Rob Henderson has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Cambridge, where he studied as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. He obtained a B.S. in psychology from Yale University and is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. Rob grew up in foster homes in Los Angeles. He joined the United States Air Force when he was seventeen. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe. He’s the author of a new book called Troubled: A Memoir of Family, Foster Care, and Social Class.

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  • Self-discipline beats motivation. Often, people say they need to feel “motivated” to perform a task. Motivation, though, is just a feeling. Self-discipline is “I’m going to do this, regardless of how I feel.”
  • Air Force Training – “My favorite part of training was the camaraderie. I especially enjoyed drill and marching. The synchronized movement with others, moving as a single element, instilled a feeling of belonging.” – The military provided a structured environment.
  • Rob said that whenever he felt like an outsider, he sought refuge in helping others. Because of that, he volunteered at New Haven Reads near Yale. While there, he met a kid named Guillermo. There, he learned how to relate with others by sharing his story.
  • Writing: Rob was accepted into the War Horse Writing Seminar at Columbia University. The program was designed to help veterans write about their experiences.
  • External Achievement: “Upon obtaining a few totems of achievement, I came to realize that they are flawed measures of success. External accomplishments are trivial compared with a warm and loving family. Going to school is far less important than having a parent who cares enough to make sure you get to class every day.”
  • Two of Rob’s mom’s friends came to him for advice. They were talking about their 6-year-old son and they were concerned with how “smart” he was. They asked, “Should we be reading to him more?” And Rob responded, “Yeah, but not because it will expand his vocabulary. Read to him because it will remind him that you love him.”
  • The best and worst things about Yale:
    • Best
      • Students work ethic
      • Focused
      • Unique pursuits
    • Worst
      • Self-censorship
  • One of his instructors at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas asked the class one Friday afternoon if they had any questions. Rob asked, “If you could do it all over again, would you still have enlisted?” – “Understand that the Air Force is going to ask a lot from you. Just remember that you can get a lot in return from it, as well.”
  • Luxury beliefs – Rob coined the term to describe beliefs that mark the believer as holding the approved opinion while harming those less privileged.
  • Lessons Learned The Hard Way:
    • You are what you do. Not what you say or what you believe. People use words to strategically justify their actions and blind you to who they really are. Don’t be fooled by cheap talk. Pay close attention to how people actually spend their time and effort.
    • Good conversations are made up of questions. Avoid speaking for longer than three minutes without asking one.
    • When seeking advice, ask people in a different life station than you—ahead or behind, older or younger. People in the same position are often biased by envy, and this can color the advice they give.
    • One of the most common life regrets people report is “I wish I had let myself be happier.” You’ll never be happy if you continue thinking that you’ll be happy one day.
      • “The study of happiness often sounds like a sermon for traditional values. The numbers show it is not the rich, privileged, robust, or good-looking who are happy; it is those who have spouses, friends, religion, and challenging, meaningful work” – Steven Pinker (How The Mind Works)
  • 35% of people in America graduate with a bachelor’s degree, 11% of people from poor families graduate from college. And just 3% of foster kids graduate from college. When you think about Rob’s story, it’s hard not to be inspired. He’s beaten almost impossible odds to not only graduate from college, but he served our country, then went to Yale, graduated, and got his PhD from Cambridge. It’s awesome to see what he’s done and he’s still so young and at the beginning of his career. I love it when good things happen to good people.
  • Life/career advice – “Be a fish out of water. Do something hard. Be uncomfortable.” That was advice for a recent grad, but I think it’s useful for all of us.
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Time Stamps

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Episode 078: Kat Cole – From Hooters Waitress To President of Cinnabon

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Episode #300: AJ & Keith Hawk – How To Instill Work Ethic & Curiosity In Your Children

Episode #303General Stanley McChrystal – The New Definition Of Leadership