Author Interview: Shana Lebowitz Gaynor

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Shana Lebowitz Gaynor is a correspondent for Insider, where she covers career development and workplace culture. Her new book, Don’t Call It Quits: Turn the Job You Have into the Job You Love (AmazonBookshop), just hit shelves.

I couldn’t wait to talk to Shana about happiness, habits, and work.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

Shana: Reading. Specifically, reading novels. More specifically, reading novels on the subway. I find it’s the only activity that consistently relaxes me, though I can’t say why with any certainty. Maybe it’s because I lose myself, so to speak, in the narrative. Or maybe it’s because the text sparks the kind of creativity you mentioned by bringing up new ideas and feelings. I used to read during my morning and evening commute; now that I’m working from home I do it much less often. I’ve been thinking about ways to add that back into my daily routine.

You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

Thank you for saying so! I’m still surprised when I tell someone about the premise of Don’t Call It Quits (learn how to craft a more fulfilling work life without quitting a job you don’t love) and they tell me that they’ve done something like that in their career. It happens all the time. So I’d remind anyone who’s currently feeling frustrated in their career that they’re not alone, and that there are plenty of relatively simple ways to get unstuck.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

When I first read The Four Tendencies, I identified most closely with the Obliger profile — but knowing that’s the most common profile, I wished I could choose another instead! Alas, I’m just now, in my thirties, beginning to accept that the only way I’ll achieve a personal goal (like practicing yoga more often or more reliably returning calls from friends) is to have someone else hold me accountable. That said, I see some of myself in all four profiles. I refuse to accept book recommendations, for example, and will actively avoid current bestsellers because I don’t want others’ tastes to determine my own selections — a Rebellious tendency for sure!

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?

My thoughts veer often into existential, and sometimes morbid, territory. (The meaning of life, the inevitability of death, etc.) I’m not sure these existential meanderings are uniformly unproductive, but I do find it’s easier to get through the day when I don’t engage in them!

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

I became a vegetarian almost immediately after I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (AmazonBookshop) in 2012. I’d been teetering on the edge of that change for a while, but Safran Foer’s argument was convincing enough (and the imagery he uses was disturbing enough) that it pushed me to make the change.

Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

Many, many books have changed the way I see the world. I could hardly name them all. While on maternity leave earlier this year, I read A Life’s Work (AmazonBookshop), Rachel Cusk’s memoir of early motherhood, and I was struck by how deftly Cusk articulated some of the experiences I was having at that very moment. In one chapter, she describes feeling naked and self-conscious when in public without her child and I was heartened to learn that I wasn’t the only new mother to feel this way.

In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

I think many professionals believe that quitting their job will help them feel happier at work. Sometimes this is true — but often it isn’t!

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