"Peeling away the layers that we unconsciously cover ourselves up with."
- Molly Hayward
Molly Hayward sits down to talk human to me about contradictions, love, empathy, perception, criticism, being conscious, and freedom.
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Our Conversation with Molly Hayward
Sync up recording by adding 02:04
00:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay. Sweet. Molly, finally...
00:04 Molly Hayward: Jeff. [chuckle]
00:05 Jeffrey Shiau: After so many locations, I've been thinking about recording you. It's really funny. A little background, I actually already, as you know, had a conversation and did this with your current partner, Liam Dean.
00:19 Molly Hayward: That's right.
00:20 Jeffrey Shiau: And he's an artist and I am super stoked to do Talk Human To Me with you. I start every episode with the same question and it's, what about humans strikes you the most?
00:43 Molly Hayward: Man, I wished I had had these questions ahead of time. I've been thinking a lot lately about contradictions. And I think that's probably what strikes me most about humans, is sort of our capacity for extreme love and empathy and care and also our capacity for destruction and anger and fear. And I think that we often try to be one thing. But at least in my experience, I've found that, that's impossible. And my vulnerability perhaps is admitting that though I try to be a kind and loving person, I don't always achieve that, and that's okay.
01:56 Jeffrey Shiau: Are you feeling a lot of hurt when you're thinking about this personally, or is it almost just a realization, an observation that you think, "Well, I think humans are always gonna be like this. It's how we reconcile it and continue to not kill each moving forward." You know what I mean?
02:16 Molly Hayward: Yeah. [chuckle] I think it has to start out as a personal observation. You have to have self awareness. So for me, when I become aware of what I'm doing, I've tried more to be less judgemental of it.
02:39 Jeffrey Shiau: Of yourself?
02:40 Molly Hayward: Of myself, yeah. To always be striving to be a good and kind and compassionate and loving person. But when I'm not looking at that and trying to figure out what's actually going on beneath the surface, because I think a lot of us go through life and we kind of accept things as inevitable within our personalities when I really believe that if you begin to cultivate a consciousness about the thoughts you're having, the feelings you're having, it's not to invalidate them, it's just to understand yourself better and to be able to start there as a place for change if in fact you do want to change.
03:28 Jeffrey Shiau: So what was your mindset before that? You alluded that this was a practice that you had to get to? Were you at a point where you were actually just almost emotionally destructive to yourself or...
03:41 Molly Hayward: Yeah. I think that I'm a pretty fiery person to begin with but I also can be very, very soft and very sweet and very kind. Again, going back to that idea of contradiction, that has always been a bit of struggle for me because it was sort of, "Well, I know I'm a good person, I know I'm capable of being in this way so why is it that sometimes, I'm angry or I say something that I think about later and I feel terrible about?" It has just become something that, as I started to look at those feelings and thoughts, I've just been able to not certainly resolve but close the gap. Close the time gap between that thing happening or that insensitive thing coming out of my mouth and me feeling bad or guilty about it and me sort of understanding exactly what was actually going on inside my head. And really just lessening my time of suffering, that space when all of that is sort of going on. That to me, is real suffering and being able to be aware of your thinking and sort of just start to examine it, you start to close the gap. I'll give you an example.
05:38 Molly Hayward: This morning I was on a phone call, on a business call and I was working from home and so my partner Liam was here and I asked him after I got off the call, "What do I sound like to you when I'm on those calls?" And he sort of said, "Well, you... I think you could be, you don't really sound like yourself, you could just be a little more real with people. You sound kind of like you're trying to be someone older." And I got so hurt by that and I just shut down and I was really offended and just totally kind of gave him the silent treatment. And within about 10 or 15 minutes, he kind of noticed what was going on and realized what I was upset about and was so profusely apologetic and kind of clarified what he had meant by that. That it wasn't about sort of... It wasn't meant to be a criticism but more just an encouragement. And my willingness to hear that even, might not have existed one or two years ago, especially with somebody I was in relationship with. I might have just been angry for days about something like that. And what I realized was that, that just kind of, it touched a nerve in me that is still insecure or sensitive about know the way I am perceived. And because I was able to recognize that really quickly, I didn't have to stay mad at him. We didn't have to lose a day together. We didn't have to... And I didn't have to suffer. And so, that awareness just can save you a lot of time and heartache over time.
08:04 Jeffrey Shiau: You're mentioning this almost microscope that you are putting on yourself whenever someone is interpreting, even someone that's close and you know they have their best intentions at heart but when you describe the way you felt like, "Oh, this... " It made it sound like suddenly you are standing in a clown suit in front of an audience and there's a huge microscope on you and you're being ridiculed like...
08:32 Molly Hayward: Totally.
08:35 Jeffrey Shiau: Was this something you've always been very conscious about through your whole life, or was it only recently maybe when you started entering your adult years, or is this something that you... Something that only turns on in very particular moments?
09:05 Molly Hayward: Well, it takes a lifetime for some people to get good at receiving criticism and that for me is really at the crux of it. And I'm definitely... As your confidence as an adult develops, that probably becomes less difficult because you're more immune to kind of the external judgments or thoughts of other people.
09:49 Jeffrey Shiau: You begin to embody, "I give no shits" pretty much all day.
09:52 Molly Hayward: Yes, exactly. Zero shits given. And so, for me at least, it has been a practice. And again, when I began to notice the way that I felt when I received criticism from people that I respect, I was more able to kind of, instead of again, wallowing or tensing up, or shutting down, for me, it was sort of almost just like a door opening like a hatch where it was like, "Oh, what does this this lead to? Where did this actually originate? What is this about?" Because yeah, for the most part, I really don't give a shit, but at the same time it's like, "Then why does it hurt?" And for me, it's this kind of constant striving for perfection or at least kind of... That's definitely a habit I'm trying to break too. But when you're trying to be perfect and somebody tells you that you're not, that's a blow.
11:28 Molly Hayward: And so, as I'm getting older, hopefully, at the very least I'm again, able to close that gap and just shorten that length of time where I'm just kind of in my own head and seething and actually use it as an opportunity to kind of look at an old wound or look at some belief that I was labouring under that simply isn't true. Or to just remind myself that everyone has an opinion and you might think that I came off one way and the person I was actually talking to might have heard something completely different. At the end of the day, you can't control the way people see you though. You can only be who you are. And those types of moments, they're just these sort of reminders that our work is not done.
12:51 Jeffrey Shiau: Right. Right. And what you're talking about now is reminding me just how important perception is in... Especially in language. The language Liam was saying to you maybe had a different interpretation in his head. Maybe he's saying, "Oh, you sound like you're older than you are." is, "Oh, you have a very developed, well-thought out tone." 'Cause that might be, the what he means by, "Older than you are" might be one definition in his head, but it could also mean, "Oh, you sound grounded." Or however you interpret it in your head. And then, there's also just the thought of, well, in that situation, as an entrepreneur, you find yourself constantly in a fast-paced environment or whatever, some stressful environment. And I found that lately for myself at least, you made me just now reflect back to a time I actually publicly blew up in a professional setting. Just completely snapped, from an off-cuff remark that someone had made but it wasn't that big of a deal. But I just exploded in the room with our Board President there. And afterwards, I just thought to myself, "Holy shit, I cannot believe I just did that."
14:39 Jeffrey Shiau: And it's made me realize how much just physiology of my stress or tension enabled that so quickly. I wanna kinda dive into those two things. One, is that the topic of perception and two, almost just the health of people who are finding themselves in constant high tension or fast-paced environments. What are you doing to kind of assuage and massage that and almost train that part to calm down on yourself, right? In terms of perception, do you find yourself in constant... Because going back to what you were saying about conflicting parts of being a human, do you find yourself in constant conflict of perception when you're communicating with people? Or do you find... I, for the most part actually connect with people right away. We get each other.
15:49 Molly Hayward: Yeah. It's interesting because I do think on one hand... I'm thinking about when I will give a talk to a group or speak publicly and I tend to have a pretty measured speaking style but in that moment it's like, "Okay, I'm being perceived as the intelligent and articulate professional."
16:35 Jeffrey Shiau: How about with your friends?
16:43 Molly Hayward: I don't know if my speech actually changes, but I swear, I'll drop my g's if I think it will add to the conversation somehow. What I was gonna say is, when I get up and speak to a group of people, I have that professional tone and style of speaking but the feedback I get after those talks, overwhelmingly, the sort of positive feedback is always tied to how real I was, or how vulnerable I was, or that anecdote that I provided that totally just eliminated how many times I fucked up, or how badly and people could really relate to that. And I wasn't trying to be this perfect, polished, "everything just fell into my lap and worked out perfectly." People really appreciated just the willingness to be real about the good and the bad.
18:04 Jeffrey Shiau: So it's almost, if you had just started with the way you talk with friends, that might have connected more right off the bat?
18:16 Molly Hayward: Yeah. Yeah.
18:18 Jeffrey Shiau: It's interesting. You just made me also think about the comfort that people get, for example, when they hear a familiar voice. The comfort that they get when they hear someone that they feel they can empathize with them, right? So it almost makes sense that when you hear an unnatural tone that is maybe very rehearsed that is unnatural and there is no familiarity in that, unless it's actually a friend or a family that actually talks like that right?
18:57 Molly Hayward: Yes.
18:58 Jeffrey Shiau: So they're almost in a position where they're... You might actually have a whole crowd that's tense listening 'cause they feel like, "Oh, I'm supposed to be tense." Whereas you're always relaxed with family or friends again, barring any traumatic [chuckle] relationships people have out there, but that's really interesting just to... Just because you're not really talking about necessarily words you're using, you're just talking about tone.
19:29 Molly Hayward: Right, yeah. It's the willingness to be real with people is... It creates a level of trust. If I'm willing to share my most controversial opinion, or my worst failure, or my most embarrassing moment, or curse in front of [chuckle] a crowd of people that I don't know, it's an immediate indication to them that I'm just like you. I'm up here on stage, yes, but I don't have all the answers. I haven't gotten everything right and I'm a completely a paradoxical and flawed human being. And there are few people I would venture to say out there who hold no insecurities, who aren't striving to be better in some way, who don't look up to certain people or idolize certain people. And we totally live in a culture that supports and encourages that. That idolization. And you get up in front of people and you show them something that's maybe not pretty but is relatable and real, and they appreciate that so much more. I know I do.
21:34 Jeffrey Shiau: Did you grow up in a big family?
21:38 Molly Hayward: I was one of three.
21:39 Jeffrey Shiau: One of three. Is it sisters, brothers?
21:42 Molly Hayward: Sisters. Three girls.
21:45 Jeffrey Shiau: Are you middle, oldest, or...
21:47 Molly Hayward: Middle.
21:47 Jeffrey Shiau: You're the middle?
21:48 Molly Hayward: Yeah.
21:49 Jeffrey Shiau: So did you guys grow up really close?
21:54 Molly Hayward: Yeah.
21:55 Jeffrey Shiau: Do you feel like you had developed almost relational bio-sensory chemistry, whatever you wanna call it and interacting with at least other women, right? Like do you find yourself, I guess, let's say we're hanging out at some party. Did you find your speech pattern and the way you're perceiving or receiving signals to be very different when you're talking with women than when you're talking with men or whatever other people identify?
22:40 Molly Hayward: I don't think so, but I never thought about it.
22:43 Jeffrey Shiau: Did I just make you just conscious about that?
22:45 Molly Hayward: Now I'm totally self conscious.
22:48 Molly Hayward: I'm replaying conversations I had earlier today with men and women and trying to discern if there was something different. I feel like I'm who I am no matter who I'm talking to. But I don't know.
23:13 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. And then going back to how you're receiving things. You're obviously in different environments of communication. Now, would you say you're at a... Do you have an emotional ecosystem that's really diverse within yourself where you're... Do you find yourself switching between characters throughout the day?
23:48 Molly Hayward: Oh, 100%.
23:50 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah?
23:50 Molly Hayward: Yeah. I don't know if it's just my personality, or the type of work that I do, or the position I hold, or the stage of life that I'm at. But from one day to the next, from one hour to the next, I can feel like I'm living a totally different life and I think that speaks to the power of perception and perspective. I think that...
24:37 Jeffrey Shiau: Don't worry folks.
24:39 Molly Hayward: They're not coming for us. [chuckle] I don't think they're coming for us.
24:45 Jeffrey Shiau: This is our typical San Francisco apartment. That sound is insulation in the world, right? [chuckle]
24:50 Molly Hayward: That's... Yeah. I wish.
24:58 Molly Hayward: I find myself... I really do find myself kinda switching between or vacillating between being extraordinarily happy and grateful and kind of at peace with where I am in my life. And just seeing all of the amazing and beautiful things in my life and in the world. I just feel so lucky to be alive. And there are other days where it's a struggle just to convince myself that it's going to be okay. And I really, as I've gotten older, not that I've perfected it by any means, but I've realized that there are certain things that keep me in that positive space and there are things that take me to that negative space. And the positives are nothing new. It's eating well, it's sleeping enough, it's resting, it's taking days off when you need it, it's taking the weekend off, it's getting outside, it's sweating or moving your body or stretching, it's meditating, it's reading, it's praying if that's where I'm at. And doing those things, it just puts me... It brings me back to myself. There's so much that I do and create, and so many people that I communicate with and interact with on a day-to-day basis and I so easily disconnect from myself and it's like...
27:14 Jeffrey Shiau: What do you mean by that? Do you... From yourself as a...
27:17 Molly Hayward: I go outside of myself. I'm no longer aware of my own desires, my own feelings, my awareness of my body. And then when I sit down in meditation in the morning, it's like this, it still shocks me when I sit down in that space and I feel this calm. And it's like sitting down with an old friend. And it's like somebody that you don't get to see everyday, but as soon as you sit down for coffee, it's like, "This is where I wanna be. This feels so good and nourishing." And as soon as I stand up and start my day, I forget how good that feels and I just lose track of it. I just tend to put myself last. I feed myself last and make sure everything else is taken care of and everyone else is taken care of before I take care of myself and that really fucks with your head. That's a really fast-tracking way to get to a place where you're exhausted, and you're resentful, and you struggle to get out of bed in the morning, and you get angry at people, and you... Scowl as you're sitting on the subway. It's totally a snowball effect.
29:36 Molly Hayward: But when I think about how lucky I am to do the work that I do, how lucky I am to work with people that I consider my closest friends, when I think about having a loving partner, when I think about the fact I just have a roof over my head and I can feed myself everyday. As soon as I start to remind myself of that, everything changes. And I would have looked at something one way and now I'm looking at it at a totally different way and I'm just marvelling at it. And that is one small example of the contradiction, the daily or weekly contradiction that I experience. And it's just like it cycles. It's like everything. It has a cycle, it goes up and it goes down. And...
30:40 Jeffrey Shiau: Do you remember a time... Let's go to one side of that cycle where... What was a point in your life where you just felt that you've hit complete rock bottom and describe that? Have you experienced... Was it something physiological? Have you or are you in the group that has experienced personal depression? Or...
31:05 Molly Hayward: Sure.
31:06 Jeffrey Shiau: Struggled with just almost not necessarily actively harming yourself but just actively disengaging from yourself?
31:16 Molly Hayward: Totally. I'm thinking of... This like 10 years ago now. And I hate the fact that I'm at an age now where I can say, "10 years ago." And I was an adult already. [chuckle] It doesn't feel that long ago. But I had just gone through a break-up and I was just devastated. Not because I thought we shouldn't have broken up. But just because it's painful to separate from somebody that you've been close with. And I just remember one night I got... It was 1:00 in the morning and I just... I wish I could remember what song I was listening to but I just turned the music up loud and poured myself a gin and tonic and just got rip-roaring drunk. And it was this... That is one of the only moments in my life where I truly felt like I was being self-destructive. And it was...
32:48 Jeffrey Shiau: This last more than a day?
32:50 Molly Hayward: No. It was just that one night. But I sort of was conscious of doing it as I was doing it. I was like, "I know this is going to take me even deeper into this dark hole. I just wanna go there." And because coming out wasn't an option at that moment. And I don't know. There's like... You understand that sort of... It's totally hard to describe, but that moment of self-destructiveness. It's like a good kind of pain. I got my first tattoo a couple of years ago and it's painful but you don't hate it. There's almost this adrenaline rush that comes with it. And obviously you take anything out to its extreme and it's not going to be good for you. And I don't condone or encourage that. But it's interesting to live in these human bodies and kind of under... Begin to recognize the way that our bodies are vehicles for emotions. And it goes both ways.
34:38 Jeffrey Shiau: And contradictions.
34:39 Molly Hayward: And contradictions. And yeah. You just start to realize that there is no up without down. There is no... Maybe there is no pain without pleasure or vice versa. But, yeah, that would be the first thing that comes to mind when I think about sort of that darkest part of that dark place. It's like the place where you aren't trying to make better.
35:23 Jeffrey Shiau: So on the on the opposite spectrum what doesn't mean to you to have a fulfilling life?
35:38 Molly Hayward: It's the really simple shit that everyone already knows about. It's...
35:46 Jeffrey Shiau: Maybe it's not as simple?
35:48 Molly Hayward: Well, it's not simple. And it's not always easy, I will say that. And again, by no means have I had a straight and narrow path to get to where I am today. And again, I don't always feel every single day I'm the luckiest girl in the world. But overall, when I feel good now, it's because I recognize and I'm grateful for, that's key, the fact that I have helped to build this thing that started out as an idea in my head years ago and has now blossomed into a business that has this amazing impact on the world. And I get to do that with people that I genuinely love and care about. It is just miraculous to me the people who have come to be part of the Cora team and the Cora family, that I get to work with every day.
37:11 Molly Hayward: And even when San Francisco feels really, really expensive, and really grinding, I'm still totally grateful that I have an amazing apartment and I can afford to buy food 'cause that's not a given in this world. And it's also when I get to spend time with people that I love and care about and who nourish me, and when I get to spend time by myself. Like going back to just that simple act of sitting down on a meditation cushion and not having a phone, not having anywhere to be, not checking emails, not thinking about all the shit I have to do that day. It's like, "Who am I? What do I want?" It's almost this moment of macro-life examination. And I'm not thinking about the minor details of paying a bill, or meeting a deadline, or answering an email, or any of that stuff. I am just getting out of my own way. And sort of getting out of my own way and allowing both a stillness, as well as a very... I think when you allow that stillness, you get a really potent... You hit a moment where you relax into life, and you're not trying, and you're not striving, and you're not stressed out. It's living in the moment. It's being fully present and aware, being in your own body. And that's the magic moment, and it is only a moment, typically. But...
39:51 Jeffrey Shiau: That moment is powerful. Like in your case, I'm sure there's a moment of, one, reconciling with all those personal contradictions that you're feeling. Two, just healing. And three, just having nothing for a moment when your life is constantly filled with so many things. And it's interesting, I always talk to my friends, I never not make time to just eat some food without doing anything. I never not make time to just sit by myself because I think when I'm by myself, it's that moment where I can be completely selfish in my own thoughts, and let it... Again, going back to what you're talking, is to heal itself. So I end this question, I end all these interviews with the same question as well. It's, ultimately, what's the point of all of this?
41:18 Molly Hayward: For me, the point is peeling away the layers that we unconsciously put on ourselves and cover ourselves up with over time in order to be who we think we should be. The point is, peeling those layers off, one by one, and it's not always painless. But it's about working to undo our conditioning, and undo our ways of thinking that don't serve us and healing the wounds that still give us pain. Because when you get to... When you do that, you get to a place of freedom and when you're in a place of freedom, you are free to be naturally creative, and naturally open, and naturally loving and to be who you came here to be. That's the point. Is getting to the place where you feel like that's true.
Equipment & Software:
Audacity for Mac
WD My Passport Ultra 1 TB
Macbook Pro Retina 15inch Late 2013
Smile by Daniel Alan Gautreau
Tiny Bits by Felipe Adorno Vassao
Time & Reflection by Bjorn Lynne
Retro Video Game Hotseat by Bjorn Lynne