Podcast: The Challenge of Self-Doubt in Higher Education, with Terry Real
In this episode, world-renowned author, speaker, teacher, and therapist Terry Real — who has been featured on Oprah, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and many more — discusses the emotional health hazards of grad school and law school and how to stay human during these stressful and highly evaluative periods of life. Law school can feel a lot like high school at times, and this is so often expressed by both students and faculty in terms of grandiosity — "I am superior to others because." Real speaks on how the field of psychology has focused so much on bringing people up that it has ignored the equal need to help bring people down from that superior position based on covert insecurity. In Real's words, "We are all born equal, no better or worse to the person to our left or right." For anyone who has had self-doubt in the law school admissions process, in law school, or in practicing law, this podcast offers an amazingly insightful message with advice toward reclaiming self-esteem from one of the world's very best.
Terry's first book, I Don't Want to Talk About It — in which he writes about treating and destigmatizing depression in a patriarchal society — has been a best-seller for over 20 years since it was first published in 1997. He has written two other books and has a new book coming out in March of next year, Us: How Moving Relationships Beyond You and Me Creates More Love, Passion, and Understanding.
For more from Terry, you can receive free access to his very popular interview with Carol Gillian, an internationally recognized ethicist and psychologist, by texting OPT IN to (415) 813-1025.
Mike: Welcome to Status Check with Spivey, where we talk about life, a lot of law school admissions, law school, a little bit of everything. And today I hope what we talk about not only helps you this cycle, but can stay with you for the rest of your lives, because I have the great fortune to be joined by Terry Real. Terry's been a therapist, an internationally recognized speaker, an author for the last 25 years. His book, I Don't Want to Talk About It, which I just finished reading, has been on the best-selling list for the last 20 years. He's also been on the Today Show, Good Morning America, 2020, and I even caught him on Oprah. So, we are incredibly fortunate to be joined and have Terry on our show and without further delay, let's hand it over to Terry.
Terry, it's great to have you. I feel like I know you; I've seen you on Oprah, believe it or not. I just finished your book. I've listened to you twice on Dr. Attia’s podcast. It's great to see you and put a face with the name.
Terry Real: Well thank you. It's for great to be here, Mike. Thank you for having me.
Mike: I've heard you say, and hopefully we can start off a little bit on you, but I've heard you say you became a therapist at age four.
Terry Real: Yes.
Mike: Would you tell our listeners how that happened?
Terry Real: Sure. It's easy. Just come from an extraordinarily dysfunctional family. There are three roles to play. You can be the scapegoat child, which is the bad one or the problem one. You could be the hero child, or you could be the lost child. I was a combination scapegoat-hero child. You know, there's a wonderful book by Swiss Psychoanalyst, Alice Miller, it's an old book called the Drama of the Gifted Child. And it's about growing up with dysfunctional parents. And the gift of the gifted child in dysfunctional families is the sensitivity with which they could read other people.
Because anybody in a one-down position, any slave to a master, any minority person to a majority person, any woman to a man will have the capacity to read them. Jean Baker Miller made the same point, because your safety depends on being able to read them, on being able to manage up as they say. I became a family therapist at about four years old because my family was in utter chaos. And I tried to do what I could to make sense of it and decrease the chaos like any child would.
Mike: And so in becoming a therapist, I think it enabled you actually to finally be able to approach your father and get him to open up about some of the things he wouldn't open up to you as a child. Correct?
Terry Real: Yeah, my father was a warm, loving, smart, violent, depressed, brutal man. And I had to figure him out. I wrote once, I had to understand my father, so I wouldn't become him. And that's been my life's work, understanding men, understanding violence in men, the dynamics of it, what causes a man to behave that way and what we need to do to stop it. And then beyond men, understanding couples and love and relationships. I became an individual therapist to talk to my father because I needed the information out of him to make sense out of him, to free myself from his violence. And I became a family therapist to learn how to have relationships because I didn't know my ass from my elbow.
Mike: Well, you seem to be doing well now. I enjoyed our 10-minute talk before we started. You do have a story about; I think you came home in second grade with a report card that I think is actually going to carry over well for our listeners if you want to talk about that.
Terry Real: Yeah. It's a story about what I call borrowing from one of my great mentors, a woman named Pia Melody, what I call false empowerment. And you know, for 50 years, Mike, the field of self-help and psychotherapy is focused in on shame, feeling inadequate, not as good as, you know, like there's something defective or unlovable or wrong with you. And for 50 years we've been working to help people come up from the one-down of shame, insecurity, feeling bad about yourself. But we haven't done anything effective to help people come down from the one-up of superiority. We've had all of our attention focused on inferiority. But as a couple's therapists when I look at people on their relationships being superior, entitled, attacking, intrusive, controlling, these behaviors has cause at least as much damage in relationships as inferior behaviors do. And so one of the things that marks might work as different from a lot of other therapists right now, is I look at issues of inferiority and I also issues of superiority.
And you know, one of the things I say is, if you don't know how to help people come down from the one-up, you're not going to be helpful to men. Because a lot of women, and this may be different in your young college population, but across the board, a lot of women traditionally will lead from the one bound victim shame position and have covert superiority and grandiosity. We can talk about that. A lot of men lead from the one-up superior position and have covert shame and insecurity. And if we don't deal with both ends of that, with the superiority and entitlement to bad behavior on the one hand and the underlying insecurity on the other, we're in for a lot of trouble.
Mike: Yeah. So what your father was doing to you in second grade was I think you brought home a bad report card and he threw it on the ground and laughed at your teachers.
Terry Real: He said, “It’s just that you're so smart, those idiots don't know what to do with you.” Pure grandiosity. And he was inviting me into his superior position along, keeping him company in that superior position and that was no damn favor. One of the things I want your listeners to understand is that being invited to be the special one, the hero, the God's gift is a burden to a child. It's not a favor to a child. I went through the rest of my school years getting Cs and Ds because I was convinced those idiots didn’t know what to do with me. I dropped into school like once a week or something. I did that through high school.
Mike: Yeah. I mentioned this to you, but I had a similar story. One of my first memories is walking, my parents sent me over to my neighbors and my parents, I think to their credit, I mean, it's better than them saying, “You can't do anything with your life son.” They had basically told me ages zero to five, “You can do anything you want.” So I walk over to my neighbors and I'm supposed to get baking soda or something. And the neighbor says, no, and I'm walking back. I'm five years old. So, I'm walk- I'm ambling or shuffling back home and I'm thinking to myself, “What did you do wrong, Mike?” The next time you walk over there, you better learn to word it the right way. It didn't even cross my mind, Terry, that maybe they just didn't have the baking soda to give me. And then it plays out, here's where it plays out as an adult. I'm sure the sense of you can accomplish anything has had some positive effects. I would like to think so.
Terry Real: I don't, by the way, we can talk about that.
Mike: Though, I'd be interested. I know some of the negative effects. People in my life or anyone, but particularly people who I really care about, the more I care about them when I reach out to help them if I'm not helping, which, and I'm no expert in any of this, I don't shut it down. I just keep trying to find different ways to help when probably they're saying, “Hey Mike, back off, I don't need your help.” I'm actually curious on this idea that you can accomplish anything being probably all deleterious and no positive.
Terry Real: Well, no, there is. And there’s very few things that are that black and white. No, there's some positive in it, obviously. I mean, you should be confident. We believe in you, go out there and lit the world. But I don't like living lies. You see masculinity itself is a lie. Masculinity means invulnerability. The more invulnerable you are, the more manly you are, the more vulnerable you are, the more girly you are. And it's a lie. All boys and men are walking around in some level feeling like imposters because, “I'm in charge. I know what I'm doing.” No, you don't.
Terry Real: You know, you are a kid in your 20s, you don't know shit. What are you talking about I’m in charge? But you have to come off like that. You're evaluated for coming off like that. You're rewarded for coming off like that. Now, one of the things that I say is I talk about the wise adult part of us, which is nuanced and connected and can see the whole. And then I talk about the adaptive child, part of us. It's our armor. It's how we learn to position ourselves.
And you were to telling me if I can say this in our little talk before, that there's so many of these young men and women and non-binary folks that you see in graduate school and so forth, have underlying insecurities, but you never see them. You never see them because they are illegal. You don't walk into a presentation in a class and go, “I just want everybody to know I'm really nervous about this and-.” Forget it.
And so, you have this underlying insecurity, which is hidden, exiled and cut off from you have the armor and the I’m in charge and I can do it, which is what hits you over the head. And meanwhile, you have a real person who's neither of those things. They're not like an ugly little raw nerve of a wreck, which is how they see themselves really underneath. And they're not, you know, Alexander Hage, I'm in charge here. The government can go on because I'm Superman. They're a human being.
My message to the people listening to this podcast is I have great news for you, you’re human beings. Be a human being. So much of the gauntlet that you are going through called your training is trying to beat the humanity out of you. To turn you into an objective cold instrument. And when you're in the gladiator arena, be a gladiator, armor up and be smart and deliver that presentation and do your job. But when you're out of the gladiatorial arena, soften up, open up your heart and let yourself be vulnerable and connect to people. The cost of all of this, “I got to do it. I got to get an A,” it is finessing. You're so busy proving yourself that you forget to be kind to yourself and you forget to reach out to others for support and help.
Mike: I've heard you say you can be connected in powerful, but you can't be, in today's society and the society we live in, you can't be both connected and powerful.
Terry Real: At the same time, under patriarchy. Yeah. This one's more for women. I was speaking earlier about guys, but there’s true – you know, and everything's mixed up. But what I mean to say is this, under patriarchy, you can be connected, that's ‘feminine affiliative’ or you can be powerful. That's ‘masculine independent’ but you can't be both at the same time. Because power is defined as dominance. You can't be connected and superior to somebody at the same time. You can't love from the inferior position and you cannot love from the superior position. Love demands, democracy. You have to be same as, neither above nor below. But our whole culture is based on this kind of evaluation. You get an, A, you get a, B, you get a C, look to the left and to the right of you, the person you're looking at will not be here next year.
Mike: I know, its classic.
Terry Real: God, almighty is like sending kids off to military school.
Mike: When I started my doctoral program, they literally said that, “Look to your left and look to your right,” and you know, it was a PhD program and they were right. But why say it? And why put that in my head?
Terry Real: They scared the shit out of you.
Mike: Exactly it did.
Terry Real: Well, that's not school. That's hazing, an initiation ritual.
Mike: And the kid on my left and the kid on my right both looked smarter than me and they probably were. So, it was even worse. But so, we'll backtrack a little, because the part we're talking about is that those insecurities are rampant in law school. Here's the amazing thing, not just among students, what students don't realize – so I was at three law schools. It's rampant amongst the faculty too. So, we'll get to there.
The admissions process is highly evaluative and a lot of people listening are going through this process, it’s just started. I talked to a few people on Sunday. I had a few free minutes and a few people popped up on message board saying they were really stressed out and they hadn't even been rejected yet, Terry. No rejections have gone out. They're stressed out because the very tiny sliver of 1% of acceptances have come in, you know, one or two people are popping up online and saying, “I've been admitted to this school. I have been admitted to this school.” And 99.9% haven't heard anything yet, but there's already this sort of hyped up anxiety based on external observations.
Terry Real: Well, of course it is, you know, it's like being voted off the island in Survivor. I mean, you're not going to make it. The threat of you are not going to make it, is in the front of every student's head in graduate school. It is drilled into you as opposed to let me give you a different paradigm. One of my sons, 31, is in an MD PhD program. Traditionally, you get your white doctor coat in your fourth year graduation when you're a doctor. They gave these kids their white coats on the second week of school. You know why, it's the opposite message of look to the right look to the left. It's the message of you wouldn't be here if we didn't have faith in you.
Mike: Yeah. Good for them.
Terry Real: Yeah. What a different way of doing it, huh.
Mike: We work with schools all the time. It's a message I'd love to deliver.
Terry Real: What a difference, huh? “You're here, you belong.” You know, the great two challenges in human existence are what my friend, the German mystic Thomas Hübl calls being and becoming. These are the two great challenges. Can I evolve? Can I be fully myself? Can I grow? Can I be stimulated? Can I become who I'm supposed to be in this world? That's being. And belonging is, will I be accepted? Am I okay? Will I be part of the group or will I be isolated and alone?
And the threat of being booted off the island is one of the core energies that ripple through graduate school. And it's not about objective performance. I believe it's about hazing, it's about initiation, rituals. You know, my son in medical school, they put him on nights for two weeks and then they put him on early mornings for two weeks, just to mess with him. And when he challenged it, he said, “This is wrecking my body.” They said, “Well, you're getting used to being a doctor.” That's not getting used to being a doctor. That's initiation, hazing. Just like law school. All of these schools initiate through hazing.
Mike: Even the admissions process. There’s – I don't think it's a built-in initiative process. It wrecks people's self-esteem to see someone get admitted, another person get admitted and then you get in their words rejected. In admissions, we call it denials, but there's no difference, rejected. So, self-esteem, to me this all hinges on self-esteem. I have this theory, notion and it's not a theory because I'm not an expert. But I have this notion that we all have lots of hidden insecurities and we don't have unconditional self-esteem. I've heard you talk about sort of the three external base esteem. I know my issue, which is performance based.
Terry Real: Not that I know.
Mike: Off the scale, if someone's drinking a coffee faster than me, Terry, I want to drink that my coffee faster than them. It’s that intense. It's that intense. I mean, I currently have a stress fracture in my foot that I ran on for a year, just because, you know, people in Colorado run. So, I need to run faster than them. But if you wanted to talk about the three external mechanisms of esteem –
Terry Real: Healthy self-esteem.
Terry Real: Well, let me, let me cut right to the bottom line and go for healthy self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem, what does that mean? That's a word everybody uses but what the hell does it mean? Self-esteem is literally what it says, you esteem yourself. You cherish yourself. You're tender to yourself. You hold yourself in warm regard like you would hold a lover or a child. That's what self-esteem is. You're in a compassionate relationship with yourself. Most of us aren't in this culture. Most of us are in an evaluative relationship with ourselves. And if we do well, we feel good.
And if we don't, we feel like shit, this is terrible, very primitive in terms of mental health. Healthy self-esteem is your birthright. You are here and you're a human and you're breathing. Congratulations. You made it. Look to the left and look to the right. They're also here and breathing, congratulate them. They made it with you. There is no superiority. There is no inferiority. That is what I call the great lie in my new book that's coming out in March. The great lie that a human being can be fundamentally superior or inferior to another human being. This is the great lie that has run through most of the disasters of history.
Mike: Yeah. Just look at politicians today.
Terry Real: Anybody saying that, “I'm superior and you're inferior,” or the reverse of that. Looking at those kids who got into the top tier schools and you didn't, and saying, “You're superior and I'm inferior.” It cuts both ways. The whole thing is a lie. You are worthwhile and your worth can be no greater or lesser than the guy to the right or left of you if you tried. It is unconditional. You're here, you have dignity as a human being. This is the bull work of democracy. This is the bull work of law. No man above the law, every man is the same. But we don't live like that. And instead of feeling that my worth comes from the inside out, we have three forms of outside-in self-esteem that our culture runs on. Want to hear them?
Mike: Well I know one of them because I've lived it for 49 years. I'm trying to break out of it, but please bring them on.
Terry Real: Well, yours and which is a favorite for guys in general is performance. “I got an A in the test.” “I closed this deal.” Or “I hit that ball over the park.” It's all about what you can do. And the problem of course with performances is your self-esteem is as good as your last performance.
Terry Real: You know, what have you done for us lately? And there's always somebody younger, smarter, faster, warming up in the bullpen.
Mike: I gave a motivational speech recently where I mentioned when you're young, when you're 13 and you have God given, universal given talent, you start thinking it's about you. No, it's about that talent and that talent fades and what are you going to replace it with when it fades?
Terry Real: If I can speak from the ripe old age of 71 to some of these young folks listening, it sure helps to calm down about self-esteem when you have some success under your belt. You know, all of these young folks are striving. They haven't made their mark yet. They feel like they have to. So, I understand that this is not the phase where you're developing internal self-esteem because there's so much bright light being shown on your face and saying, “Fill that hole that way. No, don't do it that way. Do it that way.”
So, it's a hard thing to hold on to your sense of self-esteem when all of this external stuff is going on. Performance means I have worth because of what I can do. Attribute based esteem which the whole advertising industry runs on is I have worth because of what I have. “I have a Jaguar; I must be a man of distinction.” “I have big muscles.” In Boston where I live it's, “I have a kid at Harvard.” I mean, that's the Holy Grail. “Therefore, I must have worth.” No.
And then the third form of unhealthy self-esteem, is other base esteem., very big for women. “I'm worthwhile because you think I do.” And if five minutes go by and you're not thinking I'm worthwhile, man, I go into a panic and I have to get you to turn around and think well of me in order for me to think well of me. And this produces a kind of dependency on the other person, co-dependence there’s the old word for it. But if I'm filtering my sense of self-esteem through your esteem of me, then I'm utterly dependent on making you love me. What that does is, it's a form of what we call love addiction or love dependence, and you project abundance onto someone else. And then you merge with that person and suck back the abundance that was yours all along, but you projected it onto somebody else. And that could be a teacher, it could be, you know, a father figure or a mother figure, it can be a lover. But you have it and I need you to turn around and smile at me so I can have it because I can't do it for myself.
Mike: Yeah. God, it reminds me almost of like my high school football coaches almost like made us. Like there's that hazing again, like you know, we were almost like conditioned to want them to like praise us so that we would get five yards further down the field because if we didn't, we didn't get that praise.
Terry Real: Can I say something about that, Mike?
Mike: Yeah, please.
Terry Real: The point is I'm talking about living a psychologically healthy life, being connected to others democratically, not from superiority or inferiority, being connected to yourself with compassion and not harsh judgment. And the thing I want to say about that is all of this goes against mainstream culture. Mainstream culture doesn't like us to be adults. Mainstream culture likes us to be insecure, driven, successful people.
So, this kind of thing is like saying, “Oh, don't worry about who gets into what school, but feel good about yourself anyway.” I mean, come on. Great, if you can do it. But right now, you're in a phase where it's heavy external markers and it's hard to hold onto your sense of self in the face of that. But one thing I want to tell folks listening is don't try and do to this yourself, get some help, get some support, be vulnerable, find some friends to really talk to and really talk to them. And also, mental health and therapy is always a good idea for most people.
What I want to plug, if I can use that word, I'm offering my first ever online course for the general public on basic relationship skills. It's called Staying in Love. You can go to my website, terryreal.com, just go to my name, T-E-R-R-Y R-E-A-L, Staying in Love. And in the course, we cover how to stand up for yourself with love because most of us when we stand up for ourselves, we forget the love part. How to listen to your partner and respond with generosity, how to make repair when the wheels come off, what to do when you are in a centered adult state and your partner is an absolute jerk and how to cherish each other. Those are five basic skills that most people in our culture have never been taught.
Mike: You have one registrant already. Hopefully, we can get more. I know it's going to be sold out, trust me. So at 49 years old, I think you clicked on something that really resonated with me, which is I do a lot of looking inward. I listen to your book. I listen to all Dr. Attia's podcasts, Rich Roll’s podcasts, all these people in this field. Gabor Maté, who I know you know, Dr. Maté I read In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts which is a wonderful book.
Terry Real: Wonderful man. Wonderful work.
Mike: Yeah. We're appreciative of the 45 minutes he gave us too, just like you are. I feel pretty comfortable in my skin now. But when I look at the 22-year-old version of me, no way, no way. In fact, the only way I would do that in college was, you know, we would grab a case of beer, I was at Vanderbilt, there's a replica of the Pathernon in Nashville. They were refurbishing the Pathernon. So, they had these like built-in scaffolding that went up the side and we would climb to the top of that freaking 14-storey building and drink beer all night and then we felt good about ourselves.
Terry Real: Yeah. We're glad nobody fell over.
Mike: Let me just claim to the listeners, please, no one ever climbed the Pathernon.
Terry Real: There three reasons why you felt so good and not the least is intoxication, which is a cheap way of moving out of the stress of all this living up to all this evaluation instead of operating from the inside out with spontaneity and freedom. So, you're medicating the pain of that and you're finding some release in the drunkenness. The second thing of course is you're off duty. So that's always wonderful. And the third thing is you're with pals.
Terry Real: And one of the things that this sort of competitive performance-based world we live in does, is it pulls you away from being honest with each other, being vulnerable with each other and offering each other comfort and support and taking it in. One of the great images of 9/11 back 10 years ago, that is just burned in my brain, is the image of these big, tough New York cops and firefighters and first responders in each other's arms crying and holding each other.
Mike: Yeah, they're being humans.
Terry Real: They're being humans. And you know what, you're not really allowed to be all that human in most of your classes and all of your standardized tests and all of your competition with your peers. But when you're out of the arena, go have a beer with somebody, tell them how scared you are. Tell the truth and get some support. Don't try and live inside your armor. It's a very lonely place to be.
Mike: So, there's research that people going into law school, and this sort of gets into the armor that gets put up, are perhaps kinder than the general population, more interested in civil rights movements, societal movements, movements of justice, just softer towards humanity. And then I think Patrick Krill is the name of the person who does a lot of this research. And then when they come out of law school, many not as kind, many not as soft towards humanity. I have my own theory.
It's that law school is so much like high school; I've seen this Terry for 23 years now. In groups form and people are trying so hard to impress each other, so hard. And this is what we were talking about earlier. All these deep seated insecurities come out, but they don't come out as I'm insecure or how can you help me? They come out in the exact opposite direction. I am superior than you top-down, not down-up.
Terry Real: I was talking to a young man, a graduate student, and he's a great bicycler. He was out early morning in the road and he saw another great bicycler, he could tell that this guy was really terrific. And he bent down and he dug deep and he passed this guy and blew away. He said, “He can see my ass, goodbye.” And you know what I said to him? I said, you know what you were saying to that man on the bicycle, that young man on the bicycle, you were saying, “Hello, I'm here.”
Mike: Right, “Notice me.”
Terry Real: But what a shitty way to say hello to somebody. It's all about being with or competition. It's all about being with versus above or below. And of course, when you're in school, you're evaluated as above or below. But remember this, it's very hard to remember this but try. It’s your school performance that is being evaluated, it's not you. It's how you're doing as a student. You can be a shitty tennis player and be determined to beat your nemesis and you work hard, and you take lessons and six months go by and you beat the shit out of the guy who used to beat the shit out of you. How do you feel? Great, like a million bucks. You are a superior tennis player. You earn that glory in it. Are you a superior human being? No way. It's got nothing to do with that.
Mike: I'm ashamed to admit, for me it's not biking, it's running, but I can relate to that story of 49 years over. I mentioned in the introduction, you haven't heard it, but we did an introduction clip. I mentioned that we often on our podcasts, give advice that helps people for a cycle, a year, an admission cycle. But what I hope this podcast does is gives the tools that might help people for a lifetime and it's already given me some of that. Like just chill out, Mike.
Terry Real: Chill out. You know what, if I get one point across to the people listening because I think it's the point they need the most. You are not your performance. You are more than your performance. Your performance on Tuesday can be great and you get evaluated with the equivalent of an A+. Your performance on Thursday can be shitty. And, you know, you practically dribble on yourself, you can't get the words out. Are you a different person on Tuesday and Thursday? You are not. You are the same person hold onto that. Don't go up and down and up and down like the stock market. You are one person and you are worthwhile. Your performance may be great on Tuesday and suck on Thursday. But you are not great on Tuesday and suck on Thursday. You don't suck on Thursday and you're not that great on Tuesday either.
Mike: Right. Exactly. So, what I think students need to hear too is, I know you know this, it's not just them, they don't notice it. But having been the administrator at multiple law schools, it's the people around them, it’s the faculty. Terry, I've heard this so many times I can't even count. “My faculty are so brilliant I'll never be as brilliant as them.” To begin with, yeah, they've been doing it for 20 years, you've been doing it for a day, right. So of course they seem brilliant. Number two is, okay. Yeah, okay maybe a couple of them are the crème de la crème of the field, they're not better than you. How they treat you is a much better indicator of what kind of faculty member they are than the fancy bumptious, bloviating, overwrought and I use those words for a specific reason.
Terry Real: I'm quite impressed.
Mike: Yeah. I don't know what they mean. Words that they're saying on a stage in front of you and that's part of the dynamic. Those faculty members they have deep insecurities too. I've seen it upfront and personal. If you want to laugh, follow academics on Twitter for a week and it's just bickering. It's just trying to one up each other all week long.
Terry Real: Yeah. Somebody once wrote about the academics, the smaller the stakes, the bigger the egos.
Mike: I mean, I'm going to get fired from three of the schools I consult for after this podcast, but it's worth it because it's true. It's true. And I think it's important for students to see that. I mean, you do relational therapy and I think of law school as this symbiotic family almost, it's a community, maybe not a family. But it's a family that’s dysfunctional because it's all based on, “I'm tenure track and you're not tenure track. You're just a clinical faculty,” or “You’re top 10%, you’re order of the toif, whatever, they all have their own terminology and the rest of you aren't.
And I don't think any of us are totally, I don't know, you seem pretty, pretty grounded right now. I don't think any of us are totally unconditionally self-esteemed. I feel it when I'm in the mountains trail running or when I'm reading a book like yours or when I'm meditating. I feel like it doesn't matter what anyone in the universe could tell me in that moment. The word that pops in my mind is liberation. I feel liberation when I'm trail running in the mountains alone. David Goggins was say, “Can't hurt me,” that that would be his term.
And how we can help students and even faculty members, any parting thoughts. And then I have one parting thought, on like how to get that liberation, that unconditional self-esteem. I know you're a movie buff because I listen to your book on audible. Any movies that someone could watch, like how to like even grasp it for an hour is the most liberating feeling.
Terry Real: In terms of movies there’s a great movie I like people to watch called the Squid and the Whale, Baumbach was the director. Jeff Daniels is the actor. And it's about a father who is superior and grandiose, who is trying to induct his son to being narcissistic and grandiose with him. He's got a college age son. The whole movie is the son's working his way out of this. I want people to begin to, whether it’s through meditation or five minutes of self compassion or taking a break when you're beating yourself up and going for a walk around the block and stopping it.
But if there's one thing, I want the people listening on this to work on, I would like them to be kinder to themselves. You are not your performance. You are not what people think of you. You are not what you own. You are bigger and more open-hearted and more lovely than any of those things. And the whole world is telling you, you are those things. “You are that paper.” “You are that class rank.” But be revolutionary, stand up to that. “No, I'm not. That's my paper. That's not me as a human being.”
Mike: In 1990, my freshman year philosophy professor said something, I remember his name, Russell McIntire. He said something to our class that I'll never forget, “You're going to get a grade on your first paper. It might be an A, it might be a C-. That grade might be me miscalculating you. It has nothing to do with you as a person. So don't over-interpret the grade. I am an imperfect person too.” What a great thing for a professor to say to a group of freshmen.
Terry Real: You know, I go even further, if you gave me a shitty paper, I want you to feel proportionately bad about giving me a shitty paper, but I don't want you to take yourself apart as a human being. Learn what you need to learn from it. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and write me another paper.
Mike: Dust yourself off. And the final, if you're willing to share what your father said to you and your brother on his death bed, keeping in mind that he was a loving, strong, caring, violent, it almost sounds oxymoronic when you say it. But what he said to you and your brother on his death bed, because it kind of, to me, it all the humanity of it all boils down to that.
Terry Real: I think that's right. My father was a real macho, 6’3, 250 pounds, rough tough and he hated weakness and he hated vulnerability and he hated anything soft. On his deathbed he looked at my brother and me and he said, “I was wrong.” He said, “When you’re where I am right now, the only thing that counts as love, everything else is bullshit.” Those were his last words.
Mike: If people could just live life, the grade doesn't matter, the love for yourself and the love for the people that you care about is what matters.
Terry Real: Get through it. You're in the middle of an ordeal, gather your allies, find allies, make allies and lean on them. Don't try and do this alone. And then whenever you are ripping yourself a new one, take a break and stop it and if you can't reach out for help from someone else, talk about it.
Mike: Thank you for your time, Terry. I know how busy you are. I know Oprah's calling you on your private cell phone.
Terry Real: Every moment.
Mike: I appreciate your time.