Episode 363 – But Are You Alive? with Eloise Skinner

Eloise Skinner‘I have worked with a coach in the past who used to tell me things that have been very helpful, like it is your responsibility to the book to try and communicate its concepts out there, if you believe it is that helpful, you need to be sharing it with people. These are the things that I repeat to myself every day as I prepare to post one thing on Instagram.’

Writing a book means marketing a book, and marketing a book means becoming visible as an author. And that isn’t always easy, even when you have a huge following. 

Eloise Skinner knows what it takes to write books (But Are You Alive? is her third), but she also knows that the writing alone isn’t enough. To share her hard-won insights into what gives life meaning, which she’s discovered through an extraordinary professional and personal life – including her work as a lawyer, as a psychotherapist and existential therapist and her time in an urban monastic community – she had to get comfortable being uncomfortable. In this thoughtful conversation, she tells me what that involves, and how she gets over herself to get her message out there. 



Eloise’s site: https://www.eloiseskinner.com/

Eloise on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/eloiseallexia/

Eloise on TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@eloiseallexia

Alison on TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@bizbookstothesky

Power Up Your Writing workshop at Gladstone’s Library: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/power-up-your-writing-workshop-tickets-600773689277

WriteBrained: A 28-day exploratory writing adventure: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=writebrainedcourse

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

Alison Jones: I am here today with Eloise Skinner, who is an author, a therapist, a founder, and a teacher. Born on a council estate in East London, she later studied at Cambridge, trained at Oxford, and practiced as a lawyer in The City. But after some soul searching, including a year training to be a monk, she followed her passion into psychotherapy.

She’s the author of The Purpose Handbook, which is published by Practical Inspiration Publishing, and her newest book But Are You Alive? Is an Exploration of depth, meaning and fullness in everyday life. Incorporating teachings across existential therapy, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, wellbeing, and monastic spirituality. There’s a phrase I don’t say very often in this intro.

Hello, Eloise. It’s good to see you.

Eloise Skinner: Hello. Thank you so much for having me.

Alison Jones: It’s great to have you here. And I mean, we started off a little bit there with your own journey, which I think fascinating and enlightening. Tell us a little bit about what you’ve embraced in the last couple of decades.

Eloise Skinner: Yes I mean quite a few different types of things. So I started my career in quite a traditional way in corporate law, and I really always thought I wanted to be a lawyer from quite a young age. So I was quite set on going to law school and then practicing as a lawyer in The City. And yes I went straight into corporate law after university and did that for about five years.

But during that time I also started doing a range of other things, like started writing and speaking. And what I really enjoyed doing was sort of communicating concepts to other people, to other junior lawyers. And I really wanted to write more and speak more and do more teaching with them.

So I ended up writing originally for a publication called The Lawyer Magazine. And then after a few years I wrote my first book, which is called the Junior Lawyer’s Handbook for the law society. And as I was doing that, I started to become a little bit more interested in the writing and speaking side of things and sort of learning new concepts and new ideas.

And alongside that, I was sort of exploring the bigger ideas of life, I’m sure as many people do in their twenties, what is the point of everything? What is the point of what I’m doing? What is the meaning of this? Is this the right career for me? What are my values? Who am I as a person?

And alongside my sort of legal and my writing work, I went on a bit of a deeper journey into what is this all for? And that led me to become a yoga teacher, to train in meditation and mindfulness and to spend a year in a monastic community in London training essentially as a, what they sometimes call, as a millennial or a modern monk.

And yes, so then during the pandemic, I had a little bit of a career change. I came out of law and wrote my second book, The Purpose Handbook, which is published by Practical Inspiration and after that more teaching, more learning. I stepped more into psychotherapy, so I did my psychotherapy training and now I specialize in existential therapy like meaning and purpose.

And now the third book. I always struggle to make that sound like a linear path because it was very like…

Alison Jones: and existential therapy, for those who don’t know, is this logotherapy or is this different? What’s…

Eloise Skinner: Yes, yes, it’s a really evolving field. So I guess logotherapy was maybe like the foundation of some of these ideas. And this is based around Viktor Frankl’s work, Viktor Frankl, who most people will know from a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. And he was a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist before the Holocaust and had already developed these kind of ideas of logotherapy, which were about the will to find meaning in people’s lives and sort of this new type of psychotherapy, which didn’t necessarily always have to be for people who were experiencing like something wrong or like something an issue, let’s say, in their lives, but could also be sort of just a helpful tool or like a preventative measure to help people find a sense of meaning and purpose in everyday life.

And he had an experience in the concentration camps during Nazi Germany.

Alison Jones: Very much stress tested his ideas.

Eloise Skinner: Exactly, the sort of real life exploration of his principles. And then coming out the other side wrote this book called Man’s Search for Meaning, and the book is really divided into two sections. So you’ve got his autobiographical reflections on his experiences, and then the second half of the book that I think maybe a lot of people either skim over or flick through quite quickly is more like a technical description of what logotherapy really is. And that’s where the field maybe you could say the most popular foundations of the field in that book. And then other than that, there are lots of different fields of existential therapy and existential analysis, which is the specific field that I train in which draw on these ideas but sort of make them a little bit wider or broader or more holistic in some cases. So Victor Frankl was maybe like the foundational principles and then there are lots of other ways of interpreting them. And still very much an evolving field.

Alison Jones: Yes, absolutely fascinating. And one of the things that’s always struck me about you and about the conversations that we had, you know, as you were preparing to write your second book and so on, is the way that you interrogate the meaning purpose so that there’s a real spiritual and, rigorously intelligent dimension to that as well.

And, you bring in work and performing well at work and you bring in the body and feeling well and being the best you can be physically. Just talk me through, I mean, that’s an awful, you seem like you are focusing everywhere, you know everything all at once, and that being really important to actually being everything that you can be.

So tell me a bit more about integration in the different spheres of life.

Eloise Skinner: Yes, I love this idea of integration. I think it’s been really important to me on my journey towards meaning and purpose, and I’ve always seen finding a sense of meaning and purpose in your life as a component of being well or being whole, or like being as I described in the new book, as being like fully alive.

And I’m not really sure like entirely what that means or if that has a, I don’t think it has a set definition for everyone. I think it’s more like a personal journey that everyone goes on to find, like what is the fullest and deepest and most fulfilling experience I can have of my life.

But I think for me, that process has been really around trying to bring in the mind, body, work, career, relationships, everything sort of coming together to make you who you are as a person. And I think probably that’s quite informed by my spiritual background, like the training that I had in a monastic community where really the purposes of those communities are to bring your whole life together towards one greater purpose.

And so then when you step out of that and you think, okay, here’s a book on career confidence, or here’s a book on eating well, or here’s a book on mental performance. Those are all great, but they’re like parts of a greater whole, and I think for me, the journey has been about trying to bring some of those things back together.

Alison Jones: Well, you talked about feeding into the latest book, so let’s just interrogate that a bit more, that title But Are You Alive? It’s such a, there’s a visceral reaction to that, isn’t there? You can’t hear that title, I mean, in your way, you’re using the power of the question, that kind of instinctive elaboration to immediately get somebody answering it for themselves.

Where did that come from? I guess, what do you want to achieve with that challenge to the reader?

Eloise Skinner: Yes, it’s a great title and just shout out to Jaime who we both know, for coming up with the final formulation…

Alison Jones: Good work.

Eloise Skinner: …that title, excellent work, Jaime. We had , been playing around with a few ideas and we’d really got to this sense of, you know, when you’re trying to name a book, you are like, what is the core thing going on in this book?

And what is an idea that encapsulates all of it. And so we played around with a lot of these ideas of integration, wholeness was a word that kept coming up. Wellness, fullness, and then fundamentally this idea of aliveness. And yes, the title I think is a little bit confronting, is like maybe a bit intimidating for me to put that title in a book. Because I feel like, wow, who am I to be asking such a big question.

But I feel like it’s not really me asking it of the reader, but the reader asking it of themselves, kind of thing. Or like a question that invites a deeper exploration. And I love the idea of it being a question because like you said, I think the questions are often the most important things and really my whole approach as a teacher, as a psychotherapist, and even as a lawyer really, maybe this comes back to law school at the end of the day, is you don’t ever really have a final answer. It all really depends on the circumstances in your lifestyle and who you are and where you are in your life. And so maybe the best thing you can do is gather the questions that are going to help you and then work from there.

Alison Jones: And that concept of aliveness. I mean, if I were responding as a lawyer, I’d be, it depends what you define as alive, you know, chuck it straight back at you. But I guess in a sense, what is your kind of fullest experience. If you were to define what it means to be fully alive today, how would you articulate that?

Eloise Skinner: Yes, and I think it is such a personal, like you said, it’s a very personal question. So what it means to be fully alive will be different in my life than it will be for yours or anyone who’s listening. And again, it’ll be different from time, from season of life to different seasons of life and you know, depending on what you’re focusing on. And it’s always going to be evolving and always shifting.

So the approach that I take in the book where at the very beginning I discuss what does that actually mean? And sort of don’t really reach that conclusion. But for me, I guess it has connotations of a real deep experience of everyday life.

So I have often felt the sense in previous years of like just being stuck on the surface of life a little bit and this feeling of like floating around, like everything’s moving really fast. You’re just scrolling through social media, you’re sort of moving from one step to another of your life without really feeling like you’re in it.

And I had that experience for quite a long time when I was coming into my first years of my corporate career where I felt like, okay, here are the goals of life, and you’re sort of moving through them and you’re getting there. But it doesn’t, I never felt like I was actually in the experience of life which sounds quite strange, but it’s sort of, I guess a feeling of a little bit of disconnection from the present or what’s actually going on in the present moment.

So for me personally, aliveness is depth, it’s present moment awareness. It’s being fully here, it’s being embodied. It’s like feeling well, it’s having a sense of meaning. And yes, just feeling this like full sense of life.

Alison Jones: A great way of articulating. I love that. And that point about being on the surface all the time. Because it’s so easy to do that, isn’t it? There’s enough to fill your day. There’s enough that you don’t actually have to kind of proactively do or think anything because there’s content there to scroll. There’s jobs to be done. You can fill your day without ever going below the surface if you want.

I’m really interested, it’s a very leading question this, and I’m not even sorry. One of the things that I find writing does for me is anchors me down. It makes me stop just floating with the current and forces me into a deeper articulation of my ideas or a deeper experience of the present or a deeper reflection of what I’m doing. I’m going to throw that back to you. What does writing do to you?

Eloise Skinner: Yes, and I will happily accept that leading question because I think we share the same appreciation of writing and its tools. And obviously we’ve worked together quite a few times over the years and like we have always, whenever I’ve worked with you, we’ve always done writing exercises, which I have really enjoyed, you introduced me to free writing back in the day where I’d never done that thing of like writing, just getting all your thoughts out and then like reflecting back on it.

And I’m a huge fan of writing and as well as practical exercises and putting little things into the book that are quite practical and useful, like a little tool that you can try out. That’s really what, like you said, anchors me back down into the everyday moment.

But to come to writing specifically, I think for me, it feels very grounding to write because when you just have stuff sort of floating around in your head or you know, you’re thinking about a lot of things, your mind is going really fast. It can feel really overwhelming. It can feel like, you know, it’s hard to conceptualize what you’re actually thinking or feeling unless you either talk about it, which I guess is like the psychotherapy method.

Or you can write it down, which is another form of sort of working through and I think as well as writing, also reflecting on the things that you are. So I’m a big fan of like writing a lot and also then looking back and seeing like, oh, where are the themes? Where are the consistencies? What are the things that are coming up again and again? And then seeing what that can teach you.

Alison Jones: And there’s writing that you do for yourself like that, and then there’s writing books. You do both. You’ve written three books now, that I know of. So three? Just three. I mean, do you have, like again, this is how I write a book. I have an operations manual for this now. Or is it, has it been different each time or, you know, what would you do next time?

Eloise Skinner: Yes, that’s an interesting question. I think I’m definitely getting, am I getting better at the writing process? I don’t know. I think you have to really know your topic. I mean, that sounds a bit obvious, but I think you’ve got to really have lived something and sort of, not necessarily be the world leading expert in something, but if you’re writing about something, you know, when I wrote a book for junior lawyers, I had just been through the junior lawyer experience, so I felt like, okay, I have the information and also I’ve just literally lived that experience so I can now communicate this concept.

Same with The Purpose Handbook, that came straight out of a decade of finding purpose and with this book, again, like from my psychotherapy training. So I think you’ve got to have the sort of expertise. And then in terms of the writing process, I find that quite satisfying because a lot of it is about organization. Like how are you going to set this out? What are the ways you’re going to work through this in a practical way? I really like structuring things. So I love the Table of Contents doing that work. And then I actually, maybe, I think this was a tool that I picked up when we worked on The Purpose Handbook, but you have your Table of Contents, so you have all the sections within the Table of Contents, and then you break them down into individual word limit sections and you just write those.

And that is, I definitely did that again with this book, just knowing you have to write 500 words on this topic and that’s it. Like that’s all you have to do.

Alison Jones: And that’s doable, right? You can do that.

Eloise Skinner: Absolutely doable and not intimidating and like completely realistic, and I just think that’s the best, that’s one of the best tools I use.

Alison Jones: I’m so glad. Well, it doesn’t work for everybody, nothing works for everybody, but it works for most people.

Yes, so you’ve got your process, you know how you write a book. There’s lots more to being an author than just the writing the book, isn’t there. There’s the whole what do you do with this book now? You’ve got to do the whole marketing hoopla. You are amazing on social media, and I know it’s not your favorite thing in the world, so if you’re happy to, I’d love to talk about that. You know, why is it such a necessary evil and what’s the best way of just getting through it?

Eloise Skinner: Wow. I could say so much on this topic. Maybe this is my next book on why it’s so difficult. But I think it’s a real struggle for authors now because social media is really the primary, maybe the primary place that an author can communicate with their, with new readers at least, even if you have an established base like somewhere else, or, you know, if you come from a different form where you already have an audience like built in maybe that makes it a little bit easier.

I know a lot of people are moving over to SubStack, which I will also be doing at some point, then you can build a bit of a writing community. And I’ve been told by many, many people like, you need to get on this now. It’s much better than social media in the sense that you can really communicate more directly with people.

But aside, I think, you know, to have a presence on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, whatever has become sort of really, really important to the success of a book, whether it’s you promoting it or whether it’s your publisher. I know some authors let their publisher do that work and I think it’s really difficult and challenging because as an author you’re not necessarily the best person to then put your face out there and talk to people about the ideas that you’ve written down. Like, they’re two quite different forms.

Alison Jones: Very different skill sets.

Eloise Skinner: Yes, and it can be frustrating because you really want to share it. You’ve written a good book, you’ve focused a lot of energy and effort on high quality writing, and then you have to then make a little video, a ten second video or lip sync something that communicates the concept perfectly.

And it’s just, it’s tough. And I personally find it very draining emotionally and personally to be on those kind of platforms and to put that work out there. And quite intimidating to be honest, to put myself out there like that consistently. So I don’t know if I have the solution for authors who are also struggling, other than the things that have helped me are to be very structured about it, to know, all right, this is part of the work of the book to put it out there. And I have worked with a coach in the past who used to tell me things that have been very helpful, like it is your responsibility to the book to try and communicate its concepts out there, if you believe it is that helpful, you need to be sharing it with people. These are the things that I repeat to myself every day as I prepare to post one thing on Instagram.

But also to know what you need to do. I need to make a video. Okay, that’s just a task. I need to do that task and then I will step away from that task, so that it doesn’t become overwhelming. And then yes, to stay, and this comes back I guess to the meaning and purpose side of it is like, you know what is the purpose of, you might hate this little particular thing that you have to do, but like, what is the purpose of it? Well, that’s to share the idea of the book. And I think it is going to be helpful and I want it to reach someone who, like me, would’ve been looking for that book and that person might be on Instagram. So now I feel like, okay, I have got to do my Instagram.

Alison Jones: Yes, and you do it very, very well. I’m going to put the links up on the show notes well. I mean, it does help when you are, you know, a ballet dancer and a yoga teacher, and you can do some really good Instagramable stuff. Not every writer has that at their disposal.

Eloise Skinner: Yes, that sometimes does confuse things though, because then you have a little bit of brand identity of people like, oh, I thought you were just like doing the splits or something. It’s all a bit of a nightmare, but who knows?

Alison Jones: But hey, it’s all bringing people in, isn’t it? And you know, at least they’re going to get some good stuff out of that.

So, if I was to ask you, Eloise, with your, it’s really substantial book writing experience now. What’s the one tip that you would give to somebody who is just starting out on this journey? What would you say?

Eloise Skinner: I would say, I’d say good luck.

Alison Jones: Good luck.

Eloise Skinner: Yes. best of luck with it. I’d say it’s a really exciting time to be starting out on the journey. I think it can be an incredibly personal experience to write a book. Like it teaches you a lot about yourself. And so I would say, yes, enjoy it. And my best tip would be to share your ideas, like quite widely and maybe before you feel like you’re ready to share them.

Not necessarily like publishing an extract or whatever, but sharing it with other people, getting their feedback, getting their thoughts, and that has been so helpful for me and something I always, always try and do is like, even if it feels uncomfortable, even if you hate it, even if you’re like cringing, the more you can talk to people, to your potential readers about your ideas, the more you’re going to hit that point where you can communicate in the way that you know people are going to receive it in the way that you want it to be received.

And I think, because I have a bit of a business school background as well, that was like number one thing when you’re making a product or developing a service, is you have got to find the market for it and who actually wants this and why?

And so I think to apply that to a book or a business book, it’s about finding who is going to read that book and to the extent that they really want that problem, whatever you’re trying to offer them, they really want that solved so much that they’re going to look at your book and think, okay, that solves or that helps my issue.

And a lot of that is about communicating with potential readers and figuring out what their problems are and how you can help them.

Alison Jones: It’s a brilliant point, in a sense every book is a startup, isn’t it? And you have to do that work with it, and just a little less expensive than most startups.

Eloise Skinner: Yes, yes, maybe a bit less stressful as well.

Alison Jones: A little bit.

Eloise Skinner: Well maybe, depending.

Alison Jones: Yes, and actually it’s a good analogy, isn’t it? Because for many startups, a book is the fullest expression of the intellectual property behind that or the approach that it embodies. So it’s a good partner for any kind of initiative that you’re launching on the world, forces you to think it through at the very least.

Eloise Skinner: Yes, definitely. And I think once you get over the initial hurdle of sharing, it becomes so much easier. Once you’ve had a few people, then it becomes much more comfortable to be, you know, to share more broadly. And yes, your ideas become so much more refined when you are communicating them with others, I think.

Alison Jones: Yes, and I love that point about even if it’s, especially when it feels uncomfortable, that’s when it’s most important to do it, isn’t it? Otherwise, you’ve got too comfortable in your ideas and that’s not a good thing. great tip.

And I always ask my guests, as you know, to recommend a book as well, that they think listeners should read.

You’re not allowed to recommend, But Are You Alive?, The Purpose Handbook or The Junior Lawyers Handbook or anything, sorry. But what book do you think that has really helped you and would you would pass on to other people?

Eloise Skinner: I think I would, I mean, this is maybe a little predictable, I think I would have to say a Viktor Frankel book. So maybe Man’s Search for Meaning, I think is a really nice introduction to some of the ideas, the second half of the book and the first half of the book, obviously incredibly moving and personal experience. So it’s an interesting mix of something that’s incredibly engaging and also something that introduces the reader to some more technical theories. That’s actually quite an interesting structure for a book. I don’t think I’ve come across many books that are like half autobiography and half technical theory.

So it’s a nice way to sort of explore the ideas of logotherapy without feeling too like you’re reading a textbook or feeling too intimidated by it. But I think those ideas, they can be helpful in businesses, they can be helpful if you’re a writer, they’re just helpful ideas to have in your portfolio.

Alison Jones: Yes, it’s a very good point. Had Viktor Frankl come to me, I would’ve probably said, Viktor, you’ve got two books here. But thank goodness he didn’t, and he wouldn’t have listened anyway.

Eloise Skinner: Yes, I mean, it’s interesting. I would be interested to know if there’s another, I’m going to go on the hunt for books that have done that again.

Alison Jones: It’s a book of two halves.

Eloise Skinner: Yes.

Alison Jones: Brilliant, great recommendation. Thank you.

And if people want to find out more about you or about the new book, where should they go?

Eloise Skinner: So my website’s probably the best place, which is eloiseskinner.com. And other than that social media, I’m on there confusingly as @eloiseallexia. But if you just type my name into any social media search engine, you should be able to find it.

Alison Jones: And I’ll put up Instagram and TikTok are those the two?

Eloise Skinner: Oh TikTok still going on. Still going. But yes, Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn

Alison Jones: …and LinkedIn. Brilliant. I’ll put those links up on the show notes as always at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com.

Absolute joy to talk to you today. Thank you so much. We just scratched the surface of the stuff that we could have had a conversation about, but it’s been really fun. Thank you.

Eloise Skinner: Oh, thank you so much for having me. And yes, such a helpful podcast that has helped me a lot in the past as well, so I’m honoured to be here.

Alison Jones: Oh, good.

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