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Aligned and Inspired Work with Jeff Willmore

Are you working to live or living to work? There is a thin line between what you really want to do and what you are good at doing. And more often than not, we choose to go with the skill we developed because there is no guarantee in pursuing our passion. While we keep our heads down focusing on our jobs, our thoughts wander off in search of new pastures to explore. If you find yourself tired from living one life while wishing for another or wondering how you can level up in your chosen field, this is the podcast for you! In this episode, Jeff Willmore of The Autonomy Course shares how his own life experience led him to create a program that has empowered over 300,000 to 400,000 people to fulfill their vision for their business or career in the last 30 years! If you are interested in staying true to what you want to work on, tune into this conversation.

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Stay True To What You Want To Work With Jeff Willmore

I have a guest with me, Jeff Willmore. Jeff, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do with the Autonomy Course.

My life is so full of significance. There's so much to tell. I accidentally ended up with a real commitment to empower and free up people in their professional life and business so they could do two things. One is they could fulfill their vision for their business or career. At the same time, they could do that without sacrificing their life to do it, which is what we expect. In fact, we even highly admire that when we hear of someone who sacrificed everything to make X business happen. It evokes admiration often. I somehow got committed to that through my own life experience and have been devoted to that. That's how the Autonomy Course came to be.

We're going to talk a lot about the Autonomy Course, but we're also going to talk about how Jeff and I know each other. I met Jeff because we were both program leaders in the same organization. He was a senior program leader and I was a junior program leader. Both of us were committed to giving people access to freedom, power, and full self-expression. I'll never forget those three.

At the time, I was doing recruiting. I was so inspired by the avocation of helping people or empowering people to gain that freedom that I decided I wanted to do it as a career. That's when I started KeenAlignment. For you, how long have you been facilitating transformational programs and how many thousands of lives have you empowered?

It goes by in a flash. It's been over 30 years. It's probably somewhere between 300,000 to 400,000.

I know at the time that you were doing that work, you did a lot of travel. What was your favorite part of working with people leading the Landmark forum?

First of all, I found people incredibly interesting. I don't think I ever had that before, but somewhere in creating that career for myself, I ended up falling in love with how different, strange, and unique people are. In fact, I remember someone in a forum saying to me afterward, “You do your job well because you make it appear like you're interested in the stories we tell. I'm sure you've heard it all before.” I said, “In a sense.” Once you've been in front of enough people, it’s like you've heard this before, but it wasn't like that for me. I was interested.

The part that made it all worthwhile was when you saw someone in front of your eyes be freed from the constraints of their past, whatever that was or whatever happened to be. That was the whole point to see someone get free of the burden of, “My dad was never there for me and he didn't love me,” or to see someone be freed from the self-assessment of, “I'm not that smart, and therefore, I have to compensate with hard work.” There are different versions of that, many of which we don't even know that we have. To see people get free from that is the whole point.

Before you can design something new or reinvent your business or career, you first have to get honest about what it is.

When I did my first virgin voyage of a transformational program, a gentleman by the name of Bruce Hodes came into my business and said, “Which one of your parents was the alcoholic?” I was like, “Why would you say that?” He said, “It’s because you're running an extremely codependent company. In my opinion and my view, it's a sign that somewhere along the line, you learned that that's the way you needed to take care of everybody.” My father was an alcoholic. He nailed it so clearly. He said, “I want you to do this program. It's only three days in an evening, but whatever you do, don't volunteer.” It turns out I not only did the program, but I volunteered. He’s still volunteering.

What I saw in that for myself is that I had related to work. I had to be successful, and it was going to be hard. Up until 1996, my life was a money-generation machine. I didn't think anything was wrong with it. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know that I was doing that until I sat in a room and heard people talk about how they worked and how there was so much more freedom and joy. I loved what I was doing, but I was working too hard.

Fast forward many years later, I'm still working hard in a completely different business. That business was a manufactured stress crisis waiting to happen. It was a staffing firm. It’s like an emergency room. They call you up and say, “We need twelve people,” or, “We need fourteen people.” We had a twenty-minute fill to get those people. That was an industry standard. You have to fill the job in twenty minutes.

In 2008, I sold that business. It was the most freeing experience of my life. Even though it generated a lot of revenue, I was super happy to move on. I created KeenAlignment. I took a lot of time off in between. I created content and did some coaching for people. Fast forward to 2022, I'm working a lot less hard, but what I see is everyone around me is working hard. All my clients are working hard. It is a badge of courage to give up time with the growing children to be with the job. It's an honor.

I was attracted to the Autonomy course because at the age of 57, I know I have a lot to give and my clients would say I have a lot to give. I don't want to go into my retirement. I'm not going to retire, but I don't want to go into my golden years even though I don't feel like I'm in my golden years struggling to have a business that works. I want a business that works without me calling all the shots. I want a business that people want to be a part of. It’s like a community, but people join as community members, not employees. Does that make sense?

It does.

Tell me how the Autonomy Course is going to help me, and in that way, how it's going to help anybody else who's interested in autonomy in their career.

WOLI 5 | What You Want
What You Want: Seeing someone in front of your eyes be freed from the constraints of their past makes the work worthwhile.

This thing of hard work is the answer. All of us have experienced that or do experience that personally. It's not personal, but it's an inherited tradition. It's an inherited conversation that you step into the workforce. That is the ultimate answer. Whether you even ever talk about it or say it, we do plan A. You need to work harder. You need to put in more effort. It’s what's sold. It’s what's promoted as how I got to where I am, how I achieved, and what I achieved.

When Lady Gaga was nominated for the Emmy, she talked about how hard she worked. That's a necessary skill. There are many people who've never developed the muscle to work hard. It costs them their ability to fulfill their commitments, goals, and dreams in life. It will cost them because there are times you need to be able to deliver. It's going to take hard work. However, it's something I call the labor tradition, which is a tradition of working that is 70 or 80 years long.

It was completely appropriate in the old era of work. It came into being with labor unions. You'd get paid by the hour. You'd have a daily rate. The more hours you put in, the more money you’d make. If you worked overtime, you got paid extra. No one comes up with that on their own, but when you step into the world of business, you inherit that conversation. It's a killer.

There are all these people who study people at the end of their life. They list out what are the top regrets of people at the end of their life. They're all the same. The first one is, “I wish I had lived life more true to myself.” The second one is, “I wish I hadn't worked so much.” That conundrum you were speaking about is stuck with me and my work experience of owning a business, being moderately successful at owning a business, and realizing I was only successful because I worked my ass off. I was wondering, “How do you do it otherwise?” I didn't have some immediate answer, but that's what I got committed to that eventually became the Autonomy Course.

It was a way for committed, ambitious professionals and business owners to come together and find a way to create a new view of the marketplace, a new view of themselves, and a new view of business as a whole. They could redesign and reinvent their business or their career, and hard work wasn't the answer. Virtually, probably everyone you work with and everyone I work with has already got hard work down. You don’t make it to where people do it without the ability to press through, do the all-nighters at college, and so on. I don't want to end up at the end with regrets.

I was visiting my dad. Every time I visit him, he says, “Don't wait too long as I did.” My dad was the epitome of hard work. He’s got success and money to show for it, but his biggest regret is, “I went to Machu Picchu when I was 80. I should have gone when I was 50.” How do I design a business that fulfills my vision for my life and not live out this old inherited labor tradition?

The Great Resignation is out there. All these people are leaving their job in pursuit of something other than their job, but without a vision, calling, purpose, or goal. They're trading one shit show for the next shit show. If there's anything I learned in those 25 years of recruiting, it's the same job over and over again. It’s the same experience, just different faces.

The moment you launch a business or go to work for a company or industry, you're in the force field whether you like it or not.

If you have a person who repetitively has personality conflicts at every job, pretty soon, you got to look at the person and say, “Maybe I got to do some work inside.” It’s the same thing with the one who trades time. It doesn't matter what they're producing, but they feel valor as long as they put the time in. The company wants the result. They don't want the time.

There's a missing translation even among the CEOs and the people that work in the organization. If you get alone with a president or CEO, all they want is the results. They would rather have it take half the time, half the effort, leverage technology, and leverage teamwork, but the translation downstream doesn't make it because people will come to their performance review with how hard they worked and how much effort they put in. They're confused when they're not appreciated for it. How do you change an entire paradigm of the world of work?

You brought up The Great Resignation. You're exactly right that I most often will take myself from here to there. The problem with moving is you have to take yourself with you. What you're asking is dead on. We start in two places. The work Richard and I do in the Autonomy Course is we start with if you were going to align your life to something which includes your business and work, what would you align it to?

We engage with already pretty successful, intelligent, and committed people. We don't have an answer to that. I can remember asking a billion-dollar hedge fund founder and owner, “Why are you doing a hedge fund?” It was silent, and then finally, he said, “I don't know. I knew why I was doing it in grad school when I came up with what I thought was an anomaly and a brilliant idea. I started the hedge fund from nothing, but I have no idea why I'm doing it now, twenty years later.”

We start with what would it be if you want to align your life, business, work, and profession to something? The answer we propose would have to be something that's profoundly inspiring. Why would you align your life to something that's boring or something that doesn't inspire you? We start there. Parallel to it, the other place we start with is before you can design something new or reinvent your business or career, you first have to get honest about what it is. We call that distinction.

The beginning of it is getting aware of what we call the force field of business. The moment you launch a business or the moment you go to work for a company or an industry, you're in the force field whether you like it or not. There's no escape in it. There are even force fields within force fields of particular industries.

I was having this conversation with two directors of medicine at a couple of the largest university healthcare systems in the country. They were both MDs. As they started to get honest about the force field that comprises healthcare, they were in tears. In their own way, they ended up saying, “The only way we've made it twenty years in this industry is we've had to disconnect ourselves from what we're really doing. If we can experience one victory a day, it keeps us going.” It was like, “How are we still doing this? It’s no wonder we experience burnout.”

WOLI 5 | What You Want
What You Want: There are many people who've never developed the muscle to work hard. It will cost them their ability to fulfill their commitments, goals, and dreams in life because there are times they need to be able to deliver.

The beginning of the possibility of choice and invention is I've got to realize I'm in a force field to see the possibility of something else. Otherwise, whatever I attempt to create or imagine is on top of it, or better said, it's more of it. It's just an adaptation. If you’re like, “Since my people are so busy, I know what we'll do. We'll put a cafeteria,” it's an adaptation to, “We're too busy,” which is part of the force field. We start on those two tracks where someone can authentically end up reinventing and redesigning why they're doing what they're doing and how they organize and work to fulfill it. Is that enough of an answer?

Yeah. I'm thinking of a typical Monday for me. I honestly think the client or customer is never the problem, but they're part of the force field. What I was surprised about the first time I opened a business and I didn't know was that the majority of what I made was going to pay people to help me be in business. No one tells you that. Working for someone else, I had a straight commission. If I made $100, I kept $50. Working for myself, if I made $100, it costs me $80 to make the $100. People do not understand that.

The running of the business, operating of the business, the people side of the business, and day-to-day is overwhelming for many business owners and even the executives that I work with. If you put them with the clients, they are happy, but if you have them solve an infrastructure problem or challenge among people, then it goes haywire. What do you recommend for people that are committed to liberating their work experience, whether they're an employee, business owners or starting their own? What do you recommend people do to stay true to their own truth about why they're there and what they want to do?

It's so true that not always, but in many cases, a professional authentically loves what they do. The massage therapist loves doing massage or the software designer loves coding. The moment you put that into a business where you’ve got to deal with all those things you were mentioning, as well as the making money part and the profit part, all of a sudden, the likelihood that what you love to do is going to get polluted or prostituted by this whole making money thing and what you have to do to. You’re like, “I've got a market.

I don't like marketing, but I have to do it,” or, “I need to promote. I don't like how we promote in this industry, but that's how we do it in this industry.” You've got to grit your teeth. It’s all those things we put up with and tolerate that we're not proud of or that we don't love doing.

I don't have an answer to your question on what I would recommend because it suggests that there's an answer for someone. What we found is the only answer has to be invented. It takes what I call a triumph of imagination. The answer they invent will be unique to them, their business, and their industry. It won't be something they mimicked or copied off someone else, which the world of business and the force field of business is notorious for. People mimic and copy, and it often takes the form of best practices.

Something I repeat often is best practices guarantees mediocrity. It's very different when we've invented our own standard for our work and our company. It's a stand we take in the marketplace. We don't do it because it's about practice. We do it because that's us. That's why we do this and that's why we're doing it this way. I know people may not like that answer because it takes some time. You rarely invent something in a single moment of inspiration. Every now and then, you get some of those.

Best practices guarantee mediocrity.

Someone I know who's a happened to have led the forum a while back is a multi-Grammy award winner. I remember him talking to me about the process of creating these amazing songs he does. Sometimes, it takes years. If I'm going to invent a business, it's unique to my vision. It allows me to live true to what I've said is most important about my life and at the same time, generates commercial success. That's a triumph of imagination. That's a process of design and inventing, but you can do it. It's not that it's not possible. It may not be easy. That’s a different kind of hard work. That's the work artists do when they're creating.

I'm excited about what I get to create. One of the assignments you gave us before the class started was to answer how we define a career. I remember when the assignment came and I said, “I've gotten people jobs my whole life. I know what a career is,” but I got over myself because I wanted to do the homework or the prep work. I sat with that and it got really confronting because what I would describe as my career doesn't fit in with any stereotypes of what a career is.

When you think career, you get your degree and then you go here. Maybe if you're lucky, you go here and then you go here. Maybe if you're lucky, you got a gold watch. That evaporated many years ago. Maynard Webb, the guy who created PayPal, wrote a book called Be the CEO of Your Own Life. It was part of a pitch for PayPal and selling stuff online, but it was also about nobody's coming. No one is taking care of your career but you.

For all of those people reading that are not business owners or either in a job, thinking about a job, or wishing they had more fulfillment in their work-life, what would be a takeaway from this that they could do to feel a little more aligned or fulfilled with what they're either doing for career or what they want to do?

I believe the title is, What is it, A Career? And then parenthetically, Looking From an Ontological and Phenomenological Perspective. For those of you reading, very simply, it’s not what a career as a definition is. It’s what is a career in a way that creates and says a significant dimension of who you are and what your life is about. A committed professional is going to spend around 50% of their life in their profession working. What I’ve found on how most people answer the question is the description of a long-term job.

They’re like, “I’m an accountant.” Everyone knows what you do. That’s your career. When we give any of those descriptions like, “I’m a lawyer. I’m an accountant. I’m in sales,” close to every time you say that, it’s deadening. You’re not inspired. You’re not lit up. It doesn’t create you. It’s not what your life is about.

To answer your question, the first place someone could start, besides coming to spend a year with me, is if you didn’t describe your career with an inherited label and instead you were going to state your career as a declaration of why you’re there, why you’re doing it, what you do, and the saying of it lit you up, what would you say?

WOLI 5 | What You Want
What You Want: The beginning of the possibility of choice and invention is realizing that you’re in a force field to see the possibility of something else.

Instead of, “My career is I'm a teacher,” it is, “My career is I work with students so they can be the best selves in their world.” I made that up, but that's got more juice for me than, “I am a teacher,” which I know is easy and shorthanded. No one has to think when we say things like that, which is part of the point of it. No one has to think. I don't have to think. You don't have to think

Let's take it one more step further. The first thing I think of when I meet somebody and they say, “I'm a teacher,” is grading papers, summers off, and frustrated. Rarely do I meet somebody who seems inspired by being a teacher. They make movies about those people. It could be for anything. Anything you do comes either from a place of self-actualization like, “I am fulfilled. This is fulfilling me,” or, “It's something I have to do to get a paycheck.”

To almost reassure in using teaching as an example, I didn't go into that or somebody didn't go into that because of the incredible pay. In the description of myself as a teacher, I ended up disconnected from why I went into it in the first place. The business of teaching has been farther from it and more divorced from it. It’s about finding a way to speak my career as a possibility and in a way that connects me to my heart, my soul, and why I'm doing this. I’d be like, “Why am I grading these papers? It’s because I empower the students to live as their highest and best selves.” I'm still grading the papers, but I've got a different experience of grading them.

My company's vision is to forever liberate the human spirit at work, and mine is people are liberated. I noticed when I get caught up in a marketing conversation, which is a talk about the force field, money, effort, and competing with everyone else's SEO words, it has nothing to do with liberation. It has to do with how do we tell people who we are and how do we have them find us?

What I'm getting out of this conversation is before I ever get on the phone with a marketing person, I need to be in that space of liberating the human spirit. If whoever I want to partner with isn't aligned, then that's the answer that they're not my person, whether it's a vendor or an employee. If they're looking for a place to get a paycheck, there are plenty of those out there. Plenty of people will give you a check for $10,000 and say, “Make me a website that doesn't work.”

That’s very well said. I would add to it for you to consider I don't do marketing. I do something else.

That would save us a shit ton of money.

You may still spend money. It's just not on marketing. We do connecting. In the process of connecting, we liberate. It’s not that we liberate when you hire us. All we do is liberate. By reading our message, we’re committed it is going to liberate you in some way.

Sometimes, you have to find new words because the word marketing is not always, but most often, deadening. It doesn't connect you to what you do so well and why you do it.

You rarely invent something in a single moment of inspiration.

This is a great example. As brilliant as some of those digital marketing companies, whatever it may be, and they come to you and give you advice, they go next door and give the same advice. It doesn't mean you shouldn't take any of it, but so often, what happens is the more you do that, the more it makes you like others, and you're not. I can say this because I know you. You're not like others and the work you do isn't like others. If I go to that process or that piece of the force field called marketing, it makes me like others.

I hate to say, “Me too,” because of the #MeTooMovement, but I do that too. Whoever is reading is going to look at what fulfills them and what is their life about. It is easier said than done, but they go out and start looking for a job. The force field will have you apply to 150 jobs. You're not qualified for most of them, but someone is saying, “Go apply.”

I would say from my background in recruiting to figure out what your life is about and then personally call those places. Don't apply for jobs. Call those places. Talk to them. It's how Vivian, whom you met earlier, got this job. She reached out to me. There was no ad that I knew about. She said, “I want to empower women. I realized that that's what you guys do in this Ignite Power program.”

Whether I had a job or not, I was going to talk to her because we were kindred spirits. We're both interested in the same game of life. I would recommend for people that that is the way to find something that is in alignment with you versus looking at the job, what it pays, and if it’s in a good location. If you spend 50% of your waking hours at work, it might as well be something you enjoy doing. How do they find the Autonomy Course?

Someone can go to the website, If someone wants to email me, it is I'd love to hear from anyone if they have any questions. I love connecting with people and empowering people, so feel free to reach out.

Thank you for being with us. I'll see you soon.

Thank you very much.

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About Jeff Willmore

I have led transformational programs for over 23 years to over 160,000 people all over the world. I’ve worked with Olympic and professional athletes, Navy Seal and Special Forces members, top executives from all fields, Oscar winning actors, Grammy Award winning musicians—I’ve trained with the best and worked with the best! I owe much of my development, abilities and skills to the extensive training and development I got in transformational methodologies at Landmark Worldwide—very likely the top, personal transformational coaching faculty in the world.

I was lucky enough to be born into a life where I was destined have a fair amount of success and achievement (close family, college degree, successful entrepreneur and getting “more” successful, etc.) and yet I fell into the trap that the “Time = Money” worldview and illusion creates for all of us: I worked too much. I sacrificed many things that were important to me and the life I envisioned for myself and my family. I had an epiphany one night, woke up and realized how much I was sacrificing in order to have “success” in my career.

In my own transformative process and journey, I discovered for myself great achievement and accomplishment and how to help others attain it as well. Not just in one area—but throughout my life. I know how to teach and coach others to accomplish their professional dreams, their vision, their business goals while at the same time really living—travel, building wealth, family-time, taking care of your health, and living a life of contribution.

I help extraordinary people who are already performers or top performers leap to the next level and fulfill their vision by learning to see themselves, the marketplace and the world differently.

I have worked on the principles behind The Autonomy Course for over 10 years. I designed the Course using the latest research in cognitive science (How do we know what we know? How do we learn?), behavioral economics, ontology and biology. The unique structure and methodology deliberately steps away from the “tips and techniques” kind of business knowledge that betrays top performance and living true and instead, allows you to embody the advanced knowledge of a market leader and design leading edge practices based on your own original thinking.


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