Episode 244 – Purpose Ignited with Dr Alise Cortez

So many people [are] skimming the surface of what they can be and do in the world. And I was too.

Alise CortezSo often in life and at work it can feel as if we’re surrounded by people who are disengaged and disconnected, half asleep and half alive. Sometimes, if we’re honest, we ARE those people. 

Dr Alise Cortez has spent years studying engagement – or the lack of it – and has dedicated herself to helping people realise the brutal truth: this is your one precious life, and it’s up to you to make something of it. 

In this conversation we talk about why ‘passion’ and ‘purpose’ have become such problematic words, the importance of enthusiasm and vulnerability, why talking is such a valuable tool for writing, and why writing is an infallible guide to show you what you don’t know. 

Wake up and be inspired. 


Purpose Ignited: https://uk.bookshop.org/a/2135/9781788602006

Alise’s site: https://alisecortez.com/

Gusto, Now!: https://www.gusto-now.com/

Alise on Twitter: https://twitter.com/alisecortez

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge January 2021: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=proposal-challenge-jan-21

The Extraordinary Business Book Club bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/extraordinarybusinessbooks

My K-day countdown for the National Literacy Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/alison-jones1000

Alison Jones: I’m here today with Dr. Alise Cortez, who is a management consultant, specializing in meaning and purpose, host of Working on Purpose Radio, inspirational speaker and author, and her PhD in human development examined the relationship between meaning in work and identity. And she’s helped develop and transform thousands of managers and executives in their leadership over the last 20 years with her 15 models of engagement and other research that she’s developed throughout her career.

As Chief Purpose Officer at Dr. Alise Cortez and Associates, she’s focused on enabling organizations to lead from purpose and create cultures of meaning that inspire impassioned performance, meaningful engagement, and fulfillment. She’s also the author of Purpose Ignited: How inspiring leaders unleash passion and elevate cause, which publishes this week, as this goes out.

So congratulations, Alise.

Alise Cortez: Thank you, Alison. It is really, really an exciting time. Thank you so much for being on the journey with me and helping me steward it.

Alison Jones: It is a terrific time, isn’t it? Just that sort of sense of being the coiled spring before it’s sort of unleashed on the world. I mean, I know you’re already unleashing it on people and you’re speaking all over the place and stuff,  but firstly yes, congratulations. Because it’s a really exciting moment.

Alise Cortez: Thank you. It really is. Thank you.

Alison Jones: And I wanted to start by asking you why you wrote the book, because you talk so eloquently about the walking dead and just how many people go through life half awake. So  what inspired you? What drove you to write this and what did you hope to achieve with it?

Alise Cortez: Hmm. I don’t know how many authors say this, Alison, but I really did write the book for myself, about myself, in the hope that it would really help the readers do what I was trying to do. And there is so many people that really are auditing life, Alison, they’re skimming the surface of what they can be and do in the world. And I was too.

And so I really wrote the book to turn readers on to themselves and their potential, and ignite their own passion and purpose. So that they can actually turn that on in others as well. So it becomes a really big ripple effect across the world. And I mean, why do I know the walking dead? Well, because I was a card carrying member myself and that, you know, I really had discovered my purpose probably in 2014 when I was 49 and went through my research and some of the writing that I was doing and I started the radio show. But then in 2015 Alison, I hit this really big dead wall where I didn’t know how to activate it. And I was literally doing just what I’m talking about. I was literally walking through life numb and dead and not reaching for my dreams and I hated myself for it. And so I needed something to be able to shake me out of that. And the book that I wrote was my journey out of it.

And I hope in sharing that message, that others will be shaken out of their need or desire to walk dead as well.

Alison Jones: It’s a funny thing. Isn’t it? It’s like an epidemic of mediocrity. Is that the right word? But why do you think so many of us settle for it?

Alise Cortez: Yes. What a great question. You know, thank you so much for just picking right up where I was going with that. Yes. I think it’s a few reasons. One, so what I learned Alison is , when I’d be out speaking to audiences and I would ask them, what are you passionate about? You know  what the number one response I get when I ask that question to crowds is?   They have this amazing look on their face and when they suddenly realize they don’t know the answer to the question, they don’t know what they’re passionate about.

Alison Jones: Don’t know, nothing, really yeah.

Alise Cortez: I really don’t know. In fact, I just had that same thing happen on Tuesday when I was out socializing the books and a woman came in and bought one. She said you were talking to me, I’m that person. I don’t know what I’m passionate about. So I think what happens, Alison, is that we just don’t have very much intentionality.  We’re not recognizing you only have one precious life, which has a numbered number of days in it. And so we’re going, running on the hamster wheel, trying to get ourselves to work, trying to get our kids to school and food on the table, et cetera. And that hamster wheel just keeps going round and round and round and numbing us to the vitality of our lives. And before we know it we throw ourselves into bed that night, the next morning, we do it all over again. And there’s no injection of passion or inspiration to really get us out of that syndrome.

I think that’s a lot of it. And then people say things all the time like, I don’t have time to go for my dreams. I’m busy paying my bills or getting my kids through school or whatever it is, but,  do you know, Alison, we have as much time as Nelson Mandela did, as Mother Teresa did, as Steve Jobs did, as Michelle Obama did, we all have same amount of time.

We just use it differently.

Alison Jones: That’s a really challenging thought, isn’t it? And that you don’t just find time. It’s not like loose change down the sofa. If you want to do something, you have to make time, you have to make a choice about it.

Alise Cortez: That’s right. That’s right. So really what I wanted to do with the book was to get people riveted on this notion that look, you’ve got one precious life. What are you g do with it? Let’s make the most of it.

Alison Jones: And passion and purpose, which are key words in what you’re talking about in the book, they’re horribly overused and abused these days, aren’t they? And one thing that I really loved actually was passion is used in a, quite a kind of floaty sort of a way very often. And you’ve got a really muscular take on passion.

Just tell us a little bit more about that and also what you mean by purpose as well.

Alise Cortez: Ooh. I love that word, ‘muscular take on passion’. I’m going to have to quote that, Alison, thank you very much. Yes, I do. I do. And you’re right, it is, it’s a very soft, very, you know, often-floated word out there that usually refers to something that people like to do where they kind of, you know, really enjoy.

What I mean by passion is, it’s really when people take on something, they really give themselves over to something that’s really important to them. And that they’re committed to that, that it’s a sense of almost being, you know, willing to suffer in service of that thing that you so care about.

So it’s got an intensity to it that in the process of giving yourself over, that’s part of the energizing mechanism, right? That’s why passion works. So it’s not just, Hey, I’m passionate about really great food. It’s, I’m passionate about really making fantastic food and savouring every last drop of it. Right.

That’s totally different rendition and you’re right, much more muscular. And same thing with purpose, right? I mean, I walk through airports, Alison, where I see ‘breakfast on purpose’ signs, ‘tyres on purpose’. No, no, no, no, no. That is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about that internal divining rod that is your guiding light and that really, and I love Zach Mercurio’s definition  of purpose:  it’s the unique reason you exist that betters the world. Right? So the thing about purpose is it’s always got to be in service of something bigger, greater than you. And so it’s not just, you know, I’m intentional about something it’s up to something and this is why I’m here. That’s how I render purpose.

Alison Jones: There’s no room for cynicism here is there, it’s very enthusiastic embracing of this. And I wonder if part of what’s happening in the world is that we have just become cynical about stuff. It’s not cool to be passionate and purposeful anymore.

Alise Cortez: Wow, that is such a great point. And of course it’s not one that I dwell much on as you can probably imagine as an inspirational speaker. Right. I tend not to draw on that camp. However, what’s interesting is I’ve come across people in my life who are very cynical and sarcastic. And I think I even write about this in the book.

It’s not, you know, fine, you can be sarcastic and cynical, but nobody really wants to follow that. I mean, that’s not going to get people out of bed and get them roaring to your side. So yes, I do think that there is some cynicism that’s floating around the world. And I also think some people have lost hope.

In fact, I’m coaching a 30-year-old woman right now, which has just been so dynamic because working with her, her dad actually sent her to me, someone I know. And she said it has been life changing to work with you because she said, I recognized I had lost hope from my life, not suicidal, but for the direction of her career.

And she said, I realized  in our work together that I have, I can do anything I want in life. So I do think there is this tendency for people to fall into an abyss, right. Where they forget all that’s possible. And part of the reason I wrote the book and speak is I’m trying to remind people that, Oh, there is so much more than what you think there is.

Alison Jones: Yes, and I think it’s probably a self-defense mechanism as well. And when you reawaken that sense of hope and enthusiasm, suddenly you find something you are prepared to commit to. You are prepared to make yourself vulnerable. And, and that’s what you talk about in passion as well. Isn’t it?

Alise Cortez: no doubt. It is vulnerable to put yourself out there and be passionate and be inspired. You know, how many times, Alison, when I’ve gotten to a place where I’ve developed my inspiration muscle enough, that I frequently find myself being moved to tears by how beautiful an exchange is or an interaction is.

And that is vulnerable to be seen like that.

Alison Jones: But powerful because as you say, you can’t take people along with you, unless you’re prepared to do that.

Alise Cortez: That’s right.

Alison Jones: And I want to talk to you as well about your radio show, where, and I always feel really massively self-conscious when I’m interviewing somebody who does this, you know, proper seriousl:, tell us about the radio show.

You know, why did you start it? What does it do for you? Why do you love it?

Alise Cortez: Yes. Oh, it’s so great. Oh, I love talking about this. Okay. So here’s just a little bit of context. So in that year, 2014 that I mentioned before, it was one of those years, Alison, where I literally let my guiding light guide me and I embarked on a large postdoc research project to understand how people experienced meaning in their work and their identity.

And I had these 15 modes of engagement that I had derived and I had been offered the chance to come and present at a conference in India so that I could share those results with people across the world and get academically published. And that was going to happen in December of 2014. I was gunning for all of that.

And then in November, I got the chance to present my results through a workshop that I created for a client. So, brand new and they loved it, Alison, it was just like, Oh my gosh, I was high as a kite and I’m driving home and my phone rings and I kid you not it’s Voice America calling me saying, Hey, we found you on your website and LinkedIn.

And we see that you’re a speaker. You’re a consultant and that usually makes for a good host. Do you want to host your own show? And I literally pulled the phone from my ear. And I went, Oh my gosh, this is all connected, right. The research, this workshop, I just did, India. This is all connected. So literally  I say, yes, absolutely.

Alison Jones: Of course you say yes.

Alise Cortez: I’m in for that. And then of course I dash off to India for three weeks and that was life changing. And one of those amazing situations where I really got present to, you know, the beauty of the interconnectivity of the world. So at first, Alison, when I hosted the show, what I really wanted to do, coming fresh off that research around meaning and work was I wanted to show people.

I wanted to showcase stories of people who are really passionate about their work, because I saw so many people and they didn’t know that, you know, you could have passion in your work. And so I had all these stories of people that had really cool stories of how they found their work and what it means to them and how enlivening it was, and I did that for probably a year and a half, and then I went into the inspiration camp and I wanted to tell stories of helping people recognize that there were so much more they could do and be in life. So I wanted to share stories of inspiration. So I have people on who had survived electrocution and who could no longer walk.

And I mean, just amazing things like that. And then I moved on to purpose and found people who talk about how what they are doing in life and their work is their purpose. And difference they get to make in the world. And now Alison, it’s 302 episodes in, I really moved it to a place where it’s a thought leadership platform that advances the conversation on how to create workplaces, where people can thrive, or they can have access to meaning passion and purpose in businesses done in such a way that it serves all the world, all the stakeholders.

And so I bring on people who can help steward that conversation. And of course I devour their books cover to cover in preparation for the conversation. And so therefore it’s my own catalyzing learning engine. If you will.

Alison Jones: Yes, absolutely. There’s nothing like being involved in these sorts of conversations to force you to skill up, to prepare, to get some good brain food in. It’s one of the best reasons for doing it. Isn’t it?

Alise Cortez: It is. And I mean, that’s really, what’s helped develop me into an author. All the things that I kept learning, all that stirring that was going on every single week, I was like, Oh, there are, there’s something bubbling up in me. What do I do with it? Oh, I guess I should write a book.

Alison Jones: So  there are so many interesting things that come out of that. Let me just pick up a couple, firstly, it’s that idea about visibility, is that Voice America rang because you’re out there and you’re talking about the stuff that you’re doing and you’ve got your speaker page up.

So I think that in itself is interesting. So people can’t find you, if you’re not telling the world what you’re doing and if you’re not sort of, you know, up there and being visible about it. So lesson number one.

And then what I also love as well, and I found that myself, because obviously this podcast has been going on for four years now, is the evolution of it. And the way that it’s helped you follow your passions and develop your thinking and the way it’s kind of evolved into something else over time. and there’s something really interesting about that longevity, about the way it kind of follows your own passions and the way it builds and changes, so interesting.

Alise Cortez: Yes, no doubt about it. And you know what I was just thinking about this the last couple of days, Alison, somebody asked me sometime ago, they said, why don’t you do your show where you plan, you know, 13 conversations in advance and you kind of make it into a series. And I thought, you know, that’s the last thing I want to do because I actually what’s been happening is I literally am following that internal guiding light.

And I’m seeing what it is that calls me and pulls me. And then that’s frankly what I feature on the show. It’s what it is that seems to be the best next right step in the conversation. And I find an author or someone finds me. Nowadays I get more and more people requesting to be on the show, so I’m in this position of evaluating who’s coming across my desk, and therefore what happens is the conversation is always freshly derived, right? It’s not canned or orchestrated. It is curated, I’m curating the content, but it is freshly derived.

Alison Jones: And how did that feel, or how did that complement the writing, while you were deep in actually writing the book? What was the relationship between the conversations you were having week by week and then the words that you’re putting on the page, you know, locked away in your room?

Alise Cortez: Hmm, I have to tell the story in that. So in 2018, I made a big shift professionally and I went away from working for another firm and going back out on my own to really focus on meaning and purpose. And I promised myself I would do three things by the end of 2018, in those six months.

One was to start a nonprofit, which I did, Purpose on Fire, the second was to create my own leadership program, Vitally Inspired, which I did. And third was to draft this book. So what was so funny, Alison, you’ll just laugh at me for this, is when I drafted that book and you might’ve seen some of the original stuff on there.

All I wanted to do was, I wanted people that read my book to meet the amazing people that I had met on the radio show. So I was just going to celebrate all these fantastic conversations that I’ve been having. I felt so grateful that I got to have those conversations. So I wrote this really flowery, poetic piece of work that was very pie in the sky and lofty and about these people.

And that’s how it started. And then as I went through the process of really working with you to help develop it and why was I writing this? I realized that I had a message that I wanted to share in there really first and foremost. And so those conversations with the radio show people began to be secondary or supplementary in my points of the message that I was making.

So, you know, it was quite a process.

Alison Jones: Yes, that’s so interesting, isn’t it? And they become, they support, but you curate them in a different way. They’re not actually the main show anymore. It’s what your book is your book. And you’re drawing on all these conversations to support those themes and to illustrate them. And  it was lovely watching that shift happen actually.

Alise Cortez: Oh really? Well, it was so important to work with you because you, I remember when you asked me, why are you writing this book? And I went well at first I was just going to share these really cool people that I met on the radio. And then you’re like, aha. And how was that actually going to advance your message or what you’re trying to do with your business and how you’re trying to serve people.

Oh yes. That’s something else. Isn’t it. You were so fantastic to work with Alison. Seriously. You saved me.

Alison Jones: That’s lovely to hear. Tell me when you got that, what did the writing actually look like for you? Because you and I are people who love to talk to people and the ideas flow, when making conversation. And I don’t know about you, but I find sitting on your own and writing pretty hard. So what does it look like for you?

How do you go about the actual task of getting your bum to the seat and the words on the page?

Alise Cortez: Hm. Yeah. you know what I found hard. The hardest thing, I think that I would say about that whole effort and it’s just the work, right. There’s no way, but through, you got to do the pushups, right? I think there.

Alison Jones: That’s such a great mantra.

Alise Cortez: Right. You just have to do the pushups. And, so I think the thing about it was, definitely the pandemic helped, right?

Because that just stopped. Everything just kind of stopped in my role as an inspirational speaker and as a person who did programs in front of audiences. And so I had the space and I was so determined. So there was two things, I turned on my determination that I’m going to get this done. I’m going to see this thing through. I’ve been talking about this for a few years.

Let’s get it done Cortez. And then the second thing was is that, you know, there’s nothing like, I mean that excruciating pain and effort of rendering what it is do I think I know how about this? What am I trying to say? That is an excruciating amount of work to do, right.

And when, and there’s nothing like writing direct  to help you recognize what you don’t know. Right, as a professor and I’ve taught various college courses, I know when my students know their work, they know their stuff because their writing is very clear. So it’s that, I think what I really recognized in this first book, I’ve already got a couple more planned now.

Thanks a lot, Alison,

Alison Jones: You’re welcome.

Alise Cortez: What I, what I recognized is that, that work of rendering and working to try to help make sure that you can say what you think you know about this, that’s the work, right. There’s learning in that, and the rendering of that in reaching to try to make it understood for yourself and others.

And I think that what was the hardest part for me, but where I grew the most.

Alison Jones: And that I hear that so often. I’m really evangelical about this because I think that writing is such a powerful tool for your thinking. And so few people appreciate that. It’s really interesting to see, it’s such a lightweight tool and it’s so ubiquitous that maybe we forget just how powerful it is.

Alise Cortez: Yes, you’re right about that.

Alison Jones: So, if I were to ask you what your best tip would be for a first time business book author, who’s maybe been inspired by this, what would you say to them?

Alise Cortez: Well, I would say absolutely don’t go it alone. I would say don’t go the self-publish route, especially for your first book. Maybe you can do that when you’ve had a couple under your belt, but,  I learned so much by working with you, Alison, you taught me so much about what it was to be an author.

Why am I doing this? Why would I go through all this effort? Right. So, and then your guidance helping me understand what, you know, how was a book actually best organized? How do you write a table of contents? I mean, you helped me do all of those things. And so definitely that tip of don’t go it alone, find a publisher that you can work with. There’s a whole array of people that you can work with today. But,  then of course that chemistry is important, right? I mean, I trusted you, you could see, you saw, when you gave me some tough feedback, I think you were worried that it was going to bother me, but I was like, bring it.

I want that guidance. Right? You did that for me. So get help. That’s my best tip.

Alison Jones: Brilliant. Yes and I mean, it obviously doesn’t have to be me. It could be me, but actually there are so many good development editors out there. There so many people who can help you do that hard work of clarifying the structure particularly. And sometimes you’re so close to your own ideas that it’s very hard to see them as a reader will see them. And I think a good editor, a good publisher is kind of your readers ambassador. They’re kind of being that person who isn’t there to speak for themselves right now. And that’s a really important role  to have and it’s one that’s very hard to do for yourself.

Alise Cortez: No doubt.

Alison Jones: Yes, great tip. Brilliant. And I always ask people as well as you know, cause I know you’ve listened, to recommend a business book. So honestly it doesn’t have to be a business book, but a book that you have read recently that you think will be really valuable for people who love business books, perhaps were thinking about writing a business book to read.

Alise Cortez: Hmm. You know, I thought about that question, because I know you asked that of people on the show and I have read so many books Alison, in part because of my role as a radio show host, but the one that I really want to put forth, that really has continued to make a big difference in my life. I read it several, several years ago is Mindset: The new psychology of success by Dr. Carol Dweck. And the reason I think that’s so important and I recognize so much of the work that I do as a management consultant, working in transformation and breakthrough is our mindset is really, really important. And when we can get present to what is our governing mindset, that opens a whole world.

And even for me, and she distinguishes fixed versus growth mindset. I recognized how much I was allowing myself over the years in my life to fall into more of a fixed mindset, especially about things that I had convinced myself that I wasn’t good at, or didn’t want to work at, like technology, for example.

Oh, I’m so good at technology. I blow it up everywhere I go. Wow. It’s amazing. When you tell yourself that, that’s exactly what happens,

Alison Jones: And it’s an interesting parallel with what we were talking about earlier as well about hope isn’t it? Because hope is, I guess, a good definition of an open mindset is the possibility of hope.

Alise Cortez: That’s a great point. Yeah, that’s absolutely right. And well, and so much of the work that I do with leaders and inside organizations in my programs is helping them get present to, and grow their mindset. That’s so much of the work that I do.

Alison Jones: It’s such a great recommendation. It’s a truly great book. And what’s interesting about it, I think  it’s kind of almost the law, it has to get cited in every business book, you know, everybody references it, everybody mentions it because it’s such a foundational concept. But I think so many people kind of feel, they know it, feel they’ve understood it because they’ve read about it in other books, but there is nothing like going back and reading the original, it’s so rich and the implications of it are drawn out so fully across a whole load of different spheres, aren’t they? There’s business, but there’s education. And certainly any parents I think should read it.

Alise Cortez: Absolutely, I read on the book she says it’s for parenting, business, school and relationships.

Alison Jones: Yes. And it really is. Yes, it is a superb book, but I did exactly that, I kind of thought I knew it because I’d read about it so often. And there’s quite a few books like that, that get, so The Fearless Organization, Amy Edmondson, there was another one that I kind of thought I knew, but when you go back and read it, you realize just why, Clayton Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma is another one. Why these are so foundational and there’s nothing like reading it for yourself. No, great recommendation. Thank you.

And Alise, if people want to find out more about you, more about the book obviously, more about your show, where should they go?

Alise Cortez: A couple of places they can go.  My long-standing website is Alisecortez.com and that’s really where I position myself as a Chief Purpose Officer and a management consultant and where it showcases my speaking, et cetera. That’s an obvious place to learn more about it. But you can also find it  at gusto-now.com.

And that’s where I position myself as a Chief Ignition Officer focusing on growth and learning. And, I do my work actually in Spanish, Portuguese and English on that platform. Of course, there’s always Amazon and then, you know, as you and I’ve been talking, of course, we’re already starting to talk with other organizations about this book.

And so, you know, getting larger orders directly from you that’s really been fun. So being able to open those conversations directly through my alisecortez.com website is probably the best way to go.

Alison Jones: Fantastic. And of course I will put those links up on the show notes. And by the way, let’s just have a moment of appreciation of Chief Ignition Officer. Isn’t that brilliant?

Alise Cortez: So much fun. I can’t tell you how much fun it is. Just created that whole Gusto-now brand and getting to use my languages. I love it.

Alison Jones: Yes, that is brilliant. And I may also give a quick shout out for your headshots, which are just the best I have ever seen and they make me so happy. So you should go to that site just to check out the fabulous head shots. They are brilliant.

Alise Cortez: So great, thank you, Alison.

Alison Jones: So much fun talking to you, Alise, and congratulations again on the book.

And I just know it’s going to be one of those books that changes lives. So it’s been such a privilege to work with you on it.

Alise Cortez: Thank you so much for working with me. And you have been my gift.

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