How to Get Excited About Going to Work with Peter Laughter
You Can Find Purpose in Your Job
Peter Laughter is the Founder of True Bearing where he helps senior executives find passion and tell a new story that opens up enlivening career opportunities. In today’s show, Peter discusses the root cause of The Great Resignation and how each of us can find purpose in our work and stop dreading Monday mornings.
“Having a life without meaning is just unacceptable.”
Peter Laughter is the founder of True Bearing, an executive transition consultancy that supports senior executives who dread going to work and want more for the last stretch of their career. He guides clients through uncharted paths to a joyous and fulfilling career by utilizing more than 25 years of experience in the recruiting industry along with an uncommon understanding of the job search process and the psychology of hiring. He is an avid storyteller and has been featured in a TEDx talk on Radical Empathy.
“People have a desire to do something meaningful.”
Hello, I’m Michael Kurland, CEO and Co-Founder of Branded Group, an award-winning California-based facility management and construction management company that services multi-site commercial properties such as retail, restaurants, healthcare facilities, and educational institutions.
Welcome to the BeBetter podcast! Each week, I interview thought leaders from a variety of industries who will share their stories and the lessons they learned as they strive to be better for their clients, partners, employees, and their community. Are you ready to Be Better?
Michael Kurland (00:02):
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the BeBetter podcast. I’m your host, Michael Kurland. Joining me today is Peter Laughter, Executive Transition Coach and founder of True Bearing. Peter, welcome to the show. Why don’t you tell the audience a little bit more about who you are and what you do?
Peter Laughter (00:22):
Really great to be here. My name is Peter Laughter. I’m an entrepreneur, and I’m a storyteller and just lover of people. My purpose on this earth is because I recognize that we are all profoundly and deeply connected as humans. I exist to recognize those connections and make them apparent in our day-to-day interactions.
Michael Kurland (00:45):
Great. I look forward to expounding more upon this. In our pre-show conversation, we were getting into some really, really good nuggets of information, and I’m happy to share all that with the audience. Let’s start with your TEDx talk. You did a TEDx talk on radical empathy, and I think this is a really good background for the audience to get a little bit further into knowing who you are and then we can go from there. Let’s talk about that a little bit. Tell the audience about your TEDx talk.
Peter Laughter (01:18):
I’m very interested in conflict. In all my life, I’ve recognized that the idea of conflict can be transformative when you’re faced with difficulty. When we rise above is when we are at our absolute best in the world. With that, I had this unresolved conflict throughout my life. My mother had a condition called borderline personality disorder. It was a really very difficult condition where she, on some level due to some personal trauma, had this constant feeling that she was very, very broken in a very tender area. Whenever people got close to recognizing that or touching up against that part, she would just lash out incredibly viciously. I grew up with this really smart and wonderful woman who is caring and loving and funny, who occasionally would just brutally lash out. Never really physically but with such an emotional fervor that was so damaging. It came to the point where it started to increase in both frequency but also in the ferocity of the attacks.
This is something that I’ve always kept secret. I never told anyone. My wife would experience it, but we would never talk about it. I would always pretend that it was normal, but it got to the point where I could no longer pretend. That’s when I admitted what was going on to a good friend and advisor, my friend, Alice. She is a professor of clinical psychology. She asked me some questions said, “You should read these books and articles on borderline personality disorder.” Suddenly, it was like these authors had written about me and my relationship with my mother. They understood things that were so beyond me. It became very clear that she had this disorder. In that moment, my relationship with her attacks shifted dramatically. I recognized when she was lashing out, it wasn’t personal. It was just a symptom of the sickness that she had. As a result of that, instead of reacting in kind, she would say something horrible and hurtful. I would be upset, and I would lash out and behind it would create this horrible fight that would last for days and be very, very emotionally draining. I would just stop and say, “What’s going on with you? Why are you speaking to me this way? What’s happening?” I would try and find out where it is that she was feeling pressure, where she was feeling touched up against. I would just say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
In stepping aside and refusing to engage with her attacks, our relationships transformed. We actually came to the point where we really had a very normal relationship for a really long period of time, and then I had a fight with my wife one night. When we went back and went over it, we discovered that I had said something that she interpreted a different way, or I said something. She lashed out, but when we went over it, we realized it wasn’t personal. I realized: wait a second. What if every time someone reacts out of anger in an inappropriate way, it is because they are in pain because they are suffering because there is something wrong? In those instances, if we knew that their inappropriate behavior was a direct result of their being in suffering or being in a state of dis-ease, we wouldn’t have the need to lash out or respond in kind. We could actually stop and choose to respond differently. All of that was based on the assumption that we as humans are profoundly connected and our natural state is one of connection. If we assume that everything outside of that is a sign of suffering, it gives us pause and choice and to respond in a different way, a response that actually makes a difference.
It’s something that I started to attribute to my relationship with my daughter who at the time I was dealing with this, she was 12, entering into her teenage years, which you might’ve heard tale that it can be a little difficult at times and my interactions with clients, and interactions with people on the subway. It just transformed everything and that’s really what led to the TED Talk. I had the burning desire to share it.
Michael Kurland (05:52):
Thank you for making the TED Talk, first and foremost. I think it was very informative, but thank you for also sharing about your mother. That’s very deep and personal. It made me think of a few things, and I just wanted to comment on them. I, too, had an issue with my father growing up. He didn’t have a personality disorder. He had alcoholism my whole life. I feel very similar to how you just described. I felt when he would get drunk, I would just pretend it was normal and when anyone was around, “This is normal,” even though it wasn’t. I finally talked to somebody about it, a therapist about it, and they recommended I read a book called Adult Children of Alcoholics. Very similar to what you just said, it felt like it was written directly for me. It changed my life, and it changed the way I was able to relate with my father. That it wasn’t a personal thing. It was his disease that he was working through, and I was collateral damage. It wasn’t personal. I appreciate what you said about that. I think that’s very important for the audience to understand. I have a saying that anger only affects you, so when you’re angry about something, you’re lashing out. It doesn’t affect the other people, but do the other people stop and realize that there may be a reason why you’re angry? There’s a deeper-rooted issue and vice versa. What’s the issue that they may be having?
I liked your TEDx Talk about the guy in the subway, standing at the front of the door. Being from New York, I’ve ridden the subway numerous times. I’m like, “What’s your problem, guy? Take two steps to left.” But you said he probably feels small, and he’s looking to exude some power. He’s going somewhere where he doesn’t want to go. I really appreciated that. I wanted to touch on that and, again, thank you for sharing. Let’s move into a little bit more of a hot topic.
Peter Laughter (07:57):
Thank you also for sharing about your dad. It’s a hard thing to share, and I appreciate that.
Michael Kurland 1 (08:04):
Totally. I’ve come to peace with it. He’s been gone for about nine months now. I came to peace with the fact that he was an alcoholic probably from when I was 12. It took about 30 years to figure out how to deal with it appropriately.
Let’s talk about The Great Resignation. This is the thing going on in America right now due to COVID and really making people in the workplace second guess what they’re doing. You said it best when we talked pre-show. People are waking up and realizing, “I kind of fell into this, and this not what I want to do. This is not how I want to spend the rest of my life.” Let’s talk a little bit more about that because I really think this is important for the audience to hear. I specifically am dealing with it in Branded Group. We want to make sure that we’re creating enough purpose for our people to not want to be part of The Great Resignation. Give me your thoughts on that, please.
Peter Laughter (09:00):
It’s really fascinating because if you look at most of the dialogue about why employees are leaving, it’s really focused on working from home. People don’t want to have to come into the office, so they’re leaving. Personally, I believe that’s a real shallow interpretation. If we look at the context of what was happening before we went into COVID, the Gallup survey of worker engagement points to two- thirds of all workers globally are disengaged from their work. That is a shocking number. We live in a world where it is normalized to not be checked out of your job, and that’s okay. There are commercials that talk about ‘happy hump day.’ We have a chain of restaurants that say Thank God It’s Friday. It is normal and acceptable for people to not like their jobs. As people get more and more senior, as they get more developed in their career, the level of disengagement increases. Pre COVID, we’ve been in the world where the vast majority of people are just checked out and disengaged. I’ve always felt that was horrible. In the before time, I would see my coworkers more than I would see my wife. The idea that the majority of people globally are spending that much time with something that’s just like, “Oh, God. Get me out of here.” It’s just a crime.
I think it is based on several lies that we’ve accepted. The first is that the purpose of work is to provide an income and security. That’s the only purpose that work has. The second is that work is not supposed to be a source of joy, pleasure, meaning, and impact. That’s what you do on your free time, but work is only for those things. Who made these decisions? Who decided? No one. We just accepted them as truth. So when we went into lockdown, we had several experiences. I’ve had my clients talk about, “Oh, my God. I’m there for my children.” All the time, there’s articles written about men who are saying, “Oh, my goodness. I see how much more housework that my wife does, and it’s unacceptable. I have to try and do better.” We’ve had these realizations from being at home, but they’re not connected to the comfort of not commuting. They’re connected to the comfort of connecting to what’s important and then we saw so many people being sick and losing everything. Our hearts were broken by that. Then with the murder of George Floyd, I think so many of us woke up to just the horrors of white supremacy and the impact that it has. In the midst of seeing all these horrors, we’ve been profoundly changed. Having a life without meaning is now unacceptable because we recognize (a) how precious it is and (b) how many people are suffering. It’s been in plain sight, and we’ve just done nothing. People have a desire to do something meaningful. I really think that that is what’s fueling The Great Resignation. What I’m hearing from with my clients is people just don’t want to go in, doing the same old, same old, work that they can’t stand that doesn’t feed them. For some people actually, they’re turning into rage. I think that’s what’s fueling it.
Michael Kurland (12:38):
You touched on a lot of good points from COVID to working at home to seeing how much more time you can have doing things that you like to do and seeing I really don’t like what I do for 40 hours a week. What you just said, you were spending- pre COVID- more time with your coworkers than you were with your family. Life is short. COVID took millions of people. George Floyd that was a whole other thing to wake up to. It’s like why am I going to this dead-end job that I hate for 40 hours a week and then I’m going home and I’m bringing that baggage with me when I could be doing something that provides purpose and makes me feel good? My mother always told me: do something you love, and the money will follow. I didn’t necessarily love facilities management. It was a job for seven years before I started Branded Group, but I made purpose a big part of what we do at Branded Group. It makes me now very proud to do what I do so that we can help give back to the various charities that we work with.
Peter Laughter (14:01):
I think that’s brilliant, Michael. I think that’s a really good point. Your journey is an important one to recognize because I do think that many people believe, “I could never find purpose in banking or purpose in insurance, or I can’t have fun doing that.” Two examples that I think of is: I would get off the subway every morning at the Bowling Green spot. There’s a subway booth attendant, this woman named Melba. This was back in the day where attendants were in a subway booth in a bulletproof glass box. She would say through the microphone, “Good morning, everyone. Have a wonderful day. Good morning.” Every time the subway would let up, she would make these announcements. I would see people who looked very angry and frustrated break out into smiles every morning. Here’s this woman whose job it is to give tourists directions and make announcements. Not a very exciting job, but she found meaning. For her, connecting with people, wishing people a good day, had an impact. She saw it, and I saw it. I felt it. She found purpose in her work. There are ways to connect to purpose. In almost anything you can do, there are areas where it is easier for others. I think that’s one of the things that COVID, or as my daughter calls it ‘quarantime’ has really opened up is people want to expand that sense of purpose.
Michael Kurland (15:45):
I agree. I agree. I think that’s a perfect segue. For now, let’s tell your story of where you were and where you came and where you got to, and then where you are now. I think that’s really important for the audience to hear because we’re really talking about purpose in the workplace amongst all else now.
Peter Laughter (16:10):
Like most people, I fell into my career. Since 1985, I was an entrepreneur in the staffing industry. My first job out of college, I was working as a social worker, and I intended to go to grad school and study sociology and teach sociology. That was my path. I was working as a social worker in the Bronx and in Brooklyn, working in a program that offered an alternative to foster care. I thought that that was my path. I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but social work is not a very lucrative career. I was having difficulty making ends meet, and I got a night job. It was a night job with a staffing firm that was 24 hours. During the recession of the eighties, they had gone to having an answering service answer their phones at night, and they needed to go back to a human, and I did that. There wasn’t a lot of business. I was making some placements a couple a week, and two things happened simultaneously. I started selling because I was waiting for the phone to ring, and it wasn’t ringing nearly enough. I figured: let me see what I can do here. I started selling.
I had never been in sports as a kid, so I had no idea that I’m insanely competitive, and I loved selling. At the same time, I realized that I wasn’t really making much of a difference as a social worker. I was kind of keeping things together, but sometimes I wondered, “Maybe, this isn’t…” I wasn’t making any progress. It wasn’t like people were better because of the work I was doing. They just weren’t any worse. For a competitive guy, not making progress is really draining. I was having more and more trouble with it. This woman, Christine Smith – I still am friends with her today – I placed her on a word processing gig, and she said to me one night, “Peter, I just want to thank you. Because of what you do with me, I can pay rent and pursue my dream of becoming an actor.” I realized, “Oh, my goodness. I’m making more of a difference in my night job than I am in my day job.”
Around the time, the owner of the company offered me a deal. She said, “Come on and do sales with me.” She had been asking for a while, and I kept turning her down. Social work, professor of sociology and all that. She gave me a deal. She said, “I will give you a percentage of equity based on growth.”
Michael Kurland (18:49):
That’s a good deal.
Peter Laughter (18:50):
I recognized I wasn’t happy, and it was time to make that deal right after Christine said that to me. Wouldn’t you know it, when we started off in ’94, annual sales were about half a million dollars. By 2000, they were 12 million.
Michael Kurland (19:12):
Peter Laughter (19:12):
I ended up with just shy of 50% of the company.
Michael Kurland (19:17):
That’s a really good deal.
Peter Laughter (19:18):
It was a great. I had some insight into the business, and we had a great partnership together. It worked really well. That was incredibly exciting. The trick is what really sustained me in those early years is that I was doing something new that I was growing, that I was building things. The truth of the matter is I did not like the staffing industry. Particularly, I loved the sales part, but the operations part for me was so draining. I really didn’t like it at all. You get to a point, around 12 million, where you really needed to create some very strong structures and replicated structures in order to grow past that point. My difficulty with not enjoying the industry really kept me from doing that. Our sales just kind of plateaued for a while, and I was increasingly more and more not having fun and having trouble to motivate it.
I recognize that there’s this inherent idea with the staffing industry. I believe in the stakeholder management, making sure that if you’re going to do a good deal, it’s a good deal for everyone. I think the structure of the staffing industry makes that really hard to make sure it’s a good deal for anyone except the recruiting company. That was real. I was trying to get out with my last company. I was building a staffing company so that I could build a platform for independent management consultants. It was just too hard.
I had been giving career advice since I was 26 years old. I remember my friend George called me up at 11 o’clock one night and said, “I got fired from my job. What do I do?” Ever since then, people have been saying, “I want to make a change. How should I do it? Look at my resume. How can I interview?” I had built all of these structures to support my candidates in taking that transition. I was able to deploy that thinking to my friends and my understanding of how the job search works was really valuable to them. My good friend, Jennifer, I helped her with a difficult transition about seven years ago. Ever since then, she’s been saying, “Peter, you have a gift in this. You need to do this full time.”
When I reached my moment where I realized I couldn’t go on anymore, I heard Jennifer what she was saying over the past six years or so. That’s where I founded True Bearing. It was really in the beginning of the summer of 2000, when I just recognized that there is this onswell of people looking for meaning. I really wanted to help those people. I work with senior executives who dread going to work in the morning and want more for the last stretch of their career.
Michael Kurland (22:22):
I want to pause you there because I think this is a good pivot point here. You built your career over the course of the last 25 – 30 years in the staffing industry. Is that correct?
Peter Laughter (22:37):
Twenty-five years. Yes.
Michael Kurland (22:37):
You were very successful. You brought a company up to the point where you had got 50% sweat equity, which is unheard of, so a great deal on that. Your competitive juices definitely worked on that one. You walked away from the staffing agency as a successful person and a successful executive because you didn’t have meaning in what you were doing. You didn’t like what you were doing. You didn’t like the commoditization of the people. You didn’t like that the industry wasn’t a win-win-win, and you started True Bearing because you wanted to have purpose in what you were doing.
Let’s talk about True Bearing and where you are now because that’s all a big deal right there. I think people really need to understand that. Sometimes you have a career shift because like your friend George loses his job. He changes careers and finds what he wants to do. You, a successful executive, walked away at the top to start something that you loved. Let’s talk about that.
Peter Laughter (23:42):
So, my daughter is going to college in about three weeks’ time. It breaks my heart a little bit, but it’s what she’s supposed to do. When she was entering high school, I was driving her from Brooklyn, where we live, to New Jersey so she could spend the weekend with a friend of hers. She was about to go into high school, and she said something to me. She said, “Dad, I’m going to this great school with really wonderful teachers, and I’m excited for it, but those teachers are all preparing me for an adulthood that I don’t think is going to be there by the time I’m an adult.” I’ll never forget the conversation. We were driving over the Verrazano Bridge from Brooklyn to Staten Island on our way to New Jersey. If there was a place to pull over on that bridge, I would’ve because it hit me like a brick. It was like, “What am I doing? What am I doing supporting a lifestyle and not making a difference?” I couldn’t disagree with her. If you look at the signs, she’s not headed toward a brighter future, and that’s terrifying. That’s terrifying! What right do I have to raise a child and not do something about that?
Michael Kurland (25:07):
That’s a very profound thing for a 15–16-year-old person to say to their father. Kudos.
Peter Laughter (25:15):
She’s taught me a lot, that one. I’m very grateful. That was really the start of it. My struggle with what am I doing to make the world a better place? It made it so difficult to work. Like I said, what I do for my clients, I work with senior executives who dread getting out of bed in the morning and want more for the last stretch of their career. That was me. I just dreaded getting out of bed in the morning. It was intolerable.
Michael Kurland (25:56):
It’s suffocating. When I was unhappy in my career place, it was suffocating because you were getting up and you were going somewhere that you had to drag yourself to go. It just affected so many other aspects of my life. I didn’t want to go to the gym. I go to the gym six days a week now. I didn’t want to go to the gym because all I wanted to do was go home and numb my brain with mindless television or sports or beers or whatever the case may be. That’s no way to live a life because you do that year after year after year, you’re a depressed person.
Peter Laughter (26:31):
You start to think that that’s what you like to do, right? You forget all the things that give you pleasure, and you’re watching Netflix and that’s what fun is. You become so isolated and separate, and it spirals into a horrible place. As one of my client’s said, “I’m tired of needing to watch Netflix and drink wine. I don’t want to have to unwind from the day. I want to finish dinner, and I want to read about interesting things. I want to be engaged with what I’m doing. I want to feel passionate about that.” Who told us that we can’t have that from our work? Who made that up?
Michael Kurland (27:10):
I fell like it’s someone in the fifties that would have been on the show Mad Men. I never watched it, but it seems like that would be the guy. You go to work, and you hate it. You come home, and you eat steak and potatoes. You smoke a cigar, drink bourbon, and go to bed.
Peter Laughter (27:30):
Yes, exactly. You drink the bourbon because you can’t sleep because you’re so dissatisfied.
Michael Kurland (27:36):
What you really do is you give people that were hopeless, hope. You talk about purpose, right? You have found your purpose. How’s True Bearing doing? Do you have any great success stories of people that you have helped find their second wind in life?
Peter Laughter (28:01):
We are in the process with our first cohort of clients. I’m having a blast. I’m a storyteller, and there’s a radio show and a podcast called The Moth that I listen to. The guy, who was a professor of genetics, who was responsible for founding The Innocent Project– this is the project gets people off of death row by using DNA evidence to acquit people who are wrongfully convicted- and he said something in the story. He said, “My impact is through the impact of my students.”
I am working with a group of men and women who are incredible. They are just amazing. What they are headed toward is going to be world changing. To know that I’ve had a small part in that journey to help them really uncover what it is that’s great about them and to understand what their purpose is and to be able to leverage that into what it is that they are most called to do and help them actually with the techniques in order to acquire those positions. It is so much fun. I’m having a blast, and I really really love it. It’s interesting because starting a business is hard. You can focus on all the hard things that you have to do and things you have to move forward on but when I focus on that impact, everything becomes so much easier. It’s a real pleasure.
Michael Kurland (29:37):
I can’t agree more. Year one, we turned a profit. We had no purpose with the profit. We made some money, and I said, “Cool. We’re going to make more money. I’m going to just keep doing this round and round we go until I die. I have this money that I can’t take with me, so what’s my legacy?” Year two, we started our purpose with Habitat for Humanity, and we started our One-for-One program, which I’ve talked about many times on this show. Basically, it’s a minute of service through our own employees dedicated their time to Habitat, which is also now a Second Harvest, and Orange Coast Keepers, so we do beach cleanups, and we volunteer at a food pantry or donate food. It’s morphed into now donating meals to Second Harvest and Feeding America.
Long-windedly, I have a purpose now through my biggest vehicle, which is Branded Group. Yes, I’m happy we make money. I’m not going to lie. We all want to make a little bit of money with what we do, but I could put my head on my pillow. I’ve got a great staff that works with me, and I have purpose. If I didn’t have that, I don’t know where I’d be. I don’t know where I’d be. You’re making that difference for all these other executives that are trying to make changes in their life. I really applaud you for that and appreciate the work that you’re doing. Thank you very much, Peter.
Peter Laughter (31:00):
My pleasure. This has been great. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Michael Kurland (31:03):
If the audience wants to get ahold of you or find out more about True Bearing, how can they do so?
Peter Laughter (31:10):
Michael Kurland (31:25):
Thank you, Peter, again, for coming on and sharing your story. It’s been very insightful. Audience, until next time.
Thank you for tuning in! I hope that today’s episode inspired you to become a purpose-driven leader in your career or your community. There is no doubt that when we lead with purpose, we can change lives. If you enjoyed today’s show, I’d be grateful if you would take a moment to rate us on your preferred listening platform.
To learn more Branded Group’s “Be Better” experience and how we provide industry-leading on-demand national facilities maintenance, construction management, and special project implementation, visit us at www.branded-group.com. Be sure to follow us on social media and you can also reach out to me directly on LinkedIn. Until next time, Be Better.