Dr. Paul White is the author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace which is all about improving workplace relationships simply by learning your coworkers’ language of appreciation.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up outside of Kansas City in the context of a family-owned business that my father, grandfather, and mother ran. As the youngest of four children, and born somewhat later in my dad’s business life, I had many opportunities others do not – frequently going to “the cabin” on a small lake where I fished, swam, sailed, skied, and explored nature; going on vacations across the country, and having a number of cultural experiences. Generally, my attention was focused on “having a good time” as a boy, playing all kinds of sports, being involved in music, and having lots of friends.
Like all of us, however, my parents weren’t perfect. While my father was extremely generous to others (myself included), he was quite bright and driven, which led to him being impatient with others (myself included!). He seemingly meant well by teaching us how to do things better or more efficiently, but the message I received often was “You aren’t good enough”. This, in combination, with his brusque way of communicating led to a number of shaming experiences which unfortunately led to several decades (unknowingly) of driving myself to achieve in order to prove myself. Fortunately, in the past few years, I have been engaged in processes that are helping me to heal and grow past my earlier wounds and to approach life in a more balanced way.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
That there is a Creator in control of the universe and who cares about us. Learning to live consistently with this perspective — in contrast to an intellectual belief that doesn’t really impact my daily life experience – has been life-giving to me.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Many of the messages are implicit, rather than direct. With all of the self-help books for business leaders, the message communicated often is “you aren’t doing good enough” and “you need to do better”. Similarly, I feel there is an unhealthy bias and expectation that business and organizational leaders should be effective leaders at all stages of an organization’s life (as a founder, as the builder/grower, in transitioning to the next generation) – which I think is unrealistic for most leaders (there are a very select few who seem to have the combination of skills and personality to be successful across all stages.)
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
The season of life when I pursued my Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology was difficult. My wife and I had twin two-year-old sons when I started, and then we had our third son a year later. In addition to being a full-time graduate student, I worked 20 hours/week as a teaching assistant and saw counseling clients on Saturdays. My weekdays were long – commuting into downtown Atlanta for morning classes and staying until 10 pm teaching two nights a week.
I pushed myself (and my wife) too hard – resulting in being sick virtually every academic break plus losing the use of my upper right arm for several months due to a pinched nerve. And my wife was hospitalized with exhaustion. We survived, but barely. I completed my coursework, passed my comprehensive exams, and collected the data for my dissertation – all in record time + receiving the Outstanding Doctoral Student Award for my college in the university. But it wasn’t worth it. It took several years for us to recover and heal (both physically and emotionally) from the driven, fast-paced life we had submitted ourselves to. Only with “dialing it back”, supportive friends, and gaining a healthier perspective on career goals and achievement have we been able to move forward into a more sane pace of life.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Perseverance. Across numerous stages of my life, the fact that I didn’t give up on pursuing a goal was probably the critical factor that led to my eventually reaching the goal. When I applied for my master’s degree, I didn’t have enough background to demonstrate a commitment to the field. So I was admitted on probation, went ahead and took the initial courses, and “filled in the gaps” by volunteering and taking low-level jobs.
Another example is when I identified the possibility of applying The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Chapman to work-based relationships. I pursued him for a year (calling or emailing every 4-6 weeks) before he agreed to meet with me to discuss the possibility of working together on this project. I then began developing our online assessment (which over 300,000 people have now taken) and training materials (which has resulted in over 1,000 certified facilitators) and worked on writing the book for a year. The results (500,000+ books sold, in 27 languages) have been worth it.
What is your morning routine?
I typically wake up between 6:45 – 7 a.m. I have found that I need more sleep than many people (I do best on 8 ½ hrs) – partly because I go at a fast pace once I’m up. I shower & get dressed, stretch, eat breakfast and chat with my wife, and drive to work (15-20 minutes). While driving I often listen to encouraging music or a spiritually-oriented podcast. Once I’m at the office I take some time to reflect, pray and do some reading to get my focus correct (both for the day and for the direction of my life!)
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Paying attention to my body – from two perspectives. First, learning to listen to the messages my body is sending me: when I’m feeling stressed when I need to do some physical activity when my inner thoughts and emotions are “talking to” me through physical sensations (tenseness in my forehead, a tightness in my chest, feeling teary.)
Additionally, as I get older (I’m in my mid-sixties), I find I need to be more and more intentional in taking care of my body. Not only getting exercise and eating well but also stretching more, resting more (not necessarily sleeping), and retaining strength.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Two strategies come to mind. First, the importance of “when” (from Daniel Pink’s book). Understanding when my mind works best at different tasks has been extremely helpful. For example, to write content for an article or do highly focused logically-based work, I am most effective during the morning (8 am to noon). Interpersonal tasks (which take less emotional effort for me) fit well into the afternoon. I’m best at my creative work later in the day (and at night while sleeping – I keep a pen and paper on my bedstand). Secondly, “filling the gaps”. There can be several five- to twenty-minute segments of available time throughout a week. While I don’t feel compelled to fill all of them with work (sometimes it is better for me to stand up and stretch, take a walk outside, go chat with one of my team members), using these short snippets of time to get small tasks done then allows me to use my longer time blocks for tackling bigger projects.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
To be honest, the Bible has been the most influential book for me over my lifetime. In addition to many practical principles for living life (“Do to others what you would have them do to you”), I have obtained much peace and guidance in dealing with the challenges of life from a cross-cultural and historical perspective on the purpose and meaning of life.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
An ancient Middle Eastern proverb has impacted me much of my life: “He who walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm”. As a result, I continually try to surround myself with individuals who have lived (and are living) life well, who will have a positive impact on my life, and those I can turn to for wise counsel.