138. Bernard Roth – The Achievement Habit: Take Command of Your Life

My guest today joined the Stanford Design Division faculty in 1962. He was the youngest member of the university faculty and now decades later, he’s the oldest faculty member.  His name is Bernard (Bernie) Roth and he is the author of The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life. As one of the founders of Stanford’s d.school, he remains active in the d.school’s development and currently serves as the Academic Director.  Bernie’s primary intention as both an educator and a person, is to empower his students, family and friends to have fulfilling lives. He’s the kind of teacher we all want, and some are fortunate to have in their academic careers. 

In 2003, Bernie joined a group of colleagues looking to bring more cross-disciplinary collaboration into education. This was the genesis of the d.school, and it represents the sense of well-roundedness and personal integration that Bernie exudes.  He is a person whose philosophy and commitments mark all he does, from the classroom to the home and whose consistency in denying fallacious crutches in our beliefs, is rivaled only by his consistency in trying to live and be as best he can.  Bernie’s work is perhaps epitomized in the way he encourages his students and others to take concrete action to either produce a result that matters to them – something they have always wanted to do but haven’t done – or resolve a problem in their life. 

Bernie’s insight is fascinating and counterintuitive.  His ways of conceptualizing the world and the ways people and events engage in it made me think. I have no doubt they will make you think as well.  I found myself challenged by Bernie’s differentiation between trying and doing, along with his charge to trade contemplation for action.  I was grateful to be able to speak with Bernie and I hope that the conversation, and Bernie’s work, are useful and inspiring to you.

“The best thing in life is to just say what you do or what you don’t do without worrying about why.” – Bernie Roth

This week on The School for Good Living Podcast:

  • Bernie’s belief that life is about itself and that the rest is all made up
  • What Bernie means when he says he’s dedicated to living
  • How two improbable and unplanned events led Bernie to work at Stanford
  • Why Bernie thinks our behavior is automatic and our so-called reasons are excuses
  • The complexity of our motivation and the driving force of self-image
  • How we should focus on what we do and don’t do, not on the question of why
  • How we can change our attitude and self-image and Bernie’s story about timeliness
  • We can change things and life is basically a problem-solving activity
  • How we impart meaning to our lives by where we start and stop a story
  • What Bernie’s class called “The Designer in Society”
  • How a course project has led to concrete change and stories Bernie is proud of
  • How this course and the d.school have changed over time
  • Why Bernie believes people need to differentiate between trying and doing
  • Life is like a crap shoot and most big things happen accidentally
  • Bernie’s thoughts on presence, living day by day and being able to say, “I am here”
  • Thoughts on traveling light, spending sabbaticals abroad and shedding a critical outlook
  • How Bernie thinks Americans can best think about American “specialism”
  • Don’t over-rate or under-rate money and know some of our money-mindset is inherited
  • How Bernie’s two books differ and what his most recent book writing process looked like
  • How writing the book and connecting with his agent involved accidental happenings
  • Why Bernie says writing a book is a living process and his advice to aspiring writers

Resources Mentioned:

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