Mindful Growth

I am excited to share my second interview for the Prepare to Pivot launch that is happening this month! In 2016, Charles Morris had a vision for using mindfulness to promote a growth mindset at Microsoft. Charles has worked as an engineer at Microsoft for 16 years and has taught meditation outside of work for 10. I sat down with Charles to learn about his recent pivot. He was warm and open and so candid about the internal dialogue that contributed to his pivot. The inspiration that I took away from the conversation is still resonating in me as I write this! I am excited to share this with you.

Let’s start with how you heard the call to pivot.

For me the call came in early 2016, about 2 years ago now. At that point, I was in a comfortable place at Microsoft where my job was going well. I was comfortable. It was challenging me at a certain intellectual level. Outside of work, I was a practicing Buddhist, and this spiritual perspective helped me to view my work as a training ground for me to develop my capacity for calm and build my ability to stay focused within the hectic realm of Microsoft. It also was an opportunity for me to practice my desire to be of service to others. This was rewarding and beneficial and something I remain committed to now, but it was an inward practice. It felt secret. On the outside, my spiritual practice and my professional life were separate worlds. So then the call to pivot came. I wasn’t looking for it. It started with a couple of simple things. We had a new CEO, Satya Nadella, and he exuded a different energy. He used different words from day one like compassion, empathy, purpose and finding a growth mindset. From the beginning, I could feel from him a genuineness that came with the words. The second piece that fell into place was learning more about the secular mindfulness movement. My training to date was in a Buddhist context. I had managed to shield myself from this amazing movement (the secular mindfulness movement) that has gone on in the past 10 years. I had a conversation with a friend who was preparing to teach a simple meditation gathering at his workplace. He knew that I was a long time meditator and that I had 10 years of experience teaching meditation. He asked me for advice and told me about the Google program “Search Inside Yourself.” It made me stop and think, I need to look into this. That curiosity percolated for a few months and grew into an eagerness to be part of the change that I was seeing in the company from adopting a growth mindset. I knew that mindfulness could really help shift the culture and make this idea real. That summer, I had time off and so I read books. I learned what other organizations were doing and about the science that was supporting the use of mindfulness. I thought, Wow. I know how to help people with meditation practices that can shift them into a growth mindset. I can offer some specific techniques that will be powerful and practical. If I don’t do this, who will? Later that summer, I worked on a proposal that I eventually published on my LinkedIn profile. I also realized that I needed to retool my skillset to teach in this new secular environment. I signed up for a Master's in Mindfulness Studies at Lesley University. This additional practice and training on the neuroscience of meditation, mindful communication and leadership broadened my skills and fortified by confidence. Those were the first dominoes that really started a chain reaction of events.

When you wrote this proposal on LinkedIn did you have a clear picture of who would read it? Tell me about that.

It wasn’t my initial thought to publish it publicly, actually. It was written for an HR or other leader within Microsoft, basically, as a pitch to say: “We need to do something here. We have this momentum internally around growth mindset and this movement around mindfulness is happening around us. If we can bring these together it could be a powerful opportunity. I titled it Accelerating Microsoft’s transformation toward a growth mindset with mindfulness. One of the lines that really resonated with me was Changing our culture means changing our people. I was interested in uniting my personal journey with what was happening around me. We are always so externally oriented – even when a company’s culture is changing, there can be a desire to wait for it to "come to us". I wanted to flip this focus back to the individual and the possibility of changing from within as the precursor to broader cultural change.

Yes! This is the same gesture of PTP. Tune into the call from your intuition. Then articulate that vision so that you can be the change that you want to see in the world. You are so clear with your vision! I believe that your practice with meditation has surely helped you to be so tapped into intuition. I am curious what it felt like when you found the words and then you put that out on LinkedIn.

First of all, just writing was an energizing process. Writing down my ideas was for me as much as much as for others. The more I wrote the more I believed! At first I circulated the proposal inside the company to just a few people and then got some traction with a particular leader at work. That was in the Fall of 2016. The decision to publish came a bit later and then the same friend encouraged me to publish it publicly. That was an interesting process for me. Largely my work persona was very much still as an engineering person. Some people knew that I was a meditator. But there was an aspect of this that felt like I was “coming out.” Once I did it start to bring these two worlds together, it felt great. Now it is very much part of who I am at work. It allowed me to bring more of my whole self to work. This shift has been energizing.

Initially when we feel that it is time to make a pivot, there can be fear. Often times the things we are afraid of dissolve when we approach the fear rather than avoid. The energy comes because we dissolve the thing that we are afraid of. What do you think about this idea?

I think that energy came from multiple places. Writing for myself allowed me to see a new future arising that was previously hidden and not in my consciousness. That was energizing. I worked with a coach to understand more deeply what was holding me back from making these dreams my new reality. I started to look closely at aspects of my life that contributed to me being someone who is hesitant to stick out. One example was remembering how my parents moved from Singapore to Vancouver, Canada in the 1970s. I recalled how they raised us as Canadians so I learned to speak French and to play hockey. In hindsight, I think that part of the reason was that they wanted us to fit in, partially because we stood out as Asian (my dad is Indian and my mom is Chinese). For that and probably other reasons, I was always more comfortable fitting in. Once I started to examine that hesitancy, I began to recognize that maybe I no longer needed that. I realized that the feelings and experiences that I had from my past didn’t need to continue to limit me. So letting go of these limiting beliefs was also very energizing.

It can be so powerful when we see the way that a role that we took on in our family of origin may have served us. And then to realize that we can be step into a new way of being that might allow us to become an agent for social change or even a leader.

Yes, I turned 40 in the middle of all this. I was learning from my wife about the theories of Carl Jung, and the process of becoming a whole and integrated person – what he calls individuation. What an amazing process if you lean into it.

Yes! He provided a map to help us to connect the dots and find our way into our unique and individual path that is our true adulthood. I am hearing that there were a few key people who affirmed you and supported your pivot. I am wondering if you had an encounter with the Naysayer? This could have been an internal critic or an external obstacle. Can you recall an experience where you really encountered negativity or resistance?

Yes, the first part was actually pretty smooth. I ended up running a pilot meditation program called Mindful Growth with 30 people in the spring of 2017. The results came in early summer and they were off the charts positive. Everything seemed to be smooth sailing. I was still feeling super energized but it was a side job. I started the think: What is the next step? I spent some time dreaming big and asking myself: How do I reach more people? I knew I would need more time to devote to the program. I thought: Surely the company is ready to jump on board. I started to pitch the idea of a full-time role for me to lead this around the company. I got some time with the Microsoft wide team that creates employee programs. Initially, there was positive response: This is great! How can we do more? Yet, as soon as I really started to try and pin down a specific role or job that I could occupy, things became elusive. They kept leading to dead ends. Not an explicit, No, but the interest would fizzle. So this external resistance gave rise to the internal Naysayer. I couldn’t see a path forward. At one point I thought: Maybe, this is not meant to be. That was shocking because I had always carried the belief that this was meant to be. It was the first time when I really thought: Maybe I am wrong. Then the doubts became deeper: Maybe I need to go back to my old job or consider something more radical like leaving Microsoft. That was the most intense moment of self-doubt. How I came through that was to actually stay with it. Not paying attention to the exaggeration that the mind wants to create: I’m not good enough. While at the same time deeply accepting the external signs that were undoubtedly arising: No job is appearing. Once I could hold that space, the practice was really to not rush into any decisions, but to let it happen. At that low point, I wrote down a longer email but there were two key insights: I am feeling frustrated. This was the first. Acknowledging these feelings helped me to be realize that something needed to shift. The second thing was: It feels like Microsoft is just not ready to support this work. This was my way of accepting that this was not the right time and that’s okay. Opening that door, but not begrudgingly – who knows, it could be the right time soon, just not now. It was a big moment for me. Since then the right balance has emerged for me between continuing in an engineering role but also being able to pursue the program and spend time on it. I am building momentum with case studies and pilot programs around Microsoft. I have let go of thinking: Where is this going to end up? I have just started to focus on doing the work. I want to get out of pitching a job and get back to working with people and helping them in the way that I wanted to help. We’ll see where it goes from there.

Sounds like you have found a balance between these two aspects of yourself those two parts of yourself that were not very integrated previously.

Yes, I do feel that way. I thought that I was going to make this drastic switch. It can be very powerful and energizing when the new vision emerges. But I think we also have to be very careful about falling in love with it and believing that its going to be this switch that gets flipped and our life will just change dramatically when in reality it is going to be a process. I tend to be impatient and think: This is the future. Why can’t we make that now? I can’t assign blame outward. I need to listen, enjoy and appreciate, realizing that the outward challenges are a reflection of internal obstacles. So, I can focus on turning over the internal obstacles and let whatever is meant to happen with the program at Microsoft arise. There has definitely been some letting go of expectations and finding a balance. I am still holding that vision but letting go of grasping tightly onto exactly how I think it will turn out because we don’t actually know. I’m also re-embracing parts of my life that I was in too much of a hurry to leave behind for that shiny future.

I appreciate so much what you are sharing about this tension between the seeing what is possible and showing up for what is real! I also experience this feeling of impatience with the process of unfolding. I often have to remind myself that the way I show up for each moment is what I have control over, not how it all turns out!. The other thread that I love about your story is the role of the friend who seeded this idea. We can be so isolated and forget that we need support from others on our journey of becoming our truest self.

The number of people that I have come to meet through this work has been another important source of energy. I have made instant connections and close friendships. I am constantly meeting other people who are trying to bring more depth into corporate life and learning about the amazing things that they are accomplishing. They have been so gracious in sharing their knowledge and resources. To be able to have conversations the like this one with you reminds me that I have this community and it is so fun. It’s definitely one of the best parts of this journey!

I agree and I feel that! I like to call it the web of support. We can build communities that share resources and offer support. We can connect into this network of relationships when we need care. It can be an incredible source of energy, ideas, creativity and positivity. Listening and reflecting on the words that you have shared, I feel like that is what this paradigm shift is about - Remembering that we are all connected and then bringing this awareness of interconnection into every interaction that we have at work in schools and in all the ordinary moments of daily life. You have been so generous with your time. Do you have any final words?

Yes. My encouragement is for everyone to look inwards, to listen deeply and to enjoy the journey, even when its not going the way you want. There is no better way to live.

Beautiful! Thank you, Charles. I look so forward to checking back in with you to hear more about your journey.