MGU 221 | Weaponizing Trust

Many are drawn to the myth of the big break to achieve success in the biggest and quickest way possible. However, such a dream sometimes pushes people to resort to desperate decisions, ultimately weaponizing trust. Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen delve into the crazy hustle culture, which many people sadly turn into exploitation, predatory marketing, and manipulation just to achieve their goals. They also discuss why the people behind Ponzi schemes and online scams are not necessarily bad but simply stuck to their cliché script and strategies. Jason and Whitney also share their experiences with MLMs and how they hate being seen not as humans but mere potential dollar signs.

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Chasing The Big Break: How Weaponizing Trust Plays A Part In The Road To Success

One of our favorite things to discuss on this show is documentaries as a whole. I saw this series that was on HBO called Generation Hustle, which appealed to me for three reasons. One, I love documentaries. Two, typically, when a documentary is on HBO, it’s going to be good. Three, that name, Generation Hustle, caught my attention because another topic that we frequently cover on the show is hustle culture. I initially was hoping and expected the show to be more about hustle culture in the way that I define it, which is about young entrepreneurs, content creators, and influencers using hustle and productivity as a bragging right and something that they believe leads to success. It’s something that Jason and I have addressed a lot on the show because hustle culture has negatively impacted our mental health. We got sucked into it. We’re trying to disconnect from it. We’re trying to break our addiction to efficiency. It’s not something that we generally like to be part of, but it’s a lot of unraveling because, for many years, we were conditioned through the whole influencer world and entrepreneurship world to hustle. If you don’t, then you’re not going to be successful. That’s something I’m constantly examining. The show Generation Hustle on HBO isn’t quite that. I’ll read their description on their website. “The cunning exploits of ten overzealous entrepreneurs, who each went to extraordinary lengths to secure fame, fortune, or power are on display in the shocking anthology documentary series.” I wouldn’t quite say it’s shocking, to be honest. So far, I’ve watched 4 or 5 of the 10 episodes. They’re all good. It did meet my expectations for an HBO series. By the way, the shows do have a twist. Some of the episodes are stories you may have heard in the news and might already be familiar with some of the people that they feature and the outcomes. Some of them, you may never have heard of before. Jason and I are not going to give away spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the series, we think you’ll be safe. There’s always a chance we’re going to touch on something that might feel like a spoiler. I feel like it’s not super shocking and a lot of the episodes feel similar. There’s a formula they follow, which is also interesting because there’s this tie in of how these people have gone, as the description said, to extraordinary lengths to feel like they’re famous, become wealthier, or at least feel like they’re wealthier. That’s part of the story, too. Things aren’t always what they seem. There does seem to be a big drive to feel powerful. The reason that I’m drawn to these stories is it makes me reflect a lot on this culture that we have. A lot of societal pressure to become more powerful through fame, fortune, and how a lot of people will go to extreme lengths. As I’ve been watching each episode, they’ve reminded me of even small-scale experiences I’ve had over the years. Jason has watched the first two episodes in order. I have watched the first episode and then episode 4, 6, and 7. I don’t know. I can’t keep track but I’ll look over it. I have got out of order and that’s one thing to know if you haven’t started watching it yet. It’s not linear. Each episode has its own contained story, so you can skip around and you can read the descriptions as I did. I was a little eager to jump forward to some of the subject matter. Before I share some more of my thoughts on this, Jason, I would love to know how you’ve been feeling because you finished episode two before we started so you’re fresh in your reflections on this. Do keep in mind, for me and the readers, that I have not watched episode two so I certainly don’t want any spoilers. You can summarize what the first two episodes were about before they got to the shocking part and then it reveals and then how did you feel about it?

I’m going to try and keep it spoiler-free in the sense that I don’t want to talk about the outcomes, but I can set up the general framework of the first two that I’ve watched. The first one is, essentially, to me, about an imposter scheme that a person was running where they were impersonating high-level celebrity people/investors/movie producers. This one individual was luring in photographers and influencers. One guy was on the cover of Men’s Health magazine. He was an extreme athlete. To me, that episode, Whitney, was highlighting how deeply people desire the big break. The thing that I left with was not so much the predatory sociopathic behavior of the antagonist of the person who was impersonating these movie producers and these high-level people. As diabolical as it was, the level of detail this person went through was diabolically genius and predatory sociopathic behavior. The two things I was left with the first episode was one, this is nothing new. We’ve all got those emails from a Prince from Ghana saying, “My father left $500 million in his will and you’re one of the beneficiaries.” I’m like, “I only know five people from Ghana and I don’t think any of them left me money personally. I could be wrong, but the Ishangi family in Ghana that I know probably.” We know that this semi-elaborate predatory behavior has been going on since the dawn of time. You can look at ancient religious texts and the snake oil salesman paradigm of people saying, “Drink this drink and it’ll cure all your ills.” The hustle in Generation Hustle is more like the way that humans take advantage of each other in this context.

MGU 221 | Weaponizing Trust

Weaponizing Trust: A lot of people are looking for a leader. They look up to those who seem to be superhuman.

The first episode left me in summary with two impressions. One, what happens in a person’s life that shapes their personality and their mentality to go to such extreme levels to manipulate, lie, and essentially con people out of their money? What happens to a human being in the course of their development that would lead them to devise that elaborate behavior as a predator? It is predation on people. The second thing that it leads into is it is preying on people’s hopes and dreams. You have artists who are believing in the myth of the big break. “So and so movie producer. So and so film production studio. This investor sent me this email. This is my chance. This is what I’ve been starving for. This is why I moved to Hollywood and I have been living in the studio that I can barely afford.” The theme with most of the people that were profiled and were taken advantage of had that similar thing where you could feel how hungry they were for that “big break.” In leaving, my impression from that episode was like, “I know what that’s like.” You know this because you were there when all this was unfolding when I had my TV series on Cooking Channel. It was this idea of like, “That’s it. I’ve got my TV series. I’m going to be the next celebrity chef. This was my big break,” but it wasn’t. The promise of the big break is what drives people to do all kinds of desperate behaviors where they spend thousands of dollars for this opportunity to break into the mainstream, be known, be famous, and have my art be seen. I leave this by reflecting on my life path and career path of how many “big breaks” I thought I was going to have. “I’m going to be on the Steve Harvey Show. Holy crap. Many people are going to know me.” “I’m starting the BuzzFeed video.” I’m on the cover of Leica with you, Whitney. You and I were on the cover of a national magazine. All these “big breaks” don’t mean that these aren’t significant. It doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate our wins in life. The mythology of the big break leads us to desperate and dangerous behavior sometimes because many of us want to be famous, powerful, rich, and known badly. That was the initial impression I came away with from the first episode. I’m curious, does that resonate? Did you feel the same way? What were your impressions, Whit?

One of the phrases they use in that episode was social engineering scams tailored to individuals. There’s a lot of messaging throughout the series about working harder. It’s in their credit intro. They have that phrase, work harder. There is this idea for many of us, especially in the entertainment industries that it’s all about the lucky break. It makes me deeply uncomfortable when I think about how many times somebody has hung that lucky break message in front of me, especially when I was younger or newer to the film industry when I was working there and also starting as a content creator. The number of people that have that messaging of like, “Together, we’re going to do something great.” Jason, there’s one person in particular who I don’t even have to name that you and I partnered with a few years ago. I remember the first time we met this person thinking, “This is it. This person’s going to help us.” It was much like our show when it was getting started and our speaking careers. It tapped into our desires to be highly paid public speakers, taken seriously, thought experts, and all these terminologies. This person that we met at the time was working with some well-known leaders in the business space. It was like, “Wow.” He talked such a big game and made some promises. I hesitate to use the word promises because it certainly wasn’t guaranteed. It was in that energy of like, “Work with me, and you’re going to get X, Y, Z.” We ended up doing a lot of things for free, a lot of favors, and a lot of partnerships with this person because of that “promise” and nothing came of it. Although I will say the show as it is now was shaped in part by this person and this person introduced us to some incredible people. Certainly, I shouldn’t say nothing came of it. Those seem to be like secondary-related things. They weren’t quite what was being held or dangled in front of us. I don’t think that this person was doing it maliciously. I hope not. I don’t think that they were intentionally thinking, “I’m going to get Whitney and Jason to do these things for me and I’m going to tell them that they’re going to get this result that I’m never going to give them.” They genuinely believed in us and they genuinely saw our “potential” which is another one of those words. It’s not necessarily even. That’s something to examine when you’re watching this series. Are these people bad? Are these people evil? Are they even aware of what their impact is on others? Are they out to destroy people’s lives? One of the episodes that you haven’t watched yet, Jason, it’s episode five is called the Cult of WeWork. That was the second episode I watched because I was like, “This is going to be interesting.” The episode is about the guy behind it, one of the cofounders, and how he tapped into the cult of a founder.

Have we substituted profit and power for genuinely caring for people? Click To Tweet

A lot of people are looking for a leader. They look up to people that seem to be superhuman. We’re often drawn to people that are building empires and inviting us to build empires together. We want to be part of a community, be part of a change, and make the world a better place. These were all the messages that the cofounder of WeWork was putting out there. I remember being into WeWork as well and feeling drawn to it. It was a similar story where a coworking place was about tapping into a young woman’s desire to be a girl boss and also about hustle culture, being part of something, feeling connected to one another and supported by one another, but also empowered as a woman. For someone like me, that drew me in. My point being is that we can get drawn to these people who position themselves as like, “If you work with me and you join me, you’re going to get this and we’re going to do it together.” That’s such a big tantalizing thing for us. Whether we’re entrepreneurs and/or in the entertainment world, creative types, it’s desirable because there doesn’t seem to be a simple path. We often feel like if we can find one person or one opportunity, then that’s going to be the big break and help us take a shortcut or bust through a wall or glass ceiling or a quicker path to our goals. When those people come into our lives, sometimes, we have our blinders on. We have rose-colored glasses on in a way where we’re not seeing the full picture because we’re drawn to the fact that this person might finally give us the thing that we’ve always wanted.

What you’re talking about is this pseudo tribalistic mentality of, “You’re struggling. You have dreams. I have similar dreams. Come join my tribe. Join my circle. Join the community.” This is a played-out trope in the life coaching space. I see this phrased with a lot of female entrepreneurs like, “Join the goddess circle.” I see that over and over again. “Unlock your sexuality. Unlock your sensuality.” “Your sexuality is tied to your ability to make money, so get into your sexual body so you can make more money.” There are a million versions of this. Guys, too. I see men’s circle, “You’re not living to your edge.” “Your woman is not pleased.” “You’re not showing up for your children.” “You’re not here to make money and be an automaton.” “Connect to your primal masculinity but you need to pay me $15,000 to do it.” I’m going to throw people under the bus. I don’t care. Here’s the thing. What we’re doing is we’re taking things that have existed in small human communities for millennia. Initiation ceremonies with men and women are nothing new. Since we are divided in our culture, we’re all separate, and we all feel such a deep sense of isolation and loneliness, marketers and coaches, etc. have found a way to weaponize our loneliness. Weaponize our sense of separation from people to be in a tribe, community circle, secret group, or whatever they call it. Instead of doing it because it’s a normal part of your day-to-day existence as it was in human society. In order to be part of the secret group, you need to pay them a lot of money. Am I knocking people’s hustle? Maybe I am. On the one hand, do I think some of these people have an intent to help, Whitney? I do. Do I think that sometimes they’re taking advantage of people unknowingly through their marketing and their manipulative messages? I do. I want to touch on the point you made of, do we think that the people that are profiled in generation hustle are evil? Are they “bad people?” This is a tough thing to answer because it’s on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, like in the case of episode two that you haven’t watched yet, they profiled an extremely young concert promoter in Connecticut who is trying to scale his business by having massive artists come through. He gets caught up in this thing where he’s losing so much money that he ends up borrowing money from other people to pay back the original. It’s essentially a Ponzi scheme. I don’t believe he knew what he was doing in this case. I don’t believe that as an eighteen-year-old kid, he knew the severity of the impact of what he was doing. In this case, he was desperate for attention and popularity as a young man that clouded his judgment as to what the impact of his actions were. That’s different than someone who is intentionally engaging in predatory activities that they know are taking advantage of people and they do not care. I don’t live in anyone’s head but this is a case-by-case thing where someone can be blinded by their desperate desire for money, fame, popularity, and success. They don’t care what the impacts are, which you could say sociopathic, but there is a difference between that and someone going into a venture saying, “Screw everyone. I don’t care if I destroy everyone in the process.” There’s ignorance and there’s willful maliciousness. The impact is the same. People lose money and they get taken advantage of but willful ignorance and intentional maliciousness are different. We can say they’re different things. As you and I, Whitney, traverse our entrepreneurial journey as podcast hosts, coaches, creators, authors, and the things we do, I’m proud that we are being more mindful of the language we’re using.

MGU 221 | Weaponizing Trust

Weaponizing Trust: Someone can be blinded by their desperate desire for money, fame, popularity, and success that they don’t care about the impact of their actions.

We’re going through and looking at a lot of the copy in the marketing messaging on our website. We’re not doing it so we can “enroll” more people. We’re doing it because we want to make sure that the words and the messaging we’re using are not predatory and not overselling something we don’t deliver. Watching this documentary reminded me of not only the experiences you and I have had offering coaching programs but engaging in different programs in the business world. It reminds me of many stories of friends and acquaintances you and I have that have enrolled in expensive five-figure programs with different coaches. We’re promised something specific, didn’t get that thing, asked for a refund, and then were told, “We’re not going to give you a refund.” You could default and say, “It’s in the contract. You should have read your contract. It says no refunds under any circumstances.” If you think about it from a perspective of a student, a business person, or a consumer, if you promise me something and you don’t deliver it, and then you say, “It doesn’t matter we didn’t deliver it because, in the contract, it says no refunds,” that sounds unethical to me. There’s a lot of people doing this. It’s common practice in the coaching industry that there is a no refund policy even if you don’t deliver as a coach or instructor what you said you would do. “The contract you signed says no refunds. Sorry.” I don’t find that ethical. It’s common practice. Does this go down to a person being intentionally malicious or have they patterned themselves after what they were taught of like, “That’s how you run your business. Don’t let consumers or students take advantage of you because then, you’ll have people asking for refunds all the time?” It’s almost like a fear-based way of conducting your business. If you don’t deliver what you said you’d deliver, and then you refuse a refund, I don’t believe in that practice. It happens a lot.

It does happen to people’s ethics in some ways and also, it shows that maybe this person isn’t fully confident, so instead of trying to fix something, they would rather not give the person what they wanted. That’s the thing, too, speaking of evolving. As you and I, Jason, are working on the newer version of our program, The Consistency Code, I see a lot of opportunities to improve it. I went through the numbers of all the students that are enrolled and how many people never even started it. I started to wonder, “What is it that caused them to not even press play on the first training?” There are two things at play. One is maybe there is room for opportunity for us to improve our messaging in terms of what somebody is getting. There are opportunities for us to understand our students better, what they want and need, and what they’re expecting. I don’t think that happens enough. A lot of coaches or business owners are so focused on what they think people want that they almost try to force it on them or gaslight. We’ve talked about gaslighting, too. You’re convincing somebody that what they want is not the right thing, “I have the answers. I have the solution.” The whole reason you’re hiring me is that you’re not doing well with this thing, so you don’t have the answers, which is a bit of BS. One of the big points of The Consistency Code and the reason why I feel proud of it is that the message is that we’re not there to teach our students anything new. We’re there to hold them accountable. I feel incredibly passionate about that because that’s a huge struggle. A lot of people are out there trying to solve problems with new information versus taking what they already know and what they know deep down and applying it and being focused. We are such a distracted society as a whole. That’s how a lot of people get manipulated. People are busy looking for opportunities instead of focusing on what they already have in front of them. There is this natural human tendency, as we’ve touched upon in some episodes, to go for whatever is easy, the lowest common denominator. The people that are preying on others typically do that. I’m sure there are people that fall for those email scams. Otherwise, who would continue doing them? They’re working. Same thing with scam phone calls. Scam text messages are becoming a thing. There are many ways to trick people into giving your bank account information. I got one that was convincing and I looked up to make sure that it wasn’t a real thing. People become savvy with that. All it takes is a few people to click on the wrong button to believe something so that the lowest common denominator is there. As the consumer, let’s say, as the person that might be the victim of something like this, you also can’t fully blame yourself. As human beings, we tend to look for things that are easy and quick. As discussed in that book, The Pleasure Trap, we go for fast food for a reason because it’s inexpensive. We don’t have to work hard to earn the money to purchase the food. It tastes good because it’s preying on our sensory experiences. We get that instant pleasure from it. It gives us fat, salt, sugar, and some of the basic things that we need for fuel. We get a quick bang for our buck, we’re on, and we get caught up in that addiction cycle. A lot of people are in that place with their careers, for example, or even their desires.

The mythology of the big break leads us to desperate and dangerous behavior. Click To Tweet

The lottery is another example. Why do people play the lottery? Because in slot machines or gamble, it’s like, “What if I put in $1 and made $500 or thousands or millions?” That’s little effort to get a huge amount back. Human beings are constantly scanning for opportunities and other human beings are good at understanding that psychology and tapping into it. It also reminds me of another documentary I watched. I don’t know if I mentioned this on the show. It’s also an HBO production. It’s called Murder on Middle Beach and it was a few episodes long. I don’t think it was just one episode. It might have been four episodes but it was a one-linear documentary. Jason, I had an intense moment because I realized that what was happening in a documentary, I was involved with without even realizing it because one of the big elements of that story is something called the Gifting Table, which is MLM, a multilevel marketing scheme. It’s related to the murder. The story all happened in Connecticut on the border of New York State. One of my close friends had a friend or family in Connecticut. I grew up in Massachusetts. Long story short, this friend was connected to the same Gifting Table as the documentary featured because it started to spread this MLM. It started in Connecticut and expanded to New York and Massachusetts and some of the other states around there. My friend in Massachusetts got involved with this Gifting Table MLM and tried to enroll me. I got close to being part of it because it was my best friend and it was that promise of, “If you put in $5,000, you can grow your money and get a minimum of $25,000.” That’s how it worked. It was also like a Ponzi scheme type of structure where you put in money, you were at a part of this group of people, it would split off, and then you would become in the center, and other people would give you money, and then it would continue to grow theoretically. I don’t know if it’s still going on but my friend was involved for many years and tried multiple times to get me involved. It was tempting because they were masters of figuring out how to get you to do it. They were masters at figuring out the exact language and also how to skirt around any of the legality side of it. It was technically legal. It was vague enough where they could get away with it. They would keep it secret and they would use certain words to be completely undercover with this. It was all based around women’s empowerment, too. What triggered me to think of this is that you’re talking about the circles of people that are like, “We’ll get together to empower each other, but you have to pay to be involved. We’re all going to support one another.” They would prey on your desire to be part of a community, be part of a change, be empowered, and make money. The simple tweaks and language, and then they would find people you knew. It would all be a close friend or a family member who is inviting you in who you already trust. They’re using trust as a way to deceive or convince you into something that wasn’t truly legal. Like a Ponzi scam, it’s destined for failure over time. When I saw that documentary, Murder on Middle Beach, I felt in complete shock and disbelief because that was the first time I realized what I had almost been part of. I’m thinking of the amount of times that I considered going to WeWork, for example, that I was impacted by WeWork’s messaging and that incredible draw that they had. I have many friends that were part of WeWork. Not to say that WeWork in itself is bad but how they were treating their employees and deceiving their members and the public about what was going on with that company financially, that I don’t feel good about that so I wouldn’t want to support a business like that.

I have many thoughts. If you can think back to the conversation that you were having with your friend about the enrollment into this women’s circle that you’re describing, which is interesting because I remember a couple of years ago female friends of mine talking about this. It was spreading like wildfire amongst many women that I knew. First of all, I’m curious, why didn’t you? Was it you were listening to your intuition? Was there something that smelled “fishy” to you? I’m always curious because I’ve been on the end of some hard-core enrollment calls like emotional manipulation, weaponizing trust, the promise of community and connection, and everything we’re talking about. What was it that made you say no? Why did you say no when you were so close to saying yes?

First of all, it was a lot of money. It was $5,000. I don’t know if there’s ever a point in my life where I happened to have an extra $5,000 laying around. What they would do, and they talk about this and Murder on Middle Beach, is they would psychologically convince you to find ways to get that money. It’s like, “Is there a family member you could borrow the money from? You’re going to make so much from this. You’ll easily be able to pay them back. Can you put it on a credit card?” They’d get your mind rolling. You would be like, “This is possible.”

MGU 221 | Weaponizing Trust

Weaponizing Trust: People are busy looking for opportunities instead of focusing on what they already have in front of them.

One, money was the main factor for me, but two, it was confusing. That’s where the red flag was. I didn’t understand it. It blew my mind when I watched that documentary because I went back and found some of those exchanges between my friend and me. The language that they use was verbatim. If you’re curious about this, watch that show, too. If you’re reading this episode because you’re into HBO documentaries or documentaries, in general, when you’re done watching Generation Hustle, watch Murder on Middle Beach. It’s like, “The things that they would do and say the get you to enroll in this.” The reason that I brought this up is I don’t think my friend is a bad person, but certainly, during that process, I felt like, “This is a little weird.” After I saw the documentary, Jason, I thought, “Is my friend who I think she is?” It impacted my trust in her. I started to wonder like you’re watching these shows. The one that I watched is episode four about Anna Delvey, who was big in the news and got out of jail. You may have heard of her a few years ago when all this was happening. A huge part of that episode is how she manipulated her friends. People trusted her. That’s a big theme. I also saw this in episode seven, so it turns out I’ve watched five episodes. Episode seven is about frats in a Ponzi scheme. They interview all these people’s friends and they’re all like, “He was a great guy.” “She seems like a cool girl.” People were in disbelief that this person they thought they knew and they thought was a friend was doing these things to manipulate them. It is a bit of a fine line because while I’m still friends with this person who tried to get me involved with this Gifting Circle, it does make you wonder, “Am I somebody that you’re looking to prey on? Do I seem like somebody that you can manipulate through our friendship? Are you using our friendship to reach your goals?” Another thing I thought of when I was watching that Anna Delvey episode, Jason, is another one of our mutual friends who’s done some shady things, not even a friend anymore and barely an acquaintance who I distanced myself from because of those gut feelings. I thought, “I don’t know if this person is everything that they’re presenting themselves to be on social media.” Noticing the behavior and the number of shady things that this person was doing, in my opinion, I thought, “It’s only a matter of time until something bad happens. I got to distance myself from this person.” It was like that gut instinct that you’re talking about where it didn’t feel good. I heard enough stories and had enough personal experiences with this person to say, “Nope. I’m not interested.” In the Anna Delvey episode, there’s a woman who had an experience with her who said, “There’s something not right and I didn’t want anything to do with them anymore.” I thought, “I’ve been there, too, but I haven’t quite been on the receiving end.” I don’t know what’s going to happen with this person I’m referring to. This person so far hasn’t done anything crazy scammy as far as I know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I found out that they did. It’s important to listen to your gut instinct. It’s possible to distance yourself from people. You don’t have to fully cut them out. You can set strong boundaries. Luckily, my friend was understanding when I said no to being part of that Gifting Circle. It wasn’t like, “If you’re not in the circle, I’m not going to be friends with you anymore.” It depends, but you have to keep an eye out, unfortunately, once that happens to you. You’ve got to put some flags up.

Two things that come up for me, Whitney. Like you, I have also chosen to distance myself from different people in our industry because nearly every single time I see them, there’s a subtle or overt enrollment happening. I see these people and they’re like, “I’ve got this opportunity. I want to talk to you about it.” I’ll be walking out the door at their party like, “Can I get ten minutes? I know you’re on the way out. I just want to talk to you for ten minutes.” After 2 or 3 times of this, I’m like, “I know what’s coming. I’m going to go to this gathering or go to their house or go to this event and they’re going to try and enroll me on this MLM that they’re doing,” since we’re on the subject of MLMs. The reason that I’ve started to distance and have distanced myself from specific people in my life is because the relationship started to feel transactional. You and I have been at a lot of these gatherings, Whitney. The only reason that you and I were being invited to these things was because, “Whitney and Jason have these followings. They’re doing cool things and they have influence,” however people perceive us. “I need to enroll them because of their reach, social numbers, YouTube channel,” or whatever.

Many people are out there trying to solve problems with new information versus taking what they already know. Click To Tweet

I don’t want to be looked at as a dollar sign or a potential dollar sign. You didn’t invite me to this party because you want me here just to be together, to sing, dance, make music, and have food. In the end, you try and corner me literally and figuratively. Because you’ve given me this great experience tonight, I owe you ten minutes of my time to allow you to try and pitch me on this thing. No. I don’t owe you anything. You invited me here as a friend and now you’re trying to enroll me in this thing I don’t care about. It happens way too much. The other thing that brought up to me, Whitney, is when you were talking about the scripts. There are these scripts and frameworks being passed around. I’m not about to say that every salesperson or everyone who exists in sales is a bad person. I’m not saying that at all. However, there are practices and scripts and ways of being that are passed around between people that are damaging and leverage comparison and shame to get people to act. I’ll give you an example. I have been to seminars where they go through the whole seminar and the training. Maybe the reader can relate to this if you’ve been to free seminars from coaches or wealth experts or entrepreneur coaches or whatever it is. The basic framework is they’ll bring you there for free or low cost. The first training will either be free or it’ll be something accessible for $99. Most people I know are like, “Sure. I’ll go to a weekend training for $100.” They get you there and they give you all of this training and this framework, and then they upsell you. The upsell is, “If you enjoyed what you did, here’s my six-month mastermind training course,” for however much money it is. To me, when you have given people good value, there’s nothing wrong with upselling. People dig you and found that you delivered on your promises and you show up. There are coaches and teachers that show up with the intention to give people a ton of love, value, and wisdom. The attitude that I resonate with is like, “If you dig this and you dig me and you want to go further, here’s a 3-month, a 6-month thing, or a 12-month thing. No pressure.” That’s the exception, not the rule. The rule that I’ve seen over and over again, Whitney, there’s one specific thing that came to mind when you were talking. A few years back, I got invited by a former colleague from culinary school who was doing this thing. She and I are still on great terms. There were hundreds of people in this low-cost training. There was one woman who was on stage saying, “I like this but I don’t think I can afford it.” Her premium was $15,000, $20,000, $30,000 or something like that. The leader of this organization was like, “Are you willing to do whatever it takes?” She’s like, “Yeah, I am.” She’s like, “Can you borrow the money? Can you ask your parents about it? Can you ask your best friend for it?” She’s like, “No, I can’t because my mom is in debt.” “I can’t do it. My dad is sick.” She’s like, “Can you sell your car?” She’s like, “That’s my only transportation.” This woman goes into this thing of like, “Marie sold her car. Angie did this. Why aren’t you? You said you were willing to do whatever it takes. Sell your car.” They don’t get what they want because you’re in resistance, so then it’s comparison and shame. “Because Angie sold her car, now she’s making $50,000 a month, so you need to trust, take the leap of faith, take a risk, and believe in yourself. You’ve never believed in yourself before. I’m giving you a chance to believe in yourself and walk your talk finally. I’m here for you. You’re safe. We love you.” Convincing people to take out loans, sell their cars, borrow money from their sick parents, this thing goes on all the time. This is the rule, not the exception. People being like, “If you want to enroll with me or not, it’s cool either way.” That’s not the rule. That’s the rarity. These things of shaming people, comparing them, trying to make them feel bad like, “You don’t believe in your dream then if you’re not willing to do anything for it.” This is some deep manipulation that is going on and I’m sad to say that I’ve seen it in different versions many times.

The thread through here, going back to the documentary series, is that it’s impacting our trust in each other. I take issue with somebody treating me like a dollar sign because they’re not treating me like a human being first. I take issue with somebody who is using our friendship or using information they know about me, a vulnerability, for example, to manipulate me to get something for themselves. Because then, that causes me to not trust them and not to trust other people, but it also leads to a deep lack of self-trust. It compacts that shame that you’re talking about, Jason. It is psychologically damaging. Although these types of people are featured in the documentaries and some of the experiences that you and I have had, we might not consider them evil. They may or may not be aware of what they’re doing and the deep impact of it. It’s part of a bigger issue that we have based on desperation because that’s the other thing that you see here. A lot of people are desperate and they aren’t fully self-aware. They haven’t worked on their self-development perhaps. They might have been deeply traumatized themselves.

MGU 221 | Weaponizing Trust

The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health & Happiness

It’s all coming out in a way that’s causing more trauma to others. That is upsetting to me. For someone like me that struggles with trust in general and trust is one of the big things that I’ve been working on, it is painful to me when I’m in a situation like, “Here I am again. I shouldn’t have trusted this person. I shouldn’t have trusted myself. I was wrong. Look where I ended up.” It compacts that, and then you think, “I can’t trust anybody and I can’t trust myself.” That can lead to isolation, deep depression, anxiety, and all these mental health challenges. Even this documentary series can be disheartening. There are ten episodes of intense deception that has gone on. Deep down inside, Jason, you and I are both watching this thinking, “Here’s the evidence. How can you trust anybody? It happened to these people. It could happen to me.” Part of me thinks, “Is it bad that we’re even watching this? Is this impacting you and me and maybe the reader who’s watching or watching because of us?” I want to say that as a warning that you have to be self-aware as you’re taking in this information and how it’s impacting you. It can trigger a lot of experiences and it can cause you to look at life through this lens of like, “I always need to be on the lookout. I need to have my guard up because if my close friend tried to convince me to join this MLM or Ponzi scheme, who can I trust? This is one person that I could trust more than others.” I remember too, Jason, you joined an MLM at one point. I never deep down thought you were going to turn into “one of those people.” I didn’t think you, for lack of a better term, had it in you to become that way. I was never worried that you were going to try to convince me to buy the products and enroll in it. You tried it once, but it was a genuine belief at that time of like, “I’ve been promised all this money,” and you did believe in it. I was concerned more that if you continued down that path, other people would lose their trust in you. The deep hesitation that I had with you being part of that is like, “Are people now going to look at Jason as an MLM person? Are you going to ruin their trust?” To be honest, when I hear people in MLMs, a red flag goes up. Especially in the essential oils world, that makes me sad because essential oils are amazing but many people have a bad association with essential oils because of MLMs. Many people don’t trust essential oils because some of these companies have misused the word pure. Now some people are like, “Essential oils, I can’t trust them, so I’m not going to buy them.” “Essential oils are bad. I’m not going to buy them.” They crap on other people for using essential oils and it’s like, “Great.” I know some people that sell essential oils or sell other MLM products. I feel confused about my feelings towards them. I start not to trust them. I take them less seriously. I wonder about their motives. I wonder if they’re always going to try to enroll me. I feel uncomfortable around them socially now. There’s a lot of issues there. Unfortunately, it’s because of bad players. I was technically in an MLM, Jason. I feel like I talked about this once before. One of our mutual friends enrolled me and I wanted to be part of it to try the products out. I looked at it as an affiliate thing. I never looked at it as like me being part of this whole enrollment thing. I wasn’t trying to enroll other people to sell their products. What was cool is this company stopped being an MLM. They put out an email like, “We realize that people have bad associations with MLMs, so our company is no longer going to operate that way. This is how we’ve transitioned.” They completely made a change. I even forgot about that until this very moment. I want to go back to your experience with MLMs or that one MLM that you were in. How do you feel now being out of it? What emotions do you feel from that experience?

Prior to joining this one, I had been attempted to be enrolled in a lot of different ones. Most of them are essential oils. My regard was always like, “The products or the messaging doesn’t feel authentic to me.” I appreciate and I love using essential oils, but it’s not something I’m deeply passionate about. It doesn’t burn in my soul to spread the gospel about essential oils. Some people do. I honestly believe and I have several friends of ours, people we know, that are deeply passionate about it. To me, the issue isn’t the passion, value system, ethos, or mission of the brand aligning with the individual. I tried the products out. A friend of mine was enrolling me and this is always my MO, modus operandi, I said, “Before I commit to anything, I need to try out the products. Eat them, use them, and feel them because I don’t want to endorse something that I don’t use, and something that I don’t feel is effective. I’m not going to endorse something to make money without using or enjoying it.” I used the products and I’m like, “These are good. They tasted good. I enjoyed using them.”

Sometimes, we're too quick to cancel someone or forgive them. People need to be held accountable. Click To Tweet

I said, “I’ve never done this before. I’m going to give it a go.” As I got deeper into the company, they were not allowing me to market and inform people about the products the way that I wanted to. They’re like, “We don’t want you to mention it by name on social media. These are the guidelines. We need you to follow them. You can’t talk about it this way.” I don’t mean FDA claims. I wasn’t asking to say this product cures cancer or will take away your gall stones or anything like that. It wasn’t about that kind of languaging. It’s that they wanted you to market it their way. As someone who’s naturally rebellious, I don’t like being told what to do in general. If someone’s like, “You can’t market it the way you want. You have to market it the way we want you to,” that was my first red flag. The second red flag was how much smoke was being blown up my ass during the whole enrollment process. I was being wined and dined. I was being taken out to dinner. I was being told how great I am. “What an amazing artist and content creator. We’re going to save the world and we need your help to save the world because there are many people that are sick and dying.” “What if you had the opportunity to save your loved ones who are sick? Can you imagine being able to save them?” All the things we were talking about. Save the world, save your family, and make a ton of money. “So and so bought a brand-new house on Hawaii. This person bought a brand-new house in Malibu. This person has bought a Ferrari. Let’s all make a ton of money while we save the world.” That was the pitch. Who wouldn’t want that? Of course, you want that Giro. Wouldn’t you want to be a millionaire saving the world? Of course, you would. I said, “Yeah.” Now, if I look back and I look at the amount of control and emotional manipulation, it’s like, “Why did I join?” I was desperate at that time. If I look back, that is what it was. I have had a couple of contracts and projects that evaporated. I didn’t know where my income was going to come from. I felt scared and I felt desperate. Is that the case with every single person that is enrolled by one of these things? I don’t think so. Is the case with a large percentage? I am sure that it is. “Save the world, rescue your family, spread the mission of animal welfare and organic food, and make a ton of money.” When I got into it and I got into the belly of the beast, Whitney. It was like every single day, you need to be enrolling people. Enroll your friends, family, and high school friends you haven’t spoken to in twenty years. “So-and-so is overweight and it looks like their family is obese. Why don’t you send a message?” They would tell me things like this and I’m like, “I haven’t spoken to that person in twenty years. You want me to send them an email and be like, ‘I see that you’re obese? Would you like to try my products?’ What the heck?” It was this kind of stuff that they would encourage me to do. In a short period of time, after about probably 6 to 9 months, Whitney, I was like, “I don’t know.” It was that whole thing of like, “Are you willing to do whatever it takes? If you’re hesitating to call your former high school friend and talk to them about their obesity, Jason, you’re not willing to do what it takes.” My experience has turned me off of that entire industry forever. I rarely say that, but I mean forever. When I went to the conferences and I saw how they were operating, it was the same thing. “Save the world, make a ton of money, deep community. Yeah, brother. Yeah, sister. We love you.” I’m like, “You don’t know who I am. Do you love me? Am I your brother? You don’t know me.” I’m being blunt here because I see through the nonsense and I see through the manipulation. There are big parts of this industry, Whitney, that I wish would burn to the ground.

It triggers a lot of that. It triggers all of this awareness around greed and how many of us desire status. We want to be in a different class and do what we love. It is tapping into so much of that desire. That’s often why we get involved with this. We have to examine our motives behind it. First of all, recognize that these tendencies are things that all of us can relate to. That’s why I hesitate to call people evil because I can see myself in them. I could see, “It sounds awesome to make that much money.” The WeWork one, in particular, was fascinating. A lot of the descriptions of what this guy wanted are things that I’ve wanted and things that many people I know want. To be famous, have celebrity status, have access to things, be powerful, run a community, make the world a better place, and all of this messaging on and on. Deep down, I have so much compassion for all these individuals who fell into these traps and either became victims or became the mastermind. I get it. Our society rewards social status, money, and power. They’re all connected.

MGU 221 | Weaponizing Trust

Weaponizing Trust: Human beings are constantly scanning for opportunities, and others are good at understanding that psychology and tapping into it.

Many of us have such a huge draw to being famous. I examine social media influence every single day. I reflect more on it and my role in it. That’s the thing, too. I’ve had to step away because I don’t feel good marketing products to people unless I deeply resonate with them. How can I deeply resonate with something if every single day, I’ve got a new product I’m talking about and promoting? Most of the rewards, payment, and impact of the work that I’ve done in social media have been minuscule, but that’s what I mean when we have our blinders on. Oftentimes, in the social media world, we can’t even stop and think. We’re moving so fast. Ultimately, my big problem with hustle is it doesn’t encourage us to stop, think about what we’re doing, and how it’s impacting other people. That’s the big message here. It’s not that we can’t trust ourselves. It’s not that we can’t trust other people. It’s that the hustle culture is causing so much of this to happen. It’s self-perpetuating because people are like, “We got to move a mile per minute. We got to keep trying things. We can’t give up. It doesn’t matter what mistakes we make. We just got to keep going.” A lot of the mistakes are being made on human beings. Like many awful things that happen, people stop thinking about groups of people as individuals. They think of them as one big mass and it’s like, “That’s just a casualty. I messed up there on this person, but I’m going to keep going on to the next thing.” I’m not a big fan of cancel culture, but I am a fan of accountability culture. That’s something that more people are waking up to. Sometimes, we’re too quick to cancel someone and sometimes, we’re too quick to forgive them. People do need to be held accountable. I hope that more people can watch something like Generation Hustle and step back and say, “Where’s my role in this? How am I doing this in one small way?” As you and I are reevaluating our social media marketing, Jason, our positioning with our courses, and how we coach. We can be hard on ourselves for not making as much money as we want. I would so much rather make less money but do it in integrity than make a lot of money and be completely out of integrity. I’m not interested whatsoever in that anymore because I recognized that it doesn’t feed my soul and it doesn’t make the people around me feel good. Trust is so important. If I only have a few people relatively, that trust me and know that my heart is in the right place, that’s more valuable than having thousands or millions of people not even know why they’re paying attention to me and not deeply trusting me.

One of the phrases that come up for me is a phrase that in the early days of Facebook was a mantra. The story that I heard was they either had it as a sign in their offices in the early days. The phrase was, move fast and break things. When people are regarded as things, we’re getting into a territory that is concerning. People get broken when you move too fast. If you drive a car too fast, you get in an accident maybe. It’s easy to get into a mentality where the end justifies the means. “I made all this money. What do you mean people got hurt? What do you mean things got broken? Look at all this money we made. You’re criticizing how I did it? You must be a hater. You’re hating all my wealth. You hate all my success.” Think about this mentality. This is a pervasive mentality that the end justifies the means. “I got to my goal.” You didn’t want to work hard enough. You weren’t willing to do whatever it takes. If whatever it takes means steamrolling people, breaking people, and destroying things to get what you want, we have a sick, twisted sociopathic mentality. At the heart of a lot of toxic capitalism is exactly this. If we think about the fact that shareholder value and stock price for most corporations is held in higher regard than the destruction to animal life, human life, and the environment. It’s easy to see that we are in the situation we’re in on planet Earth. The end justifies the means. “The world’s burning but look at our stock price. We created so much shareholder value.” “Holy crap, John. Did you see that? That IPO was huge.” This is a much more pervasive mentality if we blow it out, Whitney. This mentality is a thread through in many industries and many businesses, “Get the goal. Who cares how we get there? Just get the thing.” It leaves a path of a lot of pain and destruction in its wake. We’re not anti-capitalist and we’re not anti-business. We’re pro-ethics, pro-self-awareness, and pro-mindfulness. I don’t want to speak exactly for you or put words in your mouth, but I don’t think it has to be the paradigm that to be successful, we annihilate everything in our path and do whatever it takes. I don’t believe in that. Move fast and break things. When people are regarded as things, we're getting into a concerning territory. Click To Tweet In closing, I want to encourage us, not only you and I as business owners but the reader, to examine why you’re doing what you’re doing. What is the ethos that is driving you to do what you do? Have we substituted profit and power for genuinely caring for the welfare of others or the people in our path? That’s it, going back to it. People aren’t intending on being malicious and destructive. They’re hyper-focused, Whitney, on getting what they want that they’re not even paying attention to the carnage that’s around them because they’re laser-focused on the goal. All that alpha male things that we’re taught in business school, “Laser-focus on your goal.” That’s part of the big reason why the world is the way that it is. People have forgotten to look around them and see the chaos they’ve created on their way to the goal. Are we doing product shout-outs? That was an abrupt right-angle transition in the podcast. Sure. By the way, what we’re talking about is not a pitch. These are products that Whitney and I have paid for and we’re genuinely excited about.

Not necessarily. Sometimes, we talk about products we got for free. We are open. What are you going to shout out? Is it something that you bought?

It’s something that I got for free, and then I bought it because I loved it so much. This was a brand that you and I Whitney got introduced to on Clubhouse, which the company is called Botanical Bones. Rachel is this incredibly sweet founder of this family business. They’re based out of Asheville, North Carolina. BotanicalBones.com. These are super food-infused dog treats that have ashwagandha, reishi, chaga, and all kinds of amazing things. Bella ate these in record time and I need to reorder. I’m a huge fan of Botanical Bones because they’re made by hand. They’re a family-run business and they’re female-owned. They have high-vibe ingredients. I’m a huge fan, Whit. In fact, I need to order more for Bella. It’s the point where I’ve given her Botanical Bones, Whit, and then I go back and give her other treats and she looks at me like, “What is this thing?” She’ll give me this look like, “I don’t want this thing. Where are my bones?” Thanks to Rachel and shout out to Rachel. You have made my dog an addict to your products. Check out Botanical Bones, Rachel, and her amazing super food-infused dog treats because they will probably ruin your dog’s palate in the best way as they have ruined mine.

That’s quite a testimonial. The product that I’m going to shout out is the first one that came to mind because I did not prepare for this. We started doing our brand shout-outs on the show and we paused. I don’t even know why. Maybe we got lazy. One problem that Jason and I don’t have is recommendations because we do purchase a lot. We receive a lot. We have a lot of experience. In fact, one thing I don’t think I’ve told you about, Jason, is almost every single day, I write a review of something online. I started reflecting on how much it helps others to review something on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Goodreads for books, and Google in general. Google has its review system through Google Maps or whatever else in their search. Some companies have their private reviews on them. In fact, we asked our students for reviews because we don’t get them often enough. Sometimes, we ask you, the podcast reader, for reviews. I leave reviews on other podcasts because I know what it’s like. It makes a big difference. I realized I was being a little bit lazy. I thought, “I’m going to pay it forward every day.” I haven’t been perfect, but most days, I write a review on something that I’ve experienced and it’s felt good, Jason. It has made me good at writing reviews, too. I’ve received a lot of thank-yous on Yelp. The companies and the businesses will write me. Also, other Yelp reviewers can give a little thumbs-up, and almost every single day, I get a thumbs up and I’m like, “This is satisfying. I’m helping somebody.”

MGU 221 | Weaponizing Trust

Weaponizing Trust: It’s possible to distance yourself from people. You don’t have to cut them out fully.

The product I’m going to mention is one that I did receive for free that a company mailed to me. I feel strongly about this brand because I’ve been using them for many years and have bought them as well. This brand is called MyChelle. MyChelle sent me their Hydrate line, which has been great. I love their ingredients. I was curious about this because something that I heard people talking a lot about on TikTok is the hyaluronic acid. It’s a hydrating ingredient that helps get the benefits of the body care products into your skin. You’re less dry. That’s what happens when you’re hydrated. I’ve been working on not using terms, Jason, like youthful appearance. Certainly, that’s how things like this are marketed and one of the reasons that people use products like this. I want to encourage you to take care of your skin because you feel better when it impacts you and not because it’s some vanity thing. I want to get away from a lot of this messaging around like, “Things that make you look young.” Especially as a woman, I have an issue with that. I don’t use this to help me look younger. I use this because hydration is important to me. I’m committed to drinking a lot of water every day and I would like to take good care of my skin. I am also examining why I want to take such good care of my skin. I’ve been reflecting a lot. Speaking of why, I use MyChelle’s sunscreen. My favorite facial sunscreen is theirs. It’s light and it goes on nicely. I love the ingredients. I was reflecting on like, “Why do women, in particular, get obsessed with sunscreen?” Oftentimes, it’s because they’re terrified of getting wrinkles. I don’t want to encourage you to use products because of your fear. I want to encourage you to use products because they make you feel good. MyChelle’s products make me feel good, which is why I love this brand. I’m proud to shout them out. One of the other things that are cool is called a Beauty Mist spray, but it’s just a hydrating spray. This is something I associate with you, Jason, because I remember you were using this on the airplane to keep yourself hydrated while you were flying. When you go back to traveling or in general, during the hotter seasons, it’s nice to have something like this that you can quickly spray on you. It feels nice and it smells good, too. Speaking of essential oils, the reason I love essential oils is because of the scent. It makes me feel good. When I put these products on, I feel uplifted by the smell.

Having the live demos or a mukbang in the middle of the episode is fun.

You want to do a mukbang. You brought it up twice, so it’s got to happen. Maybe with a burrito? We were talking about burritos in the last episode.

By the way, after we were talking about burritos, I texted Whitney and I said, “The burrito gods must be reading or maybe the AI algorithms. I got a 50% off coupon for a burrito from Tocaya.” Did I order it? You’re right, I did. I enjoyed the hell out of that half-off burrito. My burrito craving has been sated for a while, which is great. As an aside, Whitney, to go back to the middle of the episode before we depart, I wanted to make sure that I loop back to this. The WeWork issue you were talking about, the female-oriented marketed space. Was it The Wing?

Yeah.

That was the one you were talking about. I was trying to remember it. It was like a brain worm. I’m like, “I need to remember the name of that place, too.” It’s interesting because I remember I’ve been to WeWork many times. I was semi being enrolled by other people in our industry where it was the cool thing to do like, “We’re not going to meet at a coffee shop. I got a WeWork membership.” It was like a see-and-be-seen thing. You had extra cred in the industry if you were working at one of these coworking spaces. It was like a badge of honor, which falls into the same category of like, “Who are you hanging out with? Who are you doing deals with? Where are you working?” It fed into that whole thing of, “You need to be in the right place with the right people, so you better get a membership here.” I don’t know if that was WeWork’s intention, but whether or not it was, it mutated in my experience into, “You need to work here to have the cred, and then tell people you were working here with me.” I’m glad that’s over because I prefer working here with my cats and my Bulldog, litter box smells and all. It’s way better than WeWork. The matcha is better here, too, by the way, at the Wrobel hotel. That being said, dear reader, dear patron, we are on Patreon. We don’t mention it enough as we probably would like to. We have a Patreon account and we got a new patron. Nazanin, shout out to you. Thank you for your listenership. Thank you for your support. For anyone else who loves what we do, we get your DMs and we get your emails. Most of our patrons are only a few dollars a month, but through the magic of compounding, enough people throw in $1, $2, $3, or $5, and then we have the means to invest more in equipment, grow the show, and do more things to bring this to more people. If you have been reading for a while and you’ve got a few bucks and you want to support us on Patreon, we would be most grateful. Thanks to Nazanin, our newest patron there. If you want to reach out to us and you have thoughts on hustle culture, on trust being weaponized. Any of the subjects we touched on as a jumping-off point from Generation Hustle on HBO, you can always email us. Our direct email is [email protected], which is also our website address, Wellevatr.com. We will be back with another episode as we do the due every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, featuring our special guests. Whitney, thanks for bringing this up and introducing me to Generation Hustle because I feel excited to dive into the remaining eight episodes that I haven’t seen yet. We’ll probably talk about this again, I imagine. I don’t think this is the only episode on it because I’m sure there’s going to be more juice to extract from that lemon. We adore you. We love you. Thanks for your readership. Thanks for your support. Thanks for your tweets, messages, DMs, Instagram shares, homing pigeons, and baked goods. Whatever you want to send us, we love it. Probably not the pigeons. We have enough animals, but definitely baked goods. Make sure they’re gluten-free and vegan. Until next time, thanks for reading. Thanks for getting uncomfortable and we’ll be back soon!

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