just how they related to or navigated through a particular issue related to that chapter’s topic.
Then I try to support some of what they went through when connected with some research, some other findings from other folks, and then I finished each chapter with some action steps that anyone can take to hopefully manage through whatever the issue is that that chapter addresses.
It’s really meant to be a flexible guide or a workbook of sorts with interesting, compelling stories throughout. I just believe that there’s no one owner’s manual to anyone’s life and everybody’s situation. Their personalities are so different that you really need to offer a lot so that people can find what will work for them but certainly, not everything is going to work for everybody.
I certainly don’t do everything in the book myself. It’s a matter of picking and choosing what works for you and doing more of that and identifying what doesn’t work for you and doing less of that.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, you’ve written books before. What’s different about this book in particular and why did you really choose this subject for this time?
Mark Briggs: My earlier books honestly were all about journalism and journalism innovation, digital media— Entrepreneurial Journalism is actually the title of one of my books— and those are written definitely at a different time and for a different audience where the news industry as a whole was being disrupted and this is the early part of the disruption back before the iPhone and even social media, I wrote my first book called Journalism 2.0.
That was about trying to help news professionals and journalists understand the changes and the challenges that were now being forced upon them by this new technology and help them adapt and help them thrive. I see the through-line to this book because in my current job, I’m doing the same thing but it’s less about technology and storytelling and the tactics of journalism. It’s more about how do you balance everything that’s being thrown at you from my work and personal perspective and make the most of these opportunities because in any era of disruption, there is opportunity, and creativity can surface, and you can thrive.
That’s the goal of this book, it’s to help them with some practical paths to explore, to make the most of what is otherwise an incredibly challenging time I think for a lot of people.
Drew Appelbaum: One of those things that people really struggle with is that balance of work and life; you actually cover this a bit in the book and you talk about methods and approaches to just doing work differently. Can you shine a little bit of line on some of those methods and approaches?
Mark Briggs: Yeehaw, it’s really about being intentional about how you want to be at work and with the people you work with. I have workshops and discussions from my clients on everything from incorporating humor in the workplace to making sure that people have the space to talk about their morning routines or their evening routines or the boundaries around their workday.
Something as simple as making sure you block out time to have a lunch break and taking that lunch break and doing something with it whether it’s eating healthy food, going outside, doing some meditation. Those little changes, when you add them all together, they absolutely create a different person who is then showing up at the team meetings, who is able to manage the stress of a really long to-do list, and then who is able to go and show up as a great partner or spouse or parent or a friend after the workday is over.
They are all intertwined. One of the things that I realized early on when there wasn’t as many books out there about this sort of intermingling of work and life. There seems to be a firewall almost between, here’s how to be really great at work, here’s a leadership book.
Here is some ways to do a very tactical work thing and then over here is the self-help shelves with all the different minds, wellness, and wellbeing books. For me, it’s about combining all of that together and making sure that you look at it from a holistic view so that you get the benefits in both worlds.
Stop, Think, and Reflect
Drew Appelbaum: What is really interesting is that at the end of each chapter, you have these butterfly impact signposts and they signify key takeaways from the chapter. For me, it seems like you really want people to stop, think and reflect. Was that the reason you included those or are there other reasons why you chose to have the reader stop for a moment?
Mark Briggs: I think that was a big part of it. It really came down to one thing, a device to give people another access point into a particular chapter or into all of the chapters as the case may be. I honestly think that that was one of the ideas that was suggested by my advisory board. They have a lot of great ideas and a lot of great feedback for me and it was just the fact that “here’s a really important point that you are making and it should you call it out somehow visually” so that the reader if they happen to be skimming this chapter at least stop, take a look, consider it and maybe that will get them to dive more deeply into the chapter.
I think that that’s a helpful device. Again, I really wanted this book to be accessible in a lot of different ways to a lot of different people and I just wanted them to be like these features that we came up with to accomplish that.
Drew Appelbaum: You talk about work as a team sport in the book. The ability to interact with other people kind of makes or breaks your work experience but what do you say to folks who say, “I go to work, I go to my nine to five, I put my head down, I do my work and I want my life to be at home”?
Mark Briggs: I totally understand that and I think that that definitely still exists, although I would say to some degree less so now than maybe it did in previous areas. I think that most people in one way or another are forced to interact with other human beings during their workday and instead of resenting that or resisting that I guess I should say, it’s about trying to make sure that you get as much out of that if you can but also share and bring as much to that as you can.
The people that I talk to and the research that I did suggest that this emotional contagion, which social scientists have identified, is even more powerful at work and it is even in your personal life. So, if you are bringing that sort of neutral, “I am just at work, I don’t want to engage with people” attitude, then you put that into your team culture. Whereas if you are bringing a funny YouTube video to start a meeting with or you are bringing some compliments or some gratefulness into a team meeting that creates a whole different culture and a whole different feeling at work.
Which turns out, it gets played back to you and gets extended beyond just even that meeting that people carry that forward to the rest of their day and that becomes the culture where you work. Which then leads to an even better experience now because you take that positive culture home with you and that’s how you show up as again, a parent, a partner, a friend, or whatever the role is you have to play when you get home.
Drew Appelbaum: How do you make sure when you find that free time— let’s say you go through the book, you balance things out, you have more free time— does it also matter what you do with that free time? Or are you just naturally going to be happier because you are not in an environment that you might not prefer?
Mark Briggs: It’s definitely about making choices and it is definitely about spending the time on things that you value. I don’t think of it as much as opening up extra time or free time. I think it’s more about focusing on the fact that where you are spending your time on a daily or weekly basis is actually on the things that you value. One of the points in the book is that you can take a look at your calendar, your work calendar, and your personal calendar.
Combine them together and then maybe write a list of the things that you value. What are the top priorities in your life and compare those two. And if you don’t see your priorities and values on your calendar, then you are not spending time on the things that you value. The book has a lot of different exercises and action steps and frameworks and approaches to try to help people get to the point where they can say, “Yeah, I am spending the time on the things that I want to spend my time on.”
That’s just a great feeling. It is a feeling of flourishing that makes you feel like you’re in the right place and you are doing the right things.
Drew Appelbaum: Some people say that just sitting down and having a real authentic conversation with someone can be life-changing and you sat down with 100 people, then 20 plus are in the book. Would you say that— besides writing the book of course— that just interviewing all of these people has changed you in any way?
Mark Briggs: A hundred percent. I couldn’t agree more. I think that the process of having all of these conversations has produced a version of myself that I didn’t really know existed or could exist I guess I should say. It really has created a sense of calm and I am grounded and I am able to handle the busy workdays, the endless Zoom calls, the lengthy to-do list in a way that two years ago I just wasn’t able to manage without stress and without worry.
I know that it’s because I was able to have all of those conversations and able to have that kind of connection to people, in some cases that I hadn’t talked to in years. The interesting opportunity is that I realized real soon into writing the book is that during the quarantine era of the pandemic everybody was available. Anyone that I contacted and said, “Can I interview you for my book?” they were available. So, it was really a great year to spend connecting with people that I hadn’t talked to in a long time.
For some people that were more personal friends, I talked to them about work or career challenges that they’d overcome and there were issues that we never talked about because work didn’t come up before. Yeah, I love that question because it is a really good description of how really life-changing those conversations were for me and that’s really what I am trying to bring to the reader through the pages in the book.
Drew Appelbaum: As a reader dives in and goes through the book, what impact do you hope it will have on them and what are some immediate or the first few steps that you hope will take after finishing the book?
Mark Briggs: Definitely the impact I want to have is for people to see that self-help or taking the time to take care of yourself first is actually not a selfish act. It is actually an act that you are doing, a commitment you are making, a sacrifice that you are making for the people around you.
By taking extra time in the morning to read an interesting book or go for a short walk or make a healthy smoothie, those are little things that don’t seem like they’re going to add up much but as you add more of these life balance/work balance tactics into your system, into your daily routines, you show up as a more positive and more balanced and a more grounded person at work. You go through some of the – what we already talked about you know, of having more positive interactions and then you bring all that back home. You get to have that positive influence and be that positive contagion to all the people in your life.
To be able to see the positive impact you can have on other people by making those changes that feel selfish and feel like it is only for yourself, that is really the goal that I have right now and that is what I want people to understand with the book. That this is all about investing in yourself for the people around you. It literally is the metaphor on the airline safety bullets and where they ask you to put your own oxygen mask on first before you help those around you. That’s really what this book is about.
Drew Appelbaum: I do have one more question. You have made yourself incredibly vulnerable in this book; I don’t know how vulnerable you are in your other books but this is a deep dive into Mark’s life as well. How is that and what’s the feeling knowing that your story is going out there to the masses?
Mark Briggs: It was terrifying at first, I can tell you that. I didn’t ever anticipate doing that. That part of the book especially the introduction, which is the prologue— which is really the background of how I came to be, as it’s doing with the personal growth through some extremely challenging life circumstances including a couple of very painful divorces. But as I started putting together the outline of the book and what I wanted to basically teach, or at least demonstrate to people, I figured I needed to set up and establish the credibility of like why should anyone listen to me.
Has this person even gone through any challenges? How does this person even feel like they have something to say in this arena? So, I wrote it and it just felt right. It felt like yeah, I can do this. I can be vulnerable and open myself up and show what I’ve gone through as a way to help people relate to me, relate to the stories, and hopefully see how going through what I have gone through and picking up those pieces of wisdom and inspiration and just a step forward here and there.
Put together a really good package of how to do this work and life thing with more meaning, more balance, and just more health I think at the end of the day. For me, in some ways, I always knew that there was going to be some way that I wanted to make the pain and the challenge and the failure that I have been through in my life somehow payoff and be worthwhile for other people and this is my attempt with that.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, Mark, we just touched on the surface of the book but writing a book where you’re helping folks just become more successful in their professional life and their personal life and again, being so vulnerable with your own experiences is no small feat, so congratulations on having your book published.
Mark Briggs: Thank you very much, I really appreciate it.
Drew Appelbaum: This has been a pleasure and I’m excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, The Butterfly Impact, and you could find it on Amazon. Mark, besides checking out the book, where else can people connect with you?
Drew Appelbaum: Well Mark, thank you for giving us some of your time today, and wish you nothing but the best of luck with your new book.
Mark Briggs: Thanks very much, I appreciate the time.